(c) Copyright 2005 Dr. Hans Boersma
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed., Eph 2:11. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984.
There is something really strange in the passage that we will be looking at this morning. In fact, it almost seems like a contradiction in terms. As I was preparing for this sermon, trying to enter into this passage and make myself part of it, I kept bumping up against this one expression. It’s at the end of verse 16. It says there that Christ “put to death their hostility.” That actually is really quite a sweet and gentle translation. When it says that Christ “put to death” hostility, it almost sounds like he put death to sleep, like you put a dog to sleep, or like you put a person to sleep in the so-called “sweet death” of euthanasia. But actually, the expression is really quite sharp, really quite haunting. It says literally that Christ “killed hostility.” I just kept looking at this expression, and kept thinking to myself, How do you do that? How can you do that? Of course, it’s possible to kill; we all know that. But is it possible to kill hostility? When you actually kill someone else, doesn’t that imply that you hate that person? Is it possible to end hostility by simply killing it? It seems to me that for killing you need a lot of hatred, a lot of hostility. And so there seems to be a contradiction here. Is it really possible to end hostility by killing it? Can hostility kill hostility?
There is something else that doesn’t seem quite fitting for this morning’s sermon. Today is World Communion Sunday. We’re celebrating, together with the Church worldwide, communion. World Communion Sunday speaks of peace and unity—peace and unity with people throughout the world—people black and white; French and English, Spanish and Dutch; people rich and poor; young and old. And of course the theme of hospitality, which we’re all about this year, fits perfectly with that peace and unity that we celebrate on World Communion Sunday. We are all one; we are all at peace. We extend hospitality together. This is one wide open bash, where all come together; we celebrate peace and unity together. But in the midst of all that celebration of peace and unity; in the midst of all that celebration of hospitality and World Communion Sunday comes this harsh expression: Christ killed hostility! How can we possibly rhyme this killing that Christ doe, this hostility of Christ, with hospitality, with World Communion Sunday?
A while back I was reading a book that used a new word, a word I’d never seen before: the word hostipitality. Now you might want to roll that around on your tongue or in your mind a few times. Hostipitality? What is that? When I told Pastor Bill about the title of my sermon, he commented: People are going to think, “Who made that mistake?” That’s not a word, right? Hostipitality? Now, of course, indeed, it is not. I read the word a while back in a philosophy book somewhere. Philosophers always come up with the craziest words. We all know that. But there is actually an interesting reason why the author came up with this particular word: the word hostipitality is a word that’s made up by mixing together two other words: the words hospitality and hostility. Hospitality and hostility—when you put them together you get hostipitality. Of course, these two words—hospitality and hostility—don’t seem to go together very well. They are each other’s opposites. Hospitality is something that we link with unity, with peace, with World Communion Sunday. Hostility is quite the opposite. It’s about division, exclusion, war. But I believe that this particular philosopher had a stroke of genius when he invented this new word and put the two together. What he was saying was: these two—hospitality and hostility—go together. You cannot have the one without the other. It’s sort of like verse 16: Christ “killed hostility.” There’s a real problem here, isn’t there? A real mystery—is perhaps a better way of putting it. Is it truly possible to put hospitality and hostility together in one word? Is it truly possible to kill hostility?
Well, enough said about the problem that I kept bumping into when I was working on this sermon. I don’t want us to stare ourselves blind on this expression that St. Paul uses here, about Christ killing hostility. Let’s instead take a step back and look at what is going on in this whole passage. What is happening here? What is St. Paul dealing with in this letter? Well, there are a number of key themes in this letter, but probably the single most important one is the theme of the unity, the oneness, of the Church. If there’s one thing you want to remember about Ephesians it is that it’s the letter about Church unity. You only have to think of that beautiful passage in Chapter 4, starting at verse 4, where 7 times in a row—7 being the number of wholeness and fullness, right?—where 7 times in a row Paul uses the word “one”: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” 7 times “one.” This letter is all about the unity of the Church. St. Paul really does seem to have written it for World Communion Sunday! And so, we read in our passage, in 2:14 that Christ “has made the two one,” that he “has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” The fence has come down. St. Paul wants to celebrate unity.
You see, hospitality is such an amazing virtue, a virtue we need to cherish deeply. You may think that as Canadians, with our multiculturalism, we are really very accepting of each other—very hospitable to each other. But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not that long ago that in Nazi Germany an atmosphere of anti-Semitism sucked the entire nation into a spiralling vortex of hatred, hostility, violence, war, and resulted in the attempted extermination of an entire race. And today, in Europe, with birth rates down and immigration rates up, we see again that hospitality has its limits. Again, foreigners and strangers are looked at with suspicion. These people are not really one of us. They don’t belong. Strangers are intruders. That seems to be the overriding feeling of many Europeans today. Hatred and hostility rule where hospitality used to have sway.
