Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.
Do you believe in miracles?
Do you want to see a miracle? I know just the place to go! Mind you, many people have gone there but have gone away without seeing one. Itís a miracle that not everybody can see. That privilege is given to special people who really are no better or worse than you or I.
No, you don't have to travel to some far away holy place and drink some special holy water that has been specially blessed to experience this miracle. No this miracle can be seen without leaving Caboolture. I've seen it, though I must confess, I take it for granted. Others have seen it. They have not always been conscious of it, but it's still there. Still others have seen it and doubt whether itís a miracle at all but there is no doubt it is one of Godís mysteries Ė itís a miracle.
The miracle I'm
talking about is the Church. Iím
going to narrow this down to St Paulís and everyone who calls St Pauls ďmy
churchĒ. You see there are a whole
lot of people who call St Paulís ďmy churchĒ even though we donít see them very
often on Sunday mornings and when they do come en masse what a difference it
makes to what happens. It might
even annoy us a bit when that happens because things arenít quite as sedate and calm as we would like
it to be. But should it?
But should it?
But thatís the miracle Iím talking about. The church is made up of people as individuals who are so different and diverse. During the week each of us are separated and divided by a whole host of things Ė distance, different interests, differing work places and different leisure activities. After the kids have been dropped off at school every morning I watch the cars drive out of here as everyone scatters to start doing whatever it is they do for the rest of the day.
In the church there are people with a basic and simple understanding of the Christian faith and those who have been well grounded in Lutheran theology, may have been to courses, seminars, or even have degrees in what the church teaches.
With so many people with such differing backgrounds, interests and inclinations it shouldnít surprise us that, while we may be polite and helpful to each other, itís not possible to be best mates with everyone, the kind of friends who confide in each other, and in whom we have every confidence and go to in times of need.
There may be some who get on our nerves a bit; there are some who we know have made a bit of a mess of their lives at some stage, and yet when they turn up at the church door we welcome them as part of ďour churchĒ. There are some we hardly know at all.
So there's the mystery Ė the miracle. People come together. They may not come every week and maybe hardly at all but still they are drawn to call St Paulís ďmy churchĒ. What draws them together? Of course I canít speak on behalf of everyone and say what motivates them to do this but I believe the majority of people feel there is something different about the church and are happy to call it ďmy churchĒ. This is what I call the miracle of the church.
Paul spoke of this kind of miracle when he wrote to the Ephesians.
People in Paul's day were divided into two classes of people - Jews and non-Jews or Gentiles as they were called then. They mixed about as well as oil and water. Where there is an attitude of superiority and self-interest it is inevitable that people find themselves pitted against each other. The Jews saw the Gentiles as a threat and the Gentiles saw the Jews as a threat. The two didn't mix. Their religions clashed. One acted superior to the other and when that happened it was evident that they would never get on.
Paul wrote, "Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies" (Eph 2:14). Remember the Jews and Gentiles had been enemies for centuries but by his death on the cross, Jesus united everyone together. There's a miracle for you! Jesus brought together people of such different and diverse backgrounds and interests. He made them "fellow citizens" (2:19) to use Paul's own words. This whole section of Paul's letter emphasizes how the death of Jesus on the cross brings healing and reconciliation between people.
What separates people out there in the world has no place in the church. There is acceptance because of Jesus Christ. People are happy to call this ďmy churchĒ because regardless of their backgrounds, culture, interests, political opinions, variety of occupations, and even different understandings of what Christianity is about Ė all this diversity has come together to form the church. We are united by Jesus Christ. We have heard his voice, and followed his call. He has brought about something that at first would seem to be impossible. There is only one thing holding these people together and that is Jesus Christ.
You get a hint of this in the Gospel reading today. A large crowd Ė many people from all the towns Ė went out to meet Jesus. In that crowd must have been people of all occupations, the rich, the poor, the young, the elderly, the craftsmen, the labourers, the tax collectors, the Pharisees, the curious and the seekers Ė everyone. They went out for one purpose, to see and hear Jesus. In spite of their diversity, there was unity. Down to the last man, woman and child they were there to see and hear Jesus.
