'I have a dream' by Owen Lynch - April 28th 2019
Is it possible that humanity can be united? If so, how? Owen Lynch considers Paul's vision of this, how it has influenced dreamers across centuries and is accessible to us today.
Paul has written to people in Ephesus with an attractive vision of humanity united in diversity. He was writing while, literally, a prisoner because of some Jews' anger at the message he was preaching.
4:40 Paul's message about united and diverse humanity
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16)
Paul's references to law and regulations were about commands in Judaism. By "two groups" he meant Jews and gentiles - everyone else in the world.
The anger arose among Jewish people who saw the world through the prism of their own system of religious sacrifices and laws. Paul said that Jesus abolished the law in his flesh - there was no need for it any more. Nearness to and acceptance by God were now possible for everyone by faith in Christ Jesus, rather than through the religious system which had divided Jews and gentiles.
Paul then described the purpose of this, to create "one new humanity... making peace." This was not by creating a single culture where all diversity was lost, but a united humanity with incredible depth and richness of diversity and quality of life together.
Does this sound like the sort of world we want?
God's purpose with Jesus was not to start a new religion, but to reunite humanity, with God and with each other.
In reconciling humanity and God, hostility needed to be overcome, according to Paul. This included human hostility to God in the forms of cynicism and rebellion, and also God's hostility towards evil. God refuses to compromise with or tolerate evil, even if we will. However, at the cross, both of these hostilities are destroyed and two warring parties are reconciled.
To the Jews of Paul's day, that was blasphemy, so Paul was guilty of religious crimes for which he was arrested. Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to appeal his case in Rome, which is where he was in prison while writing to the Ephesians.
But he didn't write that he was a prisoner of Caesar or any other authority. He wrote that he was a prisoner of Christ. While he suffered as a political and religious prisoner, he acknowledged his situation to be part of God's plan for his life. Paul was not basing his sense of self and accomplishment in his comfort and freedom, but in Christ. In faith, he could accept that he was where he was because God allowed it to happen.
14:40 He had a dream
Martin Luthor King, Jr talked about his dream of a society where people would be able to live up to the ideals of their nation, united, judged by their character rather than colour, and able to join hands to sing, in the words of a famous spiritual song, "Free at last."
Paul's suffering was for the same cause of equality which others, including MLK and Nelson Mandela, later suffered for.
His passion for humanity spills over into a passion for prayer in chapter 3 of his letter.
19:00 Hidden truth revealed
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles - Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:1-6, NIV)
By "mystery," Paul did not mean a dark or impenetrable secret - the way we may use the word in English - but a hidden truth that would be discovered with joy.
The "mystery of Christ" is that, through the gospel, every human being is an heir of God and sharer in the same promise in Jesus. This is not new, liberal, political thinking. It's a way of life revealed in Jesus for us many years ago. The church worldwide isn't perfect at living like this, but it is what every Christian should be aiming for.
22:20 What does a united humanity look like?
Citizenship - all people enjoy the same rights, privileges and responsibilities.
Family - we are linked and, even when we don't get on, we care for each other in good circumstances and bad.
Presence of God - every person is spiritually alive with the presence and power of God.
The hidden truth revealed in Jesus is that this is possible as the hostility which divides us from God and each other is put to death on the cross.
26:10 How much of the gospel is working out in our lives?
Are we still fighting God to any extent? We need to be aware of this and accept the reconciliation we are already offered with him.
What about with people around us? We need to pray and consider where there are relationships in which we are not currently reconciled and where we are able to do something about this.
This might show in the form of a bad relationship, or with prejudices about future relationships. Maybe we have been hurt by someone and carry an expectation that others like them will hurt us in future. It could be that disagreements over issues are creating animosity and conflicting with our call to treat others as equal, worthy of love, respect, dignity and compassion.
Where we need to be reconciled, Jesus tells us to do this before making offerings to God. Owen presented a chance to do this before sharing communion, and encouraged and prayed for the church to confess and repent where needed so that the gospel would have power in our lives.