It has been said that ours is a time in America with more polarization than at any time since the Civil War,
which is, actually, not a great benchmark.
Since the 2016 election, the associated press actually created a whole series on detailing this division in society.
Pew research has actually sown that since 1994,
Americans on both sides have moved to both more conservative and more liberal views:
Creating an even bigger divide.
And not only that, the research shows that people are more likely than ever to think that the other side’s policies are a threat to the nations well being.
We’re not only seeing the other “side” as opponents--
We see them as hostile enemies of our very wellbeing.
What seems to be an unprecedented division in OUR national memery,
Is actually far from unprecedented in the history of humanity.
In some ways, thse deivions are baked into the beginnings of Christian history.
So let’s think about it:
Our origins lie in Israel:
A country marked by sepration from the people around it.
And with good reason:
God had selected a group of people,
Consecraged to God in order to be a light to the nations around it.
A group to live differently I order to witness to the God.
And this separation, led to a distinction between Jews and gentiles that I don’t think we can really fully comprehend.
By the time of the New Testament,
Jews could not eat with Gentiles for fear of being made unclean,
And business with them was very difficult.
In the time when Paul was writing his letters,
There were Rabbis going so far as to say that Gentiles would be judged differently (and more harshly) for the same infractions as Jews.
It was certainly divided.
So it is significant:
That Paul makes the reconciliation of the Jews and the Gentiles such a significant part of the outflowing in salvation.
The introduction to Ephesians:
Our reading from Paul today,
Follows immediately upon a discussion of our salvation:
Of Christ bringing us back into a state of peace with God:
And of making our reconciliation with God possible.
In other words,
Paul’s discussion of the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile:
Of making of one people out of two:
Flows naturally from the reconciliation of humanity with God.
It’s as though Paul is saying that the state of separation that people find themesleves in (in the world) is a result of,
And flows out of our separation from God.
For those of us for whom the separation from God is overcome,
The worldly erected separations from each other are also overcome.
Paul elaborates on a sentence he makes in 2 Corinthians:
That we as Christians are entrusted with a “ministry of reconciliation”
Or that, we as Christians are called upon to help overcome and model the overcoming of the erected separations in the world.
We are called:
To make of one people, where there are two or more peoples.
We are called upon to work to overcome the divides and breaks,
That divide people into isolated groups.
And the fact of finding ourselves in this moment of unprecedented American division and polarization,
Actually provides us as Christians:
With the unprecedented opportunity to paradoxically set ourselves apart as different and unique because we are trying to live more and more into this overcoming of division.
An overcoming of division that God longs for.
And here you might think, yeah…. But what could Paul actually have to say about our current circumstances?
It might be helpful to consider the context in which Paul was writing.
Just a few short years before this writing to the Ephesians:
Not far away in Syria:
Jews and Gentles had been slaughtering each other.
And at the time of Paul writing this, these memories were still open and living wounds.
We’re not talking about a community where people were yelling at each other,
Or making nasty posts,
Or voting in different ways,
Or calling eachother names.
We’re talking about people literally killing each other in the streets.
So Paul is not talking about hurting each others feelings.
He’s talking about a real, significant, deep, and abding mistrust on both sides:
Borne out of real mutual violence and death.
And Paul wasn’t speaking to people for whom this was easy.
We don’t get off the hook by claiming that Paul somehow had it easier than us. (Because he didn’t!)
So what does this mean?
How do we live into this reconciliation:
This ministry of Reconciliation with God?
First: we look to the example that Paul offers us:
We are to recognize that,
Like the Jews in the early Christian community:
We have to be willing and ready:
To be brought into communion with those we see as “less than”
Or “unworthy” or even “harmful” to our community.
Second we are called upon to live into humility.
We cannot continue to hold that we are absolutely right and the other side is absolutely wrong.
We must be prepared to accept that we can be taught:
That we still might have something to learn:
And that we aren’t inherently right.
Our humility is not a posture to be walked all over:
If we let others walk all over us,
It wouldn’t be real reconciliation.
But at the same time, we are not to take the stance that we are always right.
And, humility is, after all:
Something that we are commanded by Christ:
The one who himself counted equality with God not as something to be grasped,
But instead emptied himself:
Taking the form of a servant.
And not only that,
But we are to practice profound empathy.
We have to start from a position that those with whom we may disagree are not pure monsters, or devils, as we are pure angels.
We have to assume that wg
We are to practice profound empathy. We have to start from a position that those with whom we may deeply disagree are not pure monsters or devils as we are pure angels. We cannot assume they are working any more our less out of abjection or perversion or rank selfishness. We have to assume that there is some sense of self interest but likely no more or less than those on our side too. We have to accept that there may be, like there are in our position, some valid points or at least concerns, and that people do have a capacity to look out for their own awareness of needs as well as profound capacity for self-delusion—just like us.
The great and interesting thing, and taken from a kind of worldly perspective, is that there is a capacity to be walked all over. If we act in good faith and only ever offer sacrifice of our privilege, humility, and empathy, we may fear that we are going to be taken advantage of and lose out. But that is only if only one "side" does this. The point is that in the church we are all supposed to look to ourselves and not be concerned about the other side. But if everyone does this then we are going to all have a community where by mutual sacrifice, humility, and empathy, we will arrive at a breakdown of the dividing walls. We will achieve more mutual understanding. But this means sacrificing our mistrust as well. Our position requires a posture of trust both that God will ultimately work through us to break down the dividing wall and that people can live into it. In doing this we can begin to model what the new community is, the wedding banquet of the lamb where our proud divisions cease, and we are able to anticipate no longer having to be identified as liberal or conservative or republican or democrat but as Christian, as members of the body of Christ.
