Our second reading is Saint Paul's letter, which is written to Ephesian Christians living among the rich and proud residents of a major capital city. The people of this city have money and power and influence, like many of the people throughout our cities. But Paul reminds the Christians, often poor and beleaguered, that worldly success leaves one feeling empty, without a sense of inner peace. Sure, they have the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But what has the goddess Artemis done for them lately? And the Roman emperor himself is considered a god, but he's better at demanding taxes than giving assistance. Some of the Ephesians have heard of a powerful God worshiped by the Jews, but they know that Jews practice circumcision -- at the very least, this is a painful deterrent to conversion.
Paul knows this about the Ephesians, so he writes to the Christians living there.
As cosmopolitan people, the Ephesians are comfortable in international gatherings. But even though they have money and power and influence, they feel cut off from a relationship with God. Paul reminds his readers that at one time they were without Christ, aliens and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.
Think about it: If you are without hope and without God, not even an Olympic gold medal is going to make you feel any better. Well, okay, maybe it would make you feel better. But not if you know that without God you're without hope. Nothing of a material nature can bring lasting peace and joy to the soul -- it doesn't work that way. You need, we need, Jesus the Christ.
This is the solution Paul offers the Ephesians: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ," he writes. "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."
Real peace requires Jesus, according to Paul. In his flesh he makes different groups into one, and breaks down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between them.
Gaining the peace of Christ is not a human achievement. It is Christ's accomplishment, not ours. Our challenge is not to earn him or deserve him, like a cherished medal. Instead, it is to accept him as a gift of God.
This is hard for us because we're an achievement-oriented nation. We honor our World Cup soccer athletes because they work so incredibly hard, training and competing and perfecting their skills for years and years. But the prize of peace with God is based on Christ's achievement, not ours.
When we put our faith in him, we are invited to join him on the medal platform.