The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost E. Bevan Stanley
July 18, 2021
Proper 10, Year B, Track 1
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Buildings. The first two readings seem to be all about buildings. In Second Samuel, David wants to build a house for God. Ever since the time of Moses, the Ark of the Covenant had traveled around with the Israelites. There was a portable temple with cloth walls. Now that David has established a permanent capital in Jerusalem, he wants to make a permanent place for that object which is the focus of the worship of Yahweh and a sacrament of God’s presence among the People of God. David wants to build God a house. Speaking through the prophet, Nathan, God says that David has it backwards. God will make David a house. Actually, the whole passage turns on a play on words, a pun. David will not build a house for God, that is a temple. Instead, God will make a house, meaning a dynasty, of David’s progeny.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of how Jesus Christ as torn down the wall dividing Jews from Gentiles. “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.” While Paul is speaking of the division that most troubled him, the division between Jews and Gentiles, we can think of all the other divisions that separate us and make our lives more troubled than they need to be: White and black, Republican and Democrat, gay and straight, rich and poor, urban and rural, maskers and non-maskers. And on and on. What was it that separated Jews and Gentiles? Circumcision and the observance of the Jewish law. Paul goes on to say, “He 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, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” To Jesus the reconciliation of all people to one another is so important that he got rid of the most precious identifiers that separated Jews from everyone else. He got rid of what made the chosen people special. He abolished the law. Jesus did not ask Gentiles to change, he asked his own Jewish people to give up what made them special.
“So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off (that is the Gentiles) peace to those who were near (that is the Jews); for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” Here is another building. Now the house of God is Church. The new community of Jesus is the household of God. “In him, Jesus, the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
Paul is not speaking of a physical building or temple. (It has long been noted that many of us Episcopalians have and edifice complex.) Rather he is using the idea of temple as a metaphor for the Community of Jesus, the Body of Christ, the Church. We have sign out front that says “All are welcome here.” That is a lovely sentiment and true statement of our desire to imitate God’s hospitality by welcoming all people. But Jesus and Paul go much further. We do not merely welcome all sorts and conditions of people into our house or our church. No. If we are to follow what Paul said about Jesus, we are willing to give up what we hold most dear in order to become some new thing that we never before imagined. Jesus abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances. What do we need to abolish if we are to make real the community of love, compassion, and justice that Jesus calls the Kingdom of Heaven? What precious dividing walls do we need to tear down so that we can build a new house with our new friends? As we come back together after our dispersion during COVID, how will our church be new?
Even more challenging are the questions about what aspects of our own identity do we need to give up in order tear down walls that divide us. What is it about ourselves that we think make us special do we need to be willing to forego for the sake of making building new relationships? What assumptions do I carry that I was taught by my culture and upbringing that I regard as normative, do I need to set aside in order to value others who differ from me?
These are hard and perhaps frightening questions. They are also exciting energizing questions. What is this new church going to look like? How will we hand on the essentials of our faith and discern what is not essential? How shall we be shaped and changed by the truths that God brings to us through our new members?
What about all those walls of hostility we mentioned earlier? Paul says of Jesus that “in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” There are two ways this can beckon us. First, we are one in the flesh of Jesus when we are baptized into the Body of Christ. Then we are all members of each other. Second, when we share the bread of communion, we are all ingesting the body of Christ. In these two ways the walls are torn down. We are, or should be, God’s gift to this division torn world. We know the mysteries of reconciliation. We have been practicing this art for two thousand years, with varying degrees of success. And today the world needs us more than ever. God will make of us a house “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself s the cornerstone.” And all will be welcome here.