Monday, July 24, 2006

July 23 Sermon--"Hello Walls"

Sermon Texts
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Mark 6: 30-34, 53-36

I remember hearing with dismay about the dividing wall that was built between Israel and the West bank perhaps 4 or 5 years ago. After a decade of intefadah, or sustained violence, between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the Israelis decided to build a wall to separate Israel from the West Bank. The project caused much controversy, namely because the wall destroyed Palestinian property, divided people from their farms, and was not built on the international boundary. Israelis were desperate to find a way to put an end to suicide bombings, so they built a wall—keeping everyone out. The author of Ephesians was also familiar with dividing walls between Israel and the Gentiles. The custom of circumcision was one of those wedge issues in the early church that had everyone in their different camps. Paul and his supporters insisted that men didn’t have to become circumcised when they became Christians. Other Christians, namely James the brother of Jesus, in Jerusalem insisted that if a convert was going to have faith IN Jesus, he needed to have the faith OF Jesus, which included certain customs. It may be easy for us to point our twenty twenty lenses back into history and say, “well, that wasn’t so important.” Some of us probably were not even aware that such a controversy threatened to end the unity of our faith tradition before it even began. We’ve grown away from those customs having any meaning for our life. But Ephesians speaks just as strongly to us today. Though circumcision is not a dividing issue anymore, we are familiar with the walls of division. What are the barriers you might hold in your life? What things can you just not get beyond when considering another person? Perhaps the dividing walls are within your own heart. You might find something about yourself unacceptable, unlovable. The author of Ephesians speaks about the destruction of the barrier as peace. Verse 14 states, “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.” There are two prepositions associated with the word, peace. Within and between. Peace is an attitude of our hearts within. Peace begins within our hearts, with God breaking down the dividing walls of hostility and anger within our hearts. Then peace is between; it is peace between us and God, nature and other people. There is a four-fold harmony, like harmonies in a choir. The first harmony is within, is inside of me/you, when God lives within us. This is an inner harmony. Then there is peace between me and God, nature and others. This is an outer harmony towards others. What is necessary for that inner harmony?

*The following paragraph is an adapted excerpt from the lectionary study found at the Process and Faith website. * In today’s gospel reading, the disciples have just concluded a successful journey of healing and teaching. They return elated, but Jesus notices fatigue beneath their excitement and joy. “For they were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Perhaps he knows that deep commitment can only be sustained by a rhythm of rest and action. And so he invites them to a “deserted place.”As you look at your life, where is your “deserted place?” Where – physically, emotionally, or spirituality – do you have place of peace and rest? Your quiet place can be a favorite chair for prayer, meditation, and study; a meditation room in your home; the church’s sanctuary; a wooded park; the lake. Your quiet place can also be a rejuvenating activity – gardening, walking, stargazing, journaling, meditating, praying, writing poetry, or driving in your car by yourself. Health of body, mind, spirit, and relationships requires stillness as well as action, space as well as intimacy. Even the most intimate friends and couples require time alone. As Kahlil Gibran noted in the Prophet, “let there be spaces in your togetherness.” The pillars of love must be appropriately distant from each other in order to support a healthy and embracing relationship that reaches out to others. Yes, there is an art and a discipline to finding a deserted place for prayer and re-creation. Sometimes the whole world conspires against the rest and silence necessary for spiritual growth and personal and relational well-being. In today’s gospel reading, when Jesus and his followers seek a quiet place and in the midst of their silence, “many saw them and recognized them” and sought them out.“And Jesus had compassion for them, because they like sheep without a shepherd.” Compassion is the gift of connectedness not only with the experiences of others, their joy and pain, but also with God and our own deeper selves. Rest and recreation are necessary for true compassion. Fatigue leads to objectification of others as simply “projects to be completed” or “cases to be solved” or “victories to be won.” Even when we are in the midst of challenging situations, we need to breathe deeply and step back in order to see the other in her or his wholeness.The gospel reading challenges us to prayerful boundary-setting. Jesus took time apart with his followers. His “no” to work, even the good work of healing and teaching, said “yes” to spiritual growth and self-care. His “yes” to compassion was grounded in interconnectedness with God and his followers.Boundary-setting is a challenge to pastors and laypersons alike. We want to help people, but find ourselves with too many demands. “Burnout” is a concern even for the faithful followers of Jesus. We need to love ourselves in the midst of loving others. In so doing, we experience the “peace” of Christ that breaks down the dividing wall of “us” and “them” and “self” and “other.”What boundary-setting practices can enhance our health and deepen our relatedness to God? What practices can bring greater health to our congregation? While each person’s spiritual boundaries differ, based on energy and personality type, let me suggest a few possibilities: Sabbath time, a few hours a week, a day a month, and few days each year for retreat and prayer.  Breathing your prayers – filling your day with intentional breathing within and between tasks as means of remembering God’s presence and centering in God’s companionship  Keeping meals sacred – take advantage of gifts of technology such as answering machines and “caller ID”  Cultivate intimate relationships – relationships take time and require leisure  Learn to distinguish the important from the trivial – many people go from crisis to crisis, assuming that they must respond immediately to the least important thing; cultivate a sense of what is truly important and must be done now, and what can be done in good time  Learn to say “no” – many of us say “yes” when we mean “no” and, thus, dissipate our energy and focus; when we are tempted to say “yes” to something we really don’t want to do, remind yourself that you may also be saying “no” to something more important – your prayer life, family, deep relationships, healthy rest


