July 12, 2021
The Proper 11B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 from the Lectionary Gospel; 2 Samuel 7:1-14a from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 23 from the Lectionary Psalms; and Ephesians 2:11-22 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: OT Lectionary: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 15 (Lord’s Day 5)
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Author: Scott Hoezee
“Be specific!” “Show, Don’t Tell!” “Appeal to all Five Senses!”
Recently I completed a three-week mini course online on “The Nuts and Bolts of Preaching” and when I interacted with my students, lines like those above were my common go-to pieces of advice. It is the same in regular seminary courses when I grade student sermons. Generalities, undefined words like “this” or “that,” brief lists that quickly conclude with “and so on” or “et cetera” just don’t cut it. The concrete and the specific always trump the vague and the general.
I guess it’d be presumptuous of me to tell that to Mark.
Mark tells us in 6:34 that Jesus taught them much (in the Greek it’s just the word polla, “much, a lot”). He taught them a whole bunch of stuff, to be colloquial about it. But what kind of stuff? What did Jesus discern these “sheep without a shepherd” needed to learn and to hear most of all? Did he snow them with more parables that they had a tough time making sense of initially? (Mark did say earlier in this gospel that Jesus never taught anything without using parables.) Did he teach them more plainly about the Kingdom of God and about the grace of God that is the true center to the universe? Did he do a Sermon on the Mount-like listing of beatitudes, sketching out in that way the shape of the kingdom-filled life?
We could speculate endlessly on this, and we could make some pretty educated guesses, too, based on the rest of Mark’s gospel. But we’ll never know the precise content. So maybe we can better focus on something else that is rather remarkable here. Jesus saw these large crowds of people and he had compassion on them. They seemed lost. They were like sheep unable to find green pastures, moving through life without a goal, without the security a shepherd could provide. That, after all, is the implication of Mark’s pastoral image here: sheep without a shepherd were vulnerable, were unable to care for themselves, were liable to getting lost and/or injured.
That was how Jesus viewed them and so what does he do? He teaches them a lot of stuff. He teaches them. That’s not typically our response to such a thing in the modern world. We think that the solution to most any problem you could name would be to give people more stuff. What people need is a secure investment portfolio. They need purpose in their lives (and a good bit of that purpose will be to learn how to earn more money and provide material security to the family). We don’t need to teach people lots of stuff we just need to give them lots of stuff—or give them methods by which to get at that stuff—and they will be fine.
People themselves seem impatient with being reduced to students who have to learn. Ads for various technical institutes try to lure students to their hands-on computer repair training by reminding them that all that worthless stuff you learn at liberal arts colleges not only fails to make you any money one day, it just slows down your progress toward a lucrative career. This mentality seeps into the church, too, of course. Sermons need to either be very short or, if they are going to be longer sermons, they need to focus less on content and more on application, on how to get at a better life through tips on childrearing, business practices, marriage enhancement, and the like. Anything in an adult education forum that smacks of a content-heavy lecture is shunned by some.
Yet in Mark 6 when Jesus sees the crowds, he knows just what they need. Eventually they will need bread and fish, true enough, and he’ll provide that, too. But the compassionate vision of Jesus probed deeper and so he knew that the very first thing they would need was to learn a few things about God, creation, and their relation.
The crowds that day apparently lapped it up. But eventually in Mark when the content of the teaching got a little tougher to swallow—all that cross-bearing, death, and sacrifice stuff—they’d fall away. Only those who really understand Jesus’ teaching and learn it over the long haul see the sense of it all and find the joy and the new life of it all. That’s maybe a lesson the contemporary church still needs to hear and above all to learn as well.
If you look at the Greek text of Mark 6:34 in an edition like Nestle-Aland, you’ll note that the phrase “sheep without a shepherd” (literally, “sheep that did not have a shepherd”) is italicized, indicating the editors’ hunch that this was meant to be a kind of quote or an allusion to something else. Commentator Robert Guelich points out that indeed, this phrase was one used often in the Old Testament to describe the people of Israel and, as such, is yet another Old Testament overlay on this event. The feeding miracle that follows is clearly meant to reveal Jesus as the Messianic Great Shepherd of the Sheep in fulfillment of prophecies from Isaiah and Ezekiel even as the later reference to how Jesus made the people to sit down on GREEN grass is evocative of Psalm 23, which is doubtless why that famous Psalm is the one assigned for this same Sunday.
