"Dividing Walls Undone" Rev. Kinsey
“For Christ is our peace;” says St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “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 many ways to build walls between peoples. And usually, as Paul says, they foreshadow hostility and division.
Last Thursday I couldn’t help but join Kim at the demonstration she told me about, taking place in front of Rahm Emanuel’s house. It just so happens that he lives right on one of my biking routes, from home to Unity. Even when I ride by and there's no demonstrators, there’s always a few police stationed outside the Mayor’s house on Hermitage, between Berteau and Montrose. But for this protest, I think there were as many, or more, than we encounter at our big actions downtown. Don’t worry, I didn’t get arrested! No one did. Even though there was intense emotion, it was completely peaceful, and super organized.
It’s a typical, quiet, little residential Chicago street. And it was a picture perfect, summer day! The group, which filled the street, was tight and disciplined – loud chants one minute, but when the signal was given, perfectly quiet the next. You could hear a pin drop, as speaker after speaker came to testify before a line of media and camera’s. In telling their truth about police misconduct in Chicago, there were tears, and defiance, in the wake of yet another young black family man, Harith Augustus, needlessly killed.
Why is it that this can happen to African Americans, time after time, but rarely if ever happens to white folks, even if they carry a gun? The crowd – black, brown, and white – chanted “that ain’t right!”
There must have been almost 2 dozen Police, armed and lined up like a retaining wall, in front of the Mayors house – dozens more reinforcements, on both ends of the block. The only weapons the demonstrator’s had were a couple of upturned plastic buckets, for drums, and their words: pleading for justice and peace.
One speaker recalled the deaths of other black leaders, like Martin Luther King and Fred Hampton, and wondered, how long? Why have things not changed yet?
On that beautiful morning, there were no visible walls, but the barriers of hostility that divided us seemed impenetrable! And I prayed for “Christ our peace,” to make us one.
In our 2nd Reading, St Paul asks us to remember back to the time before we were grafted on to the tree of our Judeo-Christian faith, through Abraham and Sarah – when we were as yet, separated from God. We are 1,000’s of years away from that today. But even in Paul’s time, there was a naiveté amongst the early Christians. Naturally, they didn’t remember or think of themselves as polytheists any longer, worshiping many gods. But even though there was tension between Gentile-Christians and Jewish-Christians – or because of it – Paul wants them to remember that it was God who chose them, and not the other way around.
The separation for them was a wrenching debate, marked by male circumcision. “Remember,” says Paul, “that at one time you Gentiles by birth (that’s us too), called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” …remember (says Paul) that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
So why the hostility, says Paul?! God chose the Jews first, then the Gentiles, through the cross of Christ. Why erect dividing walls?
Many Lutheran scholars are coming to see that this passage may be even closer to the heart of the gospel message, than ‘justification by faith,’ which Martin Luther developed in his reading of Paul! ‘Saved by faith’ has all too often turned into a good work, that all we need is the right words, to just, confess the doctrine rightly, and not have to really worry about our actions. Which is why Lutheran Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from his prison cell in WWII Germany, called for a ‘costly grace’ instead of a ‘cheap grace’ – that we are saved ‘through faith by God’s grace’ – through the way of following Jesus, that takes action and risk, for the sake of the gospel, in our lives.
Or, if we return to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “…Christ created in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace…” …“So then (and here’s the Good News!) you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
In other words, the only walls, are spiritual walls, built to include all, not to exclude or divide. “In Christ,” says Paul, “the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
Our spiritual dwelling is the fellowship and comradery of others, in a “new humanity.”
It’s significant, I think, that when Paul talks about the ‘justification of faith’ in Romans, the example he gives, is of Abraham, who he calls the “father of many nations.” In Christ Jesus, says Paul, God’s promise to Abraham, that Gentiles shall one day be included, is fulfilled. In other words, all humanity! The dividing walls are brought down – Christ is our peace. This is what it means to be ‘justified’ by the faith of Christ.
“Remember that at one time… you were without Christ,” Paul reminded his congregation in Ephesus. But now, we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God… a holy temple… built together spiritually…”
In a sense, Paul is asking us to remember back to a time we never experienced, but which is, none-the-less, formative. It makes me remember those days after I lost my first parent, about 8 years ago. I poured through pictures of my dad’s family – my grandparents and great-grandparents – hungry for the stories that led up to making me who I am today.
Thankfully, there are very few stories of division that I could find, in my family. There was one great-uncle who was ostracized for being “different,” and moved to California, who I suspect may have had an unacceptable sexual orientation, and couldn’t abide the parochial expectations of marriage for him on the farm, back then. Other dividing walls are ones we erected, perhaps unknowingly, creating hostility, for example, by claiming Homestead’s in Iowa, which walled-out Native Americans from their homes and lives. And the benefits of home ownership and free college through the GI bill, that were unavailable to black Americans under the oppression of Jim Crow – walls that contribute to segregation and unequal treatment by police, and other institutions, to this very day.
How long? When will the dividing walls be undone? When will the doctrines we believe in, the promises we take for granted from our Savior and Lord, be done on earth as in heaven? How can we live costly grace, and fulfill our calling as God’s chosen people today?
I believe, we, are the leaders God is looking for, the followers of Jesus, ready and willing to grow “the whole spiritual structure,” as Paul said, so that “one new humanity” may live together.
So, let the walls come tumbling down!