Our God is a God of the Sabbath. In the beginning, God created the masterpiece of Creation. We always tend to think of ourselves as the apex, the masterpiece of Creation, but we are not, we are the caretakers of creation. Genesis tells us at that God created the Sabbath at the end, a day of rest. This is the masterpiece of Creation—the opportunity to rest and devote ourselves to the contemplation of what it means to be created by God. In Exodus 31, God creates a covenant for humans to keep the Sabbath. Though it is part of the covenant of the ten commandments, God also creates a distinct covenant solely for the Sabbath. It seems that the Sabbath is something very important to God—perhaps it is because Sabbath time is when we purposefully ignore the day to day work and chores and instead concentrate on the gifts of our Creator. We must be at peace with ourselves to be in harmony with others, and this harmony with others is what facilitates the tearing down of the walls between us. We must recognize our oneness in the body of Christ if we are to enjoy spiritual communion with God. Time apart, time spent in reflection and solitude facilitates that one-ness, isn’t that odd? If we attempt to tear down the walls by ourselves, we will die of exhaustion. But if we recognize our Spiritual unity within Christ, the walls between us will fall. There are places along the West Bank and Israel where the walls have fallen—not physically, but imaginatively. A British artist named “Banksy” has made several murals on the wall that symbolically defeat the purpose of the wall, or at least challenge its existence. A favorite mural of mine depicts a shadow of a little girl floating up while holding onto a bundle of balloons. She floats up to soar over the wall.
Though we may have real walls between us, they are conquered by children with the willingness to “hang on” to their hopes and dreams for the future. It is when these walls fall that we see the wide-open expansiveness of the “household of God” that is mentioned there at the end of the Ephesians text. We are members of this household, which is built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. IF Willie Nelson had been living in the household of God, he would not have been able to write the song that is the title of this sermon—“Hello Walls……” No, he couldn’t have written it because he would not have seen any walls in the household of God—there are none! There are no walls between the races, there are no divisions between the classes. There are no culture wars or nationalities. And this is not some far off dream of the future, this is what a life in Christ brings to us now—in this world. With Jesus, we live free of these walls of division, we pay no attention to such trifles, we have no prejudice toward others because of externalities. NO, the household of God is more like my elementary school in Fayetteville, Happy Hollow elementary. It was a happy hollow and the school was indeed hollow—there weren’t any walls in it. (Do you teachers remember that educational experiment? I’m a product of it! So is Lara!) It is by healthy “boundary-setting” that we give ourselves space and time to refresh our spirits. However, the boundaries aren’t barriers. Within the renewal that “boundary setting” and Sabbath taking affords comes the understanding that the “barriers” between “us and them” are brought down. Once the walls have been leveled, we see that we are dwelling in the household of God, with Jesus as the cornerstone. And by the mystery of this miracle, “21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”We not only live in the household of God, where we are all one in Christ Jesus, but through this oneness, we become a dwelling place for God. God lives in us! We are the house of God! Through the One who Created us, the One who redeemed us, and the One who transforms us! Alleluia, Amen

1 comment:

  1. I continue to be aMAZED AT THE WISDOM IN YOUR PREACHING!!

    WAY TO GO!!!

    ReplyDelete