First Lesson: 2 Samuel 7: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 89: 20-37
Second Lesson: Ephesians 2: 11-22
Gospel Lesson: Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Once upon a time, there was a young man in India. The man was raised Hindu. He struggled with Hinduism as he was part of a lower caste. Therefore, he always treated as a second-class citizen wherever he went. The young man became acquainted with Christianity through the British Rule of India at the time. While the young man wasn’t the biggest fan of the British, he began to study Christianity. The young man grew greatly intrigued. So the young man one Sunday decides to seek out a church in Calcutta. Afterward, he wished to talk to the minister about converting. Young man approaches the sanctuary. An usher stops him at the door, refuses to give him a seat, and then suggests he go worship with his own people. The young man would later declare: “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.” The young man’s name was Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi would go on to help lead the India Independence movement against the British while employing principals of non-violent resistance. Gandhi would become one of the most admired men of the 20th century.
As Christians like this usher proved we always struggle with who is exactly kind of believer, Nadia Bolz-Weber was a seminary classmate of mine. She’s a former stand-up comedian and a recovering alcoholic and drug user. She’s heavily tattooed and often known for using colorful language. Nadia started a church in Denver, Colorado for those who didn’t seem to fit in with any church: recovered addicts, the depressed, those who had previously been burned by the Christian faith. Nadia’s a gifted speaker, and the church quickly grew. She gets invited to speak before 10,000 people at Red Rocks for an Easter Sunday service. Nadia’s fame spreads further. Her church quickly grows. Larry then shows up on Sunday. Larry was not the type of guy that Nadia had in mind starting her church. Larry’s presence at her church makes Nadia uncomfortable for all sorts of reasons: age, gender, zip code, breath, and waistband. Larry seemingly didn’t fit in at Nadia’s church in any way. He was totally uncool in a church that appeared to be cool. Larry was the guy who rambles on inanely about boring stuff during coffee hour. Nadia soon begins not to include Larry in emails for church activities. Nadia comes up with an excuse to not perform Larry’s wedding. Nadia soon comes to realize that even Christian pastors can be nothing but narrow-minded jerks when it comes to dealing with others. What happens with Larry and Nadia, we’ll get back to, that story in just a little bit.
Today, we’re looking further into the Letters of the Apostle Paul. We start a new book Today in Ephesians. The main theme for Ephesians is “Who exactly does make up the Body of Christ?” The background is Paul early in his ministry had traveled to Ephesus. He had two visits. One went on for three months. The second visit took place for three years. The church got firmly established on Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul’s work in the Ephesus church had helped spread the Gospel through Asia or modern-day Turkey. Yet the Ephesian church had tensions. Most of these tensions centered on the controversial divisions of the early church between Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles would be the newest converts to Christianity were often treated much like Nadia treated Larry or the Usher treated Gandhi.
For example, as described by Pastor Mickey Anders. If a Gentile woman were giving birth to a child, a Jewish person would not be allowed to provide aid. If a Gentile invited a Jew over for coffee, the Jew could not enter lest they be declared “unclean.” Marrying a Gentile would have been considered the equivalent of death and you would have been excommunicated from the family. So consider all this background, once you put Jews and Gentiles into the same church, you’re going to have problems.
The most controversial issue between Jew and Gentile Christians was circumcision. The Jews thought it needed to be practiced as ritual, whereas the Gentiles saw it as unnecessary. So within our lesson for Today, Paul seeks to give the source of peace between both Jew and Gentile. Paul seeks to break down the walls of hostility and turn divided people into the Body of Christ. Earlier in Ephesians 2, Paul lays out the whole point of the book:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works so that no one can boast.”
What Paul is saying is that the divisions between Jew and Gentile that seem so significant Today will be done away with through the Cross of Christ.
