Sermon for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 18, 2021
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared in worship and on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Jeremiah 23:1–6 | Ephesians 2:11–22 | Mark 6:30–34, 53–56
Last week we heard about Amos speaking for God to the people of Israel that the plumb line- that tool for laying stones in walls to keep it aligned—was being held up next to them metaphorically, and had revealed a problem with the whole structure. It will eventually show up in those cracked walls, or doors that won’t close right, tilted floors and eventually—though we don’t have too many buildings this old—collapse. But if everything looks good from my point of view—like those Amos talks about who were prominent in religious and political life—and can be ignored as I move on or pay someone else to deal with it—then what matter is it to me? The faulty foundations weren’t bothering Amos’ audience—but it was all that the hungry poor who were made into slaves and denied justice- could think about. And it was what God was thinking about; God who cares about the whole building; and so cares about right-ness and justice. Who sees and even facilitates the demise of the building with the crooked walls. That is, Israel.
So here’s a new vision of a building in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus—that is what we call Ephesians. There’s some similarities in the building imager. God’s dwelling place or habitation is woven in. People are the building materials. The foundation and walls matter. In Ephesians, the base is made of prophets and apostles (ones “sent out” to share about Jesus). Keeping it together at the base is Jesus the cornerstone. This is a good foundation of God’s justice, right-ness as spoken, along with the good news of grace and life through Jesus. Beyond that are the people of the church who are the walls. So this is now more than just the people of Israel, but some of their descendants who are now called Jews, along with all sorts of people who were the melting pot of Asia minor—or modern-day Turkey. And finally, the whole point of this structure is to be something concrete by which GOD can be concrete in the world. The building is something by which God can keep being known and present in human life: a lovely organic language in Ephesians of people in Christ joining and growing into a dwelling place for God.
If only we could grow together and not apart! Paul makes the point that being in Christ Jesus about breaking down the walls. This was a purpose of his death, in fact! We just heard about chosenness last week- the people of Israel and now followers of Jesus: How we need to start something out feeling special and beloved. And how that adds and extra layer of accountability because of the greater cause of also sharing this message with others. What often happens, however, is this pre-sorting in which we identify with certain things (usually unknowingly as a part of our specific culture) and then split up over them. So we hear Paul addressing this exact thing when he talks about circumcision and the gift of the commandments that provided a structure for being together as God and humans in a way that expressed God’s goodness. They— and many more things added since Moses—because the sign of being Jewish. But this is a marker that is now being used to divide—and, in fact, is a source of “hostility” between people.
Maybe you’ve noticed some hostility as of late? Around things like masks, presidents, climate, immigration, foreign relations? Maybe you have also noticed that we tend to draw a line in the sand—as if we need to stake a side and stick by it despite all the nuances to so many issues. What if the foundation of how we grow into life together as the church—which spreads into our social and civic life as well—were made up of those who speak God’s word of judgement and mercy, and those who witness the love and healing of Christ, and Jesus himself who gave his life for all—and then we went from there? There’s some pretty strong language for when we let our tendency to polarize get in the way of God’s work: Paul says “Jesus ”abolished” the law and its commandments and ordinances” so that they wouldn’t put up this wall to all those others who also know and love Jesus. There is a place for those who haven’t been part of this particular story of God with the people of Sinai and the covenant. Holding onto the foundation and expanding what and who God is building is how growth is now happening. Peace is both the gift and the fruit of this work. It is the work of the cross, Paul says, is to take down those barriers between us- that we experience fullness of life in all these ways.
Now the “us” between which the barriers divide, might not change, but the way we sort ourselves out could be any number of things:
I don’t know if you have seen the movie (or read the book) based on the life of Nia Vardalos called “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It’s fun because it’s a very particular story about one woman and her Greek family as they integrate—or don’t integrate—into American life; and yet it’s universal about human beings as well. There’s sibling competition, unreasonable parents, cultural quirks and, of course, falling in love with the wrong person. At one point, the main character’s father shouts as his daughter and wife, “Is he nice Greek boy? Oh no! Oh, no Greek—but exeno; and exeno (“stranger”—in our reading today) with big long hairs on the top of his head!” Sometimes just saying out loud the things we think in our heads can reveal both the deep feeling and also the silliness of how we sort ourselves. AND one can’t help but hear with compassion the lament in the Greek father’s voice: He is afraid of what he doesn’t know; what is outside his experience of how his family and culture have worked for so long. It doesn’t seem possible to be open to someone who seems so different… Through tears, awkwardness, grief, and a hilarious meeting with the boyfriend’s quiet midwestern parents—a kind of loving joy arises in this new reality of people who are—as the Greek father at the wedding says, “like apples (Miller) and oranges (Portokulos), but in the end, all fruit.”
We live in a time of ever-increasing mixing of cultures and changing social structures and it can be a bit overwhelming. We hear that Jesus is in the business of “creating in himself a new humanity.” I think this begs the urgency of the message of Jesus: Both to address the friction and fear that many feel with change and seeing difference all around and to casting a new vision of how we can be together; with Jesus as our cornerstone. Jesus who we hear today is resting, showing compassion, teaching and healing those who have been mis-shepherded and are in need of something better. Blame and scapegoating of them has been taken off the table by the life and death of Jesus. One other translation for that word exeno or “stranger,” is “guest.” Our stance toward what we don’t know or understand in someone else, might be to see what we can do to show what Jesus is and does in a spirit of hospitality. It’s what we ourselves have received, after all: as citizens, members of the same household. Thanks be to God. Amen.