I heard a story recently from a priest named Joshua Bowron from Charlotte NC.
He talked about a diocese that was celebrating its one hundredth anniversary.
At the time, the diocese had made a beautiful coffee table book that contained short histories of each of the churches, along with many pictures.
At the diocesan convention that year, they were selling that book.
They were selling it everywhere, in multiple places:
Including in the back of the worship space, selling it to people as they entered.
At a worship service, the sermon began with the preacher saying,
“I’m sorry if you heard the commotion a few moments ago,
There was a homeless, long haired man that got into the church.
He was shouting something about his father’s house and he turned over the tables where we are selling our book.
Don’t worry, we got rid of him.”
Don’t worry, we got rid of him.
The preacher was kidding.
There was no commotion.
No long-haired homeless man.
But he also wasn’t really kidding.
The preacher was bringing up a clear criticism:
Using the story of Jesus in the temple, turning over the tables,
To critique the diocese’s overzealousness in selling the book.
The preacher was afraid that the zeal for the book was getting more energy than the mission of the church.
Don’t worry, we got rid of him.
Where is Jesus to be found?
Where do we encounter the Holy?
Is it at church?
Is it only at church?
Can Jesus be found at church, or do we get rid of him?
Let’s dive into the gospel story to see if there are any hints as to where Jesus can most reliably be found.
The story opens in his hometown, and his disciples follow him.
It’s an interesting detail.
Jesus is from Nazareth and his disciples are from Galilee.
They walked with him back home.
It is an interesting and significant detail;
Jesus is returning home, but he’s different in several ways now,
not the least of which is that he has followers.
The ones in the synagogue who hear Jesus preaching are astounded.
They are into it. They are in awe.
But then people start to wonder:
Don’t we know this guy?
Didn’t he install your cabinets?
Where did he get all of this?
Another person says,
“oh yeah! I know his brothers and sisters. We saw his mother last week.”
After all this wandering and recognition, the next sentence in the gospel is this:
“And they took offense at him.”
They were astounded,
Yet at the same time, when they saw that he was “one of them”
All of a sudden, he is offensive.
And Jesus gets this:
Which is why he says,
“Prophets are not without dishonor,
Except in their hometown,
And among their own kin,
And in their own house.
And then the narrator of the story tells us that Jesus couldn’t do any deeds of power there.
Jesus is amazed at their unbelief,
And it seems as if there is some sort of connection between trusting Jesus,
And Jesus being able to work.
(This is not by the way, the same as praying harder)
But there IS a connection.
Jesus and his followers then leave Nazareth.
They leave Jesus’ hometown and enter the villages that surround a big city.
And then something interesting happens.
You would think that given the cold reception Jesus received in his hometown that Jesus would then give them the old razzle-dazzle,
he would heal and work miracles: Showing how powerful he is.
Instead, Jesus heals and then pairs off his followers and sends them out with special instructions.
They are to travel light.
They do, they preach repentance, they heal, and they call out evil when encountered.
Jesus doesn’t give them the razzle-dazzle,
he doesn’t do a deed of power to embarrass the old home locals;
he instead authorizes others to go out in his name to heal, testify to God’s love, to call out evil.
This tells us a lot about how God operates:
Never a braggadocious moment, never a moment of old-fashioned power like lightning from above—instead, it’s a new-fashioned power that points away from itself and pours into others.
This is what God is like, and it is something for us to remember:
That the Holy Spirit is God’s sharing of God’s-self with us:
God’s empowering of us for the work of establishing God’s Kingdom,
God’s way of living, right here in our own communities.
Besides all this, we see something in the story that is as troubling as it is interesting.
Jesus is unrecognized in his hometown.
He is recognized of course, but he is not accepted as one who is deeply connected with God.
Indeed, once they do begin to recognize him, they are offended by him.
And it’s in this offense and un-trust, this unbelief, that Jesus cannot work as powerfully as he would have normally.
This should concern all of us who claim to know who and what Jesus is.
The church is the hometown of Jesus, as it were.
Are we offended by him?
Do we allow Jesus to be Jesus or have we domesticated him into a mere kindly carpenter?
The church has, at times, carefully kept Jesus in a safe and contained box,
but Jesus keeps leaving the familiar, keeps empowering others,
and most importantly keeps showing up in strange places that are not his hometown.
That’s where we will most reliably find Jesus,
outside of the hometown.
(Maybe even outside of our comfort zone)
Of course, we meet in this space each week.
We come for solace and strength.
We certainly believe that Jesus is present with us, especially in the Eucharist;
but Jesus is also found outside, in the villages, in the world.
Don’t you know that we disciples are always playing catch-up to the Risen Lord?
Ever since that day when the women found an empty tomb, ever since then,
we have been going to where Jesus has gone ahead of us,
into Galilee, into the villages, into our neighborhoods.
And once we go there, seeking him in the face our neighbors,
he will be revealed, and we just might be empowered to do his work:
healing wounds, preaching God’s love, and calling out evil.
Let us go from here, into the villages following Jesus where he has already gone--
and not simply following him,
but being empowered by him to do his work of love and healing which the world so desperately needs.
Enjoy the weekly sermons at anytime.