Sermon for July 18, 2021 from Pastor John

Sermon for July 18, 2021

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     Henderson did not know what to do. He stood frozen before the mailbox with the letter in his hand. He knew what it was and where it came from. It was a reminder of the upcoming Family Reunion. It was a full weekend event starting with a barbecue and corn roast at his brother’s farm in Iowa. Quite a bit of planning had gone into this event. Earlier he had sent in his RSVP affirming his coming. He sent in a donation to do his part in feeding a clan that could number over 100 folks; both his mother and father came from large families. This event was in the planning stage for well over a year. Initially Henderson looked forward to this event. The last reunion was quite a few years ago and he looked forward to seeing cousins he had not seen in the flesh but only on Christmas card photos. He smiled as he thought that everyone looked older except himself.

But now he hesitated. The original planning started in the summer of 2019. But due to COVID the Reunion was postponed to this year. But it was not COVID concerns that troubled Henderson. Between then and now a presidential election has been held. It was a contentious November. At the end of the month Henderson’s family had invited his brother’s family for Thanksgiving. This was a favorite holiday consisting of family, food, and football. But this last Thanksgiving was spoiled by hurtful words. The catalyst to this hostility was the contested election. Henderson knew he and his brother held differing views on politics. But usually such disagreements were shrugged off in favor of enjoying the holiday spirit at such gatherings. But at this last Thanksgiving relationships had changed for the worst. Political differences were not dismissed but descended into harsh diatribes complete with accusations and name-calling. It was as if American citizenship was not respected if someone held a different point of view. There were tears, people left the table, it was a mess. At the end of the day there was a truce, but not actual peace. His brother and his family left a few days earlier than planned citing important meetings.

Now Henderson was not sure he wanted to go questioning in himself what if arguments broke out again. True enough after COVID lockdowns he wanted to go and see family again. But the political tensions were still very much in the news. It felt like the simmering pot was ready to boil over. Henderson wondered if his brother actually wanted him to come, maybe he was sent a reminder out of obligation. Hopefully family would triumph over wildly different ideas about political leadership and how the country should be run. But Henderson still felt ill-as-ease.

Henderson looked over the Reunion schedule. On Saturday night, a hymn-sing was scheduled around a camp-fire. This would be a tea-totaling reunion by the way. If this sounds odd one must remember Henderson and many of his aunts, uncles, and cousins were raised as Baptists. As he pondered the reunion Henderson had a wave of nostalgia. He recalled many of the hymns beloved by the Church: “There is Power in the Blood”, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood”, “The Old Rugged Cross”, “What Can Wash Away My Sin, Nothing but the Blood”. As a grown, married man busy with his job and raising a family he strayed away from the church. He wondered what his children would think of such old-style hymns. He recalled as a kid the joyful noise in the small church when they sang full-throated, “There is power, wonder working power in the blood of the Lamb.” People would really get loud at the words “wonder-working power!” As a kid he loved to shout out the word “POWER” as if he was infused with special power. But then he paused because nostalgia became something very near. A stanza became very clear “Would you be free from your passion and pride? Come for a cleansing in Calvary’s tide. There is wonderful power in the blood.” Henderson had wondered if the differences with his brother over politics and frankly, ideology, were irreconcilable. But their differences were actually from the hostility currently popular in the culture, stirred up by pundits, certain politicians and social media conspiracy peddlers. He and his brother should have known better raised in the fine Baptist tradition of praise for the power found in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus. If Henderson thought the hostility, harsh words and hard hearts were impossible to overcome he had forgotten the center of his faith, the cross of Jesus for there is wonder-working power in the Blood. The cross drew him to Jesus and a re-commitment as to what is truly precious and important in life.

The reading from Ephesians today stirs the soul. We heard of hostility acting like an impenetrable wall between peoples. The text gave us a “before and after” story. On the one hand were the Jewish people, Israel, recipients of God’s covenant of steadfast love and mercy. Then there were the non-Jewish peoples, the Gentiles, who had their religions often with many gods, but yet described as no God and without any hope in the world. The Jews had the Torah, the Scriptures, with wonderful wisdom like the Ten Commandments. But there were other laws that separated the Jews from the Gentiles. Instead of harmony there was hostility.

But it is God’s will to overcome hostility for this is the world God made and constantly loves. But in this world God loves we can think of examples of hostility. Differences do seem irreconcilable as if people are content to stew in hostility viewing others, for whatever reasons, as aliens and strangers instead as human beings, the Scriptures teach, as made in the image of God. That image can be marred by harsh and cruel propaganda which is definitely not from the Scriptures.

From the Scriptures is the good news of Jesus: “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us.” “In his flesh” can refer to Jesus’ life and ministry on earth. In the Gospel we did not hear of the power of his blood, but the power of his compassion. The crowds kept after Jesus. There was no chance of rest. There was no time to eat. Why did people constantly look for and follow Jesus? Compassion. The compassion of God for the people who were sick and so helpless, compassion for people who had been rejected and felt like throw-aways; compassion for people who actually felt they were without any hope. It can be a terrible predicament being lost. Jesus found the lost not only among the very poor, but also among the very rich. In spite of what we hear wealth cannot cure the hostility between people that scourges the soul.

I know of two homeless women, I met at Frederick Place, who are looking forward to August 1st. A couple had planned to sell their house but then decided to postpone that for a year, renting out their house to these two women at a reasonable rate. This act of compassion gave the two homeless women a sense of hope. The goodness and mercy of Jesus, his compassion and healing peace, guide us to dwell in the House of the Lord, not temporarily, but forever and at a reasonable rate, freely, by grace. Of course the House of the Lord is an image of living life each day in God’s peace, the joy and hope of his presence. The Psalm today spoke of the Lord as our Shepherd. Jesus is our Shepherd who follows us with his goodness and mercy.

The Psalms warn us not to put our trust in political power, military power, and economic power and in our hearts we may think, “Yah, right”, for we can be so tempted. But such powers often lead to hostility. But there is wonder working power in the blood of the Lamb. By his cross and resurrection Jesus has made for us peace with God, with Jesus we know we are forgiven and we rejoice in the good news of no condemnation for those who trust in Jesus as Savior. But even more, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is at work making a new humanity of peace. We are welcomed into this Household of God where the power of the cross is at work to overcome hostility and make us one. Jesus is the cornerstone of this household, the one who holds us together. When we feel we are falling apart Jesus holds us together with his steadfast love. When there is so much hostility flowing through our veins, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin and is our peace. The compassion of Jesus draws us to his table of grace, Holy Communion, to feast on his body and blood, the joy of taking in all that Jesus has done for us, forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and again peace, peace with God and peace with one another.

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