Year B Proper 11, 18 July 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (Live & Streaming)
Collect: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
This week I heard a report looking at the relations between China and the United States. They were looking at trade, the COVID crisis, the differences between the Trump and Biden administrations, etc. They mentioned that one of the big worries of the Chinese is that we were close to beginning another Cold War. Having lived through the first one, that really caught my ears. Especially with the readings for this week. Looking at the comfort of the Lord as our Shepherd in both Psalm 23 and Jeremiah, the image of Jesus trying to recharge his batteries by retreating with his disciples but the needs of the crowds were so vast he had compassion even in his weariness, and yet if we are honest too often the peace of God escapes us.
Peace is not the absence of war, but rather much more the absence of worry. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, connotes sleeping snug with the windows open and the door unlocked, with God in heaven and all is right with the world. We are never given peace, it is something that we must strive for. It is an active thing that we must pursue. Peace cannot be handed to us. Peace exacts a toll.
Jesus talked about this when he taught us what to do if someone has an issue with us. We do not sit and wait for them to come and clear the air. We run to them, leaving any and everything behind to re-enter relationship, to make peace. From Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)
If Jesus thought good relationships were more important than worship and giving to God, how important does that make it? Might it be that people cannot believe our love of God if they cannot see our love of our sisters and brothers? God wants us to be in right relationship with all of God’s children. And there is no reason not to be. Not in Christ.
Paul spoke to this in our Epistle reading, the tearing down of the wall between us. He spoke to Jewish believers and Gentile believers, but the same is true no matter the division.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
A new humanity in place of two. A whole structure joined together into a holy temple. We are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saints.
What a vision we have been offered! What a gift we have been given. Jesus is our peace. In him we may step over the rubble of the dividing wall that he has torn down. Friends, Jesus did his part, and now we must as well. He tore down the wall, but we must not let our actions show that any remnant of it remains.
I am like most people, I do not wish for conflict, and avoid when I can. Sometimes it is easier to keep one’s mouth shut. Or decide on the things that are worth the struggle and pick those battles. But one thing that I will always step up to address is conflict amongst those who call themselves followers of Jesus, this one who made his approach to life very clear.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (I John 4:7-11)
As we actively strive for peace, the road will not be easy nor will it be straight. It will meander and be circuitous, it will double back and we will get lost at times. We will get tried and tested, and we will get tired and testy. But we will never stop. We cannot. As Children of the living God our mission and mandate is clear. We follow the steps of our Savior, wherever they may lead. He said we must take up our cross, as he takes up his, and follow him. Not easy words or instructions.
If we can have Cold Wars, we can have Cold Relationships. We may need to find alternative ways to approach and re-establish communion. This last 18 months has made it easy to slip into quiet hostility, passive-aggressive détente. God wants better for us, God wants better from us.
To ask for forgiveness, to seek peace, we have to humble ourselves and we have to be vulnerable. It is so hard. It goes against how many of us are wired and how many of us were trained. But if getting older has taught me anything, it is that the times I have chosen vulnerability and humility, especially in approaching those with whom I am in conflict, it has been rewarded with the same. People getting to the meat of the matter, people expressing their fears, frustrations, the triggers that caused their reactions. And what did I find after the fact? Peace, friends. I found peace. What had kept me up at night, was worry and fear on my part. It was not reality. What gave me peace was loving my “enemies” who were now trusted people even if not yet friends.
The world says to destroy your enemies. In one aspect, they are right. I need to destroy my “enemies,” the idea that anyone is my enemy. That idea is what must be destroyed. Anyone who I see as an enemy can actually be a friend-becoming. If we love our enemies, as Jesus instructed, then they become our friends. If we are willing. If we strive for peace. If we put relationships before our being right.
Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace.
Do you believe that this morning? If so, make it so. In all our relationships may God be glorified. Amen.