Welcome For All People: Proper 11

Welcome For All People: Proper 11

Proper 11: July 18, 2021
The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

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

CLICK HERE for links to video recordings of our services on Facebook. Available service bulletins.


We like to think we are great builders – indeed there are architectural wonders around the world – I recall visiting the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland and exploring beehive huts, which were not to store bees, but were homes shaped like a beehive. Some of the remaining ones are over 1400 years old, but the technique can be dated to over 6,000 years ago. They’re built using what’s called a corbelling technique that requires the use of little to no mortar – the stones, like a piece of fine furniture, are hewn to fit perfectly one into the other. We have subways that were built in the 19th century and are still running. Turbines, satellites, farms and factories. We, or at least our forebears, can take pride in these accomplishments.

Unfortunately, sometimes we do our building for all the wrong reasons. Remember the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel? Those builders achieved amazing things – they were on their way to building a tower to heaven itself – but they were constructing a temple to their own glory, not God’s glory.

Unfortunately, we took those skills we had at building one very tall tower and got really good at building lots and lots of walls. We build walls to protect and to shelter, to corral and to contain, to mark boundaries, and to defend them.

In fact, the walls themselves work in concert with the curse of Babel – they help us define and defend all the differences between us. We usually start with languages and nations, but before long we’re segregating ourselves by customs and habits, by religions and ideologies. The distinctions get finer, and the walls grow more numerous. Ever creative in our pride, we begin to build walls to the glory of our own distinctiveness, and then convince ourselves that God dwells within our own particular boundaries.

Into the midst of this situation comes Jesus, and as we read Ephesians today, Christ “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”[1]

I firmly believe that Christ has broken the walls down. But, in our pride and arrogance have we put them back up?

Christ proclaims peace to those who are far off and those who are near.[2] Same question. Christ indeed has proclaimed peace, but what have we as humans done to the peace that Christ proclaimed?

Jesus takes down whatever walls we continue to raise that create divisions. Insiders and outsiders? Citizens and foreigners? Haves and have nots? Jesus takes the walls down. We put them back up. Like I said we love to build. But building for the sake of building, however, isn’t always good.

In Christ Jesus, those walls come down. But the funny thing is this – Jesus, unlike those of us who like to build things and then tear them down, [think of children at certain ages with their Legos], isn’t trying to engage in a demolition derby here. What he’s trying to do is raise a new structure, to join us together into a new holy temple, like the temple in the Book of Samuel. This new “dwelling place”[3] will be a place created by Jesus for all of God’s children, a place to cast aside divisions.

The author of Ephesians tells us that Jesus does all this through his own body. “In his flesh he … has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”[4]

At least in part, this is about the crucifixion. On the cross, Jesus accepted the full weight of our pride and our vanity, allowing his own body to be broken in order to show us the folly of our divisions and hostilities. Have we learned?

Here again, the story does not end in mere destruction. In the resurrection, Jesus not only witnesses to new life, but acts to reconcile all our divided factions to God “in one body through the cross.”[5] In a sense, this is a natural extension of Jesus’ work of bodily healing throughout his earthly ministry. In our gospel reading for today, remember how the crowds rush to meet Jesus, bringing the sick to lay along his path. The sick and injured come to him with nothing but their faith and their own weakness and vulnerability. Jesus meets not only their needs to be healed, but their needs to be seen and acknowledged.

Sickness or disability in that culture was a sentence of separation. Likely it meant a life of dependence or even of begging. Certainly, it meant exclusion from public worship, because being declared unclean for temple worship prevented a person from drawing near to the physical presence of God that the temple represented.

Not to worry. Jesus instead brings God’s presence directly to those most excluded and most in need. Jesus does not let even the religious law stop him – he heals on the Sabbath, he heals in synagogues; he overturns tables in the temple and the sick come to him to be healed there.

Jesus is healing more than bodily illness; he is healing division and exclusion. In fact, he is creating a new Body, gathering together the crowds who have been like sheep without a shepherd, and bringing God’s presence among them. Teaching and healing, Jesus begins to assemble a new community bound  together by faith in the nearness of God. That is what we are called to do in the church today. Assemble a community brought together in faith, prayer, and worship.

In the cross and resurrection, Jesus consummates all this work of teaching and healing. He shows himself to be present even in surrender and suffering and death. He surpasses all those ills in the resurrection and invites all of humanity to become part of his own body. He not only restores the temple of his own body in three days, but begins to shape all of us into the Body of Christ. In the cross, the two great metaphors for the church are united and find their basis: the church as the Body of Christ, and the church as the new temple of God.

We all are invited to join with the apostles and prophets in their self-giving role of building this new and holy temple. We are invited to hold each other up in service, prayer, and worship, even as the stones of the temple together bear the weight of the whole.

This can only happen because of Jesus the cornerstone, who also happens to be the master architect. We may look at the church and see it terribly fragmented. We may look at our fellow Christians across the dividing line of denominations and worship styles and theologies, and despair of ever working together. Frankly, we may not want to be placed side-by-side with them in a new and unified structure.

But if we come to seek healing, in humility and in faith, then maybe we will see that Jesus, who is able to heal our divisions, is also able to grow us into one body of many different sorts of members, so long as we remember that Jesus is the head. And Jesus as our master-builder can make use even of our differences in order to create a perfect balance and counterpoise. He will work until the only walls that remain standing are the walls of one great “holy temple in the Lord.”

I urge all of us to not get caught up in our current fearfulness that manifests itself both in rushing about as we hear in the Gospel and creating divisions that Jesus seeks to tear down. Because our healing comes in participating in God’s welcome for all people. It’s not some high-volume production process – it’s in a simple smile, or a word of encouragement, or a shared prayer. In welcoming we see each person as they are, God’s beloved child. Amen.

[1] Ephesians 2:14, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] Ephesians, 2:17, NRSV

[3] Cf. Ephesians 2:22, NRSV, “in who you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

[4] Ephesians 2:14, NRSV

[5] Ephesians 2:16, NRSV

Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE