“AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR”
Chapter two, verses 11- 22
Remember. Paul seems to back track just a bit here. After tell us gentiles what a glorious inheritance we have received by grace, we are told to remember that at that time when we were spiritually dead in our sin, we were not only separated from Christ, but also from Israel. Wonder why one should make such a fuss over being different? Well, the answer lies in the phrase tucked neatly away in verse fourteen. “He is our peace…” Now, it is not the universality of peace that matters in this case, it is the “kind” of peace. Jesus brought down a very important wall that separated the rest of the world from the Jewish nation. The Hebrew people followed the Levitical law made up of ordinances and statutes, many of which declared the gentiles an unclean people. They thought of themselves as the only ones on earth “heaven bound”. Ever met anyone like that before? When Jesus came, people thought of His message as radical and subversive, because He tore down that wall of separation between people. Many of the “religious” Jews just could not stand the thought of integration with “those” people, and for years, they caused problems within the Christian church. Yes, the Jewish converts to Christianity even caused those problems. Sound familiar? Just what did Jesus tell us that we should now remember?
We are fellow citizens, on the same level ground with our Hebrew friends, and are equal in God’s eyes. A man in my old church used to say, “The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and we all stand on it.” Jesus also said of Jews and us gentiles that we are both one house, built together on one foundation, and inhabited by the one Spirit of God. Jesus declared Himself the chief cornerstone. The corner stone in those days was more than just a marker, it was a stone that held and arch together, and kept it from falling apart. Two sides of the arch, coming from opposite directions, reaching toward each other and joined by the master stone. Jesus made the peace between gentiles and Jews then, and He is still the prince of peace today.
If only the gentiles and all the Semitic peoples in the Middle East would heed the words and imagery, found in this passage. He is our peace, for those who are far off and those who are near.
It was the old covenant of ordinances, the do’s and don’ts that built up the wall between people then, and it is the same today. When one group decides that their way is the only way, that everyone must keep a certain set of practices, then the walls go up and the depth of peace dissipates. We must endeavor to tear down the walls, and live in the liberty of peace that Christ has so graciously afforded us all.
Monthly Archives: September 2006
“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS UPON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:19
…So I am sitting in Compline last Friday evening, our evening prayer service at St. Michaels held each month on the first Friday night. It is a prayer and worship service held in the Taze tradition, the little order of ecumenical Monks in France who have wonderfully composed prayers, songs, and Psalms for the church. The service is contemplative and serene, and a great chance to unwind from the week’s activities. During the prayers, the leader prayed to God that He would “help us not to be vengeful and spiteful people, holding on to bitterness…” At this, several images popped into my mind and my heart.
First was the verse listed above, one that is often misread and misquoted and certainly not understood very well. I am not sure that I even have an adequate understanding to convey the meaning in contemporary society. I think of the many times I have been told by folks that “if this is the kind of God that there is, I don’t want anything to do with that!” when invited to visit church with me. People often view God as “vengeful”, especially the God of the Old Testament, not realizing that those who wrote things down often injected a few of their own feelings into the text. Sometimes it is hard to discern when it is God who is doing the talking and when it is a human being. That is the big difference when it comes to revenge and understanding the verse listed above. Let us get to that later on, though.
I thought of Elton John and Bernie Taupin as well. They penned the song, “If There’s A God in Heaven”, which questions the uncertainties and disparagements in life. On the “Blue Moves” album, they write, “if there’s a God in heaven, what’s he waiting for, if he can’t hear his children then he must see the war. But it seems to me that he leads his lambs, to the slaughter house, not the Promised Land.” Those are challenging words to a Christian, yet the question is a valid one, and one that I have pondered before myself. Elton and Bernie must believe that God is spiteful and vengeful, in the way we humans are. That is the way it often is when humans go to try to understand the almighty. However, humans do not really define God. He is self-revealed, and it is by Faith that we can begin to understand a little about Him and why things are. That is, if we choose to.
I also thought of the world situation during that prayer. I thought about the President standing at ground zero on September 12th, declaring that the “whole world would hear from us soon, and those who brought down the towers.” Everyone cheered in emotion coming from exacerbation and anger. I can’t help but think the motive revealed that day was pure revenge. As I look back on his promise, and realize that those who brought down the towers are still at large, and that the Iraqi’s did not have anything to do with it, I really think that we have become a people of revenge. I think we acted to quickly. Sometimes, I think it behooves one to slow down and think things through, in order to achieve a lasting result.
As I listened to that prayer, I thought about some local issues too. I am reminded how some people tell strange rumors based on their own presumptions. I think about how some have assigned false motives to others, because they prejudged them. I think of how some hold on to unforgiveness and bitterness, while others play social games to spite the feelings of others. I think of the times I have done all of the above, and I ask God to forgive me, and help me to seek reconciliation.
As he prayed, I hoped that others were not taking steps to get revenge out of their own hurt feelings or bitterness. To do so always makes things worse, and besides that, it is just plain sinful.
This is why God says that we are not to take revenge, but leave the “pay back” up to Him. You see, only God is able to righteously settle a matter; to balance the scales; to bring justice and pure peace. He is the only one who can bring finality to any conflict, and do it correctly and rightly. We humans just make things worse. The best we can do is to obey the scripture, and to be peacemakers, and humble ourselves before a merciful and just God. It is on those terms that he repays.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32