July 12, 2015 Sermon  “ Restoring the Sacred Circle”  by  Rev. June Fothergill

Ephesians 1: 3-14

When I was a young pastor my friend Carol who was Native American invited me to serve on the Native American Council of our conference.  I served for several years.  One of the hard things about that time was the struggle to support the little Native American church at Williamson River, in Klamath country.   I am sad to say, we ultimately were unable to do so in a way that would allow that church to thrive and several years ago the church was closed and the land given to the Klamath tribe.  It was sad for me to lose the only Native American local church in our conference.  I still wonder, did we really take the time to understand their needs and respond appropriately?   When we talk about restoring the sacred circle of relationships with Native American persons and others different from the dominate culture, we face a complex mix of history and present circumstances.

The world that first receive the letter we call Ephesians was also complex.  The Roman empire in the time of Paul and those who wrote in his tradition was connecting the peoples of the known world together in ways never seen before.  Paul and his associates could travel freely throughout the Mediterranean. People from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures were able to talk with one another and share ideas.  Writing to the people in Ephesus, one of those  Roman Empire cities in what we know today as Turkey, Paul  had a vision of Christ pulling together all of creation, including the diverse gentile peoples  of Ephesus and beyond.  Beneath this dream is the idea that there is one creator of us all, who wants to restore positive relationship with all people and therefore the wholeness of creation itself.

This is the dream, not that everyone become the same ( I,e, Jewish in Paul’s context) but that  each will have its place in the sacred circle of life through the heart of Christ.   The passage suggests some things needed to restore the sacred circle.

1. Grace- forgiveness and redemption

This is the great gift that Paul believed made all the difference.  We can be restored to right relationship with God and with each other through the love and sacrifice of Christ Jesus .    Jesus makes us all children of God and gives us hope to stand before God blameless and whole.   Yet to find this redemption from sin, this freedom to live for God, we have to admit our need and turn to God in Christ Jesus.    When we think that we ourselves have all the answers, when we equate faithfulness with particular cultural norms, we miss the offer of grace.  When we think that others need it but not ourselves, we fall into arrogance and greed.

For example,  one of the struggles indigenous people of our world face is a history of loss and oppression that has created trauma in generations of persons.  The pains of the past- losses of culture lives and land- affect generations today.   So when we as a church face the hurts of our past, the ways we historically have left God’s ways of love and gotten wrapped in our own- this confession  opens  us to that lavish grace  and forgiveness Christ wants to bring us and the healing Christ wants to give  our brother and sisters who experience historical trauma.  It opens us to the restoration of relationship with God and others that will lead to God’s desires for this world.

Paul understood that living in community as God would have us, in a community that included slave and free, gentile and jew, women and men- in other words a very diverse community would not be easy.  There would be conflicts and misunderstanding, there would be temptations to abuse power and  stay victims. Yet, Paul believed that the grace of Jesus Christ, the power of the holy spirit could overcome all those pitfalls of diverse community.  That it was God’s plan for all of creation to come together in Christ Jesus- not as bland uniformity but as a living body with many diverse and interconnected parts.   In many Native American traditions this is called the “ web of life”.

2. This brings us to the second thing needed to restore the scared circle- Vision.  Paul had a vision that God wants all the world to live in harmony and wholeness.  He wrote that the mystery of  God’s will is “ in the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”  In this vision everyone matters, all are adopted as  children of God and empowered by the Spirit of live for the praise of God’s glory.

In his context Paul had seen  the wall between gentile and jew  broken down by God in Jesus Christ.  It was his mission from Christ to spread the good news of grace and forgiveness, the possibility of right relationship with God through  Jesus to the world that he knew and especially to all the gentiles,  those outside the Jewish faith who had been seen as alien and far away from God.

Paul understood that this missionary impulse was not about making all the gentile into jews like him, but about including the gifts and ideas of the genitles into the fellowship.   So also today we realize that the Native American cultures have gifts to give our common life in Christ.  One of these is to include not only humans in the vision of a renewed creation but a reminder that it also includes all the creatures God created and the earth itself.

Chief Seattle from a Pacific Northwest tribe gave a speech before signing a treaty with the white men.  Versions of his speech has been shared down through  the years.  Part of what he may have said is,

“ This we know:  the earth does not belong to us. WE belong to the earth.

This we know: All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it, Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  (  from Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. Scholoastic Books, 1991)

To restore the scared circle of life is then to have a vision for how all of life is connected  and made whole through the love of our Creator , Redeemer, Holy God.

