In Congo and in the US I have preached a message called “Jesus is Our Peace,” from Ephesians 2: 11 -22. On our second Sunday here in Juba, South Sudan, I also preached this message, a message crafted for communities who have found themselves divided and in need of peace and reconciliation.
Looking across the breath of scripture, we find division within homes and communities. Cain feels envious of his brother Abel’s offering and murders him. Crafty Jacob steals the birthright of his brother. Jesus and Paul suffer at the hands of their own people and are sent to the Gentile leaders to be executed. In scripture, we find issues of jealousy, fear, suspicion, prejudice, self-seeking, and power grabbing. Of course, we find these realities in our own worlds as well – tragic realities which drive us away from each other into our own cubby holes of smug self-satisfaction and security. Into this sad reality, who can bring us peace? Who can reconcile us to each other?
In his epistle to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul recognizes that he is writing to Christian believers who are divided because of their socio-religious-cultural background. On the one hand he is writing to the Jewish believers, those who have accepted Christ but are still stuck in their identity as Jews, following their age-old customs and traditions. Significantly, these Jewish believers continue to disallow eating with Gentiles. When they catch wind that Peter has eaten in the home of a prominent Gentile, they criticize him, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" (Acts 11: 2 - 3).
On the other hand Paul is also writing to the Gentile believers who have also put their faith in Jesus Christ, those who had formerly been alien to the promises of God made to Israel. The Jewish believers addressed by Paul remain blind to the new reality of Christ bringing all peoples into one family of faith. The fulcrum of Paul’s argument comes when he emphatically states –
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. (Ephesians 2: 14 – 16).
Jesus, Paul contends, has inaugurated a new humanity where two alienating groups can now become one. Jesus, asserts Paul, has come to break down the dividing walls between us. Paul addresses the Jewish and Gentile believers, but in today’s world we now find multitudinous examples of division and separation. In Africa, divisions are often found due to ethnic, tribal and clan allegiances. In the US, our struggles are often centered on differing political ideologies, theological differences, socio-economic status, and even the color of our skin.
In our divided and fractured world, we are like a sick person who needs a doctor. In Jesus, God the Father is reconciling a lost world to Himself. Through Jesus’ life and example, God has given us, the Church, the ministry of reconciliation, first to be reconciled to God, then to be reconciled to one another. Jesus is the doctor who reconciles and heals a broken world; we as God’s people are to participate in and promote that healing. In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he drives home this point with great clarity, calling us ambassadors for Christ, that God is now making his appeal through us to be reconciled both to God and to one another (2 Corinthians 5).
After recently preaching this message at the Atlabara parish in Juba, the leader of the service came up to me after the service and quietly confided, “We need this message. We are sick here in South Sudan.” Friend, whether in war torn South Sudan or in our divided national landscape in the US, Jesus is the doctor who has come to heal our fractured lives and communities. Jesus is our peace. May we fully enter into our troubled landscapes as Christ’s ambassadors for healing and peace.