be longing

Themes: Ephesians Mark

Annette James

Trinity VIII, Sunday 22nd July

Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56

Well what a busy week it has been and what a great occasion on Wednesday when we celebrated life and raised awareness of times when we may struggle – and what to do… to talk, to listen to take notice and to take seriously …

Here at Christ Church we are very aware that our mental as well as our physical health is really important, there really is no separation, and that any one of us may need help and support at some time in our lives.

One thing that helps is a sense of belonging of being with, of sharing, of being part of… not to be isolated, cut off, separated and alone… this can be (neighbours planning to leave UK because of Brexit).

The bible has lots to say about all of those things and I want to just tease out from the text what we may find helpful today.

As always, we need to consider the context of the passages we read from scripture - in our first reading Paul is writing to a people who were very aware that they were not all Jewish, and Paul is reassuring them that they are no less precious to God – he speaks about unification of Jews and Gentiles – the circumcised and the uncircumcised – always a male idiom as to circumcise a woman is abuse…

Circumcision was a sign of a covenant with God – women were not excluded from the covenant, but they were not subject to circumcision… however in some countries across the world and thank God the practice is reducing - female circumcision – known as Female genital mutilation is seen as a sign of belonging, a sign to the rest of the ‘tribe’ but it is an abusive and brutal practice … last week I went to the Palm House for the Liverpool Arab Arts Celebration. My friend Afrah is always heavily involved in this – Afrah is the founder of a group called Savera which works to raise awareness of FGM, Forced Marriage and (so called) Honour based violence, Savera means freedom and the group work to free women (and their families) from the burdens they carry whilst subject to any of these practices and also to enable them to recover – to learn to live with the scars, mental and physical.

There followed a short discussion about a radio news item this morning: Regarding the practice of young women in school who may be being taken out of the country to be married without their agreement. They are given a teaspoon to put in their underwear if they are afraid and/or unwilling to fly/travel out of the country the teaspoon sets off the alarm at the checkpoints this in turn offers a safe space for young women to be able to tell someone, with training and insight, what is happening to them. The teaspoon also raises awareness at home for these families and can enable young women to speak about their thoughts and feelings.

But I digress, belonging is really important to us – to a tribe, to a group to a family, a city, and it is important that we know the foundations on which the group, or organisation are built. Paul writes that the Ephesians should remember where they have come from and then think on what they have come to…

Non-Jews were ‘outsiders’, they had no mark of belonging, but Jesus brought them close, by his teaching, his actions and through his death and resurrection the barrier to all people was torn down… a sacrifice made to make possible a relationship between God and all, all – all people.

Jesus is the cornerstone on which the structure of God’s relationship with us is founded. If we think of the gospel reading and the context in which Jesus was speaking – the oppression by a powerful nation and the failure of the political and religious leaders had left people floundering – not knowing what they should believe, how they should behave. The significance of this context is not lost on us today…………. we too are living through very turbulent times, people don’t know what to believe or how they should behave and this opens opportunities for good and for exploitation and oppression.

And Jesus recognises our need for recovery from the things of the past those things that harm us and also from the daily struggle to live, to be, to share, to achieve, to make a difference.

resting awhile – If we had read the passage from Samuel, also set for today we would have heard God entreating David to relax, take time out, stop rushing round and building shelters, for God, God does not live in a house….

I think that is very pertinent for us as we have work done on our church – This building is here not to contain God – that would be impossible – but it is a building, a space for us to use – to share – yes to share heritage and history of this community in Liverpool. It is also a visible space as a sign that God is with us as we share together and as we build a sense of belonging not just with those who come to church, but for all those who need Gods grace, God’s healing, forgiving love… since God’s gracious love is free for everyone then no one is excluded. There is a lot of work to do….

Summer holidays a time for rest and relaxation – Our gospel reading teaches us that Jesus, cared for the physical, mental and emotional needs of the disciples, but he also had compassion on the communities and people around – on those who came eager for healing, bringing friends and family - those who were sick and suffering to the light to the source of healing power.

Healing in this passage from Mark everyone Jesus touched was healed – even those who touched him – even just the hem of his garment – such was the power of Jesus. Such is the power of Jesus today.

People came rushing to come to Jesus, we don’t see the churches full, people are not necessarily rushing to come to church – so how do we enable Jesus’ love and power to be visible – to be shared, how do we maintain that freshness, that passion?

Jesus example is that we need to care for each other, to build our community and to equip each other, each member with the skills to share the challenging, radical compassion and love of God which we witness in the life of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s love is not restricted by place or time.

Padrig O Tuama of the Corrymeela community tells the story of when he led a group of people in Ignation prayer sessions. He invited everyone to take an imaginary walk where they would meet Jesus. One teenage boy recounted that in his first imagination he was walking through the woods, it was worrying for him because the path kept changing. Eventually he found himself in a dell where he met Jesus, and Jesus asked him three questions:

How would you describe today?

Have you seen anything interesting yet?

Is it working?

Michael may say that these questions are an invitation to mindfulness – being in the moment. Jesus is with us on our daily walk through life, if we can use the gift of imagination - open our mind, imagine Jesus sharing the ordinary things of life, which sometimes turn out to be most extra-ordinary. This teenager is very insightful; the path we walk is always changing, we may have to negotiate some tricky places, to climb some rocky heights, to sit awhile in a quiet dell.

Padrig reflects that the teenager had found questions that invited stories of the moment and an evaluation of those stories based on whether they were working - working for what? Well, Padrig writes – “I don’t know, he would need to work that out for himself”.

Jesus is a master storyteller, he has a great skill for telling stories in the moment, it is a skill that we have to learn, to consider how we relate to the knotty issues of the day, the dreadful, awful, challenging, great and glorious events of life in our ‘ordinary’ and extra ordinary daily stories.

If Jesus is our cornerstone then we need to consider what this means. I just want to finish with a quote from Bishop Michael Curry at that famous wedding recently. If you cannot preach like Peter or pray like Paul, you can still share the love of Jesus - just tell your own story simply, honestly.

There is a power in Love to break down barriers, to welcome all people in so they know they belong and there is nothing separating them or us from the love of God.