3.  Finally, this passage invites us to reflect upon how we might live in our day to day lives to restore the sacred circle.  Several times Paul uses the phrase- “ To live for the praise of  God’s glory.”     What does this mean for our lives?

I think you and I are invited to live not just for ourselves, but for God.   It means enjoying a relationship with our Creator that brings life and hope to our lives and those around us.

Paul recognized that the source of this ability to choose God’s way was found in our experience of lavish grace.  Grace that assures us that we are God’s beloved children freed to grow in love.    Years ago I read a story by Wilson and Nora Boots , UMC missionaries in Bolivia. They told about the impact their health care training programs had on women’s lives.

Maria Sylvia is a Peruvian woman disfigured with arthritis who felt so bad about herself that she could not look into a mirror.  Suring a Health for All training event she had a profound experience of God’s love, enabling her to accept herself and her gifts for health care ministry. She looked into a mirror and wept for joy.  At a similar training event in Honduras, Maria of Nicaragua,  painfully shared her feeling that the loss of all her teeth gave her a sense of shame, affecting her ministry as a church health care promoter. An offering was taken, a dentist contributed this skill and within days Maria was confidently smiling with new teeth.  ( Prayer Calendar)

And it means choosing actions that will give God glory.

I believe that God knows what we need to become people who can praise God with our lives.  .   When I remember that God wants to care for us, God wants to have all our basic needs met, then I stop  competing and fretting about myself  and explore how we can find God’s way.  For example,  instead of worrying about a problem, I can do what I have the power and energy to do.  Instead of fretting about what to say to a grieving person, I can just go and sit with them for awhile.  Instead of judging someone different from myself, I can find the grace to listen to their point of view. It is a choice to walk in compassion one small step at a time for the whole of our lives.   To give God glory.

So, this short passage in a letter to people living long , long  ago reminds us also who we are and what God wants to do through us.   They are adopted children of God who have received God’s lavish grace  and redemption from sin and alienation.  They are thus empowered to live for the “ praise of God’s glory” and participate in the gathering up of all things in Christ.

In other words- there is a big scheme a foot to connect in harmony all of creation and you   and I are part of it all through the grace and love of Christ at work in our lives.

 

Sermon  July 19, 2015  Ephesians 2: 11-22  by Rev. June Fothergill

In Calvin and Hobbes, a cartoon about a six year old boy and his very alive stuffed tiger, Hobbes, the big conflict is with – yes you guessed it- girls! Particularly one named Susie.  Calvin and Hobbes form a club called  GROSS (Get Rid of Slimy Girls)  In one sequence Calvin and Hobbes go through a long routine to throw a water balloon at Suzie in her yard but she’s gone inside by the time they get there. So instead they kidnap her doll and send her a ransom note, signed of course.   So what does Susie do ?  Of course she tricks them and kidnaps Hobbes.  Calvin is really upset and comments, “ So I kidnapped her stupid doll. She didn’t need to retaliate. Can’t she take a joke. Girls have no sense of humor. That’s their whole problem. All this was funny until she did the same thing to me.”

Finally Calvin gets Hobbes back and is upset with him for going without a fight.  Then Hobbes reveals that he has been a spy.  He read Susie’s diary.    A secret message Calvin exclaims what did it say? It said, “Calvin is a pig-faced smelly fat head.”  Calvin and Hobbes shake hands- “Then our club is a success. Brilliant work Hobbes. Promotions for everyone. “(The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Book 2, Bill Watterson, 2005 p. 335)

We laugh at Calvin’s antics.   For it’s true we do have a tendency to build walls between ourselves and others different from us.   Sometimes it’s said that fences make good neighbors, that when we have clear boundaries and expectations society works more smoothly. Yet, too often those boundaries are not built out of justice but out of fear, are not healthy boundaries but discrimination.  One of the stories we see in the New Testament is how the growth of the Jesus movement challenged many of the boundaries or walls that society had erected.  As Paul exclaimed in Galatians in Christ Jesus there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Gentile.   Jesus started it by eating with outcasts and touching lepers.  And in Acts his followers wrestled with how the Spirit moved them to include unexpected people in their new communities of faith- slaves and owners, Roman centurions, former persecutors.

