“Breaking Down the Dividing Wall”

Sermon – 07–18-21 – Proper 11 – Cycle B
Scriptures: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Sermon Title: “Breaking Down the Dividing Wall”

Which wall came to your mind as I read the title? It could be a real wall built of bricks or stone or steel. Or it could be a wall inside your house. Or it could be an invisible wall but it may as well be made of bricks and mortar; it feels that solid and forbidding. It could be a prison wall or bars which prevent privacy.

Some walls are good, of course. Some amount of privacy is good. Does your home have many walls with each room separated to offer some privacy? Or is your home designed to be open. Living room, kitchen, dining area, play area, office space all open so no one feels isolated? Some walls retain ground so it stays where it is most helpful or least harmful. Some walls retain water to prevent flooding or to guide water to where it is needed.

I am guessing that the walls that came to your mind are large, forbidding walls that go on for miles – like the Berlin wall or the US-Mexican wall. Do you remember the Wall of Jericho? Cities have walls, more so in the past than now, I think. In the Bible there is a city named Jericho? Joshua, the leader who came after Moses, led his men around and around the wall with certain people playing trumpet-like instruments until the walls fell from the trumpet vibrations and a final shout from the crowd of Israelites. They wanted to enter the city and capture the inhabitants. Imagine! This seemingly peaceful method of capturing people became an atrocity. Read the book of Joshua if you like that kind of reading. Not peaceful at all!

What divisions are in our lives with invisible walls? Liking different foods. Liking different recreation. Language – different cultures, nice language versus naughty language. Being vaccinated or not being vaccinated. Wanting to be alone or wanting to be with people. Religion. Easily spending money or being very careful about spending money. These things keep people from getting along with each other! When should we accept these differences and enjoy each other anyway or simply to make life work?

Or when should we draw a line about what we accept as a plumb line for our own standards? When should we stand firm and when should we compromise? Should we erect a visible wall or an invisible wall or an in-between wall of evergreen trees or a fence that is not solid? Should we block a certain person’s phone calls? We do what we feel we need to do for our own sanity or safety! We definitely need to escape from hurtful people. What measures should we take? How does God want us to handle differences? strife? cruelty?

Our scripture lessons today are wonderfully assuring. First David, shepherd and king, gives us Psalm 23. David uses the word “Lord.” When we say Psalm 23, it seems as though we are talking about and to Jesus even though Jesus, the Messiah, has not yet come to earth. We think of Jesus as our Shepherd. When things get tough, our shepherd draws us aside to a quiet place. A place where we can be refreshed, just as the on-earth Jesus tells his disciples to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” The crowds are so pressing and demanding. They are needy. They need a shepherd.

You may be saying, finding a place of rest and refreshment is simply not possible for me. I can’t get away from my nasty neighbor. I can’t get away from the person who is harassing me. I can’t get away from this workload. I can’t get away from my young-adult child whose addiction is unbearable to him to myself. I can’t get away from the care-giving for my parents, my spouse or my child. It probably seems that four walls are keeping you captive. Maybe you can’t get away from your own illness and all of a sudden life and death take on a reality that can be scary.

But here is David’s Psalm where the shepherd’s staff and rod are comforting. Where the shepherd prepares a table in front of me in the presence of my enemies! Are the enemies made to watch me enjoy a feast while they watch. Is this their punishment? What if I have been a pain in someone else’s life? Is it my punishment to watch the shepherd give pleasure to the people I have hurt? Then again, is this a time of a demolished wall? Are enemies no longer enemies? Does “in the presence” mean that we are together? We are enjoying this feast together with no accusations – just genuine love and peace.

Approximately 400 years after David lived, we have Jeremiah during the time of the Exile of the Israelites to Babylonia. God, through Jeremiah, tells his people that he will bring them together again and he will give them a good Shepherd instead of the false shepherds who had led them astray. This Good Shepherd is Jesus, the son person of God, who will come to earth and will bring justice and righteousness.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians today, Paul is speaking to the non-Jews, called Gentiles. He tells them that there is no longer a dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. Paul says, “Jesus has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he may create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and may reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, . . .” “The Gentiles who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall. . .”

Our closing hymn today is powerful. At first glance it seems that it is speaking about real buildings. Then we get to the phrase, “Teach us to build upon the solid rock.” That solid rock is Jesus Christ. Real building materials wear away. The kind of building we are challenged to erect with towers gleaming is the church eternal; the church that does deeds; the church that spreads the gospel, the church that has no walls, the church that builds the kingdom of God on earth.

While we, Zion UCC, are being church in borrowed space, while we are doing deeds of kindness, we are continuing to build the church of Jesus Christ on earth. We anxiously await God’s time in September when we as a congregation will be free of debt. We will not be causing hardship to our lenders, our fellow United Church of Christ people. The name of Zion UCC Womelsdorf will not be on a list of foreclosures.

Meanwhile we have this awesome privilege of choosing in which borrowed space we will worship. We have four invitations. If our personal walls, our personal biases, are going to prevent a “coming together,” the default will be to fall apart. We have come this far together. Let us look to our Good Shepherd, Jesus, who guides us along the right paths according to God’s plan.

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