Jesus wants to be our shepherd. What he perceived in the crowds in Mark 6 was first and foremost that they needed someone to shepherd them. And in John’s gospel we know that Jesus delighted in tagging himself as “the Good Shepherd.” That is, of course, a lyric image. Christians have long taken comfort in it, composing scores of hymns on this theme and creating so very many stained-glass window depictions of Jesus as shepherd. But how often do we realize that to some people, that may not seem like a comforting image at all? Because the way you get into that shepherd’s strong arms is precisely the path of self-denial Jesus will eventually talk about in Mark (and that won’t prove so popular to the people back then).
We need to be carried by Another precisely because we cannot make our own way, we cannot find our way. So we turn ourselves over to God in Christ and, in so doing, declare that we are not our own anymore. We do not belong to our own selves. Another has a prior (and a total) claim on us. Again, however, some people find that idea to be anything but comforting.
It is difficult for those of us who are so thoroughly familiar with the gospel to conceive of how this may sound in the ears of an outsider to the faith. In fact, it may even strike some of us as bizarre that anyone could look at the image of the Good Shepherd and see something offensive in it. But let’s give the world some credit: maybe those who are offended by that image are more in touch with its radical nature than those of us who look at it without batting an eye.
You see, what we too easily forget is the truth captured by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship. “When Christ calls a man to follow him,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “he bids that man to come and die.” We sacrifice our sense of self. We don’t stop using the personal pronouns “I” and “me”. But we place our sense of self in the context of who we are in relationship to Jesus.
Sometimes we forget how difficult that self-sacrifice is. But maybe part of the reason is because we fail to live this out in our day-to-day lives. We might do well to ask ourselves how often we reflect on our being owned by Christ, the shepherd of whom we are but the sheep of his pasture.
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Author: Stan Mast
This is arguably the most important text in the books of Samuel, indeed, in what scholars call the Deuteronomistic history from the Pentateuch through Chronicles. So, although I’ve written on it just 7 months ago at the height of Advent, I will attempt to offer some fresh preaching ideas for this Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time
This is the climax of the David story. He has risen from being a shepherd in the little town of Bethlehem to being the undisputed King of Israel. He has conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel. In the last chapters, he has defeated the Philistines in two decisive battles. Consequently, he brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, thus making it both the political and religious center of Israel.
Verse one of our chapter sums up the state of things with David. “After the king was settled in his (recently built cedar) palace and the Lord had given him from all his enemies,” David had a great idea. Which led to God’s even greater idea. The covenant Yahweh made with David here was the most important event in David’s life, and in the history of Israel, and in the history of the world. As I said in my December 20 piece, it all centers around the idea of house. I won’t say as much about that now because you can easily reference that piece. Here I’ll suggest 4 preaching ideas for Ordinary Time.
First, sometimes your great idea to do something for God is not such a good idea. David’s great idea was to build God a house. David had one, a splendid one, but God had only a tent. And that didn’t seem right or fair or just to David. “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark (symbolizing God’s presence) remains in a tent.” Anyone can see what’s wrong with this picture. Nathan the prophet certainly could, so he said, “Go for it! The Lord is with you.”
The Lord was with David, for a long time and in all kinds of situations. But God wasn’t in favor of David’s great idea, perhaps because it reeked of mixed motives. On one level, it was an outgrowth of David’s idea of justice and fairness. But on another level, it grew out of David’s rapidly growing sense of his own importance. After all these years of depending on the gracious favor of Yahweh, it was his turn to do God a big favor. That was a bad idea.
Ancient Near Eastern potentates regularly built temples for their gods to honor them, but also to gain honor for themselves as the builders of the temple. And by building the temple, the King brought the god to one place, the king’s place, where the god could be regularly accessed. Making temples was part of domesticating the gods. Rather than serving the gods by obedience and faith, the kings served the gods food and drink, thus making themselves the hosts and the gods the guests.