So when we read this passage in Ephesians we are not really surprised that in good Pauline tradition the writer speaks of Jews and gentiles in Christ Jesus becoming one humanity instead of two.  What I find interesting about this passage is that the writer suggests that it is the cross of Jesus, his sacrifice, his blood that makes this reconciliation possible. Notice how many times it’s mentioned “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us.     He has abolished the law with its commandments, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross thus putting to death that hostility through it.” (Vs. 13-16)

What does this mean that the cross of Jesus brings reconciliation between hostile peoples?

First, I wonder if it could be that Jesus way of the cross shows us a way- a template say- for approaching the dividing walls, the conflicts of our world even today?  Ephesians says Christ is our peace.  In following Christ’s way of sacrificial love could it just be we will find the way to peace, that we can find ways to deal with the hostilities of today’s world?

What did Jesus do?  He chose not to fight his enemies with weapons and worldly power; instead he let himself be executed.  He didn’t win or triumph in the way the world understood.   He was crucified messiah!    But in doing so he made possible the coming of the resurrection and the gift of the spirit for anyone who could follow him.  Thus, His movement for peace and justice could not be stopped by the powers of the world.

We keep trying to fight our enemies, those on the other side of today’s walls of hostility with conventional weapons of war and punishment   with all the latest technology. Yet, the “enemy” keeps popping back up- groups that show intolerance, hatred, brutality, rape, terror.  Is there another way?    Jesus would suggest there is.

Maybe making peace isn’t about winning or losing but about relationship building. That is what seems to be happening with the Iran negotiations.  Iran is saying- we need the relationship with the rest of the world, especially the young people are saying this. Hopefully that relationship will bring hope and possibilities.  Joe Klein, in Time Magazine makes a point, “Yes, the Iran deal is risky. But we have been taking all sorts of bellicose risks since Sept 11, 2001. Almost all of our military ventures have failed. So many lives have been lost. It’s time, finally, to take a risk for peace.” (p. 37 Time July 27, 2015)

Of course there is another way of looking at the meaning of the cross of Jesus as a source of reconciliation.    The cross of Jesus leads to the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles because In Jesus- the laws that had separated Jews and Gentiles no longer applied.  Now, there was a way for both parties to access God and that was through the love and grace of Christ shown by his death and resurrection.

In this understanding when we are feeling like those gentiles

“   Without Christ

outsiders from the nation of Israel

stranger to the covenant promise (blessing of the nations)

having no hope

without God.

Jesus sacrifice of himself washes us clean, redeems us, welcomes us aboard, and sets things right.  The work of the cross of Jesus was to reconcile us to God no matter how far away we are or who we were in the past.   In this understanding no one is outside the circle of God’s grace and forgiveness.  WE have assurance that when we turn to Christ Jesus we are welcomed.

The power of Christ the crucified messiah was that his sacrifice was for all of humanity- This was how God continued the promise of blessing to all the earth’s families.   The fulfillment of the promise is now being lived out through us!   Thus, the passage in Ephesians says- we all become the dwelling place of God. There is no need for a temple- we, the community in Christ, are the temple built by the grace that flows from the cross of Christ Jesus.

This seems to me to mean that as followers of Jesus, as recipients of this welcome and grace from the cross of Jesus, it is our job to open the doors, not close them, to welcome people into our fellowship with abandon, to let Christ tear down the walls of our hearts.   The writer of Ephesians knows this is not easy, but assures us that in doing so we are participating in what God is doing- creating a new humanity.

I hear from many people about how this congregation welcomes people who come to worship.  I am happy to hear these stories.  I think God is working on our hearts to provide radical and open hospitality.   We are also learning how to integrate new people into our fellowship and mission.  This is not always easy but we keep growing and learning. This passage assures us that as we open our own lives to the grace of Christ, as we recognize our need for belonging, God will dwell with us. God will break down the walls and help us be persons and the community God would have us be.

I have discussed two very different ways of looking at the meaning of the cross of Jesus as a source of reconciliation.    As I explore these ideas, I find that both hold some truth and wisdom for me.   I need the good news of a grace that will accept me across the walls and barriers I build up in my life.  I am grateful that that grace is available to all people.  I also, am challenged and intrigued by Jesus way of the cross as a way of peacemaking in our hurting world.  I am not sure exactly what it means but I believe exploring it will give us needed alternatives to the violence to which we often resort.   I think that the place where these two understanding come together is in our trust in Christ Jesus.  IN the midst of a hostile and sometimes confusing world- we have the testimony of people like the writer of Ephesians that through Christ we are members of the household of God.   With Christ as our cornerstone,  we are  built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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