No More Walls

July 16, 2023

Series: July 2023

Speaker: Guest Preacher


Today's Sermon


"No More Walls"


Scripture Reading(s) 

Galatians 3:23-29
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

John 17:1-11
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”    

     A few months ago, our local paper in Sonoma County, the Press Democrat, carried a column by David Brooks in which he wrote about, in his words, “the battle for the soul of America.” In that column he spent some time reflecting on the idea of a soul, something you don’t often read about in the daily paper. Acknowledging that theology is not really his department, he spoke of soul has a “moral essence”. In his words, “The soul is the name we can give to that part of our consciousness where moral life takes place. The soul is the place from where our moral sentiments flow, the emotions that make us feel admiration at the sight of generosity and disgust at the sight of cruelty.  It is the place where our moral yearnings come from too...And because we have souls, we are morally responsible for what we do. Because we have souls, each one of us is of infinite value and dignity. Because we have souls, each one of us is equal to all the others. We are not equal in physical strength or IQ or net worth, but we are radically equal at the level of who we essentially are.” 

    Now Brooks chose to write this column because he believes that in our nation, we are in a dangerous time – a time when our nation’s soul, its moral essence, is under grave threat; a time when a steady downpour of lies, transgressions, dishonesty, cruelty and demoralizing behavior are corroding the souls of individuals and of our nation. And so he asks, what is it going to be for us....the soul’s elevation or its degradation?

     Interestingly, I read this column on the same day that the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, with casual cruelty and insensitivity, referred to the family, five members of whom were murdered by an angry neighbor with an AR 15 automatic weapon, as “illegal immigrants.” Talk about a soulless comment. They were no longer precious and unique individuals who had been savagely murdered, whose surviving family members were now lost in grief. No, before he had spoken 5 minutes, he had robbed them of their humanity, had turned these grieving people into a group, a them, a label - “illegals” – objects to be denigrated more than mourned, stereotyped more than loved, merely pawns to be used in some mean-spirited political game.  Now Governor Abbott, and many of his followers, identify themselves as Christians. So I find myself wondering...what would Jesus be saying about now; I wonder what the Apostle Paul would say? Where would we find them in this tragic story. I think we know.

     Many years ago, during the murderous civil war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia, I came across this news article. A reporter, covering the war in Sarajevo, witnessed a young girl, walking just in front of him, get shot and severely wounded by a sniper. Before the reporter could react, a man appeared, scooped up the girl and pleaded with the reporter to drive them to the hospital. Without hesitating, he loaded them into the back seat of his car and began to drive. After a minute or two, the man said, “Please hurry, she is still living.’ The reporter drove on. A few minutes later, the voice came from the back seat, “Hurry please, my little girl is still breathing!” The reporter sped on. Yet a few minutes later, the man said, “Hurry, my little girl is still warm!” Finally, they pulled up to the hospital, but tragically, the girl was pronounced dead.  

The man and the reporter went into the restroom to wash the girl’s blood from their hands. “Now comes the hardest part,” said the man.    
“What is that?” asked the reporter.    
Said the man, ”Now I have to go and find that little girl’s parents and tell them she is dead.”     
The reporter was stunned: “But I thought you were her father.”

         “Aren’t they all our children?” the man replied. No boundaries, no categories, just our children. Wasn’t that devastated family in Texas our family, regardless of their immigration status?”  Where is Paul in this story? “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, that is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Paul is there, in that home, holding that grieving family. And Jesus is there too. “All mine are yours and yours all mine...Holy Father protect them in your that they may one, as we are one.”  Again, no categories, no walls, no divisions, no us vs them...just us, all one. In God’s eyes, all these divisions, prejudices, boundaries, barriers and resentments we use to divide us from each other, simply do not exist. You might call it God’s new math...where one plus one plus one plus one equals....well, one. And I believe that this vision, this affirmation that we truly are one, can elevate the soul, can strengthen our moral essence, even in the face of so many challenges, so many angry and divisive and violent voices, that would want to degrade it.

    I have heard it said that both Jesus and Paul were true who had a direct experience of the holy, who looked out upon the world, as broken and angry as it was – as it is -  and could still see a new reality, a new creation already taking shape. Paul had experienced this in his own life.