Whether David had these pagan ideas in mind is uncertain, but God definitely thought that David’s great idea was a bad one. At the very least, it represented a reversal of roles, where David was the one doing something for God, rather than the way it had always been. As God said throughout his covenantal relationship with Israel, obedience is better than anything, certainly better than building monuments that tempted Israel to depend on their own efforts more than God’s grace. So, God shut down David’s effort to make God greater by building him a better dwelling place.
That leads us to the second preachable point. It is God who builds houses, kingships, dynasties, not human beings. That is the point of God’s speech to David through the mouth of Nathan in verses 8-11. Note that the subject of all the verbs is “I,” Yahweh Almighty. Past, present and future, it is Yahweh who makes Israel and David what they are. You won’t build me a house, says the Lord. I will build you a house.
That emphasis on God’s role in the anointing of kings, the building of kingdoms and the establishment of dynasties is a constant refrain in Scripture. Psalm 75:7 says, “But it is God who judges; he brings down one, he exalts another.” Psalm 146:3-4 continue the theme. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” In Exile, Daniel said the same thing in chapter 2:21. “God changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.”
Later in the book of Daniel we see a crashing example of God’s sovereignty over the sovereigns of the earth. Mighty Nebuchadnezzar brags about his accomplishments in Daniel 4:30. “Is not this great Babylon I have built as the royal residence by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
Daniel reports that the words were still on the Emperors’ lips when the God of the people he had conquered sent him crashing into the depths of humiliation, as Nebuchadnezzar became little more than a beast wandering dewy fields eating grass like a cow. That humbling lasted until the beast raised his eyes to heaven (verse 34), received his sanity back, and praised the Most High whose kingdom is forever. “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth (verse 35).”
In our story, God’s intent is not to humble David, but to exalt him for all time by establishing his house forever. It is God alone who builds houses, kingships and dynasties. It is God alone who can give his people peace and rest (verses 1 and 11).
Third, and closely related point two, through all the houses of history, there is one that will last ‘til Kingdom come, the house of David. That is the great promise at the heart of this text, at the heart of the Old Testament, and at the heart of the Christian faith. The “Lord himself will establish a house for you. When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you…. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”
That was a reference to Solomon in the near future. But ultimately it is a prophecy about the greatest Offspring of David, Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Luke 1:32,33). As God said about the merely human offspring of David, they would be sons of God. Jesus was literally that. And whereas their reigns all came to an end, often ignobly, Jesus’ reign is eternal and universal. Philippians 2 puts it this way. After the Son of God emptied himself and became a servant, even an alleged criminal who died on a cursed cross, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
In our day of national and international conflict, where all the attention is on this leader or that, here is a lesson all believers need to take to heart. There is one house, one leader, one kingdom that will outlast and overrule them all. It is the promise of God that determines history, not the power of kings. It is grace that ultimately wins, not human performance. So, put not your trust in princes. Put your trust in the King of Kings, the Son of David.
Fourth, God’s promise to David was unconditional; literally nothing can break it. This is crucial, because there will be times when it seems that God has broken his covenant with David, times of great suffering for the people of God. But God speaks to that in our text, when he refers to flogging his children when they do wrong.
Now, that sort to talk is much out of favor in a day that sees “sparing the rod” as the right thing to do. There must be better ways to train up our children! Well, we’ll see; the jury is out on that. But quite apart from our modern sensibilities about how to discipline children, God’s point here is that even when we are disciplined severely by our God, our suffering doesn’t mean God has stopped loving us. The promise is unconditional. Even when I punish you with the “rod of men” like the Babylonians, “my love will never be taken away from him (David’s sons), as I took it away from Saul….” Adoption by God through Jesus is irrevocable. You can’t be kicked out of the house of David, if you trust in the Son of David. Even if you sin terribly and find yourself suffering, God will bring you back home. He sent his Son “to seek and save the lost.”
