During my childhood and young adulthood, I watched from afar the building of a dividing wall on August 13, 1961 and the tearing down of that same wall on November 9, 1989.
During the early years of the Cold War, West Berlin in Northern Germany was a geographical loophole through which thousands of East Germans fled poverty and communism to democratic West Germany and Western Europe. In response, the Communist East German authorities built a wall that encircled West Berlin in 1961.
Over the wall’s 28 year history, thousands of East Germans successfully crossed over but more than 100 people died while trying to cross the Berlin Wall.
In 1989, as the Cold War began to thaw across Eastern Europe, the spokesperson for East Berlin’s communist party announced a change in his city’s relations with the West. Starting at midnight on November 9, 1989, citizens of East Germany were free to cross the country’s borders and the wall came down. A very large piece of that concrete wall is on display in the Capital University library in Columbus.
Before 1989, it was almost impossible to visit East Germany which includes the towns Martin Luther was born, raised, educated, preached, and was the point man for the Reformation 500 years ago.
Today, it’s not a problem at all. I’ve led two bus tours in the footsteps of Luther there is no more East and West Germany – just Germany. Under the leadership of Angela Merkel, a Lutheran pastor’s daughter, the country now has the most open borders in the world.
Germany has by far welcomed more Middle Eastern refugees, especially from Syria, than any other country. And a German passport gets Germans in to 161 countries with the U.S. passport a close second, getting into 158 countries without needing to secure a Visa. In contrast, an Iraq passport gets them into 28 countries and an Afghanistan passport gets them into 25 countries.
When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he recognized that a similar passport crisis was occurring within the church. Some congregations then, and perhaps now, required a certain ethnic, political and theological passport before entry or full acceptance was granted.
Racial and cultural divisions between the Jews who had come to faith in Christ and the many Gentiles now flocking to the church had reached a breaking point. Jewish Christians did not recognize the gentile passport as offering proof of full citizenship in the kingdom of God. They argued that a visa was required, and in this case, that visa was the physical passport stamp of circumcision. Since the time of Abraham, circumcision meant that one was truly an Israelite. Without that mark, the Gentiles could only be second-class citizens by comparison.
But here's Paul intervenes in the situation like a fair-minded customs officer. As a Jew (and a former Pharisee at that) and as an apostle to the Gentiles (whose culture he also knew well), Paul understood the dilemma but also knew the solution. He proposed that the old passports held separately by Jews and Gentiles were now invalid. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, he wrote to the Galatians.
The old covenant has been replaced by a new covenant. We are baptized into the body of Christ. We are baptized into Christ’s church. This morning, in the waters of baptism,
Adeline is baptized into the same Divinity family that her mother, Rachael was baptized into on April 28, 1991. The daughter has returned with her own daughter, joining with us in promising to raise Adeline as a baptized child of God.
Jewish passports and gentile passports are invalid, Paul said. As citizens of a new sovereign realm, you've been freely given a new passport in baptism that will get you into any community of faith any in the world.
Visit the church in Rome; they'll let you in.
Visit the church in Corinth; they'll let you in.
Visit the church in Valley City; they'll let you in.
Your old passport, your connections to a previous life, have been replaced by a new common citizenship the only qualification is faith in Christ and the only passport needed is the waters of baptism flowing over your head.
So, what does this new, incredibly powerful passport represent and what kinds of access does it open up to the rest of the world? Paul offers a short list of some of the rights and responsibilities of faithful passport holders of the sovereign realm of God.
First, this passport transcends artificial boundaries and borders. In verse 14, Paul reminded the Ephesians that Christ "in his flesh" has made both Jews and Gentiles into one group and has "broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."
Paul may have been referring to his own house arrest in Rome -- a sojourn that allowed him time to write to the believers in Ephesus. He had been accused of bringing a Gentile into the temple in Jerusalem. Taking a non-Jew beyond a particular dividing wall in the temple was such a heinous breach of Jewish law that even the Romans permitted Jewish leaders to execute anyone who violated that sacred space. Paul was spared only because of his Roman citizenship and was given the right of appeal.
Awaiting the outcome of the appeal, he was held by authorities in Rome, and took up letter-writing.
