Archives for July 2012

Elders offer us wisdom and grace, 12 Pentecost, Proper 15 (B) – Aug. 19, 2012

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and Psalm 111 (or Proverbs 9:1-6 and Psalm 34:9-14); Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Two old friends recently met at a school reunion. They had not seen each other for 35 years. During that time they had each married, raised children, worked to support their families and, they discovered, been active members of their churches. As they walked into dinner, one looked at the other and said, “We’ve aged well, but our hair has gotten gray, and we’re sagging in places. What have we got to say for ourselves?” His friend smiled and said, “Wisdom!”

A local Rotary club was having a hard time getting a major fundraiser off the ground. People were distracted and nobody was volunteering for the jobs that needed to be done. The organizers were both discouraged when they met with their club president, an older woman. As they talked over lunch, their president had many suggestions for how to move forward, and all of them involved giving precise tasks to people and asking them if they would do a certain job, rather than a general asking for volunteers. At the next meeting all the tasks were assigned and the activity was a success.

These two stories illustrate something we all know: maturity and experience are valuable traits in our culture. They are in our churches as well.

From the earliest times of our ancestral faith, wisdom has always been upheld as a part of spiritual growth and development. As we grow in knowledge and love of God, we should expect to see changes in ourselves. Our tent should become bigger, not smaller. Our generosity of spirit should broaden and deepen. And we should see elders among us as gifts of wisdom and grace, especially in times of difficulty.

A church was having a conflict over worship times. There were those who wanted one service, and those who preferred an early service without music. As the discussion went on and became more divisive, one member said, “But we’ve never had an early service.” An elder stood up and replied, “Oh yes we have. I can remember …” and her explanation and tone changed the whole focus of the discussion. Elders are often sources of wisdom, and they carry the corporate history of a congregation.

But there is another side to all of this talk of wisdom: it comes in today’s gospel reading from John. Jesus says, “I am the living bread. … Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” It seems that wisdom alone does not grant us participation in the kingdom. Wisdom is rather a doorway to spiritual living that includes the Eucharist as part of our regular practice. The Eucharist feeds us with the living bread that sustains us, helps us grow in Christ, and brings us peace and maturity of life, at whatever age we may be.

As we watch Jesus dealing with the people who come to him, some pleading, some confronting, others curious, we see him over and over again answering their questions with simplicity, kindness and great power. He cannot be trapped by the powers of this world, except by his own choice; he cannot be bought or tempted by the devil; and he is not compromised.

The prayer after Holy Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer says that when we are baptized we enter into new life and are anointed with gifts: “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love [God], and the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works.” These gifts are ones that result in spiritual wisdom and maturity. These are gifts that help us embrace the world as God’s creation rather than rejecting it as merely sinful and degraded. And that is spiritual maturity.

Right now there is a lot of posturing and shouting going on as we approach the November elections. Some want to join in the name calling and finger pointing; and there is plenty of reason to do so. Some Christians have always been drawn into this fray, choosing to publicly support a candidate or a cause, but we know Jesus did not do this. He saw all temporal power as limited in its scope, subject to the whims and wills of the people who put others in power, and unable to address the issues of peace and justice for many. We need to remember that, and while we hold our leaders accountable in a democracy, we also look to Jesus for leadership. At our recent church convention the person giving the noon address reminded us that the question we need to ask in not “What would Jesus do?” but “What did Jesus do?”

Our Christian wisdom should direct us to act in terms of our Baptismal Covenant, seeking and serving Christ in all persons. Our spiritual maturity should energize us to work to see the Christ in all persons. Our spiritual wisdom should help us know that does not mean we have to give others what they want, but what they need. Our combined maturity and wisdom should lead us to remember our own need for Sabbath, the rest that restores and renews us.

Finally, the living bread that sustains us should always be our quest: Jesus, whose prayer, mind and deeds show us what to do, Jesus whose flesh and blood instill new life within us, Jesus who lives in us that we might live forever. As the collect for today has us pray, “Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work and to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life.”

