Year B Proper 11: The Household of God: Under Construction
A Sermon Preached at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark
2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The Reverend Tyler B. Doherty, Priest-in-Charge
Under Construction: The Household of God
One way to think of the human condition is as a case of mistaken identity. We think our identity resides in our family, group, political identity, or institution and invest our energies into maintaining and protecting that identity at all costs. We build fences, enforce borders, top our walls with razor wire all in an effort to protect our over-identified allegiance to our little patch of turf. Our passage from Ephesians reminds us that who we are is not just a product of our family, culture, bloodline, or bank account. Those houses that we build ultimately topple down because they are built with the shoddy materials of the self-centered ego. Who we are is a beloved daughter or son of God, created in God’s image and likeness and in whom God is well-pleased. The true household has Christ as its cornerstone, not ourselves. And it is God who does the building in and through us as we respond with Mary’s “Yes” to the promptings of grace.
The good news of the gospel is that this work has been done for us in Christ Jesus. It doesn’t depend on our frantic efforts, or self-improvement, or strict adherence to the rules. That illusory wall of separation between ourselves and God has been revealed in Christ to have never existed from the foundation of the world. The peace of God is open to all so that those who once thought themselves far off—not holy enough, pretty enough, smart enough, spiritual enough—are now brought near as unexpected insiders, participants, in the very life of God. In Christ, there are no strangers, or aliens—only beloved children created in the image and likeness. We are one body joined together who main purpose is to be open and receptive to God’s presence and action. Our purpose is to let the false walls of the ego crumble, that the new humanity with Christ at its center might be built in and through us.
This work of reconciling all things in Christ, of tearing down the walls between people, and erasing the boundaries we have erected between rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, male and female is God’s great purpose, God’s dream for the world. In our reading from 2 Samuel, we glimpse something of the incredible lengths to which God will go in order to bring about the Kingdom. Sometimes I think we get into the trap of over-emphasizing the transcendence of God, the Otherness of God, the Holiness of God, the Lord of Hosts. We’re used to thinking of God in a high and lofty way—transcendent upon his throne gazing down imperiously with a rather bored expression on his face. In the Christian tradition, God is both transcendent and immanent—wholly other and closer to us that our breath, than consciousness itself.
This picture of God with us, working through the mundane details of ordinary life for our transformation is beautifully captured in the that image of YHWH and ark. King David is living in a house of cedar, but ark of God which “contains” YHWH travels about in a tent and a tabernacle. God is on the move, leading and guiding His people into the way of justice and peace. He meets them in the pasture among the sheep and travels with them wherever they go. God walks along side and will stop at nothing in order to unite all people with Himself. God is a migrant. A refugee in temporary shelter. We might prefer houses of cedar, but the Lord has no such preferences. This is the astounding humility of God—that he would give up His utter transcendence to come among us for the purpose of fulfilling his dream for the world in and through His people.
This, of course, is exactly what we see embodied in the life of Jesus. The great kenotic hymn in Philippians 2: 5-8 perhaps says it best: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” In Jesus, we see the humility of God who will stop at nothing to bring us into union and communion with Him, embodied, enfleshed in the fragile lineaments of a human life. Jesus shows us what it means to be a member of the household of God and what the household of God looks like. It looks like the way of non-possessive love. It looks like the way of service to others without counting the cost. It looks like the way of non-grasping, letting go, and letting be, of open receptivity to the gift of our own being.
Our gospel for today gives us another glimpse of what this household of God with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone looks like. The scene between Jesus and the apostles comes on the heels of the apostles being sent out without a bag, or money, or a second cloak into the surrounding villages where they cast out demons and anoint the sick. They are brimming with excitement, but also a little tired. Jesus senses this and tells them, “to come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus knows only too well the dangers of what we might call stress, anxiety, and burnout. Unless we build in time for just being, for replenishing our life-giving connection with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in intentional ways, we can easily get swept up in the hubbub of daily life where we don’t even have time to eat. So Jesus is teaching the disciples that prayer and action need to be in balance. Prayer without action runs the risk of degenerating into navel gazing. Action with the rest and restoration of prayer which reminds us of our connection to God runs the risk of being about what we want—our agenda, our reputation, our face in the newspaper or on the t.v.—and not what God’s dream for the world actually is.
But notice that when they hop into a boat to escape the crowds, the crowds see what they are up and hot foot it to the next town. They are waiting for Jesus and the disciples when they arrive at their deserted place. It’s as if you book a week’s vacation at spa resort and as you step out of the limousine and the front lobby you see your smiling boss standing there with a stack of reports that need to be filed. So much for the spa.
Jesus is not telling us that we can never take a break. His own life and ministry is punctuated by times of silent communion with the Father. Jesus goes apart and prays before every major event in his ministry. Our gospel for today, however, shows us that we cannot make an idol of our time apart. There will be times when we sit down at the end of the day for a time of silence with God and the phone rings, or child scrapes her knee, or a friend winds up in the hospital. The way of the empty hand, the way of non-grasping, the way that manifests the mind of Christ, doesn’t attach to one particular way things should be. Jesus responds with compassion—he sees the need and responds to that need. Would he have preferred to go apart to a deserted place and rest? Certainly. But that preference did not calcify into a requirement that blinded him to the suffering of others as if he were to say, “Sedona or bust! Sorry lepers, I’ve got to get my mud mask.”
The opposite, of course, is also true. We can become attached to our activity. We can use activity, even good, beneficial activity, as a way of avoiding aspects of our selves, and aspects of our lives. We can think that who we are is dependent on what we produce. 80-hour work weeks and workaholism are the result.
To be a people who live from our unity in Christ means we must find a healthy, wholesome, and holy balance between prayer and action. We need to spend time touching the fringe of Jesus’ cloak in prayer and we need to be healing hands to those who are like sheep without a shepherd. We never get the balance totally right, and that’s ok. That’s the adventure of the Christian life, the challenge of discipleship, and the excitement of letting the same mind that is in Christ Jesus be in us. That’s the thrill of what it means to walk in love, to let all that is hostile—to God, to our neighbor, to God’s good creation—fall away and allow a new house to be built, a house without walls that is built without hands and where everyone is welcome as a beloved child of God, precious in his sight.