You can watch this sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org. It was proclaimed on July 22, 2018 at Bethany Lutheran Church at Cherry Hills Village, CO.
The text is Ephesians 2: 11-22
Have kids come forward
You belong here. Those are words that we all ache to have said to us. We want to be known and to know others. We want to have all the parts of us that we like and those parts of us that we don’t, loved all the same, no matter what. It’s a basic human need. We all have stories of times when we deeply belonged whether it was family or a social group as well as stories of when we knew that no matter what we would never belong. Worse yet, to think that you belong to group only to find out that you really don’t. This need to belong drives us in many ways. It can drive us to build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt by rejection. To build walls around institutions that we love to ensure that nothing will harm it or change it. We build walls to give ourselves a sense of safety and identity in what seems to be a chaotic and lonely world. We yearn to know exactly where we belong.
Kids, I have two tables of duplos here. Choose which table you want to be at, but you can’t all be at the same table, you’ll be in two groups. This group is named “Echahd” and this group is “ena.” Ok, with these duplos on your table, build something together while I keep talking with the adults. I’ll check in with you in a minute. You can build anything you want as long as you work together. Does that sound good?
So the children just quickly sorted themselves into groups and science tells us that even at this young age, they probably sized the other children up and if we had time to go deeper with them and if they could even articulate it, sorted themselves pretty well into like-minded groups. We could probably find something that they have in common. We do this all the time consciously and unconsciously.
And once we find that niche of people, our tribe if you will, we rarely look outside of that group, or more specifically, we almost never ask, “who is missing from our group?” “Whom should we let in?” Most of the time, we belong to closed groups, this is who we are, these are the people who belong and that’s that.
But the flip side is of course, at one point your now best friend or spouse was at one time a stranger to whom you gave a chance. You opened up and risked getting to know them and connecting with them. What was created was a new relationship, a new partnership or a new family. When you risked learning about one another you discovered pieces that were in common, pieces that could be a foundation for the new created relationship.
We are continuing our Ephesians sermon series this week and in Ephesians 2, we read about the real struggle of forging a new community. There was apparently a separation problem, those who were Jewish followers of Jesus and those who were Gentile followers of Jesus. To be Jewish was a very specific identity. It involved more than just belief but your whole way of living. It wasn’t only about going to synagogue or Temple, no it was what you ate, what you wore, where you went, what you touched or didn’t touch. The Jewish converts really accepted Jesus, but being human, still held on to their embedded traditions about how one lives as a believer and how one belongs to a faith tradition. In case you didn’t know, change is hard! Change in how you worship, live and think about God? Well, how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Why would we change it? We like the dark! Seriously…
(Give kids a one minute warning.) And then you had the Gentiles, people who were not Jewish. They lived very differently and followed none of those prescribed actions. The Jewish people had been taught to tolerate the Gentiles to a point, maybe more to pity them that they aren’t Jewish, but to maintain a safe distance to not have them rub off on them, as they didn’t really belong. Sort of like how as parents we teach our children know that they should love everyone, but subtly let them know that if they don’t want to invite that kid who always breaks stuff over to play, you’re fine with that, as your kid will talk to him at the bus stop and that’s good enough. Now the Gentiles weren’t always so fond of their strict new brothers and sisters in Christ either. I would imagine that the Jewish followers of Jesus would seem well, draconian and a serious buzzkill to any get together in this fledgling Christian community called The Way. The Way was radical community, radical generosity, radical collaboration, radical inclusion, radical love, which would blow the mind of any good rule follower!
How can these two groups learn to live together? Ok, kids, how are the creations coming? Let me see group “Echahd” : Tell me how you all worked together? Ok Let’s look at group Ena: Tell me about how you worked together? These are great! Ok, pull the tables together and now I want you to take these two creations and make one creation together. Using every piece of the two existing creations, so you will probably have to take some of what you already built apart. Ok go!
Jesus wasn’t a rule freak, he didn’t care about the religious rules, the civil laws, Jesus only cared about people. Jesus cared so much that he wasn’t afraid to come near to our messiness, our brokenness and our sickness. In Mark we read when Jesus saw the people coming to them on the countryside, he had compassion for them. Compassion means “with suffering.” Jesus suffered with them in their desperation, as they were separated from the community, sheep without a shepherd they were aching to belong and be known, but their physical diseases, their brokenness and being outside the religious rules kept them from belonging. The scandal of Jesus’ ministry is that Jesus takes people whom the world says don’t belong together and makes them one. It’s more than coexisting, which is simply tolerance. The Coexist bumper sticker we’ve all seen doesn’t quite get it right. Jesus is about more than tolerance. Jesus brings people who are near, far, rich, poor, healthy, sick, Jew, Greek, slave, free, male female, rural, urban, black, white, native, immigrant, straight, gay, and pulls us all together as the cornerstone of a new community that abolishes all labels and shows us another way-the new beloved people/body of Christ where all people belong. Cornerstones not only connect two dimensionally, but connects the structure to the foundation. Jesus as our cornerstone connects us not only to one another but to God our foundation, the foundation of the One Body of Christ.
This is what makes us truly one, we are one in the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of a God who crushes all divisions. No matter how many walls that we put up, Christ with compassion, breaks down. Over and over again. Not someday in the future, but right here right now. The cross of Jesus is strong enough to break walls of fear and hostility, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls of our egos, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls around our hearts wide open for compassion and solidarity of our neighbor. When our hearts are broken open by the cross, Jesus can take those pieces and tightly connect us like these duplos, who need one another, to build the kingdom of God where every piece belongs. A holy place right here on earth where God dwells in our hearts, in our homes, in our community and in the world. God dwells here because we dwell here with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.
The names of the groups I gave the children are the words echahd “one” in Hebrew and Ena-“one” in Greek. They took their separate “oneness” and combined to be one new creation here in Christ where each duplo piece had a place and belonged. I love what you have built! This creation reminds us that together we build love in the world for Jesus and tell everyone that they belong to God. How can you show or tell your friends that they belong to God?
In the cross of Jesus, walls are broken, hostility ends, peace pervades and love, well, love builds us as One In Christ and God proclaims: YOU BELONG HERE. And all God’s people say: Amen.