“Walls”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

July 19, 2015 – The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 2:11-22

 

Once upon a time, way back at the very beginning of time, God’s Spirit moved over the face of the primordial soup, and atom collided with atom, and molecule bonded with molecule, and life on earth was born. And as the sun rose and set, as morning turned to evening turned to morning again, that first spark of life grew and evolved into the wild array of living things on this planet—grasses and pine trees, algae and bacteria, dragonflies and ladybugs, goldfish and chickens and cows and bobcats—and, eventually, human beings. And God looked at those humans and saw that they were a reflection of God’s image and likeness. Each one was a piece of the puzzle, and together, they shone with the radiance of God’s love. They were all united back then, back at the very beginning of time—all cut from the same cloth, all singing the same tune, all part of the same human family.

And then, as the sun rose and set, as morning turned to evening turned to morning again, those first humans started to notice the ways in which they were different from one another. And because they were scared, or because they were hungry, or because they were insecure, or because it is somehow human nature, they started to feel like there was not enough for everybody. Not enough food, not enough land, not enough safety, not enough money, not enough power, not enough love, not enough anything. And so they used those ways in which they were different to separate themselves, to decide who was in and who was out.

As the sun rose and set, as morning turned to evening turned to morning again, pretty soon the whole world was divided. There came a time when some of the descendants of those first human beings decided that their ethnic group was in and everyone else was out. They believed that God had given them a divine right to the land they inhabited, and they used that belief as justification to demolish anyone who got in their way. In the Middle East, in Rwanda, in Yugoslavia, in Sudan, here in North America, indigenous peoples were wiped off the map as one group claimed land and resources and dominance over the others.

There came a time when some of the descendants of those first human beings decided that being white was in and being black was out. Pretty soon they had built a world in which black people were bought and sold at the whim of white plantation owners, seen as little more than beasts of burden, expendable and disposable. Pretty soon they had built a legal system that sends black people to prison for much longer than white people who commit the same crimes. Pretty soon they had built a society in which most white people don’t have a close friend who is a person of color. Pretty soon they had built a nation in which unarmed black people are dying in epidemic numbers, often killed by those who are meant to keep us all safe. Pretty soon they had built a culture in which a young man can walk into a church in Charleston on a Wednesday night and sit in Bible study for an hour, and then pull out a gun and murder the ones who welcomed him.

There came a time when some of the descendants of those first human beings decided that being born north of the Rio Grande was in and south of the Rio Grande was out. Pretty soon they were building hulking walls of concrete and steel and razor wire to divide the United States from Mexico. Pretty soon they were detaining, imprisoning, and deporting thousands upon thousands of unaccompanied children who had come north to escape lives of terror and deprivation.

There came a time when some of the descendants of those first human beings decided that traditional forms of gender expression were in and anything that deviates from that norm was out. Pretty soon they had built a world in which a person whose gender expression does not match the body with which they were born, or fit easily within the binary system of male and female, is likely to be subject to ridicule, job and housing discrimination, and violence. Pretty soon they had built a country in which one in five transgender people has experienced homelessness and more than two in five transgender people will attempt suicide in their lifetimes.

As the sun rose and set, as morning turned to evening turned to morning again, the descendants of those first human beings found more and more ways to divide themselves. They built walls between English and Spanish, between Hebrew and Arabic. They built walls between Jew and Gentile, between Christian and Muslim, between Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox, between Methodist and Lutheran and Congregational. They built walls between rich and poor. They built walls between gay and straight. They built walls between elder and youth. They built walls between Democrat and Republican. They built walls between military and peacenik. They built walls between ivy league and school of hard knocks.

As they built all those walls, eventually, the descendants of those first human beings stopped being able to see one another. They stopped catching glimpses of the face of God shining in the countenances of people who were different from them. They stopped hearing snippets of the word of God echoing in the voices of people who spoke in different tongues. They stopped catching whiffs of the sweetness of God floating in the air of countries other than their own.

Pretty soon they couldn’t see anyone but themselves and people just like them, so tall and imposing were the walls they had built. Blinded by these dividers, pretty soon they started to believe that the image of God looked like them and them only. Pretty soon they were convinced that God was on their side, and that those who were not with them were definitely against them. The sun rose and set, and morning turned to evening turned to morning again, and pretty soon the whole world was divided.

 

Once upon a time, way back at the very beginning of time, God created humanity—all of humanity—in God’s image. And ever since then, God has been working overtime to overcome the dividing walls we seem constantly to build. Ever since then, God has been putting herself on the line in order to reach us, opening his arms wide to embrace us, even if that gesture leads to the cross. In Christ, that reconciliation has been made complete. Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, all are one in Christ Jesus. Indigenous and immigrant, black and white, American and Mexican, transgender and cisgender, all are one in the love of God.

And here’s the thing. Only when we see God in all of humanity—even those who couldn’t possibly be more different from us, even those who make us uncomfortable, even those we do not understand, even those with whom we disagree—only when we see God in all of humanity can we truly know God. A partial image, comprised only of those who look like us, cannot encompass the fullness of God’s beauty. A partial message, comprised only of the words we already know and agree with, cannot encompass the depth of God’s truth. Any division between in and out, us and them, cannot encompass the movement of God’s uniting Spirit. Only when we see God in all of humanity can we truly reflect the image and likeness of God. Only when we are undivided—all cut from the same cloth, all singing the same tune, all part of the same human family—can we truly be a place where God lives.

In Christ, all who were far off have been brought near. Peace is present. Reconciliation is real. Forgiveness is possible. Abundance is everywhere. This is the good news of the gospel. Friends, let’s live like it’s already true.