Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Proper 11, Pentecost + 9, July 22, 2018
11So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14For Jesus Christ is our peace; in flesh Christ has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15Christ has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, in order to create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So Jesus Christ came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through Christ both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. 21In Christ, the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
[Slide] On July 18, 1918, one hundred years ago this week, Rolihlahla (Rolilala) Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. His first grade school teacher gave him a new name, and he became known to most of the world as Nelson Mandela.
It was colonial practice to give “Christian” names to African children—a practice that couldn’t have been more mis-named.
We learn from our lesson for this morning that when Jesus came to earth, he united all people. You wouldn’t need a new “Christian name,” because you would already have one: child of God. And whatever name your parents gave you is a perfectly acceptable prefix to “child of God.” Jesus would be very happy for Nelson Mandela to have been known as Rolilala, Child of God, for all of his life.
Your name is Child of God, too.
Say it, your name, followed by “child of God.”
That is the name that no one can take from you. Because Jesus gave it to you.
Paul teaches us that Jesus united all people into one in his blood. Previously, in the world of the apostles, there were two groups: Jews and “everyone else.”
“Everyone else” had a few names. We like to do that, don’t we? Name the people who are “other.” In Paul’s world, the “other” were called “Gentiles.” Or “the uncircumcision,” to show that they could not participate in the covenant with God because they had not undertaken the rite which binds Jews to the covenant—the rite of circumcision. It should be obvious from that language that the other thing that bound one to the covenant was a relationship to a man—a father, a husband—which is why widows often become object lessons in isolation and precarious living.
“The uncircumcision” is an unwieldy name, but it does the trick. It clearly delineates someone as other.
“Undocumented” works the same way. But it’s not enough, so we add other terms. “Illegal” is one meant to make real people sound fully illegitimate. Tack on “alien” if you really want it to sound otherworldly and strange.
There are other words, but I have no intention of using them in this pulpit.
Apparently the folks who use those words—those separation words…the words that function as rhetorical walls between “us” and “them”—apparently those folks haven’t read Ephesians. They may still be working their way through Two Corinthians…I don’t know.
Because anyone who has read Ephesians, anyone who has read the lesson before us this morning, has heard the Good News that the walls were torn down!
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14For Jesus Christ is our peace; in flesh Christ has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
Jesus did that! With his body! He broke down the walls between us and made us into one people! One people with one name: Child of God.
Whew! Glad Paul reminded us.
…Cuz I think we forget, don’t we?
We forget that Jesus tore down the walls between us.
We forget that Jesus brought us near. When we’re busy telling ourselves how undeserving and illegitimate we are, we forget that Jesus made us legit.
Jesus brought you near and there is nothing you can do about it. You are loved and forgiven and you can’t be unloved and unforgiven.
You are a child of God.
Imagine a world full of people who know that they are loved and forgiven, who live without walls between them and other people, or them and God.
Nelson Mandela could imagine such a place.
[Next 5 slides, slowly]
Mandela spent twenty-six years in prison for proclaiming such a place in order that his country might learn to imagine it. Eighteen of those years were spent in the cold isolation of Robben Island, where he imagined that place where all people are treated as true citizens, regardless of the color of their skin, or the language they speak, or who they marry.
And when he got out, he helped build that place.
He could have been bitter. He should have been angry. But instead of punishing those who had tried to destroy him and others, he offered them forgiveness and reconciliation. He reminded them that they were part of the Rainbow Nation that was being built in South Africa. He met with leaders of the Aparteid era, offering reconciliation and peace. “Courageous people do not fear forgiving,” Mandela told his people…and then he lived his words, helping to form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which held hearings to expose the horrors of the Aparteid era, but offered amnesty to many of its proponents, so that the country could move on.
Mandela was not an evangelist. He kept his Christian faith largely to himself. Late in his life, people discovered how deeply rooted that faith truly was. I have no doubt whatsoever that he knew this passage, and that it informed his life and his work.
Rolihlahla believed Jesus. He believed that Jesus had torn down the walls between us, and that we were called to tear down walls, too.
The root of so much that is wrong these days lies in the fact that people don’t believe Jesus. Hear what I said: Not that people don’t believe in Jesus. But they don’t believe the stuff he said. They don’t believe that God loves all people. Heck, they don’t believe that God loves them. A message they carry home from church on Sunday morning, if what they are hearing is that they are Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
Please please please hear me this morning: You are God’s beloved. God loves you more than anything. So much that God named you: Child of God. You are loved…and forgiven…and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it…
…Except help create a world in which everyone knows that they are a beloved Child of God. You know someone who needs to hear this message.
Tell ‘em. Then tell yourself.
[Put up final slide]