10TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, 7-29-2018

Pentecost 10 B 2018
Proper 12

Texts: 2 Samuel 11:1-15, Psalm 14, Ephesians 3: 14-21, John 6: 1-21

“Know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power of at work within us able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask of imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

Several years ago the Episcopal Church adopted what is known as the Revised Common Lectionary. For those who may not know, the lectionary is the three year cycle of Scripture readings for our Sunday worship. In Year A the Gospel readings are taken from Matthew. In Year B, which is the lectionary year we are currently in, they are from Mark. And in year C, which we will enter the first Sunday of Advent, we will enter the Gospel of Luke. John is read every year during Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week and Easter and through some of Pentecost.

The RCL, as it is abbreviated, was worked on by Ecumenical scholars and has been adopted by the vast majority of mainline Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church and that means that overall, you could worship in Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran congregations around the world and hear the same readings being read as are read here in St. Luke’s.

One of the changes the RCL made in the lectionary is that there are two tracks the preacher has to choose from. One track groups the readings thematically and the other track has extended readings from the books in the Old Testament and Epistles so that over the course of several Sundays a large part of a particular book will be read.

I like doing using Track One-the extended track-because it allows me to settle in and really get comfortable with the text. It is like sitting in my kitchen with a good friend over a long cup of coffee and talking about everything under the sun. It is like doing a Bible Study only at sermon time.  

I told you last week that I love preaching on the Epistles. The reason I love preaching the Epistles is that they tell us about the challenges of being the church. The Epistles show us vividly how the new communities of faith found it hard to get along, how they had differing takes on everything from decorum to discipleship.  

The early church wrestled with the place of their culture and their faith and of how to integrate people of various beliefs and backgrounds into one body of believers. Did they need to be circumcised or not in order to be part of the Covenant? What were the roles men, women and eunuchs could play in this new community? What spiritual gifts did they bring together and what of those who may not have certain gifts such as speaking in tongues, healing, or teaching?

The more I look at the early church, the more I believe it speaks to the issues and struggles we face today. Two thousand years may have passed and we may be living in a very different place with a very different world view, but human nature hasn’t changed all that much and so the issues and struggles sound so familiar to me, even if the language sounds a bit different and the examples given are a bit dated.  

For the last three Sundays we have read from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Last week we heard about the one community brought together by the cross of Christ. Paul insists to the Ephesians that they were once far from God and now as a result of Jesus and his death and resurrection, all have been gathered into one people-Jew, Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, men, women-all have received God’s grace. In what Paul terms God’s “mystery,” the walls of hostility between groups have been broken down and peace has been achieved.

I told you last week that peace was not a thing but came in the form of a person-Jesus Christ. I also told you that peace was not something to be attained as it was already given-we just had to claim it, and that is where the issue is; in our sin we refuse what God has already ordained.  

Paul tells us that it is the church that is to show the world how to move toward the gift already given to us. The church is to show the world how to move toward reconciliation between God and neighbor.

Today’s reading from Ephesians is part of a prayer that Paul prays for this community.  Paul bows down to God in thanksgiving and awe for bringing together into one family different and hostile groups, so that they can serve God as one people, one family.  

Paul prays that they will be strengthened from the inside out, that Christ will enter their hearts and make them a new people and a new community that springs forth from the deep tap roots of God’s love in Christ.

Paul doesn’t pray this for a bunch of separate individuals; he prays this for a community of faith. He wants the community to have the power to know and understand along with all the heavenly beings, the unfathomable, boundless, and cosmic love of Christ.  

It is when they are of one heart that the Spirit flows in and through them and because of that Spirit, God can accomplish in their life together more than they ever could have imagined. Paul ends his prayer with “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

This is a letter to a church that may well be doubting its survival. The disciples are dying, the Apostle Paul is writing from prison, they may be fearful of what is going to become of this new group, this new community.

Paul is not fearful however. One of the wonderful things about Paul is that he has an incredible spiritual vision. He is both spiritually nearsighted; he sees the immediate need of the community in front of him, and he is also spiritually farsighted; he never loses sight of the Kingdom of God, no matter how faraway it might appear. Paul was a master of being rooted in the here and now, of being present to the present moment, as well as being able to glimpse the future that Christ has won for us and bringing the two of them together.

One writer has said, “Paul has expectations. He’d love these Christians to just say “know.”  That is KNOW. He wants them to be able to say that “they know Christ will strengthen them, they know that Christ loves them beyond spatial boundaries, they know that the power of God is available to them, that they know that the mind cannot even begin to comprehend the huge possibilities and opportunities for those who love God.”

The Ephesians may not know what the future holds, but Paul hopes and prays that they do know that it holds God in Christ and that is enough.

I hope that one of the things that we can do over my time with you is to become more able and willing to hear the scriptures speaking to us as a community and not just as individuals. I hope that we can ask what the scripture has to say to the “we” instead of just to the “me.”

I pray that our ears will be opened to what the words have to say about our life together in community and not just to a church of one, as if there could even be such a thing.  

John Westerhoff, an Episcopalian and Christian educator, has written that you cannot be a Christian of one, a Christian alone; we can only be Christians in relation to others.   

St. Luke’s is more than a bunch of different individuals. St. Luke’s is a bunch of individuals who have come together in love and service being bound together by and in Christ. That  changes us. I hope we never lose sight of that fact.  

So what does the Letter to the Ephesians have to say to our life together today? Plenty, but I’ll settle for saying just three things this morning.

First, it tells us that we will be strengthened, from the inside out, by the Holy Spirit, when Christ dwells at the heart of this congregation. When our life together is rooted and grounded in Christ’s love we begin to see the whole of God’s Kingdom and begin to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us and for others.

We are strengthened by one another in coming together, by sharing our lives, our hopes, our fears, and our pain. We help each other to believe and live the Good News of God in Christ. And in doing so, we help the world do that as well. We are strengthened from the inside of this congregation to the outside of this world.

Second, the heart of this congregation is the heart of Christ. I do not doubt that. Christ dwells here, in us and among us. That will not change, regardless of how we might change or who stands in this pulpit or at the altar.  

Like Paul, I bow my knee to the Father who has brought us together. I find it awe-inspiring and humbling. And to think he brought us together for his glory and service. If that doesn’t give you goose bumps than I don’t know what will.  

Lastly, in coming together, we come to understand more fully that God’s love in Christ transcends circumstances and time. In listening to one another, planning with one another, hoping with one another, we see God’s world and God’s will more fully and clearly.  

In coming together we come to know that “the power of God is greater than our greatest problem, greater than our most perplexing situation, and greater than any of our fears.” 

In coming together we help each other know, to the depths of our souls, that God working in us can indeed do abundantly more than we could ever imagine in ways we could never conceive. For that knowledge, may we like Paul, give glory to Jesus forever and ever.

Amen.

Brandon Wilson