Weekly Preaching: July 18, 2021

July 14th, 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-14. Notice the quirky ironies. To David’s seemingly pious craving to build a temple, God (through Nathan) replies, “Will you build me a house?” Just 4 chapters later, David is indeed house-building (as in a family/descendants) via his seizure of Bathsheba! I love Robert Barron on the plan David concocted while resting: “We will see the contrast between this use of Sabbath time and the use that David makes of his leisure time in the eleventh chapter” – which he says is “none other than the difference between Adam’s proper and improper exercise of authority in the garden.”

Easy sermon: God is mobile, elusive, not to be boxed in. The temple got built, then Jesus turned around and said I’m the real temple, this one (well, Herod’s) will be destroyed. David desires to do something for God – reminding me of a mantra I repeat often: It’s not what I want to do, and it’s not what I want to do for God, but rather what God wants me to do. Barron again: “A person’s plan might be bold, beautiful, magnanimous, and popular, but still not be God’s plan. A person’s ambition might be admirable and selfless, but still not be congruent with God’s ambition… Our lives are not about us. God’s plans for us are always greater, more expansive, and more life-giving than our plans for ourselves.” Or as Anne Lamott famously said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.”

Ephesians 2:11-22. What Bible text could be more timely than this one? Right now, we Americans seem so very fond of our divisions, even if we growl about them. Political ideology, denominational squabbling, and race are high and hard walls no one can surmount or bypass. But division grieves Jesus’ heart, and we keep crucifying him over and over with our cocky other-ing of the others. If you’re reconciled to God, it’s not an option to refuse to be reconciled to others.

It’s fear, of course. As I’ve repeated quite a few times, Walter Brueggemann said everybody’s afraid. Some are afraid the world they’ve treasured is crumbling around them; others are afraid the world they dream of will never come to be. Check out my conversation about Ephesians, race, and the Bible, with the brilliant Esau McCaulley. Fabulous stuff.

Frank Thielman suggests that the primary orientation of 2:1-10 is vertical, whereas our text for this week, 2:11-22, is horizontal. 2:1-10 is about God’s powerful work through Christ; 2:11-22 on the social alienation between Israel and the Gentiles and Christ’s role in solving this. Let’s ponder some moments in this rich text. At the end of verse 12: “without God in the world.” The Greek is atheos, which was a disdainful term Gentiles used to describe Jews for their refusal to worship the pagan/civic gods. This same term became a slander against the Christians. The martyrdom of Polycarp: as the fires were being lit, the Romans shouted “Away with the atheists!” – and Polycarp responded in kind: “Yes, away with the atheists!”

The scholarly idea that Paul is reciting a pre-Pauline hymn? Why not fiddle around with this notion in preaching? Ask folks to wonder what the tune was like, what the voices of the early Christians, huddled in small homes or the catacombs, sounded like singing these words. “You who once were far off have been brought near.” They didn’t come near; they were brought near. So much for cocky “seekers.” It’s God who does the bringing near.

“He is our peace.” Love that. Not he brings peace or wants us to have peace. He is our peace – and has made us one by breaking down the dividing wall of hostility. With all due sensitivity to political upset, the preacher would be remiss not to speak of real walls that divide: the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall, Israel's wall today, Hadrian’s Wall, maybe the railroad tracks through a segregated town, and today’s antagonistic political ideology… Paul is envisioning the balustrade, the 4 foot tall stone wall that separated the outer from inner courts of the temple, the wall that declared “No Entry” to Gentiles. All divisions crumble in the light of Jesus.

Gentiles knew the derogatory label hurled at them: “Uncircumcised!” We label people, clumping them into groups, like “haters,” “illegals,” “deplorables,” “looters,” “liberals.” Paul urges us not to clump people into groups, not to assume all who look a certain way are the same. He reminds Jews and Gentiles not to define themselves in relation to one another, but to Christ. Same for us: I’m white (not black), I’m conservative (not liberal), I’m a Gamecock (not from Clemson). Repentance, metanoia in Greek, means a change of mind. “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Peace really can happen, even in the face of bitter division. Check out this great conversation I had with Gary Mason, who’s spearheaded peacemaking in Northern Ireland and Israel / Palestine!

This is lovely: Paul suggests to those young Christians that they are a building, “Christ himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (v. 20-22). 1 Corinthians 5:17 says your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Here Paul names that all of our bodies together are stones constructed into a temple to holy that Spirit! And his verbs imply continuation. It’s an ongoing building project – maybe like Sagrada Familia, that fabulous Gaudi church in Barcelona. Construction began in 1882, and maybe it will be completed in my lifetime. Maybe.

Church is like that. You, me, those who came before us, some not here yet, building, higher, stronger, flaws detected and repaired, innovations in what is possible, fresh ideas emerging. Gaudi’s vision is still visible. Christ’s vision for church still has a pulse, I hope. It’s about being transformed in our minds, not other-ing others, being the Peace of Christ, his Body now on earth. Like you and me, church is a work in progress. Thankfully.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56. How lovely is this – for clergy! For our hard-working laity! Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ report on all they’d done? “Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Our Church family is reading John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry this summer. Not my thing as a book – but gosh, it speaks to people, and even to clergy I know and admire. What greater favor could we render to our people than to liberate them from rushing around, cramming their lives full? – and yet with a real, restful sabbath, not more vacation time or junkets for more self-indulgence.

The crowds pressing, and Jesus’ need for rest, remind me of the portrayal Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice envisioned in Jesus Christ Superstar. “Make Us Well” (“Too Many of You”). Hard to believe this musical and film sparked so much controversy, all related to Jesus not being pristinely un-human! I’m never sure how much we need to advise our people to rest, as they’re more eager than we may realize to be zealous in the cardinal sin, “sloth”! But they are most assuredly exhausted and weary, not the kind of weariness a nap or a vacation can fix. Jesus rested, a peculiar, divine kind of rest, calling to mind that God, after the most extraordinary week of labor ever, rested on the seventh day of Creation!

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