 

— Ben Helmer is the vicar at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He and his wife live in nearby Holiday Island. 

God gives us bread – and everything else that we need, 11 Pentecost, Proper 14 (B) – Aug. 12, 2012

1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Let’s begin today with a familiar verse from Deuteronomy; it’s not in today’s lectionary readings, but it lies behind this whole series we’ve been hearing from John’s gospel. It also shows up in the temptations stories in Matthew and Luke, and is tied to the reading from First Kings. Moses is giving the Law to Israel, and Moses says to the people that God “humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” We know this verse, especially the punch line, very well. But the more we consider the logic of these words, the more interesting it becomes.

How would you do it? How would you teach someone that we do not live by bread alone? What would you give someone to make them understand this? Our first thought would probably be to give them a sermon, or a lecture, or to try to arrange a spiritual experience. Or maybe to offer a really spiffy adult education class, with professional videos and worksheets and breaking into small groups to go over some discussion questions – maybe that would do it. How about it? What would you give someone so they could understand that we do not live by bread alone?

What God gave Elijah and the people in the wilderness, and what Jesus gave the crowd in John’s gospel, was bread. Manna was bread, or enough like bread to make no real difference. Elijah got ordinary bread. They ate it and it kept them alive. They couldn’t live without it. But isn’t that peculiar? Why give bread to make people understand that they do not live by bread alone? Of all the things to give, why give the one thing that seems to prove that you can live by bread alone: namely, bread?

And yet, this may have been the most important part of the whole business of Israel’s being in the wilderness, of their being formed as the people of God. Jesus may have seen this as vitally important to his mission.

Because if the folks couldn’t get this – if they couldn’t figure out what was going on with the manna, or with the miraculous feeding, if they couldn’t understand about the loaves – well, then, it was all pretty much hopeless.

The key to all of this is that God gave Israel and Elijah – and Jesus gave that crowd – bread in such a way that it was obvious that the bread was pure gift. They didn’t make it, they didn’t work for it, they couldn’t pay for it – it was just there. So they had the chance to look at bread, at the stuff of life, with clarity; and to see beyond that thing, and to see that this vital stuff was also and centrally a gift from God and so a sign of God’s love and of God’s call to relationship with them. Since it was so clearly a gift, they were able to see that the thing, the bread, meant more than what it was all by itself. All real gifts do.

But if the manna, if the bread on the hillside, if the stuff that God give us so that we can live, if this is given to us, not just to keep us alive, but also to draw us to God and to life with God, then we do not, and we cannot, live by bread alone. So, oddly, the only gift that can really show us that we do not live by bread alone is free bread. Anything less vital, anything less essential, would allow us to cling to life for its own sake, and so make all questions of meaning secondary and avoidable. This is still going on, and even now God gives us life, and the stuff of life, not because life is the most important thing in the world for us, but just exactly because it is not. We are given these as gifts, to help us realize that God, and life with God, are most important.

We see this with special clarity at the altar, where the bread we receive is clearly not about itself alone; but is hooked to something much greater. So we can look with awe and reverence upon something as simple as this thin, tasteless wafer, because we know it to be sign, symbol and presence of something much greater than flour and water.

But the deepest sign, symbol and presence of something much greater is not just this bread; it is everything we have.

Part of the point of this bread, the bread of the Eucharist, is to teach us that we do not live by bread alone. This bread is special so that we can understand that all bread, all that we have, all that is necessary for life, that this, too, is special. It’s all given to us as a sign, symbol and occasion of God’s love. It’s here to draw us past itself and past ourselves, so that we, seeing both the gift and the giver, will respond to the giver in love and in service. Creation, all of creation, is sacramental in this sense.

So it all gets jumbled up. The bread we eat every day, and Israel’s manna in the wilderness, and Jesus being the bread of life, and our weekly Eucharist – they all run together.

