Sunday, July 19, 2015

From the pulpit, July 19, 2015

...who has made us both one and has broken down
in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
I had the blessing of being supply clergy to Christ Church, South Riding VA this morning as their Rector launched off on two weeks of CONUS and OCONUS mission trips today.  The message took on the theme of this morning's lectionary.

Our Old Testament reading today sets us down in the room where David, the king is enjoying a time of peace in his kingdom.  It’s in this quiet time where he begins to sense conviction.  I can only imagine what may have been rolling through his mind.  He’s taking in the luxuries of his palace, perhaps smelling the sweet fragrances of flowers or enjoying a comfortable seat when it hit him.  David was living in luxury while the presence of God (the Ark) was out in a tent.

David shared his desire to build a temple for the Almighty with Israel’s prophet, who after waiting on the Lord, brought back a word from on high.  Consider what was said

Read 2 Sam 7:6-7 “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

In the many years from the time of the exodus to the moment.  God had neither dwelt in a dwelling, nor had he asked the leadership to construct one for his honor.  This was a reminder to David and by extension all of Israel, of the fact that the Almighty in his power and presence, can’t be contained within a building made by human hands.  But then comes a twist.  God points out to David how He had seen him dwelling out in the fields and had set him in a strong house.  Not only was David the recipient of this graciousness, but all of Israel to the extent.

It was the hand of God who put down the enemies of Israel.  All those who sought to destroy Israel were put down and were ultimately driven far from them.  It was also the mighty hand of God that planted David and Israel in the land where they would dwell under the light of his sustaining hands.

Though David would not build a dwelling place for the Lord, his son Solomon would.  He too would also enjoy the blessings of being numbered among the people of God.
The Psalmist, in Psalm 89 recounted this moment singing of God establishing his people Israel.  But here in the Psalm, the onion gets peeled back a bit and we now see that this provision wasn’t mere divine largesse.  No, this was a covenantal relationship between the Almighty and his people, Israel. 

Read Psalm 89:29-32

For as long as Israel would live under God’s commands and statutes, they would dwell in his blessings.  To do the opposite would bring promised discipline which would be as memorable as it was painful.  Sadly, it wasn’t long after the death of David and his son Solomon that Israel slowly but inexorably began to turn a disobedient and deaf ear to the commandments of God.  And as promised, severe, stinging judgment fell upon God’s chosen.  He never stopped loving them, but like a father disciplining a rebellious child, they’d have to be called into account.

The promises made to God’s covenant people were, but they were made for them alone.  Like people outside of Nat’s park or Camden yards who are only able to perceive the game from a distance, the Gentile could only look from a distance to see God’s interaction with his people.  Now, did this signify a divine hatred for all outside of Abraham’s bloodline?  Absolutely not.  In fact, His love was directed towards Israel to be a sign for all of humanity.  They weren’t any more deserving of God’s blessing than any other people group on the earth.  It would be through God’s great plan, that Israel would be used to call all of fallen humanity back to the arms of God. 

Saint Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Galatian church

Read Galatian’s 4:4-5:  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Our vision is limited by light and horizons and our knowledge limited to what we’ve experienced, the knowledge and vision of God knows no limit.  While it would have seemed hopeless for the Gentile, it was God’s plan all along to break down the barriers that not only separated God from man, but those dividing man from man as well.  Ultimately, He saw far beyond Adam’s sin to a point where we would be reconciled, and he would have one people.  But, how was this accomplished?  Saint Paul gives us a beautiful view of this in his Ephesian letter.

As we look at St. Paul’s words to the Ephesian Church, we see that he doesn’t gloss over the extent of just how separated Jew was from Gentile in the former covenant. 

Read Ephesians 2:12:  remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Paul was speaking to a church of former pagans who were converted to Christianity during his missionary journeys and were being pastored by Timothy. In speaking to their onetime alienation from God,   he describes a five-fold separation.

They were once Christless, aliens to the messiah.  Being apart from the messianic people, they had no thought or hope for a deliverer.  They were stateless, alien God’s nation and excluded from citizenship in Israel.  They had no stake in God’s theocratic kingdom.  They were friendless, strangers to the covenants of promise.  Though God had bound himself unconditionally to bring blessings on and through Israel, This promise wasn’t extended to the Gentile peoples.  Finally, they were hopeless, having no hope and being without God in this world.  Though their world was extremely religious in all aspects of daily life, their prayers and supplications fell onto dead ears of marble in the gods they served.  Their entire condition could be summed up in one word, and that it Alienation.  Through Christ, this would all be changed.

Paul could make powerful use of conjunctions and he does just that here.  Though the alienation was palpable and seemingly insurmountable, it was laid waste by the atoning sacrifice of Christ as holy blood was spilled on the cross.  Those who were once far away were now being brought near.  This holy blood allowed for regenerated Jew and Gentile alike to be drawn near.  To the Jew of the day, this idea was outright subversive.  Even as these words were being penned, a physical barrier stood in the temple in Jerusalem.  This allowed for God-fearing Gentiles to worship at the Temple.  At its boundary were signs in Latin and Greek warning the Gentile not to enter any closer under pain of death.

Through this sacrifice, Christ made peace and demolished the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile.  He didn’t simply make peace, He himself was and is THE peace that unites God and man/redeemed Jew and Gentile alike.
We have to ask, how was Christ’s death able to demolish this wall of separation?  His death accomplished this in three ways. 

Read Ephesians 2:15-16 “by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

He abolished the Law.  Some might consider this false considering Jesus’ own words in the sermon on the mount where he stated that he’d not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  Living his perfect life, Jesus fulfilled all the tenants of God’s moral law, while abolishing the ceremonial law, a major roadblock dividing Jew and Gentile.
He created a new humanity.  Paul describes Christ, through the atonement as creating “one new man”.  It’s an amazing thing to consider, but through the atonement, Christ created a new man, a new race and a new humanity.  Our early Church fathers recognized this and clearly communicated it.  Clement of Alexandria wrote “We who worship God in a new way, as a third race, are Christians”.  Think of it this way; Christ didn’t “Christianize Jews or Judaize Gentiles, he created an entirely new man.  Within this truth lies the answer to alienation, racism, prejudice or estrangement; when we’re in Christ, we’re all one.

He reconciled this new humanity to God.  This is the apex of Christ’s ministry of peace and reconciliation.  He came and preached peace to those who were near as well as those who were far away and separated from The Father’s covenant.  He became “our peace”, and through that peace we gained the privilege to be able to come boldly before the throne of God as the writer of Hebrew’s assures us.

So, what’s to be made of all this?  It’s yet another reason to celebrate and testify to the Love of our God.  From eternity past, He sought to make for himself a people.  These people weren’t to be one homogenous group of one race or one ethnicity.  No.  Jew, Greek, Barbarian, slave or freeman; He took from all to make a special people for himself.  Have you paused to consider that of the billions who’ve lived on this Planet, Christ has called you to be his own?  If we’re unsure of this fact we can be assured by scripture.  “Whosoever shall call upon the Lord will be saved.”  And, “If we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, we belong to Him.”  Our God has prepared a place for his people, and there is room there for all who desire to be there in this wonderful kingdom.

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