Sermon: No Longer Strangers:
Text: Ephesians 2:11 – 22
Date: July 18, 2021
Place: Blakely First UMC
Walls, Walls, Everywhere Walls! We love to build walls. Sometimes we build walls to keep people out! In fact, the largest construction project in human history was a wall, the Great Wall of China! It took 1700 years to complete; stretched out, end to end, it would cover 5% of the earth’s circumference. And it was built to keep foreigners out! Donald Trump was elected to the presidency, in part, because he promised to build a wall to keep people out. We live in a nation of gated communities, with walls, gates, and sometimes, even guards! All designed to keep people out!
And sometimes, we build walls to keep people in! In 1961, the Soviets finished the Berlin Wall. It was 25 miles long, 11 feet high, and topped with barbed wire. Just beyond the wall was “no man’s land” with guards ready to shoot fleers on the spot. And just beyond that was a trench designed to stop vehicles from breaking through the wall. All designed to keep people in!
Even churches build walls! Israel’s Temple was a prime example; it had many walls! There was a great wall, a veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. All priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place, but only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. There was a court for Israelite men, a court for Israelite women, and a court for Gentiles with clearly marked barriers (walls) between each one. From the days of the Early Church into the late 1800s, men sat on one side of the church and women and children on the other! In one of my appointments, we discovered that when the church was formed, there was one entrance for the men and another entrance for women and children. Walls, Walls, Everywhere, Walls!
We went through a time when slaves were brought to church by their masters and chained to the back pews or relegated to the balcony. Today, we cover it better, but the walls are still there. We have White Churches, Black Churches, Hispanic Churches, and Asian Churches. We have Methodist Churches, Baptist Churches, and Catholic Churches. We even have liberal churches and conservative churches. Walls, Walls, Everywhere, Walls!
One night, I was called to the hospital. John was in the last hours of his lie, and he wanted to see the pastor. When I walked into his room at Phoebe Putney, I found him struggling to breathe, surrounded by his wife and kids. And I walked up and took his hand, he began to speak. He had a pain in his heart, and he wanted to make it right. He said: “Preacher, I was wrong! I turned them away! I turned them away!” I said: “John, what are you talking about?” He said: “The Black people! The Black people! I was an usher and I stood at the door and blocked them from coming in. I was wrong!” Walls, Walls, Everywhere, Walls!
You might remember a poem written by Robert Frost in 1914 called The Mending Wall. It begins: “Something there is that doesn’t like a wall.” It’s about two farmers – one whose philosophy was: “A good fence makes for good neighbors,” and another who questions why they even need a wall. And his statement is: “something there is that doesn’t like a wall, that wants it down.”
In fact, that’s the theme of one of our beloved Bible stories, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho. The Israelites marched around the city once a day for six days, and on the seventh day, they marched around seven times. Then, everyone shouted, and the walls came atumblin’ down! Something there is that doesn’t like a wall!
We didn’t like that wall between east and west; so, on June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and gave an inspiring speech. He said: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” That wall that kept the East Germans under communist control had become a symbol of Soviet failure. Now, some are feeling the same way about the Great Wall. Once intended to protect people from foreign invaders, it is now used to keep the Chinese people under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. It has become a symbol of hate. Something there is that doesn’t like a wall!
Jesus didn’t like walls very much! During His ministry, He broke down a lot of walls. He touched the leper, made a tax collector His Disciple, treated women with respect and dignity, held children in His arms and sat them on His knee, and even reached out to Gentiles. When He saw people being exploited by the religious establishment, He made a whip from bands of cord and cleansed the Temple. He stood at the Temple one day and said: “I tell you the truth, one day you won’t be able to find one stone upon another in this place.” And the walls came a tumblin’ down!
But some walls come down slowly! And that big dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles was still standing tall in the Early Church. Some Christians, led by Paul, didn’t see the need for a wall. Some, like Peter, didn’t see the need for a wall, but they were too weak to tear it down! And others, who came from the home church in Jerusalem, insisted that “good walls make for good neighbors.” So, Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, where the walls of separation had been rebuilt, saying: “In Christ, you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for He … made the two groups one by destroying the barrier, the dividing wall … His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two … reconciling both to God through the Cross … therefore, you are longer strangers or foreigners, but fellow citizens, members of God’s household.” Something there is that doesn’t like a wall!
So, what does all this mean for us? How does this apply to our lives? Let think think about it for a few minutes:
First, we need to remember we’re all the same! We all have the same spiritual past! Paul said: “You were dead through your trespasses and sin in which you once lived.” [i] We were all born with a broken, sinful nature, that was separated from God, rebelled against God, and disobeyed Him often. Paul said: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and Jesus said: “Truly I tell you everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” [ii] That’s who we were!
We also enjoy the same spiritual blessings! Remember last week’s sermon? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing;” He loves us, chose us, adopted us, redeemed us, and sealed us! We who were once far away “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” “for it is by grace you have been saved through faith and this isn’t of your own doing … lest anyone should boast.” We’re blessed, equally blessed!
So, why all the walls? Between different age groups, different Sunday School classes, different worship styles, and different races, denominations, and theological perspectives? Friends, the walls that exist in the church today are walls we built! In the church, where the first and greatest commandment is “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength … and you will love your neighbor as yourself,” we don’t love people with different theological perspectives; so, we build a wall! We don’t love people with different skin colors or different languages; so, we build a wall! We don’t love people who worship differently; so, we build a wall! We don’t love people who sin differently than we do; so, we build a wall!
We are constantly rebuilding the walls that Jesus tore down! But the only way to keep the walls down is love! John said: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever doesn’t love doesn’t know God for God is love!” [iii] It shouldn’t surprise you that everyone didn’t agree with John Wesley. Even among his closest friends, there were deep theological differences, but Mr. Wesley said: “If your heart is as my heart – if you’re a Christian – then, give me your hand.” He said: “Though we may not always think alike, may we always love alike.” Our differences must never become a wall between us; our differences must never become a barrier to love! Good walls do not make good neighbors; they make enemies! And the church is better than that! We’ve got to be better than that!!
In his book, Faith, Hope, and Hilarity, Dick Van Dyke talks about a Sunday School teacher who asked her class: “What do you think about when you see the church doors open for everyone to come and worship?” The class grew silent until an African American boy answered: “It’s like walking into the heart of God.” That’s what the church should be, like walking into the heart of God, a little piece of heaven at 386 College Street in Blakely, Georgia! Without walls! Without barriers! And we can’t stop working, we can’t stop praying … until it becomes just that, until the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of God.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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