Here is one way into this. There’s an old rabbinic admonition that insists, of anything and everything, “If you don’t give thanks for it, it’s bad for you.” The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the air you breathe, the people and the things of your life, if you don’t give thanks for it, it’s bad for you.

So, if you have enough to eat, and the strength to go on for another day, and people who care about you, if you have all of that and you don’t give thanks for it, then it’s bad for you – all of it.

It’s poisoning your soul, and shrinking your life. Really.

That’s because giving thanks for something puts it in its proper place, it places the thing as part of our relationship with God and God’s relationship with us. That’s where things, all things, properly belong. Anything, especially bread, is understood properly only when it is understood in relationship to God.

On the other hand, if we do give thanks for it, then it can be good for us. If we give thanks for it, then every part of our lives can draw us toward the only source of meaning and hope that makes any sense.

It’s very easy to forget this. It’s very easy to value the things of creation and of our lives for themselves, to take them outside the context of a relationship with God. When we do this, when we see only what is right in front of us and no more, then we are impoverished, we are barely living on the surface of our lives and of our world.

That’s what it means to live by bread alone. To live by bread alone means to see no farther than the things themselves, and so to miss the presence and the love and the call of God that are really a part of every piece of bread we have. It’s to miss the gift, and the love behind the gift.

So God gave Elijah and Israel bread, and Jesus gave the crowds on those mountainsides bread, and God gives us bread – God gives us all we need for life – so that we may be drawn beyond all of these and see more than we would see otherwise, so that we might understand that we do not live by bread alone.

 

— The Rev. James Liggett recently retired as rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

Food that endures, 10 Pentecost, Proper 13 (B) – 2012

August 5, 2012

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a and Psalm 51:1-13 (or Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 and Psalm 78:23-29); Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

A deep spiritual hunger is implanted in every human heart. Different people will seek to fill this need in different ways, but the hunger is not unique. People yearn for a deeper connection, an eternal spiritual connection, and when that is lacking will seek any means to be fulfilled.

Jesus said he came that we might have life and that abundantly. Yet, he who offered fullness of joy was often met by people with simpler, lesser needs. In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus met a Samaritan woman who longed for living water so she wouldn’t have to keep returning to the well each day. Jesus started with that basic need and used it to forge a relationship with her that ended with the woman reconnected to God and to others in her community.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus has met the immediate needs of a host of people. Those remaining after he fed 5,000 with a little fish and bread seek out Jesus. Jesus tells them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

The previous day, Jesus fed their physical hunger with bread and fish, and the crowd sought him out once more. Jesus points them to their spiritual hunger, which is what he really wanted to fill. After all, the people were created to love God and love others as they loved themselves, and in chasing after other needs, they risked getting further from the real nourishment they needed.

Jesus compares this to the original bread from heaven, manna, with which God miraculously fed the children of Israel for 40 years in an uninhabitable wasteland. This was the daily bread that would come anew each morning, with enough to last the day and a double portion for the Sabbath. Now Jesus compares the daily bread of manna, which God gave in the desert, to the Bread of Life, which God offers in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus offers nourishment, which goes to the heart of our most basic human need to fill a spiritual hunger. Having been created to be in relationship with God, without that connection, we can feel empty.

It is an easy move to connect Jesus referring to himself as the Bread of Life to the Eucharist. For in the mystery of the Eucharistic feast we eat the bread and drink the wine, and in so doing we partake of the body and blood of Jesus. But we don’t want to jump to that correct response so quickly that we miss the bigger picture.

This discourse comes when Jesus has two more years of ministry ahead of him. In fact, this is, after all, John Chapter 6, out of 21 chapters. There is much more time left in Jesus’ ministry before he gets to that last meal with his disciples. John’s gospel makes clear what the other three gospels only hint at: the Eucharist is not about Jesus’ death alone. Jesus’ self-giving act in communion is not only concerned with the Last Supper, the cross and the empty tomb alone. Jesus’ whole life, rather than just one or two events, will institute the sacrament of communion. Put differently, faith is not in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone, but in Jesus’ whole life – from Bethlehem to Golgotha, and beyond to an empty tomb in a garden, Jesus’ appearances to his disciples, and his ascension to heaven.

