Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year B – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 2:11-22 and Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – July 22, 2018
This little Gospel story bookends feeding and water miracles that remind people of the Exodus from Egypt and time in the wilderness. It speaks of the importance not only of service to others, but of rest and time spent in prayer to God the Father. It also speaks of Jesus’ compassion for all of those lost and desperate for healing – for the mere touch of the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. A brush with his divinity.
We all reach moments in our lives when we realize we need healing – not just physical, but emotional and spiritual. That we have a deep need that can only be reached and met by God. We recognize this in our own spirit, but we also see it in the hurts of the world around us. We see it in fractured relationships, in bitter divisions, and in the unfathomable cruelty of people to one another.
The letter to the Ephesians is a letter that speaks of healing and a new identity for those in the church. There are no longer Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles, once far from God have been brought near through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. They, too, have been welcomed into God’s family and have a place at the table. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall …” He has created in himself one new humanity “thus putting to death that hostility…” The wall has come tumbling down. There is one humanity. All people have been reconciled to God and to each other. Hostility has been put to death. What a message.
We are “…citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, … with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; you are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Through Christ, the church has been built together from all different peoples and experiences into a dwelling place for God. But it’s not only for our collective life.
We build walls to protect ourselves. We ignore things we need to confront, pains that need to be healed. So often we are fragmented and divided, restless and burdened. So I ask, what dividing walls do you see in your own life – within you? How might Christ be bringing unity even in your own soul so that it too may be a “dwelling place for God?”
The work we experience God doing in our lives affects our life in community and vice versa. We are always connected. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” As God shows us new ways of being human, it is has an effect on those around us. We are always learning from and teaching the saints – the other members of God’s household.
Each of us has been made in the breathtakingly beautiful image of God, but we so often forget it even though Christ is constantly working to break down those dividing walls we are so good at building. In June, at my continuing education event, the president of the Renovaré Institute gave a presentation about the smart phones, the Internet, and social media. In spite of all the good they have done to connect people around the world, they have also thrown up barriers not only between people but also within our very selves. Rather than being connected to God and living in the awesome realization that we are indeed dwelling places for God, we have been reduced to curating our lives for others to see. This can lead to narcissism and depression, anxiety and disconnection from those right in front of us.
The talk about how the spiritual practices could help us find our center again was thought-provoking, but what struck me was that the speaker never used the words “person” or “people.” He only used the word “image-bearer.” I thought initially that this phrasing might be a one off, but it was every time. In the beginning it felt clunky to me – somehow unwieldy. But as he continued to use this word, I realized it caused a huge shift in perspective. After experimenting with this myself, I noticed how it changed how I looked at and understood others. That person who cut me off in traffic was not a bad driver and horrible human, he was an image-bearer. That family member getting under your skin – an image-bearer. The person making work difficult – an image-bearer. It didn’t mean that people didn’t do irritating or sinful things, but it changed my attitude when interacting with and reacting to them. They, too, were God’s beloved children.
And when I thought this shift couldn’t be bigger, it was said to me. “You are an image-bearer.” For all my faults and foibles, sins and shortcomings, I, too, bear the image of God. In a society and a time when we hear so often that we are not enough, these words were such a simple and clear reminder of our core identity. We bear the image of God. We, too, are capable of love, compassion, creativity, and forgiveness. For all your mistakes, missteps, scars and regrets, you bear the utterly stunning image of God.
I don’t want us to miss this because I think it is terribly absent in our world today. So indulge me. Turn to your neighbor. Ask their name if you don’t know it. Look into their eyes. And using their name, tell them “you are an image-bearer. You are made in God’s image and you share it with the world.”
How can we view ourselves and others from this place? How do we see Christ in the other? In the Gospel, although Jesus is tired, “as he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them…” There’s actually a great Greek word for what gets translated as “to have compassion on.” The word is splanchnizomai. Go ahead, try saying it because it’s super fun! Splanchnizomai. This fun foreign word connects to the word for guts. You see, the guts were thought to be the place of deep, tender emotion. Love, compassion and affection were not matters of the heart, but matters of the gut. I think “I heart New York” works much better than “I gut New York,” but I digress.
Jesus is hit square in the gut – stopped in his tracks by the need he sees. By seeing the image of God in each person. As the incarnate image of God, he cannot deny it and it compels him to act on behalf of those who also bear God’s image – who are intimately connected with God and need God’s care.
Some days I fear that we have become numb in many ways. We’re bombarded by images, sounds, stories of anger and yelling, frustration and intolerance on all sides. We hear so many sad tales that it is easy to find ourselves convinced this world is going down the drain.
But that’s not who we are and not what God intends for us. There is an alternative. You bear the image of God. Christ has already broken down those walls we put up, uniting us together into one body – making us one people in him. When Jesus died on the cross, the Temple curtain was ripped from top to bottom. God and humanity were reconciled. People were brought together through Christ’s love. There is no “us” and “them,” there is only “we.” We all bear that holy image of God for all to see. We are called, like Christ, to embrace that image in ourselves and to see it in others. The Holy Spirit is even now breaking down those barriers in us and in our communities as we live and learn together. It takes work and discipline, self-reflection, failing, falling, confession and forgiveness. But it is life giving. It is being brought near to God after having been far off in our own stubborn ways.
As you move through your days, what hits you in the gut and moves you with compassion? Pay attention to those things and you might find yourself on the other side of the wall with people you previously thought of as the other. You might just find yourself looking into the eyes of God. Amen.