In the Old Testament this apprehension of foreigners had an extra dimension. For it had a religious basis. The ethnic identity of the Jews wasn’t just matter of national pride, wasn’t just a matter of celebrating their racial identity; it was something far more. God had chosen this nation. He had chosen them rather than others. They were God’s very own people. They were citizens in the very nation that God himself had elected. They were the people of the covenant. They had the promises of God himself. They were really, really close to God. And everybody knew who was a Jew and who was not—because there were some very clear boundary markers, some very clear fences, fences that you could see and point to and identify. Jews? They were the people that wouldn’t touch pork. Somebody eat pork here? Well, they sure aren’t Jews. Jews were people who would never work on the Sabbath. Somebody here work on the Sabbath? Well, they sure aren’t Jews. Jews were people that were circumcised. Somebody here not circumcised? Well they sure aren’t Jews. So, if you wanted to know who was inside and who was outside the fence, all you had to do was look at the fence itself. Confusion wasn’t a concern. You knew who was in and who was out. You knew who was a friend and who was an enemy. And what was even more important, was: God himself had drawn these boundaries. The fence was his fence. He had insisted that they not eat pork. He had insisted that they keep the Sabbath. He had insisted that his people be circumcised.
St. Paul, when he writes to the Ephesians—and remember, these people getting his letter are all Gentiles, are all non-Jews—St. Paul reminds them that once upon a time they were at the other side of the fence. “At that time,” he says verse12, “you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenant of the promise. Gentiles were foreigners, not citizens. And their lifestyle reflected it. St. Paul’s description of their lives isn’t very flattering: Gentiles, he says in 4:18, “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” They have “lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” Very strong, maybe even harsh, language, isn’t it? The Gentiles obviously lived in hostility—hostility toward God and hostility toward his people.
But something happened to change this whole situation. And that’s what our passage is all about. Look at 2:1—“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” And verse 12—“you were separate from Christ.” But that has changed. Verse 19 says, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens. You have now become fellow citizens with God’s people.” Something has happened. God has come and has offered hospitality. God has come and has set up a “World Communion Sunday.” You are fellow citizens now. You belong to God’s people. You’re part of God’s household, says Paul. You see how this letter is all about unity? How it is all about oneness? Jew and Gentile are no longer split up. The dividing barrier has been destroyed. The dividing wall of hostility has come down. The fence has disappeared. Pork, Sabbath, and circumcision—they are no longer boundary markers for the people of God.
So far, so good. This is a beautiful passage about unity and peace; about the oneness of Jew and Gentile; about World Communion Sunday. But there is one thing that I haven’t yet touched on. And that is that tricky combination that we find in this new-fangled word, hostipitality. So far, it seems there’s simply a change. We have moved from hostility to hospitality. We have moved from being foreigners to being fellow citizens. We have moved from division to unity. And so maybe we’re thinking that the message is: let’s just all get along, and be really, really nice to each other, let’s be good Canadians together, and we will all live happily ever after. But that is not what St. Paul is after. He is not after warm, fuzzy feelings—you know, some kind of group therapy or sensitivity training, or something like that. This is not about spilling our most private feelings and experiences and tossing them into the group. That’s not the kind of fence that St. Paul is saying has been broken down. Nor is he concerned with open tolerance—you know, we all have our differences, and they’re not all that important, and we should try to live together regardless of our differences. He is not saying: Ideas just cause problems, so let’s break down that fence, let’s tolerate each other a little more, and let’s just get along together. That’s also not the kind of fence that St. Paul is saying has been broken down. Paul is neither the “fuzzy feeling” type of person nor is he the “open tolerance” kind of person. You see, the problem with both a “fuzzy feeling” and with an “open tolerance” kind of Christianity is that it takes the word “hospitality” and runs amok with it. In this letter to the Ephesians, that won’t work. The word “hospitality” always has an edge to it. It always is at the same time “hostipitality.”
