Neighboring - We Are Each Other's Air

From October 8, 2017
Rev. Shawn Coons

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Indulge me in a little geekiness this morning.  How many of you have heard of an internet service called Napster?  How about BitTorrent?  Ok, not many.  How many of you have heard of BitCoin?  Napster first came to fame a number of years ago as a file-sharing program. What this means is that you would download the Napster program to your computer and then you could share specific files on your computer with another Napster user, and they could do so with you.  And one of the first major uses was to share mp3s, digital versions of songs.

So if you wanted the latest Britney Spears song, you just needed to find another Napster user who had it on their computer, and download it directly from them.  BitTorrent is a similar program, that makes many different types of files shareable directly between users.

It’s kind of like borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor instead of going to the grocery to buy it directly from the store. It’s a little bit more sketchy, because many people have used these programs to share copyrighted material illegally. BitCoin is a little bit different, it is a currency system. You can buy BitCoins and then use them to make purchases. But the records BitCoins and their transactions aren’t stored at a bank or with a specific company. The records are distributed and shared among BitCoin users.

All of these are what are called “peer-to-peer” services. They are decentralized, distributed, there isn’t one source which everything flows out of, instead each user contributes, gives and takes as required. Which means that users of the services are dependent on other users to make the service work.

Great, Shawn. What in the world does this have to do with church? And what does it have to do with our current series on loving your neighbor? Well, this series is called Neighboring, God’s plan for taking care of each other, and I want to suggest to you that God’s plan for taking care of each other is “peer to peer.”  There are dozens of examples in the gospels of Jesus taking care of people, showing love to specific individuals.  Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, healing the centurion’s daughter, and casting out demons from the Gerasane man.

But that wasn’t the limit of acts of love and care that we find recorded in the gospels. We can read about thousands of people shown care in the gospels, not by Jesus, but by Jesus’ followers. Where ever Jesus went, once people began to follow him, once they received his care, he turned them into caregivers for others. Care was given “peer to peer,” person to person, not just from Jesus to person.

This continued throughout the rest of the Bible, as the early church spread.  This morning we are going to read about one church where this model of care was practiced.  Modern day Turkey is the site of the city of Ephesus, who’s residents were known as Ephesians in scriptureAs Jesus’ message and movement spread, it got farther and farther away from Israel and the large Jewish population there. So by the time the church spreads through Asia Minor and reaches a city like Ephesus, it is going to places with a large Gentile (non-Jewish) population.

Ephesus was already ancient in the time of the New Testament.  It was a major urban area, with a large (for that time) population of fifty to a hundred and fifty thousand people, with all the diversity of population, trade, religious groups, and social classes that was typical of a Greco-Roman city. Ephesus in particular held an important place as the location of the great temple of Artemis, and the place where great Asian games were held.

We’re going to be reading from Ephesians 2:11-22, a letter to the church in Ephesus, often attributed to Paul, but scholars believe it is more likely a student or follower of Paul based on the textual clues. Listen for the calls for “peer to peer” care among this diverse church of Jews and Gentiles.

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But 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, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.

There’s a rift in this church, and it seems to be between those who were born Jewish and followed Jesus, and those who came to follow Jesus without being a Jew. There is a conflict here between the Jews and the Gentiles of the church.   Now there really shouldn’t be, this has all been decided. In Acts 15 we read about a council of church leaders that were wrestling with this very issue.

Shortly after the time of Jesus’ resurrection the early church was still solidly connected to Jewish tradition and Jewish law. And it was thought by many that any Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus would be required to follow Jewish laws and customs. But there were some church leaders, Paul and Barnabas among them, who argued against this. They brought this matter to the apostles and Peter declared that except for a few simple laws, Gentiles did not have to practice Jewish traditions.

So the word has come from the top-down that Gentiles should be welcome to follow Jesus alongside Jews. But the problem was that it was top-down still and not peer to peer.  This had not been embraced by individual members, both Jewish and Gentile, within churches. And it’s peer to peer that matters, because that’s how God intends it.

