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The Dividing Wall of Hostility in Scripture and…

Today, I want to talk to you about “the dividing wall of hostility.” The Epistle to the Ephesians mentions one and I will mention another.

Before its destruction in 70 A.D., the temple in Jerusalem had four separate courts: 1) the Court of the Gentiles, 2) the Court of the Women, 3) the Court of Israel (aka the Court of Men), and 4) the Court of the Priests. The Court of the Gentiles was the outermost court. It was the only part of the temple where non-Jews were allowed. In it, God-fearing but uncircumcised gentiles could pray, exchange money, and buy animals for to be sacrificed on their behalf. In the gospels, Jesus drove the money changers and animal sellers out of the court of the Gentiles. Non-Jews were allowed to enter the Court of the Gentiles, but that was as far as they could go. The inner courts were separated from the Court of the Gentiles with a wall, and on that wall, priests had posted notices in both Latin and Greek, waring that any uncircumcised person passed over it was liable to be killed. Not unsurprisingly, the wall which bore these solemn warning was known as “the dividing wall of hostility.” This wall was real. It stood in the temple. It was also a metaphor for the animosity between Jews and Gentiles Continue reading

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Progress!

In Galatians 6:15, St. Paul says something that many of his contemporaries considered absolutely heretical.  He says:

“For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”

When Paul said this, male circumcision had been the definitive mark of the covenant between God and his people for more than one thousand years. The Hebrew Bible was the only Bible Paul ever had, and circumcision occupied lots of space in that. It starts in Genesis 17 wherein God tells Abraham that circumcision is to be the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants forever. God then commands Abraham to circumcise every male in his household who is eight days old (or older), whether born in his house, or bought with his money, as a slave. Then comes the kicker, God says, “Any uncircumcised male shall be cut off from his people for he has broken my covenant.” Continue reading

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Quietly Bearing the Yoke (In Hope!)

Lamentations 3:22-33 ,Psalm 30:1-5, Mark 5:24-34

This morning I feel as if a long trial has ended. This may or may not be so. It could be so, if all eligible Americans would put aside their fears and get vaccinated, if not for their own sakes, for the sake of their neighbors and friends. The Covid-19 vaccine may still kill some of us, but the vaccine will not kill nearly so many of us as the Covid-19 virus. If we cannot convince people to do the right thing, the pandemic may continue. New variants will be hardier and spread quicker, and this return to normalcy that we are now experiencing may prove nothing more than a slight remission, not a cure. There may be more disease and death on the way.

Our Gospel lesson is not about remission—it is about a cure. The woman with an issue of blood had struggled for twelve years. According to the Revised Standard Version she had “suffered much at the hands of many physicians.” She had “spent all she had and was no better, but rather worse.” She was losing her tenuous grasp on the little hope that remained to her.

Then she heard about Jesus and what he was doing for people who were sick and infirm. And she said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” And she heard Jesus was nearby, and she sought him out, and she found him surrounded by a crowd that pressed him from every side. With determination born of desperation, she slipped through the crowd and managed to touch his clothes. Immediately her hemorrhage stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Continue reading

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Are You Full of Sap? Producing Fruit Even in Old Age

Cedar Beam used in Construction in American Southwest

Psalm 92: 1-4, 12-15
1 It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; 2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, 3 to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. 4 For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. 12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. 14 In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, 15 showing that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Psalm 92 talks about “the righteous.” In the Bible, righteousness is nothing more and nothing less than “the fulfillment of the demands of a relationship.” People are righteous when we fulfill the demands of our relationships, and these demands vary. We owe our parents one thing, and our spouse another. We are called upon to honor our father and mother, but only to a point. When we marry, we are called upon to leave our mother and father and cleave to our mate. Loyalties shift, and if they do not, there is trouble, right here in River City. A noted psychiatrist said that a failure to separate from one’s parents is the number one cause of failure in marriage. Likewise, we owe our friends and neighbors certain things that we do not owe the stranger we meet in the street. Unless, of course, that stranger is in need, in which case, according to Jesus, that stranger becomes a neighbor.

God calls upon his people to be righteous and insist upon nothing less for Himself. Emil Brunner said that God’s righteousness (or holiness) is God’s self-respect. In Biblical terms, God is righteous when God rewards virtue and right living and punishes sin—just as he promised to do when he made his covenant with Israel. Continue reading

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