The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: A Sermon

The Readings (Track 1)

We’re going to give the lion’s share of attention to the Ephesians reading, but, first, a bit of muddling around in the other readings.

Tour guides often have pages like “If you have only one day in New York…” Any equivalent guide to the Old Testament would include our first reading. God’s promise to David of an eternal house (dynasty) is the basis for all the hopes for a coming son of David. It’s the reason ‘Messiah’/’Christ’ (the anointed one) is such a key title. It starts here with Nathan’s words to David.

One element worth noticing in Nathan’s words is the repeated reference to houses of cedar (houses at the high end of the market): “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” “…did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” There is probably some exasperation in God’s response: I don’t need a house of cedar; why do you think you need a house of cedar? Why this question? Consider, a few centuries later, Jeremiah’s words (22:15) to the current Davidic king: “Are you a king because you compete in cedar?” This is the sort of question God directs to many of us from time to time: “Tom, why do you think you need…?” The Book of Proverbs nails it:

7 Two things I ask of you;
do not deny them to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need,
9 or I shall be full, and deny you,
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or I shall be poor, and steal,
and profane the name of my God. (30:7-9)

So Paul, in the other Testament: “for I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Phil 4:11). That’s a hard sell in this culture, but probably necessary for our sanity and sanctity.

The Gospel. The omitted verses (vv.35-52) mostly narrate the feeding of the five thousand. The lectionary omits these because in the next five weeks we’ll be hearing John’s narrative. That’s fair, but misses Mark’s mischievous juxtaposition of the two feasts: Herod’s, in which John the Baptist loses his head, and Jesus’, in which five thousand are fed. Mark’s suggesting, I think, that we need to choose which feast we end up at, a choice not unrelated to our ability to say “enough.”

In our first reading house as temple and house as dynasty contrast: David won’t build God a house (temple); God will build David a house (dynasty). But as Ephesians makes clear, God’s option for the dynasty gets God the temple God really wanted: “In him [David’s son, the Messiah] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

“You also.” Throughout the chapter Paul’s focused on the Jew/Gentile division, now abolished through the generous and costly work of the Messiah. In this vision the Jews don’t stop being Jews; the Gentiles don’t stop being Gentiles. But in Jesus these differences no longer divide, no longer fuel enmity. And Jew/Gentile is paradigmatic for the many divisions in our world.

“Built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Our building projects usually seek homogeneity. It’s simpler that way. “Birds of a feather…” But that’s not Paul’s vision: Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slave and free. One commentator, Marcus Barth, puts it this way: “There is no ideal of a Christian personality applicable to all church members alike, but there are men, women, children who because of their diverse origins, pasts, privileges, hopes, or despairs are by nature inclined to hate one another and God (Rom 5:6-10). Now they are enabled by the work and rule of Christ to contribute in common repentance and common faith their various idiosyncrasies, histories, experiences, and gifts to the peaceful common life of God’s people” (Ephesians 1-3, 311).

“Built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” That word ‘spiritually’ can trip us up. It’s not a synonym for ‘immaterial’. Barth again: “The people of God who are built together and become God’s house—the church—are as material, temporal, spatial, and concrete as sticks and stones” (Ephesians 1-3, 320).

“Spiritually,” because only the transformative power of the Holy Spirit can give this mad project any chance of success. At the beginning when all was waste and void, darkness on the face of the deep, God sent the Spirit. And today the Spirit continues to assist in the heavy lifting.

“Assist.” I use that word cautiously. It’s not as though the Spirit does 50% and we do 50%. It’s that we really need to want this project to succeed, to put our backs into it. Building cross-culturally is hard work. But, recalling the original cross-cultural challenge, men being from Mars and women from Venus, oh the pay-off!

The temple, the meeting point of heaven and earth. God is happy for that to be at the corner of County C and Windsor St [Good Shepherd’s location]; God has no interest in it being only there. The vision is that the temple, the meeting point of heaven and earth, be everywhere we are 24/7, so that there is no place that the glory, mercy, love of God is not visible and tangible. So that we—to pick up Paul’s language from last week’s reading—“might live for the praise of his glory.”

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