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July 22, 2018

“Breaking the Binaries”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

2 Samuel 7.1-14a

Ephesians 2.11-22

July 22, 2018

For one of the weeks that I was gone I stayed in a house with a total of six adults and six children. Some of you who come from big families probably think that’s nothing, but for this only child it was absolute chaos. The adults went into the week dividing up how we would function throughout the vacation. One couple was designated to bring towels, one would bring the coffee grinder, one would bring sheets, and one would bring paper towels. We did this to be prepared but also to start setting some guidelines – this is mine and this is yours. Some of it was to share, but we also made sure everyone had a responsibility. Since I am an only child Rob’s family likes to joke that I don’t share well because I was never forced to share with a sibling. Yet, in a house of twelve people, the amount of siblings doesn’t matter – sharing is difficult for everyone.

So, we decided early on we would each buy our own groceries and claimed our shelves in the refrigerator. My hummus went on the second shelf and my brother-in-law’s meat went on the top shelf, and my sister-in-law’s cucumbers went on the bottom shelf. The unspoken rule was “eat what’s yours, not someone else’s.”

Well, that’s all fine and good until children realize that someone else has grapes or cheese or ice cream. In one day the food division in the house went out the door because the kids saw no barriers or shelf segregation – all toys, food, and couch space belonged to them. Sometimes kids can be like little pioneers and settlers, taking over what they see without regards to who actually owned it first. Yet, if we look at their behavior in this scenario, they were really teaching us how to break down the barriers and just share what we had. There’s no way a week of dividing everything truly would have worked.

Our scripture passages today talk about the barriers we put up to separate ourselves from each other and from God. The second Samuel passage focuses on how humans can try to isolate God, and thus isolate ourselves from God (or others from God). The Ephesians passage talks about separating “us” from “them,” something Paul attempted to correct in many letters.

So, Paul is writing to the Ephesians to address some of the segregation that is happening here. There are labels being thrown around. Name-calling, if you will. There are the “circumcised” and the “uncircumcised.” We might scoff a little bit – because this is not a way that we separate people. It’s a little bit personal. Yet, don’t we label people in other ways? Sometimes we find other ways to separate people. In many ways, that is how our minds work. We categorize so that we can understand. Oranges and apples must be categorized. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t know to peel an orange, and would be incredibly surprised. Labeling helps us to know what to expect.

Yet, sometimes that labeling can be troublesome, because labels can become stereotypes. Our society likes to categorize people into male and female, yet often we then think that males should act “macho” and females should act shy or quiet. This is a very drastic comparison, and not everyone makes it, but when we begin to separate and categorize, we can fall into the troubles of stereotyping. Now we are beginning to recognize that there is fluidity in gender, in the world, and in our categories. I remember sitting in someone’s living room watching television once and an androgynous person on the show was playing a game. “Is that a boy or a girl?” someone in the room asked. I thought about it for a minute, and then wondered, “What does it matter? Does it change who that person is intrinsically?”

This is the point that Paul is trying to make. Whether or not someone is circumcised doesn’t matter in this conversation of Christianity. The people were really trying to separate the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians, but are doing it rather crassly by identifying a marking no one can see. This is not just a conversation about Gentiles and Jews – it has taken a drastic turn in civil discourse. Sound familiar?

The church had been dealing with this issue of the inclusion of Gentiles and Jews for some time. Perhaps this is equal to the current status of LGBTQIA+ people in the PCUSA churches, or women in the Christian Reformed Churches. Both denominations state that these people can be ordained, but the practice of hiring is not necessarily happening. Inclusion means more than just lip service, it means action, too.

Paul has been the one that has been fighting the inclusion battle with the churches.[1] He was constantly writing and bringing people together, playing the mediator. Except, he isn’t the one creating peace. He’s pointing to the one who is peace – Jesus Christ. We like to act like we can come up with peace, thinking that peace treaties and peace talks somehow formulate a peaceful situation that we can just live into.[2] Yet, our job is not to create peace, but to live into it. Jesus created peace and we must learn how to live it in the world. We have to engage peace in a world of chaos.[3] We must be present and walk with one another. Peace is learning not to label those we do not understand. Peace is learning to live into the unknown, without judgment.

Paul is attempting to create space for reconciliation. In order to do that everyone needs to be present and willing to work through the issues, willing to be together. It is easier to separate into binaries – male and female, circumcised and uncircumcised, right and wrong, Christian and not Christian. Fluidity and spectrums are harder. When we cannot put someone in a box and say, “I know I can expect you to do x, y, and z,” because even when we put people in boxes, they often surprise us, even if they fit every other stereotype we have labeled them with. If we are not continually surprised by one another, we aren’t paying attention.

The second Samuel passage offers commentary about the boundaries placed around God. Nathan is spiritual advisor or spiritual director to David, the king. David says that he wants to build a house for God. We learn that the best made plans are not always the will of God. Sometimes God has something else in mind. Nathan supports David until God speaks to Nathan, telling him that David should not build this house. God reminds Nathan (who reminds David) that God has been with God’s people from Day 1 – literally and figuratively. From Day 1 in the garden, to Day 1 in the wilderness, to Day 1 in new territory and new adventures. Wherever the people have gone, God has been there in the form of wind and fire and clouds and flaming bushes, and even a talking donkey.

God cannot be kept in a box. God is everywhere. God is not just in this sanctuary. God is not just with those who can verbalize their thoughts. God is not just in prayers spoken in English. God is not just in a song. God is in silence, in music, in the trees, in the prayer spoken in Spanish, in the hearts and minds of those who are thriving and those who are surviving. David’s dream of a place for God to dwell is a kind one, but it is not what God intends. God challenges him to see how God has acted in the past, to predict how God will act in the future – which is unexpectedly, but always graciously.

As we leave this place, we know God goes with us. As we go throughout our week, let us attempt to reconcile with those around us, for we are stronger together. Challenge yourself to see the labels you place one people or things. What expectations do you have when you put up those labels? Not all labels are bad, but maybe we can start to live a little bit more in the unknown, trusting that God is in the known and unknown. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 350.

[2] George W. Stroup, “Ephesians 2.11-22” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 256.

[3] Stroup, 258.