2 Samuel 7:1-14a Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
We have some interesting readings today. The first reading has to do with King David’s image for a house of the Lord. David moves from being a shepherd to becoming a warrior and a king of Judah. When he finally rests from his warrior ways and decides not to return into that nomadic tent-living existence and settles into fine living in the city of Jerusalem. He has conquered not only the Philistines and Goliath but has gone on to invade the stable agrarian communities around him. He is now living in a fine home, no longer living at a substance level. It is nice. He can smell the rich, sweet smell of the pine wood of his home rather than the dust of tent-living. And he thinks of God who is still “living in a tent.”
Since the time of Moses, the God of Israel was worshipped in a tent. And like religious institutions the world over, the priests lagged behind because of tradition. I am sure that the sons of Aaron had been just as unwilling to change things as many vestries I have had. But David had a vision of providing for God a house—a temple. As we all know, it was not David who built God a temple; it was his son Solomon who built the 9th century BCE First Temple. But we hear David’s vision here in this passage from 2nd Samuel.
The building of religious buildings is an amazing endeavor. Some of your founding members may be sitting here. I remember when Christ the King was moved from out in the country to its present place. It implies permanency. It implies strength of purpose. And yet…and yet… We know that no church building says anything about faith, the honoring of God, or the proper living of God’s commandments. Buildings do not last or stand forever. But it is faith that lasts. Gradually the Temple that was built by Solomon was to be a worship place for all the nations. But over the years the Temple was restricted to only certain select persons, those who were circumcised, those who followed specific cultic strictures, those who ‘fit in’ were allowed to enter into the Temple. By Jesus’ day, the Temple began to be restricted to those who were circumcised.
In the Epistle, Paul is writing to the people in Ephesus to remind them of whose they are. He is trying to bridge a major division in the synagogue between the circumcised members of the community and those who were called ‘God Fearers.’ In the couple of centuries before Jesus, Judaism had become a proselyting faith. People who were not ethnically Jewish came to Judaism because of its monotheism and its clear ethical precepts. In those communities farther away from large ethnically Jewish locals, the synagogues were often as much as half-Greek speakers as they were Hebrew or Aramaic speakers. Most Greeks saw the body as beauty and found the whole idea of circumcision as repugnant. So there was a division between those who had been circumcised and those who followed the Law of Moses but were not circumcised. Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus to say that circumcision is not what is important. Peace is what is important.
Now this is an important concept because in Roman Imperial talk, it was Caesar who brought peace. The Imperial propaganda was always full of how Caesar was the god who brought peace. Paul is saying that is the love of God that brings peace in terms that were not only fresh but slightly treasonous. The ones who were ‘once far off’, those who were not ethnically part of the Chosen People, were brought near through baptism. It is the love of God that has brought these once foreigners are now part of the body of God’s chosen. This is language that was really only reserved for the head of the Empire. But Paul makes the case that Jesus is who makes them one. It isn’t Caesar who makes them citizens. It is God who makes us one body, one nation, one people with access to the Temple.
Paul’s theology about circumcision is the first theological argument of the Church. It is found in Acts of the Apostles how Paul and Peter argue about the place of the ‘God fearers’. But Paul argued that God is universal—that access to the faith was to remain always mixed and varied. And that it is the power of the relationship with the Holy One was what made it possible to know that humanity could know peace without having to be alike. Baptism became for the church the sign of our unity in God.
In our Gospel today, we find Jesus being hounded by those who wanted to sit at his feet or have them heal them. Jesus understood the need for personal prayer, the need for solitude or quiet to rejuvenate his ability to share God’s love. We often think that the pastoral life of Jesus’ day was not as hectic as it is today. In between these two pieces of scripture is the feeding of the 5,000. So it is not surprising that people would follow him just to sit at his feet. Jesus was a super-star, but more than that. Jesus had a message of peace that rang authentically, something that was unfamiliar in the religious practice of his day.
I hear a real message to build the Church in our own day. I hear a call from these passages a charge from God to provide a house for God that may not be made of the cedars of Lebanon but made to serve a world that is more conversant with computers than they are with their neighbors. I hear a message of peace that says that we as the Episcopal Church is unwilling to exclude the ‘different’ just to make us comfortable. I find in them the call to self-reflection to claim what is authentic in the words of Jesus and to live them out. I drink deeply of the scenes of each of these passages and find myself trying to figure out just how I am to assist in the visioning of a new Church for an era that we can’t even understand.
I sat in a Diocesan meeting yesterday listening to those who are just as confused about how we are to plan for the next 3 years as you are. Are we going to have a house for God? Or are we going to spend yet another year praying out of our box? Are we going to be able to be at peace if we get our church back or not? Are we going to have money to do this or that? What are we to do when our priest is ill? Are we going to be able to find a place of relationship with the Holy One of Israel? And most of all, where can we find a bit of solitude to know Jesus a bit better?
These lessons speak loudly for us today. They call us to drink deeply of the peace that God holds out to us in the word, in the Sacrament, in the community of faith and in those moments alone. We want to make this ‘house of God’ we are building to last—maybe it won’t be of bricks and mortar but of the substance that allows all to find Christ in it. We are building a new church just like David—it is a vision needs to be spoken. It is a vision that needs to be shared so that when it comes time for our children to rebuild—or our children’s’ children to rebuild, the peace that Christ calls us to will be found. It will come from our steadfast holding on to the relationship with Jesus to direct us. And most of all, are we willing to be that Church?
Will we ever be as strong as we once were? Will the Episcopal Church still be the bastion of a certain social-class? Will the Episcopal Church once again have the influence it had in the 1970’s? I hope not. But hopefully we will have found a way to live the authenticity of faith as followers of an itinerant rabbi in Galilee who had the audacity to teach love, peace and community to the Roman Empire. May we become the kind of followers of Jesus whose message is that it isn’t the building that makes us Church. It isn’t the doctrine that makes us Church. It is the love of God that is shown to the world by us that makes us Church. AMEN