July 7, 2024- sermon- Brian Bagley-Bonner

Sermon Text...


Our Church is Called to be a Fortress Psalm 18:1-3 Ephesians 2:19-22


Today We begin a sermon series where we will use various images and metaphors to explore what it means to be the Church. It is a good way to reflect on our mission and then see if we are on point.. If we are following the path laid out for us.


Today’s image of the church is that of a fortress, an interesting, somewhat challenging, place to start. A fortress, particularly in scripture, is defined as “A secure dwelling-place, often a city, protected by walled defenses.” 2X Our church needs to be secure and safe - able to keep out the enemy. Well, this should be easy… except who is the enemy? Who or what are we trying to keep out by our walled defense?


Let’s start by looking at how the church answered that question in other times. The Psalm we read revealed that for King David, the enemies were other nations around him, and also King Saul of his own nation of Israel, who tried to kill him. So people, even from his own nation, were the ones David named as enemies.


Recently Jude and I had the privilege of traveling to Malta… an Island just off Italy’s Southwestern coast. This was where the Apostle Paul was ship-wrecked while on his way to Rome to be tried. Almost 1500 years later this island welcomed the Order of St. John-Knights Hospitaller -an order that had set up a hospital in the 1048 in Jerusalem for pilgrims of “any religious faith or origin.” So for that order the enemy was clear… the enemy they fought and tried to keep out was illness and injury. They gave medical care for all. But not long after there founding - the Crusades began, and unfortunately, the knights had to fight in order to protect the Christian pilgrims in their care, and so they learned the battle arts and set up a fortress in Rhodes, but when driven out in later battles with Muslims, they landed in Malta, where they set up yet another great fortress whose walls are still intact today. There renamed The Knights of Malta. They are still a functioning Catholic Lay Order that now does a lot of disaster relief and medical ministry around the world, but for over 500 of their over 1000 years of ministry, it was not just disease they fought, but they named Muslims as the enemies to keep out. hmm


The stirring hymn we sang earlier, a Mighty Fortress is our God was written by Martin Luther, who’s protest of church corruption led to the Protestant Reformation. Europe, once united in the Crusades, began to splinter, nations and even parts of nations began to turn on one another, declaring each other, “out of God’s favor” and sometimes they even made war on one another in God’s name. The enemy then; those Protestants or those Catholics or those smaller groups that did not agree completely with either one of the big ones.


Both the Crusades and the Catholic/Protestant wars may have begun in faith, but both events saw a heavy dose of nationalism mixed in along with an uncritical belief that our creeds are the only correct ones and God has chosen us alone to defend the true faith…. (ironic that the opposite side would have said the same thing). Well thankfully we have nothing like that today….


Except that there is a new Christian nationalism that has found a place in many denominations and churches. This same dangerous mixture leads people to designate people as the enemy - the LGBTQ community for one…the families and individuals escaping poverty and violence at our southern borders as another, non-believers, authors of banned books and the librarians that support them, many leaders in the worlds of politics, medicine, science…. Even Jesus who taught us to “turn the other cheek,” and “do not repay evil with evil.” Leaders of some denominations report that their lay people are protesting this “Liberalized” Jesus and they don’t want to hear anymore such teachings. So, if I don’t think we can really declare anyone or group of people as an enemy, then who or what is our enemy? Who are we trying to keep out of our fortress? I have an answer. During the beginnings of the Environmental movement in the 1970’s a great theologian by the name of Pogo the opossum gave us the answer in the daily comics- “We have met the enemy and he is us!”


Let’s think about it. Did Jesus reject outsiders as enemies - the Samaritan woman or the unclean lepers? Did he turn away from the demon-filled, mentally ill man in the tombs or the tax collectors who collaborated with Rome? And speaking of Romans didn’t Jesus say, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” about a Centurion - a Military Roman Commander of 100 soldiers? So Jesus never built walls against any perceived outsiders… But who did he chastise, challenge and call to be better - the religious leaders in his own faith. And he did not reject them as people, but rejected their unfaithfulness.


The enemies we try to keep out in our fortress are the spiritual habits or attitudes that keep us from loving other completely - debate crushing hubris- thinking we know best or honesty-crushing co-dependence, Perfectionism based on fear or spiritual sloth; gossip or envy; grudges; judgmentalism; fill in your particular weakness here..


Our “secure dwelling place,” our fortress is not a building, but a spiritual community. As we heard from the Letter to the Ephesians: we “are fellow 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.” Our fortress is not built of brick and mortar, Our fortress is built of love and anyone can come in. This fortress walls us in God’s love so powerfully that nothing can separate us from that love and each other, except our own drifting away. The enemies that can destroy our city, our temple, our church are not outside us, but inside us.


The good news is we can help each other to stay and keep faithful, not by judging one another, but by example and encouragement and openness to God’s leading we help each other grow together into greater faithfulness and love. And we increase that love when we hold our sisters and brothers when pain and loss tries to overcome them or when fear or depression grips them. We love each other through this difficult thing called life. We are both those who dwell in the temple and the protecting walls made of love for one another. As Jesus said, “my realm is not of this world” We live in and are part of a spiritual fortress that transcends nation, time, and space. And nothing can breach the walls of God’s love.


Today we have the joy of sharing in communion. This meal is a good time to remember not only Jesus, but all those who have gone before us - the Great Cloud of Witnesses that I think are particularly close when we gather at this very table where some of them shared this supper.


Today we will commemorate the Last Supper as it is recorded in the Gospel according to John where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. { Hey Larry, I see what you're doing.. keep your shoes on! I’m not washing those feet of yours.) No, we are not going to wash one another’s feet, but the wider church has done it for millenia. It reminds us of the humility and selfless love of Jesus that we are to emulate. As a denomination our Mennonite brothers and sisters do it on Maundy Thursday The Pope has done it then since the 700’s but only to other men inside the Vatican until 2016 when Pope Francis changed the rules to permit the washing of the feet of women and then he himself washed the feet of migrant men and women from a variety of faiths for that year’s Maundy Thursday service at a political asylum center. So as we share these elements now, we join in a long tradition of another way to commemorate the Last Supper.


Ephesians 2:19-22 19 So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow 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.


Psalm 18 Royal Thanksgiving for Victory To the leader. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said: 1 I love you, O Lord, my strength. 2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies