Tuesday, May 21
Sunday, August 13, 2006|
Ephesians 4: 25-52
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
We’ve all heard the saying “Good fences make good neighbors” but I don’t think that St. Paul would agree, at least not according to the message in Ephesians as it pertains to people of faith. For Paul, there is wideness in God’s mercy and it is best illustrated by what is happening in the church, where Jews and Christians alike are worshipping together in the grace of God’s love. It is a statement against fences, against tribalism: racism, classism, sexism (though Paul probably wasn’t so intentional about that) – in short it is against all that keeps one human being separated from another. The old saying is “Good fences make good neighbors” but poet Robert Frost protests “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”.
We need to remind ourselves that all the world at one time was broken into little tribes living in little valleys, each convinced of its own superiority, each with its own private god who was concerned with one tribe and no other, linked with one land and no other, and caring nothing about the inferior riffraff in the other tribes. At one time it was like that but no longer? Right? I’m not so sure.
The Bible is the story of a long battle between the one God and many, a movement from the tribal to the universal, a conflict between those who would limit and monopolize God and those who would liberate and universalize God. And it is evident from all that is happening in the world today that the battle is not yet over.
We are still a tribal people you and I. On the largest scale, tribes are now nations; great, sprawling segments with artificial boundaries. Each is convinced of its own inherent superiority. And despite the hard-won insights of the centuries that god is one God, worldwide, universal; we keep falling back into the primitive notion that God is local, that God belongs primarily to our tribe, our class, our nation, and beyond that God’s concern is just lukewarm or very limited. We have not denationalized the god of all the nations or grasped the wideness of God’s ability to love us ALL. And by “we” I don’t mean just you and me, or America or even the west. Religious tribalism is changing the entire world –dividing us, rather than bringing us closer.
Perhaps you read the newspaper article about Pastor Gregory Boyd this past week. He is pastor of a large evangelical church in Maplewood and he, like most pastors who lead thriving mega churches, was frequently asked to give his blessing – and the church’s – to conservative political candidates and causes. “Please announce a rally against gay marriage, please introduce a politician from the pulpit, please allow tables in the lobby to promote anti-abortion work, please distribute voters guides that endorse one party’s candidates over the others, please hang an American flag in the sanctuary. “ Pastor Boyd consistently said no to all of these requests and finally delivered a series of sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he stated clearly that the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns. “When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” he said. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”
Now many of us who come at these issues from a much different perspective find ourselves cheering him on in his brave decision, - which ended up with more than 1000 people leaving his congregation even while his story was being reported in the New York Times! But we too need to step back and realize that we also have our camp, our tribe, made up of people who think and act as we do. If I started preaching the very message that Mr. Boyd is rejecting – very few of you would stay here! You would go off to a new camp full of like-minded people –or you would banish me from the camp – send me packing! We are still very tribal!
One of the most incredible contradictions possible to conceive is to think of the God of the universe off in some holy corner of our planet with a flag in His hand – any flag –limiting His love in one land, lavishing it in another; creating some people to be mastering the earth and ordaining others to be the servants. What sort of God would our God be who wanted the Aryans to be the superior people, the Jews to exterminated from the face of the earth, the Palestinians to be pushed into ghettos and to have certain races have only the leftovers?
Martin Niemoller was a German Pastor and leader of the confessing church in Germany during WWII. He, like St. Paul before him, was put in prison several times because of his faith. During that time, he was able to think and thereby get past some of the fences being built in that country. He came out of prison saying “It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.” The love of God is broader than the measure of our minds.
God loves those who love Him.
God loves those who fight against Him
God loves the just and the unjust.
And God stands lovingly and laughingly by the desk of the atheist who is writing a book to prove that God doesn’t exist.
One of the things that this congregation is most proud of, and for which I get regular requests, is a document that was written a dozen years ago. It came out of a period of controversy and hot debate that left people angry, disturbed and divided over social issues. There were definitely people who felt like winners and losers. Out of that painful time came a document on Moral Discourse which was meant to set the tone for future debate in this congregation. In that document on Moral Discourse, the preparers wrote “The task force extensively discussed how Christians make moral decisions. We identified the following as the sources for Christians: the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the scriptures; and the teachings, traditions, and experiences of the Church. For Lutherans this includes our own “grace affirming” Lutheran traditions. We also affirm the importance of our individual experience and knowledge as well as the collective wisdom of human experience, explorations and scientific study.”
Then they began the next paragraph with this important image: “We envision an environment for discourse that is marked by a commitment to mutual understanding and genuine care for neighbor. We believe that discourse which occurs in this environment will be enlightening, enabling and energizing.”
St. Augustine, upon reflection of this passage of Ephesians, once wrote “The point of the saying is that each of us should consider everyone as we wish him (or her) to become, even if that person has not become so…We ought to deal with a person in such a way that he (or she) will cease to be an outsider. Regard that person as your neighbor already, rather than as an outsider.”
Rather that taking down the fence, we instead build a gate that opens and allows many more to enter into our tribe, into our nation, into our church, into our lives. While Paul does not instruct us to approve of everything in the name of charity to another, he does tell us what it is to speak and live as a Christian. No anger, quarreling, bitterness, ruining the reputation of another, lying deceit. Christians are truthful, helpful, positive, they build up, are kind, use words of forgiveness.
Though building fences may serve to define ones territory, whether they be fences made of wood or fences made up of standards, expectations, or convictions – we must first admit that they exist – even in the church – and perhaps especially in the church. But Robert Frost reminds us “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and that something is God, our creator, the God not of our tribe but rather the God of all the nations, the God of all love. Amen
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."