Notice the imagery that the author of Ephesians uses in the passage.

You are…members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 

Jesus and the apostles are the foundation of the household of God, Jesus is the cornerstone, but if you think of the rest of us as bricks or stones in the household.  They don’t all touch the cornerstone or the foundation, but each brick is connected to another brick, multiple bricks. We aren’t all directly connected to the cornerstone or the foundation, but we are directly connected to each other, each of us, side by side with others. We are each meant to support the others around us.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it?  Jesus wouldn’t have been able to directly care and nurture every one of his followers, once the church grew the apostles wouldn’t be able to either. Paul, who was instrumental in developing churches, nurturing the faith of many Christians throughout the New Testament. He wouldn’t have been able to provide nurture and care for everyone he introduced to the faith.

This makes for a stronger church. When we are all tasked with providing care and love for one another, than our support network is stronger.  Go with me on a mental journey.  Let’s travel up to the International Space Station. First, imagine you are an astronaut going on a spacewalk, you have to get in your spacesuit and go outside of the station on a mission. How do you breathe?  Well, the suit has oxygen tanks in it. Your air comes from one place – your suit. If something goes wrong with that one source of oxygen, you are in trouble.

Now imagine that you are done with your spacewalk and you are back inside the space station. Or better yet, imagine you are done and back on earth. Now where is your oxygen coming from?  It’s all around you, it surrounds you. You aren’t dependent on just one source for the air you breathe.

Friends, we are oxygen for one another. The love and care we provide for someone is their life support, and so the more sources of that life the better.  If you look around this room, these people should be your life support. You should be able to find multiple sources of love and care and support, and likewise you should be ready to provide love, and care and support for multiple people here.

Now, nobody is expecting you personally to provide direct and personal care for all 150+ members of our Fairview family, that’s not realistic. But each one of us is expected to care about and for as many people as we can, and to make sure that our circle of care is inclusive. Not just of people we know, but we should especially pay attention to the people that we may not know.  We don’t have to know everybody intimately, but we should be aware of people who may not be known, may not be connected to others.

We have many groups of care and support here at Fairvew. There are the formal groups: the chancel choir, the bell choir, weekday Bible studies, Sunday School classes, the Wednesday night pitch-in crowd.  There are relationships and bonds that form within these groups as we get to know each other more personally by meeting week after week together. But there are also more informal groups here at Fairview.  We group ourselves by generations, by how long we’ve been at the church, by where we live or where we used to live, sometimes by political leanings or by how old our children are.

There’s nothing wrong with these groups, but we can’t let our care and support and love be limited to these comfortable groups.  If we only tend to our circle of friends, then we are kind of in the same boat as the church in Ephesus. We may not have a division between Jews and Gentiles here, but if we aren’t careful we can end up with different isolated groups within the church. 

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God

We are no longer strangers.

The Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus weren’t united by Gentiles becoming like Jews, or Jews becoming like Gentiles, they were united by both becoming like Jesus. Likewise, our unity is not based on how old we are, whether we have children, what we want for the church, who we voted for. Our unity, our love and care for each other, our life support, our love for neighbor is dependent on the God who has called us all here.

So I encourage you, to take this call to unity seriously. Take your part seriously. In the next month or two we will be welcoming a number of new members into the church.  Every time we welcome a new member, and every time we baptize a child, as a congregation we make promises to be there for that person, to be there life support, to be a source of love and care.

Continue to take that promise to heart. Renew that promise today.  Look for someone you don’t know, or someone you know who may need you to be their life support today.  And if you feel your oxygen running low around you, reach out to someone here and let them be your support and comfort.  If we do this, if we continue to live into the people and the church God is calling us to be, then with Christ as our cornerstone, we will indeed “grow into a holy temple in the Lord…built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”