Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
July 19, 2015
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:-11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Brought Near Through the Cross
When preparing sermons, I like it when the readings all seem to go together and I can look for patterns and themes. I tend to be a bit on the obsessive side, so I will try really hard to weave everything together. . I want the sermon to make sense and not leave loose ends hanging. I admit that this week’s readings gave me a bit of a challenge. What, I wonder, does the ark of God traveling in a tent instead of a house of cedar, Gentiles, circumcision, uncircumcision, the law, and Jesus being surrounded by throngs of hungry people who long to even touch his garment, have in common? I was really stumped by this one!. Then I remembered what one of my friends, a colleague in ministry, said to me about preaching. He said- “Scripture is messy, wonderful, contradictory and true. Let it be- let it go, and tell folks the story.” So that’s what I am going to do this morning—let these scriptures tell us stories, stories of a living God who enters our history and dwells with us, of a God who will stop at nothing to draw us back into relationship, of a God who longs to draw the whole human family into a living body of the faithful whose unity goes beyond the limits of time, place, culture, ethnicity or social and economic status,
In the lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find King David is taking his rest from his time on the battlefield, and has settled into his house for a time of respite. He reproaches himself that he is dwelling in a fine home of cedar, while the Ark of God, which houses the Holy of Holies, has been carried about in a tent. Through the prophet Nathan, God challenges David- and basically tells him that he has been living in a tent and has been on the go since the people of Israel have been brought up from Egypt. Why should it be any different now? He asks “Have I ever asked you to build me a house? He then goes on to say that his house will be in the offspring of David, that they shall be his people, and he shall be their God. The Lord, the Holy One, is not distant and far removed in the heavens or in the confines of a building. This is a God who shares our history, who travels with his people and is carried about in an ark, who argues with them, gets angry with them, cajoles them, and encourages them. He is a living God, a God on the move, a God engaged with us and our lives. I am reminded of that wonderful musical “Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye, the main character- carries on running conversations with God, and laughs and argues with him. This God is a God who constantly enters history and shares it with us. This God eludes any attempts to be contained in a temple, stationary, distant, impassive. Our God is a God who is on the move, on the road with us, hitting the trail, a God with whom we can share our joys, our grief, our fears, our disappointments. We can come to this God with whatever is on our hearts, and know that we are heard.
Our God is a God who relentlessly, tirelessly, and consistently seeks us out, and longs to draw us back to himself. Throughout time, he spoke through prophets and sages, and most recently, through his Son, Jesus. Though God gave his people the gift of the Law, they still wandered far from him, and turned away. In Christ and his life, God continued to long for us, to woo us, to seek us, and even suffered to the point of death on a cross to draw us back in to the heart of his love. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes to the Gentile believers of the great themes of the faith, of the love of God that turns the Law and commandments from things of obligation into living ordinances that are written on our hearts, of the blood of Christ and the power of the cross that has broken down the walls that separate us from God and our neighbors, of the household of the faithful as the dwelling place of God. Paul says that “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This is good news, friends! God wants to dwell in our hearts, to share our lives, our joys, our sorrows, to comfort, strengthen, heal and empower us! All we need to do is open our hearts in faith and trust. Are you or a loved one walking through the valley of the shadow? Come to the shepherd of the sheep, as they did on the shore at Gennesaret in today’s Gospel, touch his garment and be made whole. Are you weary, tired, feeling beaten down by life and circumstances beyond your control? Are you facing difficult change and uncertainty about the future? Know that God longs to draw you near, that he, too knew weariness, pain and fear, and will walk with you on your long and lonely road. The message of the letter to the Ephesians is that through the cross of Christ we have access to the transforming, healing, liberating power of God.
Finally, our God wants to build a new thing, a wonderful tapestry, a human family united in Christ that is free of the bonds of tribalism, of nationalism, of division into factions and the easy, yet limiting comfort of seeking fellowship only with those who look, think, or act like us. No, my friends, God is calling us to something more difficult, yet much higher and better—the building of a community of love and trust that unites male and female, gay and straight, black, white, yellow, brown, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, through our one baptism in Christ, through our faith in the one who has made us a new creation, who has brought all of us who were far off near to him and each other in fellowship. Our limited human nature causes to want to love those who love us, who are like us, and fear the other, the stranger. God calls us higher, and as Paul writes, “has broken down the dividing wall”, the hostility between groups of people. I believe God has a dream for God’s people, that we will develop in grace into the Body of Christ, the dwelling place of Go,d in which we care for each other, invite and challenge each other to grow, and then go forth into the world to share the reconciling love of God.
It is not always easy to live together this way. Living in community is the school for patience and producing the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Learning to embrace diversity has its challenges. I know it is easier for me to spend time with folks who look like me, think like me, and won’t rock my boat too much, or challenge me. Yet God is calling us higher. What unites us in Christ is so much greater than any surface differences. We sometimes want peace at all costs, and avoid conflict, even if following God’s call means speaking the truth in love in a tough situation. God is calling us to something higher. Through patience and bearing with one another’s shortcomings, sharing each other’s burdens, and learning to forgive, we grow more fully into the new creation in Christ that we are meant to be. That is what is meant by the “beloved community.” It is, as Paul writes, the “holy temple in the Lord, in whom we are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
We follow a God who is active in history, who cares about justice, who gives himself in suffering love to reconcile us, who dreams of building us into a wonderful diverse community of people who reverence the presence of God in each and every soul, and then share this amazing love in the world. How will we, here at Holy Child and St Martin, help to make this dream of God a reality? How will we love and support one another, live in humility and gratitude together, bear one another’s burdens in good times and bad? Will the world around know that we are Christians by our love? The world needs the love each and every one of you has to give, so go forth into the world in the name of Jesus, and make whole what is broken, joyful what is sorrowful, and bring near those who are far off. Amen.