Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Reflection, Year B
July 19, 2015
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. Ephesians 2:17-20
Peace. Sometimes it seems like such an elusive word, such a foreign concept–especially if you’ve been spending much time with social media in the past few weeks or if you follow the news. We humans crave peace and need peace, but we’re not very good at making and keeping peace. Thankfully, our Lord IS in the peace business–proclaiming and passing and breathing peace into the darkest corners of this fallen and fragmented world of ours, and exhorting us to find peace in rest and time apart.
In the epistle lesson this week, Paul reminds the church at Ephesus that even though they were once without Christ and not part of the people of Israel, they are now no longer aliens but hold full citizenship and family relationship in God’s house. It may help to lay some cultural groundwork so that congregants can fully appreciate the radical good news Paul is communicating. Once that foundation is laid, it won’t take much effort to relate Paul’s words to our situation today. Who are the gentiles of the 21st century? Who are the outsiders in your congregation’s worldview?
If border crossings and illegal immigrants are on the minds of the people in your context, this passage speaks easily to that. If it happens to be racial and ethnic divides that segregate neighborhoods, towns, or congregations, Paul’s words apply there, too. If gender and sexuality issues create insiders and outsiders in your context, how might you make the connection using Paul’s illustration? It’s also not a stretch to speak in terms of interfaith relationships or about the “nones” or “spiritual-but-not-religious” folk in the community. Wherever there are insiders and outsiders, Paul’s words about Jesus breaking down walls and drawing all people into his peace and into “one new humanity” speak a fresh and compelling message to today’s congregations and faith communities. There is plenty of material in this week’s epistle for preaching and teaching where Word meets world.
Perhaps, however, you need to preach and teach about another kind of peace–the kind of peace and solitude that Jesus exhorts his disciples to find. Maybe you’re feeling worn down and exhausted by the work of ministry and the myriad claims on your time and energy. If you are, then chances are some of your leadership is feeling that way, too. Our culture pushes and promotes busyness as the new definition of “fine and dandy.” Being busy, being connected, and being a master of multi-tasking are often perceived as signs of success and achievement.
Experts in fields ranging from management to wellness, however, now side with Jesus. In fact, Jesus could probably make bank as a career coach in contemporary North America as more and more people realize that something has to give. Those who would lead, who would be successful, and who want to accomplish good work must have rest and renewal.
So perhaps instead of the peace that comes from unity, you may need to speak to the peace that comes from holy rest and from time apart. Maybe you can introduce some spiritual disciplines this summer to help your leaders (and yourself) strengthen core connections to faith and wellness. The needs of the world press in every day; often times it seems like our congregations and social ministry agencies are trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose. That may be the reality, but our Lord is clear that he is very much in charge, and we as disciples need to take care of ourselves so that we can care for others. It’s easy to talk about, tough to model, but essential for all of us.
Whether you proclaim Jesus’ peace through “one new humanity” or through his call to rest and time apart, you can’t go wrong. It’s good news we need to hear. Peace be with you, fellow disciple. May you find rest, refreshment, and the passion to proclaim a word of peace to those you serve.
What walls in your congregation, in your neighborhood, in your city or town, and in our world need to be broken down? Construct a wall of paper “bricks” or “stones.” Invite worshipers as they are sent into the world to take one or stones and write on them what barrier they commit to work on breaking down. Is it racism? Hate? Poverty? Inequality? Hunger? Anger? Fear? For the next week, in place of the wall, construct a walkway with the paper “bricks” or “stones” turned upside down. On the blank backs now turned up, write the opposite of what was written on the other side: instead of fear write courage. Instead of hate write peace. Instead of hunger write plenty. You get the picture. Then as people enter for worship tell them that their stones/bricks have now been turned upside down and inside out in the name of Jesus to build a bridge over which all may cross and come to the Lord’s table.
Good Shepherd. Bad Shepherd.
This week’s psalm is the beloved 23rd, the “Good Shepherd” psalm. This week’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah gives a stern warning to those who would shepherd God’s people and lead them to destruction and distraction. What examples of bad shepherds have they seen in the world. Next look at the job description God gives to Jeremiah. Examine the traits of the good shepherd in the psalm. Look at how Jesus behaves in the gospel lesson from Mark. Invite youth to come up with a description of the kind of shepherd they see Jesus as being, the kind of shepherd they need to lead them, and the kind of shepherd they might be to others.
Ask children if they know what a passport is and whether they have one. If you have one, show it to them. Then ask what they think about when they hear the word “alien.” Many will think of a space alien. An older child may think of someone who is not a resident of a country, but most will likely not have a firm concept of what constitutes an “alien.” Tell them that an alien is someone who doesn’t belong, who has no citizenship. If you happen to have someone in your congregation who is a citizen of another country or who holds dual citizenship, invite them to show their passport to the children. Share with them in simple words, Paul’s message to the Ephesians that we are no longer aliens or strangers. Thanks to Jesus we are citizens with the saints–with all the Christians who have come before us and who will come after us, and we are members of God’s family. If you enjoy being creative, make “passports” for the children showing that they are Citizens of God’s Kingdom, and members of God’s family. Write each child’s name on his or her passport. Remind them that no matter what their passport, or license, or ID card says, no one can take from them their identity as a child of God. Say a simple prayer.
(Photos: bana gurl, posse foundation, and momo, Creative Commons. Thanks!)