God created the universe, whole and complete. Everything was linked in a perfect interdependence and harmony. There were no conflicts, no divisions, no barriers – all was a perfect whole, a perfect unity. But all this came to an end when our first parents rebelled and sinned against God. Rather than work within the harmony that God had created, they sought to go their own way and in so doing, introduced the element of chaos, of conflict, and of strife. Their sin brought about a rift, a separation, between God and man – a wound that resulted in hostility between God and man. Let us understand that this hostility was one sided, for God continued to love man, but men began to set themselves apart from God, unwilling to submit themselves to Him, but in pride, fighting against Him. This is one of the foreseeable effects of sin – it creates a separation, a barrier. Initially it creates a barrier between God and man, but as sin develops, it also creates barriers between men, us. The sin of our first parents not only divided us from God, but now also divides us from each other. Mankind, who was, in his creation, united and whole, is now fractured and divided, such that everyone is alone and separated from his fellow man. We are not only hostile towards God, but we are hostile towards one another, and so the wound continues to grow and fester. Therefore, God, out of His great and boundless love for mankind, began to work to heal the wound of separation, and to do away with the wall of hostility that had been erected by men.
Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that we heard today, proclaims that this has been accomplished. The division that man had caused by his sin, God healed by His incarnation. To begin with, He heals the rift between Himself and mankind by taking on our nature, uniting His divine nature with our human nature, and by taking on our flesh, thereby redeeming our bodies as well.
Not only does He heal the separation, but he also destroys the hostility that it caused, by His Cross. Through the Cross, sin was defeated and mankind was freed from its power which had held us in bondage.
By ascending to the Cross in His own Body, the God/man, our Lord Jesus Christ, put to death the hostility that existed between man and God. That old fallen human nature, the “old man” as the Apostle calls it, died on the Cross, and hostility that existed between the “old man” and God is done away with – it dies as well. God has reached down, bridged the gap between Himself and us, created by our sin, and has united us to Himself.
This is not all, for just as we have divided ourselves from God with a wall of sin, so also we have divided ourselves from one another by this same wall of sin. We have become hostile towards one another, no longer living in unity, but pushing others away, building barriers to protect the self from others who we perceive as threatening to our pride and self-reliance. This is not the way that we were created to live. We were created to live in unity with one another, to live in harmony, just as the persons of the Holy Trinity share a single essence, united by perfect love for one another. We were created in the image of God, and by our own sin we have marred that image – we have separated ourselves from one another, trying to live independently, without love.
By His mercy and compassion, God has also reopened the means by which we can restore the unity of His image that we bear. The Apostle says that he has made “of twain, one new man” that is, that out of two or more, He has made them one new man. He has taken us who are divided and reunited the many into one. This He has accomplished by the Cross as well. He has slain the “old man” who was isolated by sin, and raised us with Him as “new men” who are united by one Spirit.
We were strangers to one another, but now in Christ, we have become fellow-citizens and members of the household of God, a family.
Whereas before we were separated by our sin, now we have been reunited and joined together by the love of God. This unity is apparent to all of us within the Orthodox Church. We see our brothers and sisters, and although they were once strangers to us, now we recognize that we are united in Christ, His body, His family. We begin to feel a small, however, a growing connection to each other, as the love of God begins to work in us.
For us, however, the important task is much closer at hand. The Apostle tells us, that we are being built together into a habitation of God through the Holy Spirit. This little parish community, our family – that is you and I – is being framed together into a temple of God. Each one of us has a place into which God has fitted us. We are being joined together so that we might grow together and become a single body, that body being the habitation of God. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are each being fashioned so that we might fit perfectly into the place prepared for us. Once we have been set in place, we are cemented to one another by the Chrism and Grace of God’s love.
What does that mean for us then? First we must recognize that God has a place for us – a place that He has chosen. Second, He is shaping us so that we might fit in where He needs us and wants us to be. Remember that God has a place for you and He is working to fit you into that place, but He also respects you and will not force you.
Knowing this, it is then our task to work with God, conforming ourselves to His will, following His instructions, doing not what we want, but following the path that He sets before us, one step at a time. This is how we conform ourselves to God.
Now look to your neighbor, here next to you, because God is doing the same thing to him and her – shaping them and preparing them for their place in this wonderful temple, our Church, and that place is right next to you. Reach out then and embrace your neighbor. There may be some rough edges still, because God is still working on both of you, but as you reach out, the love of God will flow between you and them, and it will join you to one another. Together, we are the temple of God. Let us therefore work to love one another, to work together as God provides the opportunities, and to do all things together for the glory of God, as family.
We were separated from God and from one another, by our sins, but God, in His great mercy and compassion has overcome our separation. He has reached down to embrace us, and has destroyed the wall of sin and hostility which isolated us from Him and from one another. He has brought us together to be a “habitation” for Himself through the Holy Spirit.
Each one of us, with our unique strengths and weaknesses -- with our personalities, with our different perspectives, are placed by God in just the right place that He might use us, and has then joined us together with His love. Let us therefore rejoice that He has restored His image in us, as we are healed by Him and have been reunited with Him and with one another. Let us now work with Him, not alone, but with our neighbor, our family, and grow into the holy temple of the Lord.
So as St Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 4 verse 3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Amen!!