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Homily in Witness to the Resurrection, Linda Evans

The Reverend Matt Gaventa

November 13, 2017
Ephesians 2:12-22

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A Reading from Ephesians

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.

It is a joy and a privilege to share with you this afternoon this sacred piece of scripture, Linda’s favorite piece of scripture, here in the second chapter of the letter to the Ephesians. It’s a story about reconciliation. In the decades after the ministry of Jesus, the early church famously struggles with whether or not this good news is fundamentally a Jewish good news, or whether it could truly be good news for all people; the Ephesians themselves are Gentiles by birth, second-class citizens in the minds of some within the early church, but in this letter they are brought right to the heart of the Gospel. “You who were once far off have been brought near.” “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” It’s a story about reconciliation, about the movement of the Spirit across boundaries and barricades and borders, about the Spirit that gathers us together from north and south and east and west, even as the Spirit has so gathered us here today.

But this isn’t just a story about reconciliation. It’s also a story about resurrection. For centuries, Jewish tradition held that God lived in the arc of the covenant and the arc of the covenant lived in the temple in Jerusalem and nobody was allowed to go in the temple except Jewish worshipers and nobody was allowed to approach the arc except the high priests because that was where God lived and there are rules. But Jesus has not obeyed the rules. Jesus has ministered to outcasts and outlaws. Jesus has defied the wisdom of the clergy and the clerics. And of course, Jesus has paid no deference even to death itself; Jesus has risen from the beyond; Jesus has triumphed over the powers of the grave, and so, in the rich language of this metaphor, if God has for so long lived in a physical temple, Jesus will now need something like a spiritual temple. It will not be made of boundaries and borders and brick and stone. It will, instead, be made of us: “citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

You and me. A holy temple in the Lord. A dwelling place for God. God lives where we come together. Jesus lives where we come together, across boundaries and barricades and borders, from north and south and east and west. No wonder this was Linda’s favorite text. It was her life’s calling, the work of peacemaking that knows no divisions. How else to explain this five foot two inch piston from Houston who found herself a citizen of the world, an ambassador for dialogue even in the heart of the Cold War, an ambassador for justice in the heart of Central America, an ambassador for conversation and interpretation and reconciliation between all of God’s children. I was not privileged to know her for as long as so many of you knew her but I feel confident in this, that Linda’s heart is in this story because for Linda to be a child of God and a child of the God who was resurrected from the dead is to be a child of God bound to practicing that resurrection in the daily work of building this dwelling place for the living God, you who are far off, and you who are near, and all of us gathered together in peace.

But now one of us is missing. Too young, too soon, too quickly. Too much of the callous brokenness of the universe on display. It is still inconceivable to me to enter into worship in this sanctuary and not see Linda standing in her place among the UPC choir, a place she occupied with faithfulness and resolve and joy for longer than I can imagine. When I began my ministry here, Linda was still the chairperson of the Worship & Music Committee, and there was no worship service that Linda had not thoroughly considered and thoroughly examined, and I freely admit to you that I am not yet convinced that we are even allowed to have a worship service here that she has not thoroughly authorized. You may have heard that a week ago Sunday, after some days of being largely unresponsive, she woke up, asked for her favorite drink, and then proceeded to have David walk her through every detail of what we are doing here this afternoon, a fact which I hold
in good comfort. With all my heart and soul, all I really want us to do this afternoon is whatever Linda would have us do.

But of course what Linda would have us do is to practice resurrection. To be reconciled to one another. To share the peace of the risen Christ with one another. To practice resurrection in ways large and small, to share those intimate moments of sacred communion or to follow the Holy Spirit across oceans and continents. To breathe that Holy Spirit in and out in the daily practice of joyful thanksgiving for who we are
and what we have been given and the boundary-breaking God that has given it to us. To practice the resurrection of God, which is the rebirth of creation which is the joyful Gospel that gathers us from north and south and east and west. To gather here as people of this joyful God and declare in unbroken voice that nothing, neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will separate us from the love of God, the reconciling love of God, the peacemaking love of God, the boundary-shattering love of God, the grave-shattering love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And so we practice resurrection, with hope. “Remember,” the story says, “Remember, at one time you who were far off had no hope,” but not today. Not even today. Especially not today. Today, we have hope. Hope for the world Linda saw, a world beyond boundaries and barricades and borders. Hope for creation slowly reborn, God’s children slowly reborn, with justice, and mercy, and peace, “no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Hope for the distant land yet slowly drawing near, closer today than it was before. Hope for all who are far off, that they will be close again in the eternal dwelling place of God. Hope that stands atop the shattered grave and stares across the threshold of death and sees the communion of all the saints and proclaims that there is no barricade equal to the power of lord Jesus Christ. And so we shall meet again.

“We shall meet again,” writes the South African poet Seitlhamo Motsapi:

“we shall meet again
at the place
where love bleaches noise and fear
where the sun rises
out of our dream

“we shall meet again
under the shade of assurances
that sprout between rains
as discoloured lions
limp out of our hesitations
slumping into fatal silences

“i remember everything
words from the house of the beginning
the trees that refused to be desecrated
into the finite postures of poetry
the impenetrable simplicities scrawled across the sky
trembling huts weighed down by demons

“i remember everything
so I’ve decided to set out
across the great wilderness
so we can meet again”


Motsapi, Seitlhamo. “Mudiwa.” Africa, My Africa!: An Anthology of Poems, edited by Patricia Schonstein, Africa Sun Press, paperback ed, 2012, p. 190.