Let me tell a story. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful castle along the English Coast with no one currently living there. Vandals would frequently come by and pillage the place. The owner decided that he needed to find a permanent solution. So he hired a contractor to build a giant wall around the castle. The contractor quickly ran into problems though; he couldn’t find rocks for the wall. So the contractor called the owner to complain. The owner was furious “I paid you good money, and I don’t care where you find the rocks, just build the wall.” The owner eventually comes to check on his castle; it is now surrounded by a beautiful high wall just like he wanted. He was thrilled with the contractor’s work. The vandals could no longer pillage the castle. The owner then went through the wall only to see there was no castle there. The contractor begins to explain “You told me to build the wall by any means necessary, and there were all these wonderful rocks in that run-down castle, so I used them.”
The owner thought he was protecting himself; the owner thought he was protecting something of a great tradition and great value. Often all we do is build a wall to God’s grace working in new ways such as in the case of bringing together both Jew and Gentile with the Church.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”- Galatians 3:28.
Early, I told you the story of Larry and Nadia. Larry being socially awkward around the young female pastor. Nadia not knowing what to do in response. Larry contracts a brain tumor and dies as a relatively young man. Nadia gives a sermon at his funeral. Afterward, a woman that Nadia had never seen before comes up to her. She says “I wanted to thank you for having a church where Larry felt so welcome. He spoke highly of you and your congregation, and I know that having you as his pastor meant a lot to him in his final months.”
This story reminds us how even the best of us remain imperfect. We justify our jerkiness in all sorts of ways yet through this all we receive Grace. It is our various imperfections that ultimately make up the Body of Christ.
Robert E. Lee is best known as the commander of the Army for the Confederate States of America. Lee before this had served his country as a hero in the Mexican-American War and as a commander at the United States Military Academy. As Civil War loomed in this country, Robert E.Lee saw slavery as a great evil. Lee was skeptical that political methods such as war would be after hearing of great bloodshed in Kansas over whether to make it a free or a slave state. Lee’s loyalties were conflicted. He was opposed to southern secession, while upset at those who thought slavery could end through bloodshed. While Lee was recruited to join the Union cause, Lee initially wished to stay neutral as he ultimately could not turn his sword against his native Virginia. Lee was then encouraged to resign from the Union army. Most of Lee’s family sided with the Union cause. Lee though became a soldier in the Confederate army.
America would endure four years of Civil War. When we think of the nastiness of our politics Today, they are nothing compared to how strongly pronounced allegiances were in the wake of America’s Civil War. Here’s what you should also know about Robert E. Lee he was a man of devout faith. Shortly after the Civil War ended, he attended a church service in Washington .D.C. Lee during this service goes up to Communion where kneeling alongside him is an African-American man. Both Lee and this gentleman receive the sacrament. An onlooker then goes up to Robert E. Lee and says “How could you do that?” To which Lee replied. “My friend, all ground is level beneath the cross.”
 Stanford, Lama Chuck. “Voices of Faith: Why did Gandhi say, ‘If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian?’ Kansas City Star. 17. Apr.2015. Web. July.3.2018.
 Our Daily Bread “Prejuicide.” 6. Mar.1994. Web. July.3.2018 taken from Sermon Illustrations.com
 “Mahatma Gandhi.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 3.July.2018. Web. July.3.2018.
 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. “Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 5.July.2018. Web. July.7.2018.
 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. “Accidential Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People.” Convergent Publishing. New York. 2015. Pg.14.
 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. “Accidential Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People.” Pg.15
 Acts 18:19-21
 Acts 20:31
 Anders, Pastor Mickey. “Breaking Down the Dividing Wall.” Sermon Central. 2003. Web. July.3.2018.
 Ephesians 2:11-12
 Epheisans 2:8-9
 Anders, Pastor Mickey. “Breaking Down the Dividing Wall.” Sermon Central. Taken from 1988 sermon by Joel Gregory at Southern Baptist Convention.
 Anders, Pastor Mickey. “Breaking Down the Dividing Wall.” Sermon Central.
 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. “Accidential Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People.” Pg.19
 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. “Accidential Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People.” Pg.19
 “Robert E. Lee”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 2.July.2018. Web. July.3.2018.
 Source Unknown. “Prejuicide.” Sermon Illustrations. Web. July.3.2018
 Source Unknown. “Prejuicide.” Sermon Illustrations.