The readers who first cracked open this scroll would have known why Paul was in prison. For them, the barrier between Jew and Gentile was best symbolized by the "dividing wall" of the temple (v. 14). But Paul announces -- and this must have come as a powerful shock -- that this dividing wall had been shattered in Christ who takes the place of the temple and enables all people to come together in him.
There are still plenty of "dividing walls" both inside and outside the church, just as there were in Ephesus. Divisions of race, politics, practices and doctrines often cause Christians to look at others as second-class citizens of the sovereign realm of God. Paul says that faith in Christ transcends these artificial boundaries. Like him, we must be bold enough to cross those boundaries even if it costs us something. If we are in Christ, the only passport and the most powerful one is a passport of that one country of which we are all citizens.
Second, the passport of the sovereign realm of God also brings with it a new set of rules. Paul wrote that Christ 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" (v. 15).
The "law" to which Paul referred was the Law of Moses and its practices that separated Jews and Gentiles. Paul saw this law as already fulfilled in Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus made peace between God and humanity and between Jews and Gentiles.
Citizenship in God is thus marked by faith in and obedience to Christ and not by what we eat, what we wear or how we worship.
Third, the citizen of the sovereign realm of God has direct access to the Sovereign through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is power! The old covenant was mediated by priests in the temple who offered sacrifices on behalf of the people for the forgiveness of sins. But now, says Paul, through Jesus "both [Jews and Gentiles] have access in one Spirit to the Father" (v. 18). Instead of a customs gatekeeper who chooses to allow people into the country based on the passport they hold, Jesus acts more like a welcoming host who enables us to bring ourselves directly to God. We have also been given the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us in ways that are beyond our understanding (Romans 8:26-27).
The Spirit not only intercedes for us and gives us direct access to God; the Spirit also gives followers of Jesus their travel itineraries. Because we have access to God, any place we go is an opportunity to share God's love in the power of the Spirit. There is no border or boundary that the Spirit cannot cross, and when we embrace our citizenship in the kingdom we have way more access to the world than even a German passport can grant. Whether it's just walking across the street or flying across the expanse of the globe, every day is an opportunity to represent Christ and invite others to become citizens of his kingdom.
Fourth, Paul reminds us that this heavenly passport never expires. When Obama and Xi Jingping announced a 10-year visa agreement a few years ago, people were elated. Most visas have a much shorter period of validity -- like 30, 60 or 90 days. Perhaps you can get a work visa for a year. Getting a visa to China can be complicated. Letters have to be provided from the host in China, for one thing. But now, once you're in possession of a visa, it's good for 10 years, which is good for our missionaries.
Our citizenship in the sovereign realm of God is citizenship in a "country" that has no end, and all are invited to travel to it for an unlimited time period. And what's more, we're invited to become citizens! It's freely offered and there's nothing we need to do to qualify except to gratefully receive. We gratefully receive Christ’s presence in the sacraments of holy baptism and holy communion. It's an offer that will never be revoked. The passport will not be confiscated.
Verses 19-22 -- 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. The commonwealth of God is built on the tradition of the prophets and apostles, and upon Jesus Christ as the "cornerstone" of the commonwealth -- an eternal commonwealth populated by eternal citizens bearing eternal passports.
Finally, this passport allows you access to all areas of the country. People who enjoy traveling abroad will tell you that some countries do not allow access to all areas of the country. Some restrictions may apply.
But in the commonwealth of God, one can roam at will. We are free to go into areas of poverty like our food pantry, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, and the Redeemer Crisis Center and give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, shelter to the homeless and medical aid to the sick.
We are free to build schools and hospitals, open clinics and food banks.
We are welcomed in communities of faith.
We are free to speak truth to power, to march in protests, to worship in peace, to proclaim the coming of the sovereign realm of God.
It's a powerful passport that we carry as citizens of another country.
But perhaps it needs to be renewed.
In a world divisions seem to grow deeper every day, it's time for the church to renew the passport we've been given in Jesus Christ. It's time to be bold enough to break down walls of racial, ethnic, social and political division in the church so that we can demonstrate to the world what true citizens of the divine commonwealth look like. We must be willing to go
and share life together with other citizens whom governments might see as aliens and strangers, but whom the people of God see as brothers and sisters, and foster sons like Vilan from Honduras. We are all fellow citizens of another world, a different age.
Never let that passport out of your sight!