Everything Jesus did – who Jesus was and how he acted – are part of God’s revelation to us. We cannot separate one part of his life from the rest. Nor should we have a Christian part of our lives separate from the rest of our lives. We are to take Jesus’ whole story and make it part of our whole story. This is much more than hearing the word, it is word and deed.

In baptism, we do not simply hear of Jesus’ baptism, but water is poured over us as a sign that we are united with Christ through baptism. We don’t just hear the story, we actually get wet. In the Eucharist, we don’t merely listen to the words, “Take eat,” but we actually get up, come to the altar rail to take and eat. It’s not just the bread that we take, bless, break and give. God took Jesus’ whole life, blessed, broke it and gave it to us. We are to let that story of God’s love for us take us, bless us, break us and give us back to the world.

Jesus wanted those who followed him after having their fill of fish and bread to discover real spiritual nourishment so that they would never hunger again. And yes, one is fed through the Eucharist, but this too is only part of the picture. Our Sunday worship is to be just a part of how we are fed spiritually.

Compare spiritual nourishment to food. Eating out once a week in a restaurant is not unusual. In fact, it is rare to find someone who eats out only once a week. But what if that was the only meal the person ate. Someone who goes back to their familiar seat in a restaurant week after week to enjoy their one meal of the week could never be nourished enough to make it through the remaining six days.

In the same way, common worship in church on Sunday is meant to be an important part of one’s spiritual food and drink, but it will never sate your hunger if this is your whole plan for feeding you spirit.

Fortunately, the Episcopal Church has a centuries-old norm of daily prayer that is well suited to filling this void. The Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer as found in the Book of Common Prayer are a wonderfully enriching daily devotion. When praying in this way, together with the daily scripture readings, one is better prepared to meet whatever comes. It is not that troubles never occur to people who pray and read their Bible; it’s just that those who marinate daily in prayer and scripture are more connected to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Then whatever comes, they can call on that connection.

For those looking for an easy way to get started, there is the very helpful “Forward Day by Day,” which in booklet form or online offers a brief daily reflection to accompany the scripture readings. The booklet offers the same readings as those used in the Daily Office. Either way, you’ll spend 15-20 minutes out of each day re-centering your life in the ground of your being, the God who made you and redeemed you. There is no better way to nourish your spiritual side than through a daily meal of prayer and scripture reading.

So much of our lives is spent working for the food that perishes. We must work to earn food, water and shelter and all the extras that make life enjoyable. But we know there is more to life than the daily grind. For a fulfilled life, one should commit a portion of each day to prayer and reading the Bible, for that is the food that endures for eternal life and the gift of Jesus who came so that you might have an abundant life.

 

— The Rev. Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He writes on congregational development at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

Of cabbages and kings, 9 Pentecost, Proper 12 (B) – July 29, 2012

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

The world is a hungry place. People are hungry for food, for jobs, for love, for care, for leadership that cares. The list of our hunger goes on and on. What the Bible knows is what we all know – all of our hunger centers around a spiritual void. We are hungry for God. That hunger is very real, and yet we deceive ourselves into believing we can feed that hunger with other things such as food, money, fancy clothes, fancy cars, more technology, more stuff. We accumulate so much stuff, stuff that we believe says something about who we are – stuff that we somehow mistaken for who and what we are. We accumulate so much stuff that our homes overflow with stuff, until we have to go beyond the home and rent storage spaces. That is, we have to store the excess amount of our self somewhere else, so that our self becomes fragmented, separated into different places. We become a problem to ourselves – or what we believe is what we are, what defines us: the clothes we wear, the house we live in, the cars we drive and so forth.

