Eph 2.11-22 and Mark 6.30-34
Human beings are great builders – towns and turbines, bridges and satellites, farms and factories, we have been building since before we even formed into the communities that began our civilisations.
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 the heavens itself – but they were constructing a temple to their own glory.
God scrambled their languages and put some limits on their ambition, so the story goes.
Unfortunately, we took those skills we had at building one very tall tower and became exceptional at building lots and lots of walls.
We build walls to protect and to shelter, to corral and to contain, to mark boundaries and, of course, 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 and more numerous.
Ever creative in our own pride, we begin to build walls to the glory of our own distinctiveness, and then somehow convince ourselves that God dwells within our own well-defined 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,” specifically 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 remind us of the presence of God, that we and all creation is “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.
Jesus’ death on the cross, the brutal and horrific death of the prophet of peace through justice and love, shattered any illusions that we might have still had about our pride and our contention, allowing his own body to be broken 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 healing, restoration, and forgiveness throughout his earthly ministry. (The gospel writers were not padding out their word count with trivial information, they were pointing to a pattern of behaviour that reveals something to us of God.)
Take 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.
It certainly 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 for the ancient Jews.
Jesus instead brings God’s presence directly to those most excluded and most in need.
Jesus does not let even the religious laws and regulations 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, thus restoring the temple to its true purpose.
Jesus is healing more than bodily illness; he is healing division and exclusion.
In fact, he is creating a new Body, gathering 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 and 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 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.”
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Adapted from a sermon originally by Rev. G. Cole Gruberth, 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. and published by the Office of Mission Communications of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, 815 Second Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017. © 2015 The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. All rights reserved.