11 So 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— 12 remember 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. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 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. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[e] into a dwelling place for God.
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
These past few weeks have been very reflective as you could imagine. Being back in Louisville and driving to the hospital, then to the rehab center, and then back to the hospital, I’ve been on roads and in parts of town that I have not been in a while. In between long periods of simply sitting in my mom’s hospital room, working remotely, making calls, reading and studying, there were also times when lots of folks would come to visit, persons that were my parent’s friends. Some of these families go back generations, as in my mom went to high school with them, and my grandparents went to the same high school with their grandparents…and some were generations! Lots of memories…as well as growth.
I’ve often said that growing up in Louisville, in my family, and in my Southern Baptist church seems like several lifetimes ago. There are some good similarities to that Rich Jones, but I’m really different than I was 35 years, heck, I’m different than I was 5 years ago, maybe even 5 days ago!
Through it all, there’s a sense that I, along with many of us, are becoming more aware that we are moving towards being something more. We are defying roles, labels, stereotypes, and becoming deeply connected in our humanity with one another.
This is why Jesus came. Jesus embodied this sense of oneness. He redefined “family” as more inclusive and closer than we could imagine. He redefined religion to being more about relationship. He redefined humanity as not belonging to different categories, clans, or whatever, but to abolish what divides and to bring us together.
Our passage this morning in Ephesians says just that…what’s more, it reminds us of the universal nature of Christ. That Christ brings us together with one another and with those who have gone before us and after us.
I was talking with a friend this week about death, what’s next, what does it resurrection look like. There are no certainties, but Scripture tells us that we are somehow connected in this life and in the next.
Jesus is calling us toward living life, real life, together. He’s inviting us along on a journey, a lifelong journey. A journey built on authenticity.
That’s why, in our gospel lesson, that so many folks wanted to be around Jesus. He was vulnerable, honest, real. More than words or the miracles, they believed in Jesus because Jesus believed in them. He was a lover. A lover of all people and things and lived it out. Belief, love, trust, that can bring expansive growth where labels and dogma simply don’t matter anymore. Where simply being around someone like Jesus can bring healing as people become more aware, more real, and more themselves.
Even though growing up in the Baptist church had some things about it that were really hard and I’m still learning from it and growing past it, there were also some great relationships that helped me to become more aware…and, one constant, I have always been a follower of Jesus…and more than the religious control that was put on me at times, that relationship has shown me how to be human and to believe in others and to seek folks out who believe in me as Jesus did.
I was active in my church growing up, and particularly close to our associate pastor and his wife. They were our youth leaders. We had a lot of great adventures together, mission trips, summer camp, youth group, hayrides, weekend retreats in the Smokies, and lots of late night conversations.
When some things happened in our church though, they felt compelled to leave. After they left, we went through some transition and I ended up on this internal quest to sort of find myself.
When I was 17, the fall of my senior year of high school, I was president of our FCA/Good News club (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). Our teacher sponsor introduced me to a friend of his, Ken Goss. Ken was the Youth for Christ director in Louisville and they were starting this thing called Campus Life at my school. It wasn’t long when they started meeting weekly at my best friend’s house, Jeff Hume. I was invited to simply come and check it out, so I did.
When I went to Campus Life, I thought that there was no way that this could be a Christian or even religious deal. They laughed a lot, played games, sang songs, and many of my friends who would never go to church showed up there. Plus, the campus life leaders, Ken, and Andy Harshberger, were very genuine. They weren’t afraid to be honest and to ask some tough questions in a loving way, never in a condemning way.
I loved it.
It was like a breath of fresh air. It also began within me a sense that God really is relational and desires for me to be in relationship, right and deep relationship with others and with God.
I also began to see Jesus as a real human, someone who I can come to and believed in me, which enabled me to believe in him. This Jesus who has a deep compassion for me and for others. This Jesus who yearns for me and my community of friends and my high school. This love compelled me to come to the call of being a pastor…to have a passion for others to know this Jesus and to know that they can be loved and have a sense of community, of relationship with others and with God.
This same Jesus has been moving me towards this place of love my entire life, to places where roles, definitions, boundaries, are all wrapped up in this deep sense of love and connection to all people and things.
Our scripture this morning shows a Jesus that ALL can come to, no matter where they are in life. Just like me in many ways, the folks in Israel at the time this passage was written were steeped in a religious culture, they knew the stories. Yet, they were stuck in a cultural system over that took precedence over authentic relationship, they didn’t know that God was calling them into an intimate relationship with God and into a community of intimate relationships with others. Jesus appears on the scene, Jesus, like some folks in our lives, demonstrated a love, a deep and authentic desire for relationship with others. He also shared good news that God’s love was extended to everyone, not just those who were in synagogue or the temple every week, but everyone.
Jesus didn’t say, don’t go to temple, don’t do the things that you have been taught to do, but BE someone better, love well, show justice, compassion and demonstrative action for the poor, for those on the margins of community, for those who have felt real persecution or oppression. And, the way to experience that being was not to simply sit in church every week, but to know deeply the love that God showers upon you and to develop ways to understand that love just as you would invest in any friendship, spend time with God as you interact with your neighbors, family, friends.
Our passage gives witness to people hungering for God, and feeling compelled to come to Jesus, to experience this love, and Jesus calls them into the desert, to slow down and contemplate what God has done for them. I can also relate to that as God has called, and continue s to call me to places like the Springs in Indiana, or the Abbey of Gethsemani in KY…or even literally the desert when we lived in SoCal to get away with him. And, quite frankly, if all goes well with my mom, I’m lookin forward to some time away with my own family and some friends I haven’t seen in a while in the Pacific Northwest this next week.
Jesus calls us, his church to do the same, to take time outs in our days and sometimes longer to experience relationship with him. As we do this, as we our allowing ourselves to be alone with God, we may find this God calling us to come to him. In our scriptures, we see those following Jesus and that the crowds came because they were consumed by God’s love and that love was contagious.
The writer in Ephesians reminds us that we were once Gentiles, unbelievers, did not know God’s love. Yet, God’s love came and was demonstrated to us through Jesus. Up until Jesus, devout Jews did not believe that God’s love extended to everyone. Yet, in Jesus, we are shown and told that we are one in our humanity. Jesus abolished the felt need for the rules that were outside regulators of behavior, and gave us himself. Jesus was and is the perfect humanist! He wants us to be our truest selves.
God’s story of redemptive love has power to change us, to inspire us, and like the disciples, to change the world. Yet, no one can give us that power, that love, I can’t as your preacher, you can’t with each other. It is given freely to us by God’s Spirit, and we are called to come and be joined together, all of us, with Christ as our example and cornerstone.
Friends, we have much to be thankful for, and much work to do of self, others, and God awareness. May we know that this God is calling us towards divine union with God’s self and everyone and everything, just as God is calling our neighbors, those who have been excluded by religious folk, all of humanity in Christ’s shared humanity with us.