Hebrews 12 speaks to this directly in Christian terms. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons and daughters. For what child is not disciplined by their father. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”
Now, that doesn’t mean we should trace every experience of suffering to some sin we have committed and for which God is disciplining us. Both Job and Jesus remind us that suffering s not always chastisement for our own sin. What we should take from this is that even if we are suffering, God is somehow involved as our loving Father. We may not be able find the find the reason, but we know where to look when we suffer. Hebrews 12 begins with this exhortation. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So, when we get a bit big for our britches and forget who’s in charge of the house, let us remember that God’s promise is secure and let us walk by faith in Jesus, Son of David, Son of God. Only then will we find the peace and rest God promises his children.
Sometimes a rousing hymn after a sermon will do as much as a great story to drive the message home. As I worked my way through this powerful passage, two hymns began to echo in my mind, one about the present fulfilment of God’s promise to David and the other about the future fulfillment.
Rejoice, the Lord is king! Your Lord and King adore.
Rejoice, give thanks and sing and triumph evermore.
Lift up your hearts, lift up your voice. Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
His kingdom cannot fail; he rules o’er earth and heaven;
The keys of death and hell to Christ the Lord are given.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice. Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
He sits at God’s right hand till all his foes submit,
Bow down at his command, and fall beneath his feet.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice. Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run,
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.
People and realms of every tongue dwell on his love with sweetest song,
And infant voices shall proclaim their early blessings on his name.
Let every creature rise and bring the highest honors to our King,
Angels descend with songs again, and earth repeat the loud amen.
Author: Scott Hoezee
There are a few psalms that pop up in the Revised Common Lectionary with some frequency. The Lectionary likes Psalm 29 and Psalm 89, for instance. Psalms 118 and 148 are often assigned, too. But few come up quite as often—and often in pretty close chronological proximity as well—as Psalm 23. Once this sermon commentary gets posted on the Center for Excellence in Preaching website, this will be sermon commentary #11 in our Archive.
It makes some sense of course given this psalm’s popularity. But this one came up fewer than three months ago at the end of April in Eastertide. So here it is now again and since I have not received any Psalm 23 flashes of insight since April, much of what follows is the same. But then, if you preached on this in April, you are likely going elsewhere in the Lectionary for Sunday July 18 anyway!
Psalm 23 is hands down the most famous poem in the Hebrew Psalter. People seem to read their own lives and experiences into this lyric little song. That is quite amazing given how foreign most of the imagery is. Have you ever met a shepherd? Spent any time with sheep? Has your head ever been actually anointed with oil? Have you ever had a feast while your enemies were forced to look on? If the answer to some or all of these questions is “No,” then we have to wonder why this unfamiliar imagery is nonetheless so familiar to us. How can something so foreign to our experience still resonate with our experience?
Probably it is because what underlies these words is something we all know deep in our bones: the need to be cared for. The need to be watched over. Granted, the George Gershwin ballad “Someone to Watch over Me” is all about romantic love but on a more general level, we know the feeling. “Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb? I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood I know I could, always be good to one who’ll watch over me . . .”
Maybe we feel this need the more acutely because sometimes it feels like there are not many shepherds around. We don’t have shepherds much in the wider society. Today we have managers. But shepherds and managers are not the same.
Whenever Jesus uses the pastoral image of a shepherd for himself, the point is nearly always the same: as the good shepherd of his sheep, he will risk his life and even temporarily abandon the flock if that’s what it takes to save the one lost sheep. As the true shepherd who loves his sheep, he will let himself be killed rather than see one single sheep harmed. In every image of the flock which Jesus employs, it is always clear that as important as the whole flock is, each individual sheep is as important to him as is the larger collective.
But many folks today don’t think that way at all. Instead we hear about giant corporations that do cost-benefit analyses for their products. They calculate how much risk they can get away with in an effort to pad the bottom line by not having to lay out any extra money for additional safeguards or further costly research & development.
So food companies have been known to let certain products hit the market despite their knowing right up front that there is a slight risk that certain people could well get sick from this food and maybe even die. But if the percentage of people at risk for that is small enough as to be statistically insignificant, then they forge ahead. Politicians often live by polls and so base some pretty big decisions on projected outcomes. Even if some people may be disadvantaged by this or that program cut, if the majority will benefit (and so vote the right way once again at the next election), then those who will be harmed are back-handed aside as statistically irrelevant.
