In his letter to the Ephesians Paul tells us that we are being built into a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. The analogy of a building is used in several places in the bible. It involves the accurate placement and fitting together of materials in order to raise up a structure that will fulfil its purpose. Not only have the materials to be sound, but the cement or mortar that holds it together must be of good quality, the balance of the structure must be stable and of course the foundations on which it is built must be strong.
The ongoing task for all humanity is to build a world where there is no oppression, no violence, where no one is a victim and where everyone uses their talent and energy to ensure the happiness and wellbeing of those around them. As Christians we believe this ideal is realized in the Kingdom of God. We believe that following our earthly life we will inhabit a place where this ideal has already been achieved. The challenge, as stewards of Godís earthly creation is to extend the borders of the kingdom of heaven to include the physical world in which we live.
So how do we ensure the quality if our building materials? The mistake made by many cults and factions within religion is to be selective about who can join and who canít. In the early church there was argument about whether the gentiles were excluded from Godís plan. The Israelites believed themselves to be a chosen people. How could someone join who was not chosen? Paul tells us that the ministry and sacrifice of Christ reunited Jew and Gentile, restoring Mankind to equality in Godís eyes, after all, all humanity is made in Godís image. It follows that there is not a single human being without potential as a building material for Godís kingdom.
But in order to be useful in building a structure the building materials, and that includes us, must be shaped and made ready to fulfill their role. In the Gospel reading two short passages outline the needs of all mankind in becoming ready for their role. Firstly they need teaching, and secondly they need healing. They need teaching because they are like sheep without a shepherd, and healing in order that they can fulfill the potential that God has placed in them and become an integral part of the structure of Godís kingdom.
Acceptance of the Good Shepherd as a foundation for building Godís kingdom on earth is fundamental. Jeremiah warns us about shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep. A shepherd in biblical times led the sheep to good pasture, kept them protected from danger and showed them the way they should go as they wandered through the land looking for food. Today we are surrounded by false shepherds enticing us to live our lives in many different ways. We are encouraged to measure our success by the amount we earn, to be guided in our tastes by media created celebrity idols and to question and even mock the authority of those we choose to lead our country. Problems are met with a search for those to blame, rather than a search for solutions. A society built on these ever shifting sands of public opinion and pleasure seeking will inevitably collapse.
But every human being caught up in this bewildering maze of modern life is still potentially a building brick in the construction of Godís kingdom. We are challenged to spread the news of a stronger foundation to life, encouraging all to seek the healing grace of God so they may be made whole in body, mind and spirit, shaped and placed as living stones in the structure of Godís kingdom. In building the kingdom according to Godís plan we bind ourselves together with other Christians, and with all who are made in Godís image, through relationships built on trust, understanding and mutual respect. Those relationships become the cement that enables the materials to hold together and support the structure so that we, and all mankind, become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.