7/22/2018 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost The text for today’s sermon is Ephesians 2:11-22 and Mark 6:30-34, 53-56. Our guest preacher today is our Church Council Chair, Mr. Jon Bartelson.
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I would be remiss today, as both your preacher and your Church Council chair, if I did not renew our focus on the journey we are on as a community of faith – as one Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation. This journey is one of apparent contrasts: introspection and extrospection, tradition and vision, past and future. There are many parallels that we can draw between the journey that we are on as disciples and the journey that the twelve were on during the days of Jesus’ ministry, thousands of years ago.
For example, let’s look to the church at Ephesus in modern-day western Turkey on the Mediterranean, where we find ourselves in today’s second lesson. Christianity came here after the time of Christ. Paul’s focus in today’s passage is on divisions: between man and God, and between people – Gentiles and Jews, outsiders and insiders. I see parallels in our own community: young & old, black & white, Lutheran and not. However, Jesus reconciles us all to God and makes us one. He gives us his peace in his body and blood through the cross. The result of this reconciliation is to break down the old barriers between Jews and Gentiles and to create a single community in Christ. The essence of this single community is that all of humanity has the possibility of access to God. Consequently, our message as a community of faith should be one of inclusivity – all are welcome.
However, the barriers still exist, and in some cases continue to be built. Consider the common language of our current political conversation. How often do we hear about “those people”, “they” or “them”? “They” are most often the strangers in our midst. Those that we do not understand. The Gentiles. The Samaritans. Perhaps “they” are conservatives, or liberals, or Catholics, or atheists. Maybe they’re Yankee fans? These barriers that we erect are barriers to effective ministry, especially today, and they certainly do not follow Paul’s teaching in today’s scripture. What saves us is not that we follow the rules or do the right thing in our own minds or in comparison to other Lutherans or other Christians or anyone for that matter. What saves us is that we all have access to God through Jesus, which paves the way for effective ministry as a congregation, as Lutherans, as human beings. This is a message of inclusivity: we are all one in God through the grace of Jesus Christ.
It’s not hard to imagine that the crowd surrounding Jesus in Mark’s Gospel today was both racially and religiously mixed. Even though Jesus first started teaching in the synagogues, his message was for everyone who was in need: the sick, the blind, the poor, the oppressed. This is Jesus’ message directed outward, to all people, all nations, the entire world. The Gospel today shows Jesus and the disciples reaching out to the crowd – made up of those people who were usually ignored – to minister to them at their point of deepest need, despite being tired and in desperate need of rest. It’s the turning point from the hard, closed exclusiveness of the Old Testament to the open inclusiveness of the Good News; it’s the message of Pentecost itself, when people from all over the world, both Jews and Gentiles, were able to hear and understand the gospel in their own tongues. Was Jesus a rock star to these people? Maybe. Word of mouth was the Facebook, Messenger, or text message of the day, and the people were talking to each other about his miracles: healing, wholeness, renewal, restoration. These people wanted a change: they wanted a touch, some hope, they needed to be healed.
Make no mistake: we are at a turning point in our ministry as a community of faith: as the Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church. We must ask ourselves: are our ministries offering healing and hope? Are we touching our broader community with the message of the Gospel? What does our community need from us? Who are we reaching out to and how are we providing access to God in a way that is fulfilling? And, perhaps most importantly: since Jesus continues to draw crowds, even today, do people even know where we are? I challenge each and every one of you to renew your commitment to this institution in order to fulfill the Gospel, shout the Good News out loud and further the mission of our church in this world. If we listen, He will give us careful instructions on what we need for the journey. But that requires active participation, and it requires us to do what I ask of my six-year-old: we need “to have our listening ears on.” We have the power within us to succeed – all we need to do is listen. As we continue on this journey, whatever the future destination, let us pray that we may appreciate how basic and how wonderful it is to share in the life of Jesus Christ and that he may guide us to new ministries in his name. And let us focus on the task at hand, and the work ahead of us. And may the Peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.