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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1–14a, Ephesians 2:11–22 & Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the saying, “Home is where the heart is”. It’s thought to have originated in the mid-seventeenth century, but the first instances of it being recorded in writing apparently didn’t occur until the mid-nineteenth century. The saying has generally been interpreted to mean that your home is not necessarily a physical place, such as a building made of bricks and mortar, but rather it’s an emotional state. It’s wherever you feel connected to whoever, and whatever, you are closest to and care about the most.

Which is interesting if we consider it in the context of our first reading this morning, from the Second Book of Samuel. In that reading, King David tells the prophet Nathan of his plan to build a house for God (meaning a temple) in Jerusalem. But God tells David, through Nathan, that He doesn’t need David to build a house for Him. After all, God was the one who chose David to be king; it was He who gave David all of his great military victories; and it is He who will establish the people of Israel in their own homeland. 

Nathan tells David that it will be David’s son, Solomon, whom God will choose to build the temple in Jerusalem. And not only that, Nathan tells David that God will in fact make David a house, which is a reference to the descendants of David that will rule Israel, descendants which of course will include the Jewish Messiah, who will be spoken of in future prophesies. 

In a way, what God is telling David, through the prophet Nathan, is that He is in the people’s hearts. He can be found in and around the people, not residing in a building made by human hands. In other words, we could say that God is where the heart is. The Apostle Paul tells the members of the church at Ephesus the same thing when he writes to them that they “are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God”. 

The context for Paul’s comment is the argument that he makes against the need for Gentile Christians to be circumcised before being accepted into the Church. This same argument is a feature of several of Paul’s other letters, such as Galatians and Romans.

Paul’s audience at Ephesus was largely Gentile Christians, so he begins this passage by reminding them that before they came to know Jesus Christ, they did not have access to God’s promises, because they weren’t God’s chosen people, who were the people of Israel. Those promises had been reserved for the nation of Israel, which Paul refers to here as the “circumcision”, because of the requirement under Jewish law that all male infants had to be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. 

However as a result of the Gentile Christians having faith in Jesus Christ, they now share the promise of salvation with Jewish Christians. The two groups, who were previously separated, have now been united together by their faith in Christ and, more importantly, by the grace of God. The Gentiles, who Paul calls the “uncircumcision”, are not becoming Jews by being circumcised, but rather the two groups have become one through the blood of Christ; through the death of Jesus on the cross. 

That’s why Paul said to them, “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”. (Eph. 2:19–22)

The church was to become the body of Christ in the world, the dwelling-place for God, and the apostles were to be the founding members of this dwelling-place. And our gospel passage for today gives us a glimpse of the first missionary work undertaken by the apostles after Jesus sent them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits to heal the sick. 

The apostles return from their journey and sit down with Jesus, eager to tell him about everything they have done. Their eagerness and enthusiasm seems to be matched by the enthusiasm of the crowds who are flocking to see Jesus and bring the sick to him to be cured. But Jesus takes the apostles away to a secluded place away from the crowds, where they can rest and have something to eat. 

In one way, the response of the apostles–which sounds almost like a child who can’t wait to get home to tell their parents about something exciting that happened to them–poses a threat to the real direction of Jesus’ messianic mission. The apostles are obviously caught up in the excitement of the moment; they are on a high from their experience of healing and teaching, and they perhaps might be thinking that the ministry they will carry out in the name of Jesus will always be this exciting and rewarding. They haven’t yet grasped what must happen to Jesus in order to fulfil God’s plan of salvation. So Jesus suggests they withdraw to a quieter place, until they are spiritually ready to deal with the more difficult demands that his ministry will place on them.

That’s why it’s important for us to continue our own spiritual growth and development. We are all going to encounter difficult times and challenging moments in our lives, and the better prepared we are spiritually to deal with these times and moments, will help us and sustain us. That’s why I encourage people to engage with activities such as Bible Study, Spiritual Reflection, and Morning and Evening Prayer. 

Each of these initiatives is designed to foster spiritual growth and development which will then enable us both as individuals, and as members of a community of faith, to be built up spiritually into a dwelling-place for God. For as I said earlier, God is where our heart is.

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