Ours is a world that looks to see how much it can get away with. Ours is a society where the majority rules and the minority had best just learn to live with it. It’s all about the cost-benefit bottom line analysis. We sometimes don’t feel like people, like cherished sheep. We feel like a statistic.
But not so with the shepherd of Psalm 23 nor of Jesus as the good shepherd. A cost-benefit analysis would never cause the shepherd to leave the 99 sheep on their own for a few minutes in favor of finding the one lost lamb. If the shepherd had a risk-management committee, they would never advise him to let the wolf kill the shepherd but would say you could better survive to fight another day even if for the time being the wolf nabbed a sheep or two.
In other words, ours is a world and a society made up of hired hands with very few true shepherds around anymore. We manage risks and outcomes but don’t put our lives on the line to avoid all bad outcomes.
But then, perhaps it’s for that very reason that we could all use a truly Good Shepherd in our lives. Now, maybe, more than ever.
As someone once put it, “God counts by ones.”
Years ago my colleague Neal Plantinga and I heard Rev. John Claypool deliver a sermon at the installation service for Tom Long at Candler Divinity School. At the end of the service Claypool used a benediction we had never heard before (though we have since traced it back to the breastplate of St. Patrick). Neal memorized it on the spot and wrote it down and we have both been using it for years since. I can testify that I regularly have people comment on how rich this blessing is. At my former church people requested that this be the benediction I use at weddings and funerals. And it very much speaks to the sentiments and emotions evoked by Psalm 23:
God go before you to guide you.
God go behind you to protect you.
God go beneath you to support you.
God go beside you to befriend you.
Be not afraid.
And let the blessing of Almighty God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Descend on you, settle in around you
And make its home in you.
Be not afraid.
Go in peace.
Having heard us use this lyric blessing on several occasions, our colleague Roy Hopp set it into a choral musical piece that you can listen to here.
Author: Doug Bratt
Could Paul say anything more counter-cultural yet hopeful than Christ has made the two one? (14). We live, after all, in a world that’s deeply divided along so many lines. In fact, the gaps those fault lines create also seem to be widening.
Democrats vs. Republicans. Liberal Party members vs. Conservative Party members. Vaxxers vs. anti-vaxxers. Masked people vs. unmasked people. People of various races vs. each other. Proponents of traditional understandings of marriage, gender and sexual orientation vs. proponents of more progressive understandings of them.
The list could continue endlessly. There seems to be, in fact, no longer, if there ever was, just Paul’s “two” (14) sides. Even Jesus’ friends now take an almost infinite number of “sides.” Those who proclaim Ephesians 2 may want to explore with their hearers evidences of those deep divisions, exercising care, as always, not just to use local but also worldwide examples.
Yet Ephesians 2 assertion of the unity Christ creates isn’t just profoundly counter-cultural. It’s also deeply hopeful. Its vision of the “two” made “one” is something for which most of God’s adopted sons and daughters long. So this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson is like a cold glass of water, iced tea or adult beverage on a hot and humid day for Jesus’ friends and followers.
But for the Spirit to give this Epistolary Lesson’s “two-into-one” imagery any traction among its hearers, its proclaimers must firmly ground its unity where the apostle grounds it. Paul has no illusions about creating durable human unity through human enterprises. While human efforts at unity come and go, succeed and fail, “in Christ,” the apostle sings in verse 13, “you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” The unity Christ creates doesn’t wax and wane like so many human efforts to create unity do. It’s a “done deal.”
Certainly God graces people with tools for building unity among diverse peoples who have diverse opinions. Humility, unconditional love and enhanced understanding of the “other” are solid building blocks for deeper unity. However, our hopes for unity and reconciliation among people are most deeply and lastingly grounded in reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ gentile friends were formerly, grieves the apostle, “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (12). In other words, by nature people are alienated, not just from each other, but also from God. What’s more, we’re naturally perfectly content with that estrangement.
Though God included gentiles in God’s promises to God’s Israelite people, this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson reminds its readers that most of the people who originally accepted those promises were Israelites. Because our ethnic identity largely barred gentiles from access to God’s covenantal promises, we were not only without hope, but also without God.
