Tear Down That Wall
Our sacred story this week comes from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, speaking of God's promise to make a divided world into one people. Read the full story here.
Do you remember your first day at a new school? You’re given a slip of paper with a room number to report to, but you have no idea where that is or how to get there, you’re not even sure who to ask for help without embarrassing yourself. You arrive at your desk and everyone starts pulling their supplies out of their backpacks, but you don’t have the same standardized name brand, wide ruled, 56 page composition book that everyone else seems to have.
Do you remember your first day at a new job? Your new boss guides you through the hallway giving you so many instructions you know you’ll forget, introducing you to people you’ve already forgotten the name of, putting you in charge of tasks that you kind of understand. At the same time, you want to do everything well and make a good impression, but maybe not too well or too good, so that you have room to improve instead of dissapoint. You head to the break room for lunch and you’ve packed your own because you weren’t sure what would be available, but everyone here apparently goes out for lunch and left before you had a chance to be invited.
Do you remember your first day in a new city? The streets all had names but they didn’t mean anything to you. As you rode through town, taking the place in through your window, everything was just a blur of stores and trees, and houses that looked a little different from where you came from.
Over time, the sights and sounds didn’t seem so strange. You came to know your neighbors, you made friends. People helped you find your way. You got the hang of things and you didn’t have to work so hard to just exist. You grew more and more comfortable and eventually you wonder how anyone could see this world as strange or scary.
I wonder, when did the newness of these people, places, and experiences wear off? When did they begin to feel familiar? When did we start to glance over parts of them because we assumed we’d already seen that part before? When did we start to forget that all of it was once new? That we were once the awkward newbie trying to figure it all out while still looking cool as a cucumber? When did we start to forget that at one time the things we take for granted now were once terrifying? Exciting? Foreign?
We can get caught up in the alleluias and the joy of God, that we forget they once seemed impossible to us. Perhaps they feel impossible to you still. We get so wrapped up in it that we forget the joy and love of God is not ours alone, but shared - that we came to this place alongside others.
The early church, the first followers of Christ, had to wrestle with how they were a part of the good news they were hearing and how others were a part of it with them. They had to think about what that meant when people understood and experienced the promises of God differently than they did. How could they be one body when they didn’t even truly understand how the these other people lived? How could they even talk together, let alone be joined together as one new people? They had to confront how that good news could still be true for them, when it was also true for people that weren’t just strangers to them but people they looked down on and disliked, people they saw as barbaric. Not only that, but this good news of God’s love was true even for those who looked down on them and hurt them.
When we are subject to the sin of forgetfulness, when we forget our deep sacred connection to others, the gap we have created between ourselves turns to hostility, resentment, judgement. When we forget our connection, we are pushed away from each other, we are far away, and it becomes all too easy to fill in the space between us with assumptions. When you look at something from a distance it’s not quite clear and you take a guess at what it might be. When we look at people from a distance, we start guessing that someone on the streets is probably an addict, that someone with a nice car only ever thinks of themselves, that someone with dark skin is dangerous, that someone with a handicap isn’t worth the trouble, that people who don’t share our political and ideological beliefs are dumb or downright . Ultimately the distance between us comes down to fear, fear of the unknown, fear that they could hurt us, or tarnish us, or slow us down . But we are not given a spirit of fear, but of power and love.
Laying down our indifference about one another and our vitriol toward another is hard. We like the feeling of superiority, we like the sense of protection and power it gives us even if it’s a ruse. We wear it like armor and we fear that what is left, if it were to be taken away, would be disastrous. But what this text tell us is, that is not so. What is given in place of our vitriol and division is far better; it is peace, unity, harmony. It’s not the difference between us, but the distance between us that keeps us divided.
We forget that …. We need to be reminded.
I wonder if you remember your first time in church. Maybe it wasn’t physically at a church building, maybe you’re picturing a gathering at someone’s home or a bible study in a coffee shop, but your first time to be around these people called Christians. They say strange words like “amen.” The have strange traditions like eating the body and blood of a person who lived 2000 years ago!?! They actually think that God can bring together a world as deeply divided as this one!?! Over time, these traditions and teachings were given meaning, and the people you met maybe from within the church, maybe people you met who had nothing to do with church - still taught you about God’s love by their own generosity and warmth and imperfection.
We come through the church building doors as individuals, maybe even at strangers, but in that space and time we are made one. As the grains of wheat, once scattered on a hill, were gathered into one to become our bread, so may all God’s people, from all the ends of earth, be gathered into one in Christ. We stumble through the awkward together,we risk relationship, until my worries become your worries and your joy becomes my joy- even when we’re unsure of what to say, even when we feel self-conscious about being accepted, even when we’re mad at each other, even when came in feeling hostile. And in the process of becoming one, our relationships find reconciliation and our hearts find peace and together we have hope. Together we become the dwelling place of God. We experience God’s presence and promises in and through each other. Look at the person to your right, to your left, look at someone across the room who’s name maybe you can’t quite remember, think about someone you saw today at the store, who you passed by in traffic, who you passed by on the bench in the park, these are the many faces of the one Christ that you too are a part of.
And this holds true beyond this moment and time. We come together to worship to be reminded as the Ephesians needed to be reminded...of who we are...together. And who we are does not change when we leave these doors. On Tuesday, when that when someone posts something derogatory or unkind about another person, those are still people who are a part of you, a part of God. When you find yourself in moments of woe at how deeply divided the world around you seems to be, may you be reminded that you are a part of God who knits together the far off and the nearby, into a beautiful patchwork of blessing. May you know that the Spirit of Christ dwells within you...together. And may that inspire you to live boldly and graciously for each other. Amen.