This, in all likelihood, is mostly a Northern Hemisphere problem. It is a problem driven by our desire to be like everybody else – especially those who have more than we have. And it is becoming a worldwide problem, as our principal export is a lifestyle based on the accumulation of more and more stuff. The whole world desires to be just like us.

This is all driven by a belief that there is not enough stuff in this world, so we had better stockpile as much as possible for ourselves. This perceived scarcity of stuff leads to trade imbalances, the stealing of resources from other parts of the world, and eventually manifests itself in trade wars that can soon turn into outright warfare. So then we need to accumulate more resources, more stuff, dedicated to the protection of what we already have. We end up demanding leaders who can assure us that our stuff will remain ours forever and ever.

Into such a world steps Jesus. Rome had conquered Israel and turned it into a client state, exporting all its goods to other parts of the empire, and charging outrageous taxes on those goods at the same time. It was a dangerous time to be a client of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Rome demanded full loyalty.

So along comes Jesus. The Jesus in John is declared from the first verse of the fourth gospel as God – the Word, the logos – in the flesh. Indeed, this is the only way to make sense of someone who can take five barley loaves and a couple of fish and feed thousands of people with lots and lots of leftovers! Barley loaves, as opposed to wheat loaves, is the food of the poor. The lesson here is quite simple, and yet one that we refuse to accept: The need of the world is not too great for our resources if it is the Lord who directs the use of those resources.

A mighty big “if.”

Meanwhile, the people try to make him king. That would seem to be appealing. Look at how people in every conceivable human community clamor to become king. Right now we are looking at two individuals who will marshal millions if not billions of dollars for the right to become or remain “king.” Look around the world where competing individuals and groups of individuals resort to violence to gain and maintain “kingship.”

Then look at Jesus. Nothing doing. As soon as there is a hint that the people might make him the next king, he sneaks off to be alone. Why, we might ask ourselves? It might have saved him having to go to Jerusalem only to be crucified, dead and buried. Why would he turn his back on what others count as the ultimate goal?

Here we may do well to recall that Jesus appears to have studied scripture pretty carefully. At every possible turn of events, he can marshal quotations from every corner of Hebrew scripture. So no doubt at this juncture he very well may have the eighth chapter of the First Book of Samuel in mind. This is the episode when Israel demanded that the boy prophet Samuel appeal to God to give them a king – because, after all, they reasoned, all the surrounding countries have kings, so they should have one too.

This signaled a lack of trust in the God of the Exodus, who up to this pivotal moment, had raised up judges to pull the tribes together in times of great danger. When the danger passed, so did the judge, and folks went back to life in their tribal clans with their diffuse political connections. But at the time of Samuel, with threats from surrounding kingdoms, the people demanded a king to unite them and make them strong. God tried to dissuade Samuel. Samuel tried to dissuade the people in chapter 8 of First Samuel, saying, in effect, “A king will take your sons and make them soldiers and send them to war; and take your daughters and make them his servants; he will take your fields and produce, and tax you on all of it; until you will wish you had never asked for a king, but by then it will be too late.” But the people persisted and God gave them Saul, which did not work out particularly well. And then David, and, well, look at what happened to David in this Sunday’s episode in 2 Samuel 11:1-15. After failing to pull off a cover- up of his indiscretion with Bathsheba, he used his authority of the military to have her husband Uriah killed in battle. Under the reign of Solomon, the kind of consolidation of power and goods becomes so acute that the people attempted a social revolution, so unhappy were they with their once-desired king.

Verna Dozier, a wise lay leader in the Episcopal Church, in her book “The Dream of God,” called this demand for a king the “Second Fall” after the episode in the Garden of Eden. The third fall happens early in the life of the church, at the time of Constantine, when the church goes from being an alternative to the Empire and allows itself to become the Empire – the Church becomes king. The impulse is the same in 2 Samuel as it is under Constantine – we want to be like everybody else. And yet, to this day we are still looking for a way out of being an Imperial Church and somehow find our way back to the very beginning.