People, like you and the people sitting around you, come because here we find Jesus. Jesus makes a difference to the way we regard each. We are no longer strangers and foreigners as Paul says. Here in the presence of Jesus there is acceptance. Jesusí loves us and we pass on that love to those who join with us around Jesus and we accept them just as Jesus accepts us. We know from our own experience how much warmth and genuine care and acceptance are appreciated when we step into a strange environment.
But letís get real
now. Itís nice to talk about
acceptance and love and care in the church and to talk about breaking down the
barriers that are so easily created because we like to define
who is in and who is out,
who are genuine and who are using the church for what they can get out of it,
those who are dinky di Christians and those who donít really know much about the faith at all,
those who are in it for the long haul and really work their butts off because they really want to see things happen and those who are just along for the ride.
Now thatís a reality check about how things really are in the church!
And youíre right and none of that is new. Isnít that just what we find in the New Testament? Just read Paulís letters to those early churches like the one at Corinth.
The church is not a perfect community. In every congregation there are problems. Some people may hold opinions and points of view that make others feel awkward or even threatened. People avoid one another; donít talk to one another; stop attending worship because someone has upset them.
A congregation is made up of sinful people, and there are plenty of weaknesses to be found. We are a mixed bunch and we get upset with each other so easily. Relationships can be very fragile. And yet we still keep coming together. We still keep responding to the call of the Lord. It's a miracle!
What is it that draws us together? It's obvious from what happens in worship that things have not gone all too well for the worshippers and they realise their weaknesses. So mostly at some time in the service, we confess our sins. Disobedience is the mark of our lives. We are cut off from God. We build up a dividing wall between us and our heavenly Father, a wall of sin. It is a wall that destroys our relationship with God, a wall that destroys our relationship with other people. We are very good at building walls between us and others Ė we promote our own interests first and we so easily cut ourselves off from other people.
By his death on the cross, Jesus has broken down the wall that we put up between each other. We receive Christ's forgiveness and Christ now sends us to break down the walls the separate us from others Ė walls of anger, hatred, prejudice, intolerance, jealousy, and unkindness. Forgiveness and love are the binding glue of God's family. All this is Christ's doing. It's his miracle!
We share together bread and wine and Jesusí body and blood in Holy Communion Through this eating and drinking we are sharing the same Christ, we are receiving the same blessings from Jesus, we are expressing our oneness and togetherness through the Sacrament. All this regardless of who we are and who the other person is. We are one in the body of Christ the Church.
You leave your seats and kneel at the altar. Perhaps you kneel next to a person you haven't seen for a long time. Perhaps it is someone you don't particularly like. Perhaps it's someone you've had harsh words with, or perhaps it is a total stranger. Do you see what is happening?
As you come to this altar, drawn by the Lord, you share together the same body and blood of the same Lord, you not only come closer to your Lord, but you also come closer to one another, even if you weren't at the same table. Little by little the things that divide vanish. That is a miracle! And as this is happening we all growing together into Christ!
The wall of hostility between people has come down - the wall between parents and children, when one fails to understand the other; the wall between husband and wife, between neighbours, between strangers. We cover the landscape of our lives with those ugly partitions that destroy fellowship, that leave no room for love and friendship. We are the ones to bring the peace of Christ so that forgiveness, friendship and love fill the gap where there was once hostility. We are to be the ones who are the catalyst who bring about reconciliation between people.
So this is the miracle. Those who meet to worship are celebrating this miracle. In fact, if you are worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ you are a miracle. Yet it is not our miracle, it is the Lord's. From all the diversity that exists in his church, he makes us one body, his people. That the church exists at all, made up of sinful people, that's a miracle. If you want to see a miracle, look around you and see the church.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
22nd July 2012