Narrative Lectionary for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year Three
July 23, 2017
Lessons: Ephesians 2:11-22, Matthew 28:16-20
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are called to be peace-makers and disciple-makers. It sounds like a tall, tough order, but remember that Jesus never leaves us to our own devices. We are in good hands—always!
Key Scripture: 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 or the news lately. 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 both in rest and in trust in his abiding presence.
In this week’s lesson 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 walls, refugees, and immigration 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 this week for preaching and teaching where Word meets world.
Perhaps, however, we need to remember that famous Pogo cartoon by Walt Kelly with the caption “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” How often we forget our own role in peace-making, a role that begins with making peace within ourselves and remembering that we are not alone in the process. As the gospel reading that accompanies this week’s lesson reminds us: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).
We have been commissioned, just as those first disciples were commissioned, to continue the work of building peace, of stewarding the Good News, and of caring for ourselves, one another, and this good earth. It can be pretty tough, however, to continue to build upon the strong foundation of faith and the cornerstone of Christ when we fail to care for ourselves.
Maybe you (and those you serve) are feeling worn down and exhausted by the work of ministry and the myriad claims on your time and energy. 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. We learn from Matthew’s account that some of Jesus’ closest followers also experienced the disillusionment of doubt. And Jesus met their needs, reminding them that he will not leave them bereft and that they have all that they need to do the work before them.
So perhaps in addition to 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 need to give people permission to express their doubt, their fears, and their concerns. How about introducing 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 remember that we are not alone in this peace-making business, 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.
“When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted,” we read in Matthew 28:17. This lesson is a good one to talk about the heads/tails and two-sides-of-the-same-coin relationship between faith and doubt. Helping youth understand that doubt is, indeed, part of faith, part of stewarding this mystery, is an important concept to teach and share. Consider sharing some of Mother Teresa’s story of doubt in the midst of great faith as recounted in a book containing some of her letters entitled, Mother Teresa: Come be my Light. Click here for more information.
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.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Good stewardship often calls us to uncomfortable places such as evaluating our own lifestyle choices and purchases, praying for those we might consider to be “enemies,” and working for peace and justice in tangible and meaningful ways. Jesus (and Paul!) call us to put some “skin in the game” when it comes to our faith and stewardship of all creation. What will you do this week to make a difference in Jesus’ name?
Stewardship at Home
What does a call to peace-making look like to you? Does it involve advocacy through your denomination or a group like Bread for the World or the Preemptive Love Coalition? The enormity and scope of the world’s problems can be so daunting that we fail to do anything at all. This week find one small way to be a good steward who works for peace and justice. Write a letter to your elected representative or purchase a fairly-traded item from a woman living as a refugee who is trying to make a decent living. Sure, you can’t solve all the world’s problems by yourself, but small acts of great love and hope add up to an avalanche of holy justice in Christ’s name.
Photos: Leland Francisco, Creative Commons; Photo © michaeljung – Fotolia.com, and bana gurl, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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