Now, I can almost hear you thinking: what do you mean? What then is that edge that’s supposed to be there when we talk about hospitality? Well, there are two elements here that I think we need to focus on together. The one has to do with “fuzzy feeling” Christianity, and the other with “open tolerance” Christianity. Let’s first talk a little bit more about why “World Communion Sunday” is not about “fuzzy feelings.” “He himself is our peace,” says verse 14. “He is the one who in himself created one new man out of the two,” says verse 15. “Through him we have access to the Father by one Spirit,” says verse 18. Who is this all about? It’s about Christ, isn’t it? It’s not about ourselves but about Christ. What faith does, is it doesn’t look inside, but it looks outside. It looks away from ourselves, and instead looks to Christ. All of this is emphatically not about sharing fuzzy feelings and getting rid of fences among ourselves so we can share our private emotions better. That’s not what the Church is all about. You know what the Church is all about? It’s about politics. It’s all about politics. Now I know we don’t like that, especially not with the kind of politicians that we often bless ourselves with, but that’s nonetheless what it’s all about—politics! Look again at verse 12: you used to be “separate from Christ, excluded—excluded from what? From Israelite citizenship—the Greek word is politeia. Sounds like “politics,” doesn’t it? And then jump to verse 19. What have we become now that we’re Christians? We’ve become “fellow citizens with the saints.” Fellow citizens—the Greek word is sympolitai. Sounds like “politics” again, doesn’t it? What faith does, is it gives us new citizenship. It gives us a new identity. It gives us a new passport. The new identity is Christ. The new passport is that of the Church. From now on, we’re not just Canadians, who are nice to each other; we’re not just people who share their private emotions with each other. You see, that’s what the culture around us wants to tell us: you just be nice to each other. You just keep sharing your private feelings with each other. But don’t you dare become political. Because politics and religion don’t mix. Church and state, they’ve got to be separate. No! says St. Paul. Politics and religion do mix. They mix all the time. Because the Church is a very political place. When you join the Church, you join a very public and very political place. You join a new country. When we become Christians, we become politicians. And what that means for you and me today is that we’re now involved in the political fight of our lives.
So, that’s one: hospitality—world communion—is not about “fuzzy feelings.” It’s about politics instead. And second, hospitality is not about “open tolerance.” You see, when we talk about hospitality, and especially when we hear from this letter to the Ephesians that “the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” has come down, we almost cannot help but fill that in concretely with the tools that our culture gives us. And what our culture tells us is to literally break down every wall. For our culture, hospitality means: you must accept everything from everybody. One author that I read actually said explicitly that true hospitality means that you’re willing to even let the devil come into your house. But of course that’s not what hospitality is all about. If you let the devil come in, no doubt he’ll ruin the whole thing and he’s gonna destroy the place. When your house is in tatters, there’s little hospitality that is left to offer. This hospitality that St. Paul is talking about is not an “open tolerance” kind of hospitality—a hospitality that knows no boundaries and accepts any and all differences!
Instead, what St. Paul tells us to do is to get ready for battle. Being good citizens of our new country, we should put our newly acquired citizenship to good use! “Do not give the devil a foothold,” says Paul in 4:27. You can’t give him an inch, because before you know it, he will take over. “Don’t give the devil a foothold.” Oh, but this is not a make-it-or-break-it issue, is it? We can still be Christians even when we do this, can’t we? How often do we not use this argument, about all kinds of things? But you see, what St. Paul does, is to say the opposite: “Put on the full armor of God.” And then he gives this lengthy description in chapter 6 about the armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit. We have to be ready to fight. We need to defend our borders! We’ve got our country to watch. Being a Christian does not mean open tolerance. Being a Christian means that you have a new citizenship. And like any other citizenship, so this one comes with clear responsibilities. “Among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed—because,” St. Paul adds, and this is in 5:3, “because these are improper for God’s holy people.” “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11). We need to ask ourselves: we have perhaps become afraid to expose? Have we become fearful of speaking the truth? Do we still dare to hold each other accountable? How are we doing in battle?
Let me be totally frank. I like the theme of hospitality. I like it a lot. I even wrote a book on it. But I’m also nervous about it. For I’m just not so sure that our fences are strong enough as walls of defense. I’m afraid that too easily we misunderstand what hospitality is all about. When our culture celebrates violence—on TV and in film; when our culture no longer upholds marriage as the cornerstone of society and we no longer view marriage as the union between one husband and one wife—till death do us part; when our culture puts material wealth at the top of the priority list—and getting the best paying job is concern #1; how do we react? Is there still a Church? A Church that has fences? A Church with a public policy? A Church that insists that her citizens fight the good fight? A Church does not give the devil a foothold?
You see, the Church—this very public, political place; a place not about fuzzy feelings or open tolerance—the Church gets her identity from Christ. What did Christ do? He fought the battle; he fought it to the end; he fought it to the point of being martyred, martyred to death, death on a cross. It is by dying the death of a martyr that Christ “killed hostility.” There is a paradox there. There is mystery there. We cannot claim to fully understand how Christ’s killed hostility through his death on a cross. But even if we cannot fully rationally explain it, what we can do is confess it. We can confess that by fighting the battle, by dying the death of a martyr, Christ gained the most powerful victory that ever was won. Hospitality must always be hostipitality. For it is only by fighting our battles that vict’ries are won.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.