Readings for Proper 11 (16) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In the reading from 2 Samuel, I wonder what reflection of the present, what reflection of our life, do we see when we look into the mirror that the Old Testament reading provides. It is about the foundation of, the building of, the house of the Lord, a dwelling place of the divine. And the narrative tells us two things about that foundation and that building. First of all it says that the king was settled and secondly it said he had rest from his enemies, and only then, only then when the king is safe and secure in his own house, does the divine contemplate a dwelling place. The other interesting thing is that the dwelling place of the divine is given - its realization is given - to the offspring of the king.

It’s a story or a narrative about heaven - that’s how we hear this story spoken about in other places. Or we hear in other parts of scripture, the kingdom of God spoken of; or we might recall the gift of Christmas – Emmanuel, God with us – perhaps this is a story about the realization of the Christmas gift. Or maybe it’s Easter – Christ is risen, ‘I will be with you always’; or maybe it’s a story of Pentecost – ‘I am sending the Spirit to be with you’. The one thing that we get from the reading from Samuel is it when peace is realized and when we are at rest from our enemies, then that is the time that we will find ourselves at home, ‘the Lord will make you a house’. And our offspring - this is not our children - our offspring are the children of ‘dwelling in peace’ - the children of peace shall find the divine dwelling at home with them. It is in peace that humanity and divinity dwell together. 

And I think we see that even more clearly in the reading from Ephesians. Paul’s theology, his understanding of the divine is quite often misunderstood and most often it is taken out of context. But in the reading that we have today from Ephesians I think it can be seen that Paul is ahead – his theology at least is ahead of its time and sadly today, his theology is ahead of our time. In verse 17 we have ‘He, Christ, came and proclaimed peace’; verse 14, ‘He, Christ is our peace; in his being (and therefore in our fullest humanity) he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us.’ The dividing wall - between the uncircumcision and the circumcision, between Israel and Palestine, between Christian and Muslim, between women bishops and right-reverends, between homosexuals and heterosexuals, between suburban Aussies and refugees: ‘He, Christ has made both groups into one, that he might create in himself, one new humanity, in place of the two, thus making peace’. Verse 21: ‘In Christ the whole is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in Christ you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. 

Once again what we get in Paul is the theology of London Transport: ‘Mind the Gap‘. Christ is the word of integration, Christ is a proclamation of wholeness, it’s a theology that’s counter-cultural and points to a vision that not only goes beyond the great Australian dream but also goes in a completely different direction. What is it that we follow, what is our orientation? As we follow the Israeli distortion of the Old Testament tradition and build walls of fear, or as we follow the American distortion of the New Testament and create separation and fear, so Paul calls to us, he calls us into Christ, into a new humanity, into a vision of ourselves realised in Christ together, a dwelling place, a place for God without separation. And where there are no gaps, then no fear, no terrorism can enter in.

It’s as if we hear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the gospel message for today. By the time we get down to the gospel reading, what we get is some idea of what the early church looks like - the uncorrupted church, the church that follows Christ. The gospel reading begins with 'the apostles'. It’s not talking about 'those apostles', it’s talking about 'the apostles', those who follow, those who follow. If we read through it we find that they weren’t absorbed in debating divisions and separation, it wasn’t what they were about. The verbs in the gospel narrative describe a very different orientation: the apostles were gathered, gathered around Jesus, telling all they had done and taught; they had no leisure even to eat. So Jesus calls them to a deserted place, to rest, in retreat and in prayer. And by their actions, the actions of the apostles – this is the leaven in the lump again – by their actions, by their activity, by their teaching and by their telling, many, many saw them and recognised them and were touched and were healed. It’s as if the gospel that speaks of creating peace and creating a place where the divine is at home in humanity, it’s as if we now hear that’s a simple activity to bring that about, and it doesn’t require everyone to do it, because the minute we think this is a word for everyone, we disempower the word itself: Christ says, 'Let those who have ears hear‘. As we contemplate ourselves as church we find that we are baptised into one body, into Christ. And we might recall again the understanding that Paul brings to that oneness: ‘He, Christ is our peace’ - peace is a given. ‘He has made, Christ has made - not wants to make, or is about to make, or will make in the twenty-first century – he has made both groups into one and broken down the dividing wall. Paul has glimpsed a natural and divine order of creation - the gaps, the differentiations, the ‘us and thems’ of this world, is not the orientation that the apostles had, neither is it our orientation. The divine orientation calls us into one body without gaps without divisions. It is the world and the gravity of the world that separates.

Contemplate how in our following the teachings of this world we’ve been hoodwinked into believing that there are so many ‘us and thems’ and therefore a need to differentiate ourselves. Imagine, if that was bullshit and this is the truth and if there isn’t an ‘us and them’, those divisions were given to us by the world for another purpose. The truth here is given to us for one purpose – to make us whole, to bring us into the fullness of life – ourselves and with each other, and to create peace.

Let us be aware that we are apostles, each of us, for all of us do follow something.

 

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Proper 11B/Ordinary 16B/Pentecost 23 July, 2006 Textweek