     Author and social commentator, Neil Postman, has often written about the power exerted by advertising and image over our public discourse. No doubt with tongue firmly in cheek, he once wrote, “Someday soon, an advertising man who must create a television commercial for a new California Chardonnay, will have the following inspiration:  Jesus is standing alone in a desert oasis. A gentle breeze flutters the fronds of a stately palm behind him. Soft middle-eastern music caresses the air. Jesus holds a bottle of wine at which he gazes adoringly. Turning toward the camera he says, ‘When I transformed water into wine at Cana, this is what I had in mind. Try it today. You’ll become a true believer!” Ok, perhaps that is just a bit over the top, and yet that kind of Jesus certainly would be easy to preach – a friendly guy who panders to our every need, who asks little of us and expects nothing other than that we are content and happy. Who wouldn’t want to sit on the porch and have a glass of wine with a guy like that?

     But this wasn’t the Jesus encountered by Paul. No rather than finding peace and contentment, he found himself in a battle for his soul. After his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, he found his life moving in new and rather startling directions. This man who had once persecuted those who were different than him, whose heart – whose soul - was filled with hatred, prejudices and stereotypes, now found himself caring for people no one else really liked very much. He found himself pushing against the artificial divisions and barriers and categories that divided people, labeled people, and that society took for granted. After encountering this Jesus he found himself valuing every human life, treasuring people whether or not they were rich or poor, young or old, educated or uneducated, gentile or Jew. He began seeing in every face he encountered, something of the face of God, people created in God’s image and he simply could no longer stand it when they were hurt or oppressed or sick or enslaved or when they hurt each other. And so he insisted, as did Jesus, we are all one, all God’s children, and we must begin living that way or we will have no life at all.  Will it be moral degradation or moral elevation?  

     A story from the early days of the AIDS crisis shared by a minister: “I was in a church where the preacher was fulminating in a sermon against moral decay in America. As an example of our national moral decay, he used the AIDS epidemic (today that preacher, as many do, might use trans youth and their families, illegal immigrants, or perhaps women seeking an abortion, but back to the story) The minister insisted that the people with AIDS were getting just what they deserved. They brought it on themselves. It was God’s punishment.

     The storyteller, “After the service, on my way out, I struck up a conversation with an older man, a long time member of that church. We spoke about the sermon. He said, ‘I used to think just like our preacher. Then I got involved in our town’s home for AIDS victims. I go there every week to be with these young men. Most of them have been all but forgotten by their families. I do what I can. To tell you the truth, I get more out of them than what I give. It’s done wonders for my prayer life.” Talking about claiming – or reclaiming - one’s moral essence!

     No slave or free, Jew or Gentile, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, black or white, legal or illegal immigrant...just us. No categories, no walls. Just us, equal members in the great family of God.  Is this it too much to hope for when so many people have been influenced by, blinded by, beaten down by, what Brooks calls “a steady downpour of lies, transgressions and demoralizing behavior.”  We see and read about it every day – people whose lives have become dominated by fear, anger, bitterness; people who seem to find concepts such as forgiveness, hospitality, loving the “other” more threat than promise.  And how quickly the fear and anger become expressed in unspeakable violence.

     “That they may be one...” That’s quite a vision, quite a challenge. And Jesus makes it clear that this oneness really isn’t as much about us as it is about God. It is God who has chosen to bring us together, God who calls us to recognize and share in a common sense of hope and purpose despite our rough edges. 

     And so, the questions becomes...are we going to hunker down behind our safe and secure boundaries, assumptions, categories and fears; or are we going to reclaim our moral essence, and allow Paul and that pesky Jesus of Nazareth to prod us, to give us a broader vision, to take the risk of stepping out into the wildness of God’s open and abundant love and mercy? There is a unique story hidden in every person, indeed in every living thing. But the only way we can discover these stories in through our participation and presence...paying attention, taking the time to listen, taking the risk of caring. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “The question is not whether we will be an extremist, but what kind of extremist we will be? Will we be an extremist for fear or will be an extremist for love?”