For as anyone can see, Jesus will have none of it. And yet, we continue to hitch our wagons, our stars, our souls and our very being, to the belief that with just the right “king” all shall be well.

We find ourselves clinging to models of leadership and institutional power that the Bible repeatedly warns us against. And we wonder why it no longer works. Again, read about David and the so-called Wise One, Solomon, and see how quickly it all fell apart even then, approximately 900 years before Jesus.

It is no wonder that God decided the only way to get our attention was to come down himself and be one of us. God in Christ invites us once and for all to give up any notions that being like everybody else has having any life-giving sustainability. The accumulation of power and stuff will never fill the spiritual void that keeps us from becoming the people God wants us to be.

Our portion of the gospel ends with the disciples heading off in a boat across the sea. They run into rough waters and high winds. When all seems about lost, Jesus appears. The text is not entirely clear – it could mean he was walking on the water, but it can also mean he was “on the seashore.” So we can read this to say there he was, on the shore, to welcome them ashore when after much hard work and treacherous time they approached him and the shore. He simply says, “Be not afraid.” Note, as soon as they see him, as soon as he says this, they are immediately safe ashore!

Can it be that for St. John the meaning is to be found in the peace that pertains once we willingly receive Jesus to be our companion? Companion – literally, one with whom we share bread. He who is the Bread of Life, the Bread from Heaven, the True Bread – our manna, our sustenance, our daily bread. As theologian and former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said, “Christ is the guide of life whom we follow in the strength that He supplies into the way of Peace.”

That’s pretty much it. We can continue to trust in our appointed and elected leaders, and trust in the accumulation of more and more stuff. Or we can trust in Jesus, who withdraws again to the mountain to be alone.

What if we were to withdraw day by day to be alone with Jesus? How might we allow him to be our daily bread? The need of the world is not too great for our resources if it is the Lord who directs the use of those resources. Once we trust in the Lord, we will find ourselves on the other shore, safe and secure from all alarm with nothing to fear. Our deepest and true hunger can and will be satisfied, if only we will continue to row our way to the other side – his side – to the country that needs no king.

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the diocesan girls’ boarding school in the Diocese of Maryland, where he teaches World Religions and English. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com

In Christ Jesus, the walls come down, 8 Pentecost, Proper 11 (B) – July 22, 2012

2 Samuel 7:1-14a and Psalm 89:20-37 (or Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 23); Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

We humans are great builders – towns and turbines, subways and satellites, farms and factories. We can take justifiable pride in these accomplishments, but too often we tend to 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. God scrambled their languages and put some limits on their ambition.

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 in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians today, Christ “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Languages and nations? Christ proclaims peace to those who are far off and those who are near. Religions and ideologies? Jesus was prepared even to “abolish the law with its commandments and ordinances,” in order to create one new humanity.

Jesus takes down whatever walls we have raised to create divisions amongst us. Insiders and outsiders? The walls come down. Citizens and foreigners? The walls come down. Oppressors and victims? In Christ Jesus, the walls come down.

Jesus isn’t just doing demolition work here – he’s not trying to bring about a sort of spiritual anarchy. He’s working to raise a new structure, to join us together into a holy temple. Jesus is working to reverse the curse of Babel, first by healing our divisions and then by creating a new tower. This tower, though, is built to God’s glory. Instead of striving to reach heaven from the earth, this temple is built to invite the presence of God, to be “a dwelling place for God.”

Paul 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.” At least in part, Paul is talking about the crucifixion. On the cross, Jesus accepted the full weight of our pride and our contention, allowing his own body to be broken in order to show us the folly of our divisions and hostilities.

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.” 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 religious life, being declared unclean for temple worship, prevented from drawing near to the physical presence of God that the temple represented. 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.

In the cross and resurrection, Jesus consummates all this work of teaching 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. More, 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.”

 

— The Rev. G. Cole Gruberth is priest-in-charge of the Allegany County Episcopal Ministry, a community of four houses of worship and welcome, within the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y.