The First Congregational Church, Columbus
July 20, 2003 - 6th Sunday after Pentecost
Dale Ann Gray, Preaching
Where were you on the night of November 9th, 1989? I was at home glued to the TV. My cousin, Lamont Thurston, was dancing on the Berlin Wall the night it came down. Who would have thought that the nearly 30-year old symbol of division, hostility, oppression, and death would come down in our lifetime? Europe gathered at the Brandenburg Gate, stereos blared Beethoven's ninth, "Wessies" offered bewildered "Ossies" wine as they passed through the gate. People were dancing, singing, laughing, smiling, hugging and kissing total strangers. Streams of tiny East German cars never seen by western eyes flowed into the West. Andreas Ramos describes them on his website. "They don't just look like toy cars, they look like Donald Duck's car It's the only car in the world with tail fins. The two-stroke engine buzzes like a lawn mower and pumps out clouds of smoke. God help you if you're standing near one."1 The wall came down. West met East. The people had spoken! Freedom, Reunification, travel, prosperity, all were within reach. Germany was one!
That was 14 years ago. Since then, the reality of reconstruction has engendered resentment on both sides of the former wall. In the West, the blood-letting of Deutsch Marcs required to rebuild an entire economy, to date the equivalent of 500 billion dollars, makes people ask, "How long?" The Easterners are treated like second-class citizens, labeled as lazy, and long for the days of guaranteed income and social stability. And so a new wall of hostility is going up.
Walls abound: walls of ignorance, prejudice, denigration. Our Epistle text says the Jesus "Has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us." Aside from the fact that most biblical scholars believe that Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians was not written by Paul, may not be an Epistle, and may not have been addressed to the Ephesians, what is the true core of our text? During the first century1
c.e., Ephesus, the second largest city in the Roman Empire, teemed with 250,000 people, and boasted a 25,000 seat theater, a 2,000 seat stadium, elaborate public baths and gymnasia, an agora covering an area greater than a football field, and a prominent city hall that doubled as a religious ceremonial site. The Church in Ephesus, an association of house churches, was comprised of self-declared followers of Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile. Still considered a Jewish sect, Christianity had not yet become a separate religion. We have no reason to believe that the problems the Ephesian Christians faced were any less severe than those mentioned in other Epistles, the antagonism between Jew and Gentile being chief among them.
In Herod's Temple, prior to its destruction in 70 c.e., Gentile God-fearers were allowed to worship the God of Israel at a distance, from behind a dividing wall, a barrier separating the Court of the Gentiles from other, more holy courts. Could THIS be the dividing wall Ephesians mentions?
Within the church, barriers surrounded and separated Christian Gentiles and Christian Jews. The palpable hostility drove a wedge between the two groups: one trying to impose its values, its way of life on another, resistance, enmity, strife, name calling, demands. The well-entrenched camps had dug-in for the long haul. But wait a minute. Hadn't this all been resolved at the Jerusalem council 40 years prior, when Paul got called to the Principal's office? There, had he not successfully defended his mission to the Gentiles before Peter, James and the rest? At that now famous summit, had they not all agreed that Gentile followers of Christ need not be circumcised? (Can't you hear the collective sigh of relief heard round the world of Christian Gentile men?) The Temple in Jerusalem had not existed for at least ten, and as many as thirty years. Why would the writer of Ephesians be dredging up old, long-since-settled divisions? Because they were not settled. The divisions stood wide open. The wounds were not healed; they still festered, breeding infection throughout the body, infection that had now been passed from one generation to the next. Like dismantling the new ghost of the Berlin Wall, built of hostility, the Ephesians must still "work out their own salvation with fear and trembling."2 An agreement reached, a law enacted, does not a healed heart and mind guarantee.
The open festering wounds of our nation cry out for healing. Legislated morality has not erased the pain of 250 years of slavery. Legislated morality has not opened the doors of employment to all. Legislated morality has not has not afforded equal access to educational resources across the country. Legislated morality has not loosened a frightened woman's grip on her pocketbook as any young African American male approaches her. (Pause) Legislated morality has not changed and cannot change the soul of humanity.
We are still surrounded by walls, walls of separation and division, walls of hostility. Just last week vandals defaced property at two Synagogues and a Roman Catholic retirement home with anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic epithets.
These walls are not limited to the public social and religious ills of our time; they reach into our homes, our families, our relationships. How many of us can look back, in pain and misery, and remember the day our walls went up, the day we cut off relationship with a friend, the day we stopped speaking to a parent or a sibling, the day we stopped caring? And for some, the walls went up for protection. You were deeply injured by words or actions. You were hurt by what was left unsaid, and unaccomplished. (Tenderly) Or, perhaps, you are the one who uttered vehement arrows. How you wish you could take them back, but now an insurmountable wall stands before you, a wall of guilt and shame.
Think back to a day of joyous celebration, a graduation, a new job, a wedding, the birth of a child. Any walls that had existed were obliterated for a time. And then brick by brick, stone by stone, thought by thought, word by word, deed by deed we rebuild the walls. Some things we know in our heads, but they have not yet taken root in our hearts. On those joyous days, God gives us a glimpse of what it means to be truly human, to live in peaceful reconciliation. It doesn't take long for us to forget the joy of that day, to return to alienation once more. Like the Germans struggling with reunification, we forget that Jesus has already broken down the dividing wall.
What a day of rejoicing it must have been when Paul returned with news of reconciliation at the Jerusalem Council, his mission confirmed, Christian Jew and Gentile at peace, the wall of separation broken down by Jesus Christ, and ratified by the leaders of the church. The writer of Ephesians is calling his audience to remember what God has already done. Even when no especially when, the walls begin to appear again, he wants them to remember that in the truth of the Spirit, the walls are built of vapor. They are ghost walls, erected by a short memory of God's saving work in Jesus Christ.
The scriptures are full of memories, memories that recall God's saving acts. That's what is going on in the Psalms when creation, the Red Sea crossing, the founding of the people of Israel are recounted. God's mercy, God's love, God's fierce stance on the side of the oppressed, God's actions within the world are made visible again!
The writer to the Hebrews says, "Call to remembrance the former days in which after you were enlightened, you endured..." "Remember" is used 212 times in the scriptures, and the majority of those encourage the reader to remember the acts of God through prophets, apostles, teachers, and events.
The writer of Ephesians recalls God's work in Christ, that Jesus has already broken down the dividing wall.
GOD IN THE WORLD
God keeps breaking down the walls. Jesus has broken down the wall of separation. When "victims" from the dominant culture cried "Foul!" to the Supreme Court regarding unfair admittance policies at the Law School up north the justices answered "Safe!" That was God at work, removing another stone from the wall that slavery built.
When representatives from Judaism, Islam, and Christianity gathered at Trinity Lutheran Seminary to publicly decry the vandalism of religious property, a display of unity among diverse religions was not quite what the vandals wanted. When our own Rev. Ron Botts stood up and spoke out against such acts of intimidation, that was the Spirit of God among us. God picked up the wicked bricks left from an act of cowardice and removed them from the wall that hate built.
When you forgive a wrong, mend a broken relationship, or confess your own culpability, God is at work in you, doing the work of reconciliation. God is empowering you by the Holy Spirit. Christ is breaking down the dividing wall one more time. When you cry out to God, who already knows your pain, knows your suffering, indeed, suffers with you in it God is bearing witness in you to God's presence in the world, crying out for all who suffer. God is breaking down the wall that alienation built. Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit is reconciling you to God through the cross, and putting hostility to death.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
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