A Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
July 19, 2015
(2 Samuel 7.1-14a; Psalm 89.21-38; Ephesians 2.11-22; Mark 6.30-34, 53-56)
King David has a dream. A magnificent temple for the ark of God. Grand. Lavish. Permanent. David will take on another project. He will build again.
The next morning, however, Nathan returns with his message from the Lord: David will not build for God.
After all, God’s plans are significantly bigger.
God began his build long ago. The shepherd boy made prince; enemies thwarted; David crowned king. Peace on every side. Surely there is little more to do.
But God is only just getting started.
God, it seems, does not want a house of cedar. God wants a house of followers. Not just in David’s time. God wants faithful followers forever. A steadfast community in trusting relationship with God.
A permanent echo of the faithfulness of David.
It is a promise that Israel will celebrate for all time. Psalm 89 encourages the nation to raise their voice in the very words of God:
‘I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure…His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun, it shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies.’
Israel has been given a lot to sing about. Theirs is a God of grand plans!
When Jesus arrived on the scene the vision of David’s line was rekindled. This is the Son of David. The promised one who will reign over Israel forever.
It seems, however, that the dimensions of Jesus’ reign go beyond merely unending time. They also go beyond Israel’s borders.
Just prior to our gospel reading, the twelve, now designated apostles, proclaimed the gospel in the surrounding Jewish villages. Their strategy: ‘…they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.’
Their mission bears all the hallmarks of Jesus’. So must ours.
It was surely a heady experience. Mark tells us very little of the apostle’s mission. Just the above summary statement and then they gather and tell Jesus ‘…all they had done and taught.’
Jesus’ response? A time of refreshing solitude. His stated, but ultimately unsuccessful, goal is to take them to a deserted place for both ‘rest’ and ‘leisure’. Jesus is clearly seeking somewhere the crowds are not.
Climbing into a boat, however, Jesus and the apostles are easily recognised. People run from their towns in pursuit. They wait in the wilderness for Jesus.
Frustration could easily have been the master’s response. After all, this trip was specifically made to avoid the crowds.
Upon seeing the gathered multitudes, however, Jesus is overwhelmed. Not with anger. He is overcome by ‘compassion’. The word translated here implies a gut response. They remind him of shepherd-less sheep: vulnerable and seeking guidance. Put these two thoughts together and Jesus is moved to the core by their lostness.
And so Jesus teaches.
Between this arrival and the arrival in Genessaret sits the feeding of the five-thousand and Jesus walking on the water to the terrified storm-harassed disciples. Jesus seems to have spent some of the night in prayer. It is as close to rest as he comes.
A strangely similar story unfolds in this gentile region. Recognition of Jesus causes a rush. The sick are brought. Mass healing takes place. Jesus finds time.
Substantial time. Israel’s Messiah visits gentile ‘villages’, ‘cities’, ‘farms’, and ‘market-places’. An extended tour.
Everywhere he goes echoes of the mission to Israel are heard: faith, healing, miracle. Gracious and compassionate healing. The kingdom of God has come even here.
It is, surely, something of a proclamation of God’s ‘peace to those who are far off, and peace to those who are near.’
Our reading from Ephesians reminds us that this was a reality not left in the heavenliness but grappled with in early Christian communities. As I read again this wonderful passage I couldn’t help but notice that it is directed, not at the traditional insiders, but God’s traditional outsiders. Our passage urges the gentiles – the people of the nations – to ‘remember’.
And what are they to remember? That through Christ the lives of all believers are being made into God’s temple – a cross-cultural community radically realigned with Jesus Christ – God’s temple-positioning ‘cornerstone’.
There are no strangers and aliens. There are only ‘citizens’ and ‘members of the household of God’.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a stone in the wall of God’s peace-proclaiming temple? I don’t mean just as a privilege, but as a calling. If there is one thing stones need to be able to do it is to get alongside one another. Their strength, indeed their purpose, is found in their alignment with the building’s cornerstone and the other stones.
There are times I despair. The world seems so divided by race, class, and culture. At those times I am glad for Paul’s call to the Ephesian church to ‘remember’ the radical vision of Christ.
I have been in a part of God’s people for as long as I can remember. I don’t know if I can even begin to catalogue the people and cultures from across the globe that I have had the honour of worshipping alongside and getting to know. There are so many.
And I am richer for each encounter. Not the least for the fact that that in each and every person lies the potential to catch a glimpse of the wideness and wonder of those Paul describes – with striking reminder of David’s vision – as the ‘dwelling place of God’
God’s invitation to you: that you align yourself with Christ and – by your life and work – contribute to the construction of what must surely be the most colourful and artistic of all God’s creations: God’s temple, the church of God.
You – together – are the very place the creator dwells.