Ephesians 2: 13 – 22 A Holy Temple in the Lord Sunday, July 11, 2021


A Holy Temple in the Lord

Ephesians 2: 13 – 22


(preached July 11, 2021)


The apostle Paul writes, “Now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near.”  In his letter to the young church in Ephesus, Paul rejoices that two groups which had once been separated – Gentiles and Jews – have been brought together.  In the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, God has reconciled two different groups.  Since the earliest days of the church, people from different places and different backgrounds, speaking different languages, have become one body in Christ.


Two weeks ago today, I experienced that sense of being one in Christ with people far from here, people who spoke a different language.  I was amazed that, in that unfamiliar place, I felt the peace of Christ as powerfully as I have felt it here.


As some of you know, on my vacation I traveled to the country of Iceland.  I enjoy traveling, but before the trip, I hadn’t been outside of the United States for thirteen years.  Those years had been full of work: pastoring churches, getting kids launched into jobs, and the fun of welcoming grandchildren.  For the past few months, during the worst of the COVID pandemic, none of us could travel much.  But now I had my vaccination card in hand and my passport up to date. I was eager to go away, to go to someplace new.


For several reasons, Iceland fit the bill.  In Iceland, they had done a good job of managing the pandemic, so I felt safe traveling there.  Also, Iceland was welcoming travelers, as long as we were vaccinated and willing to get tested.  And I had never been to Iceland.  I didn’t even know much about it, except that it was a beautiful place and that, in the summer, the sun shone past midnight.  So off I went.


What I found in Iceland was, in many ways, a very different landscape.  As I looked out the car window on the ride from the airport to the city of Reykjavik, the land looked like the surface of the moon.  I felt strange and a little disoriented because it didn’t look much like home.  I realized that a lot of Iceland has been formed by volcanic eruptions.  I read that, in Iceland, a volcano erupts about every five years. After a volcano erupts, it leaves a lot of lava. In that part of the country there was a lot of lava – it will be many years before anything can grow there.


But that makes Iceland unique.  The landscape is strange, but it is a land of great beauty.  I saw spectacular waterfalls.  I swam in a pool warmed by thermal springs underground.  I visited a national park where the tectonic plates under Europe and North America are pushing gradually apart, at the rate of about nine millimeters per year.  I watched a geyser gush steaming water, over and over again, about every five minutes.


These were all wondrous sights, and I enjoyed them.  But some of the time I found it hard to get my bearings.  That’s why, when Sunday morning rolled around, I wanted to go to church.  I asked the innkeeper at my guesthouse if she knew of any services nearby.  She kindly directed me to a place called Steinsholt, a place so small it wasn’t even on my map.  She said the service would be outdoors.


The map wasn’t much use, but thanks to the wonders of satellites and a device called a Tom Tom, I found my way up hill and down dale, over dirt roads, past sheep grazing, to Steinsholt. It was actually a farm with horses.  I pulled into a parking spot next to a tractor.  At first I didn’t know where to go, but as soon as I opened the car door I knew I was in the right place, because I heard singing!  Not recorded singing either – live singing in the cadences of hymns, live singing in harmony.  Following the sound, I walked toward a garden, surrounded by trees.  I found my way to a circle of people, with a choir at one end, led by a musician at a keyboard.  I took my place among about forty people, young people and older folks, casually dressed, some with work boots on.


I recognized the pastor because he was wearing a black robe, with a white Elizabethan collar.  Soon the singing stopped, the pastor began to speak.  Of course everything he said was in Icelandic.  But to my amazement, I was able to follow.  The order of worship was similar to ours.  Early in the service, there was a baptism.  Although I couldn’t understand the words, I could tell by the way the pastor asked questions of the parents that he was asking the same questions we ask: questions like, “Do you desire to have your child baptized into the faith and family of Jesus Christ?”


The child being baptized was about two years old, and the pastor treated her with gentleness and humor.  He held the bowl of baptismal water down low, so she could feel it for herself.  The parents and godparents beamed with joy.


The worship continued with prayer and a Bible reading, a sermon and much more singing.  From the rhythm of their speech, I could tell when the congregation was praying the Lord’s Prayer.  And of course, whenever the pastor said, “Jesu Christ,” I knew who he was talking about: the same Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we worship here every week.


After the service, I visited a bit with the pastor a bit. Fortunately, like just about everybody else in Iceland, he speaks English.  He told me that he was a Lutheran pastor, and that 80% of the people in Iceland are Lutheran.  He also said that this congregation was one of the five congregations he served.  Every week he travels to one or two of them, so that in a month he’s able to see them all.  In the place where we worshiped that day, a church building had once stood.  He showed me the stone marking the spot.


As I thought about the service afterward, I had some questions, especially about the future of the church.  Years ago, every village had a church and a pastor dedicated to that place, but now pastors are traveling around, serving several congregations.  And where a church building had once stood, there was now just a stone marker.  I wondered, what is the future of the church?  What does God have in mind for us now?


The questions remain.  But I also found it amazing that worship in Iceland, in that foreign country, in a foreign language, was so similar to how we worship here.  I found it amazing that I felt so at home, even in that foreign place, hearing songs that reminded me of our own beloved hymns.  But, of course, we are singing praise to the same Lord.


Writing to the Ephesians, Paul says, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but …citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”  That morning, in that foreign country, I felt I belonged.  I shared with those people a common membership in the household of God.  I felt the presence of God’s Spirit as that new little child of God was baptized.  I realized that, Sundays all over the world, in many different languages, hymns are sung and God’s Word is proclaimed.  Prayers are lifted up and the Spirit of Christ brings together those who once were strangers, in a holy temple in the Lord.














Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 7