(Prepared for a sermon based on Philippians 2:1-4.)
In 2007 my father and I took a trip to India. One of the things we did was visit a church in the city of Amritsar. The people there loved the Lord. They were enthusiastic and sincere in their faith. Unfortunately, they weren’t very mature spiritually and their leadership was rather weak.
About 20 miles away is another congregation. The people in it also loved the Lord. They were more spiritually mature and they had better leadership. What would be more natural than to encourage the two congregations to have fellowship with each other? Both would benefit from interacting and learning from each other.
It was not to be. You see, between the two congregations there is an international border. High barbed-wire fences separate the two sides. There are machine-gun nests covering no-mans’-land and, most probably, fields of land-mines as well.
It’s even impossible for people on either side of the border to phone each other. The phone systems literally do not connect. Even a cell phone on one side can’t talk to a cell phone on the other.
In theory it is possible for a person on one side of the border to travel to the other side, but obtaining a visa to visit the other country is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. And regardless of which side of the border you’re on, drawing the attention of the authorities to your church is the last thing you want to do.
Only 20 miles! Yet, it might as well be 20 million miles. The people speak the same language, they have the same ethnic and cultural background. They look the same, they dress the same and they think alike. Some of them may even be related. Yet, they are kept apart by a barrier of hostility.
It reminds me of another barrier the Apostle Paul writes about in Ephesians, chapter 2. While addressing Gentile Christians he reminds them, “…at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:12-16 NIV)
In this passage, Paul talks about two kinds of division. One is between people. They are kept separate by mutual hostility. The other kind of division is between people and God. Both kinds of division have the same cause, and both have the same solution.
Unfortunately, we are incapable of resolving either of these divisions on our own. Because we are unable to break down the barriers, Christ did it for us. It is only through His death that the hostility between people can be removed and we can be reconciled to God. It is only in Christ that we can be at peace with each other and with God.
Though the two churches I mentioned are separated from each other by a physical barrier that neither one can cross, I was struck by the desire on both sides to have fellowship with the other group. What is it that made peace between them even though their respective countries hate each other with a passion? What brought them together in spirit even though they don’t know each other and they can’t meet in person? As Paul said, it is the cross of Christ. Through His death both have been brought into the same body. They might be on different sides of a hostile border, but both groups are one when they partake of the Lord’s Supper – the emblems which remind us of Christ’s cross. It is the cross which brings them into unity.
If we are Christians, we’re part of that same body. And when we eat the bread and drink the cup, they remind us that the cross tears down the spiritual barriers which separate us from other people and separate us and God. Though physical barriers may keep us apart from each other, in reality, we are one.