It had been a rough day; nothing in particular but at the same time, everything at once. I was just running some errands at the store and I ran into a good friend. I must have had the kind of day it was written across my face, because they stopped, really looked at me and asked if was doing ok. I wasn’t. But it was hard to explain that in the middle of the store, it just wasn’t the right kind of place to have that kind of conversation. They must have understood because we kind of walked our way to the little coffee shop in the store, got a drink. It was the right kind of place, quiet and a little secluded, I opened up and my friend listened. I needed that safe place so I could talk about what was going on in my heart and head.
The funny thing is, that when thinking about the times that I have needed and had those kinds of conversations, the physical place was great and it allowed me an opportunity to share what was going on, but the coffee shop wasn’t as important as the person I was with. The coffee shop is still a great place to chat, even to people I don’t know, but if that special person wasn’t there, that person that I knew cared about me and cared about what happened to me, if they weren’t there, it wouldn’t have mattered how nice the coffee shop was, without them there, it wouldn’t be right place anymore. So, for me, in the end, it’s so much about the physical place we were talking in, but about the person, that person that cared for me and about me, they were the safe place I needed. To be able to talk with my safe place friend in the quiet and comfort of the coffee house was an added bonus.
It is this same thought, that a person becomes a safe place for us is a big part of what Pastor Paul is sharing with us in Ephesians 2, our second reading today. “You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us.” When Pastor Paul wrote this, I am sure he had the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in mind. The prevailing thought for the Jews then, and many today, if you wanted to come and worship God and receive His peace you had to go to the actual physical temple in Jerusalem. Yes, there were places across the known world where Jews gathered to read the Torah and pray, usually by a riverbank, but it wasn’t the same thing, if you wanted to worship God and receive His peace you had to go to the temple in Jerusalem. Understanding this, you can get a sense of how modern Jews feel today with a Mosque over the worship site of the Jerusalem temple, it’s like they simply can’t worship God or get to Him.
In some ways this feeling may seem odd to us, but I believe it’s not far different from how we feel about a church building. When we think about going to church, our first thought is about a church building, “going to church.” If we aren’t in the church building, even if we are reading the Bible or praying, it simply doesn’t feel the same as being in a church building. But Pastor Paul wants to reorient our (and the Jews of his day) way of thinking, so that we begin to see that the place that we go to, to meet with God isn’t a building at all but a person, Jesus. Jesus is our safe place to come into the presence of God, wherever we are.
There are many places that people go to, to try and be in the presence of God. Sometimes they are buildings, worship sites, cathedrals and temples. Sometimes they are the places inside of our own heads and hearts, where we try to imagine and think about what God is like and what he wants for me. Sometimes these places are the opinions and thoughts of others and even all sorts of religious beliefs. But in the end all of these places apart from the love of God in Jesus, are ornate and decorated coffee houses, nothing more, they are not the safe place where we meet God. Only Jesus gives to us that safe place, where we can learn about who God is, what he desires for us, how we can respond and most importantly how much God loves us. If we try to find a place to meet with God apart from Jesus, to bring all of our guilt and hurt to, all you will find are places filled with human opinions, Oprah book of the month clubs or places that encourage you to keep looking inside to make it right, in other words, places of despair and hopelessness. But in Jesus we have that safe place where we can bring all of our guilt and hurt to and what we find there in Jesus is that He has already taken all of that guilt and hurt into himself so we can know the forgiveness and hope from God that we need.
As Pastor Paul is writing this with the Jerusalem temple pictured in his mind, there is one wall in particular he is thinking about when he writes, “He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” In the Jerusalem temple there was a huge wall that separated the Jewish male temple court located near the Holy Place and the Gentile temple court where non-Jews could go placed much farther away from the Holy Place, where the presence of God was believed to be. Just from the way the temple was situated as a Gentile visitor you would already understand how the worshipping Jews felt about you and how you ranked between them and God. But if that wasn’t enough, a sign etched in stone in big letters on the wall of the Gentile court said: “no one of another nation to enter within the fence and enclosure round the temple. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame that his death ensues.” You get the idea, this definitely wasn’t a welcome guests mat on the front door step.
But Pastor Paul is reorienting the way of thinking again, teaching that Jesus has taken that wall of hostility, that very wall itself that separates people, and has taken it into his own body upon the cross, so that wall and yes even that temple, and those ways of separating people may be destroyed in His death thus creating in Jesus, a new temple, a new safe place to go together, not separated, to be in the presence of God.
Let me explain a little more. One day, we lost our son Philip at Sears. We were all shopping together, Philip was with Grandma and Shi, Emma and myself had gone off to a different section. Next thing we know we hear grandma calling for Philip. He had simply disappeared, was there one second and gone the next, (not throwing grandma under the bus on this one, this happen to me and Shi as well another time when Philip simply disappeared, and that time he wasn’t even walking yet!) We finally found him sitting with a clerk who found this unattended child wandering around. From that point on, we always have a, “if we get separated” place, that if something happens and we get separated we can go to that safe place to meet.
In a much larger way, this has happened to all of us. The whole human race has gone wandering off away from their Heavenly Father, we are lost in a world that is strange and with danger on every side. But we have also become separated from each other, sin separates us, that is selfishness, pride and pain and we separate ourselves by race, gender, economics and life situations. We are all like sheep that have gone astray. But God has called us to be one just as He and the Father are one, not separated and lost apart from God and from each other. So where can we go, what safe place do we have, where we can know God and find healing for what separates us from each other? Jesus alone is our safe place.
Run to Jesus; go to your safe place. Bring the people with you who you are separated from, because the ground is even at the foot of the cross, not one thing divides us from each other or from God at the foot of the cross, but it is Jesus that brings us together and brings us to God. Jesus is our safe place.