Joseph M. Constant
July 19, 2015
Pentecost 8, Proper 11, Year B
St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beltsville

Have you ever had that moment when you feel like something is missing in your life?  You wake up every day and you go through the routing of life and wonder, what am I doing here?  What is God’s plan for my life?  Where do I fit in God’s Master Plan?  So many things can trigger our sense of dissatisfaction with our life.  Perhaps you long for a deeper relationship with someone in your life.  Perhaps you long for a job that brings more purpose and meaning to your life.  Perhaps you are simply tired of the bustle and hustle of life.  The truth is we live in a world where so many of God’s children longed for something or someone?

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus looks at the crowd and has compassion for them.  Why?  Because Jesus could see that they were lost.  They were wandering looking for something or someone to guide them and lead them.  They were like sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus could see that something was missing in their lives.  Jesus could see that they were starving for something or someone.  Jesus had compassion on them.

What was it they were starving for?  The letter to the Ephesians helps us to bring light to what the people were searching for; what they were longing for.

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul begins chapter 2 reminding his readers, reminding us that we are God’s creation.  God is in the process of creating us anew for a specific purpose.  We are not always going to comprehend God’s plan, but God has a plan for our lives and for the world.  God is creating us anew so that we can do the work that God has prepared for you and for me.

Can you imagine a time when we did not have access to God?  The place where one would go to worship God but were turned away, told Jews only, no Gentiles allowed.  Can you imagine what life must have been like for those who did not have access to God?

After God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God entered into a covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel.  In this covenant relationship, God gave them the law through Moses.  The expectation is that through this covenant relationship, God’s people would have direct access to God.   They knew what God expected of them.  They knew what they were supposed to do to get to heaven or to be saved.  Can you imagine what life must have been like for those who did not have access to God?  For those who did not have the Ten Commandments?  For those who did not have someone guiding them to streams of living water?  For those who did not have a shepherd as God was known to the people of Israel?

But the image of the sheep seeking a shepherd remained.  Despite God’s covenant, over time, there were many sheep.  But no shepherd was guiding them.  And so God sent Jesus to bring all of the sheep into the fold, to unite us in the Body of Christ.

In today’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we are one in Christ.  The writer can testify to the fact that Christian Jews and Gentiles can come together and worship God.  By his grace, God has reached out to those who did not belong to God’s family and God incorporated them into God’s family.  As a result, “those who were far off have been brought near.”

God always intended to make all of us into one family.  In Isaiah chapter 57:18-19, God promised to bring healing to those who did belong to God’s household.  God said, “I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway.  I will lead them.  I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips.  May they have abundant peace, both near and far.”

Yes, there is a wall that used to separate Jews and Gentiles.  But through Jesus Christ, God broke down the wall that divided us.  There is power we come together as one and that is what God did for us in Jesus Christ.  It is believed that even in God’s holy temple, there was a wall separating the court of the Gentiles from the other parts of the temple where only Jews had access to.  But through Jesus Christ, the community of Israel and the Gentiles are one.

There are special privileges offered to those who are citizens of a country as opposed to non-citizens.  You have less privileged when you are an alien living in a nation that’s not your own.  To be a Gentile was considered living as an alien.  In the community that Jesus came to inaugurate, we are all citizens.  When we come together to worship, we all have access to God.  We all have access to the word of God and to the sacraments.  In God’s household, we stand on solid ground.

In 1 Corinthians 3 beginning with verse 10, Paul reminds us that by the grace God gave him, he laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  In other words, Jesus is the cornerstone of the household of God.  The Church is one foundation and Jesus Christ is our Lord.  Jesus Christ is the shepherd we all long for.

In John chapter 13, verses 34-35, Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment.  I give you a new commandment, Jesus said; love one another, just as I have loved you.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.  Through his death and resurrection; through the ministry of the apostles and prophets, God is slowly, but surely making us in a holy temple.  God is making us into the place where God resides.  When people see us, our words and actions should reveal the nature of God.

Elizabeth Roberts in Prayers for a Thousand Years, writes, “The subject of love is inexhaustible.  In that little word is hidden the key to our own happiness, as well as to the survival of the world. While modern culture has generated oceans of information, we are rarely the wiser for it.  Information is not our greatest need, opening our hearts to the creative and life-giving Spirit of love is.

In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we serve a God who keeps his promise.  God promised to send a Messiah to reconcile us to God.  Paul can see that Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to God in one body, the Body of Christ.  On the cross, Jesus Christ fulfilled and abolished the law as the way to the salvation.  In other words, Jesus has won for us the victory over sin and death.  It is no longer impinging upon us to do something to win favor with God or to win our salvation.  God took care of that for us on the cross.

So how do we respond to God’s amazing grace in our lives?  How do we respond to the sacrifice that God has made to save you and to save me?

In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  That’s what God wants for you and for me.  God does not want us to settle for an unfulfilled life.  God wants you to listen to your inner voice prompting you to the next ministry; prompting to mend a relationship; prompting to a different kind of ministry; prompting a closer relationship with God

My brothers and sisters, as human beings, what we long for the most is right relationship with God.  Our healing comes from the very fact that God’s accessible to all of us.  We can all approach God in worship, in prayer, in the word of God.  That’s what we do in the first part of the service.  Then, we move to sharing a meal together in the bread and wine.  We now have access to the word that quenches our thirst and the food that feeds the soul.

Jesus saw the crowd and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  The crowd went looking for the word of life.  Jesus provided them with the word that quenched their thirst.

My brothers and sisters, our deepest longing is to feel God’s love and God’s presence in our lives.  It doesn’t matter how advanced we are in technology.  It doesn’t matter how far we have come in the field of science.  Nothing can compare to a conscience grounded in love.  Nothing can replace the unquenchable flame of love.  We are one in the Spirit and we are in the Lord.

Song: They will know we are Christians by our love

1.    We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord,
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

Refrain     And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

2.    We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand,
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land. Refrain

Photo: STOCKBYTE/THINKSTOCK

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