It’s a bleak picture that resonates with some 21st century experiences. Epidemics of despair are perhaps even more contagious than that of COVID-19. While even God’s adopted children struggle with them, Paul might argue that those epidemics are particularly endemic among those outside the adopted family of God.
Those who proclaim Ephesians 2:11-22 might scour their own readings as well as media outlets for examples of that despair. We might even carefully share examples of the ways it wreaks havoc in our own personal lives.
“But now” (nyni de) Paul sings in verse 13. Whenever Scriptures’ readers read that phrase, we lean forward, scooching to the edge of our seats. That phrase is, after all, like a bright flashing sign that points toward the hope of the gospel. It’s the onramp to an announcement of the way God is graciously on the move in the world God so passionately loves.
Paul fills this Epistolary Lesson with striking images of God’s reconciling work among alienated people. Gentiles “who were once far away have been brought near” (13). It’s an image of bringing together people who have been scattered, far away not just from God but also each other.
In verse 14 the apostle adds the image of Christ graciously destroying “the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” When I read that, I picture Christ taking a sledgehammer to all the barriers to God’s people’s unity, pulverizing the walls we so eagerly erect between others and ourselves.
Consequently, Paul continues in verse 19, we are “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” It’s imagery of God graciously adopting orphans, strangers and enemies into God’s worldwide family.
But my favorite image of this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson may be its building imagery. Jesus’ friends are, says verse 20, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Their ministries and message are that on which God constructs the building that is the Body of Christ. Christ, the apostle adds, is that building’s cornerstone. God, in other words, “laid” God’s Son as the cornerstone that is God’s people before adding anyone else.
In fact, in Christ, the whole building, made up of prophets, priests and kings, God’s adopted sons and daughters, is joined together so that we may together rise up to become a “holy temple in the Lord” (21). It’s imagery that invites Jesus’ friends to think of Jesus’ friends as those whom God has made the “bricks” that compose the body of Christ, the temple in which God graciously dwells by God’s Spirit.
Few things give some children (and children at heart) more joy than watching someone build a house or some kind of other structure. One of our grandsons especially loves to watch builders construct a new school building in their neighborhood. The massive cranes, bulldozers, backhoes and other construction equipment are an almost endless source of fascination for him.
Is it too much of a stretch to let Ephesians 2 prompt us to think of God as a crane or backhoe operator on God’s building project that is the Church? To take childlike delight in the ways God is graciously working for not just days but millennia to construct the “building” that is the body of Christ?
And is it too much to picture the building materials God is using as God’s adopted children? To think of the bricks and other materials as Jesus’ friends who are people of various colors, Democrats and Republicans, people who wear masks and those who refuse to do so? To think of God’s beloved people as a pile of bricks God is using to build Christ’s body in which God makes God’s home, by the Holy Spirit?
Yet Ephesians 2’s proclaimers might call our hearers’ attention to aspects of that “building project.” For example, all of verses 19-22’s verb tenses are not past, but present ones. They remind us that God’s building project on Christ’s body isn’t yet finished; it’s ongoing. So Jesus’ friends that are its building blocks can and, in fact, must be patient, with God, the Church and Jesus’ friends.
What’s more, proclaimers may want to note who is doing the construction work on the Church. Paul doesn’t claim that Jesus’ friends are building ourselves “together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (22). No, the apostle insists, “you are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (italics added).
God’s adopted sons and daughters do what we can to build up Christ’s Church for God’s glory and people’s well-being. But finally, Paul insists, the body of Christ is not people, but God’s construction project. God isn’t just the architect and site supervisor. God is also Christ’s Church’s construction worker. God’s dearly beloved people forget that at our own, as well as the Church’s peril.
This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson makes me think of the old commercial for Coca-Cola in which scattered people came together singing, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company. That’s the real thing.” In the unity forged by the Holy Spirit, however, we unite not to guzzle a soft drink, but to live out our baptism as God’s adopted children.
That’s why a video that recently made the rounds among friends of Calvin University shows a much more accurate image of the way the Spirit of Christ draws God’s people together. It’s of the Calvin Prison Initiative Prison Choir coming together to sing “Amazing Grace.” (The video itself, after ads, is around 4 minutes long.) But beware: watching and listening to it may cause Jesus’ friends’ allergies to flare up.