No walls, please, by Pastor Noel

Nov. 17 & 18, 2018  Proper 28B


      The news this week has been somewhat surreal. But probably no more so than other weeks.

      The first group of migrants has reached our border. This is but a small part of that enormous “caravan” of destitute people hoping for a better live in the USA.

      They’ll be greeted by soldiers on this side of walls and barbed wire.

      The irony is that the migrants have been living in deplorable conditions, and sleeping wherever they could on the trek north.

      The soldiers are living in tents and have conditions no better than the marchers!

      A whole town in California has been destroyed by fire. The fires are still burning out of control and ravaging many parts of the state.

      Houses both large and small are gone. Animals and plants—and people!—gone in an instant.

      And Jesus said, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

      The disciples could not understand what Jesus was saying. Like my response to the week’s news, they shook their heads in disbelief.

      Like the disciples, the early Christians for whom this gospel was written must have had a strong emotional response to this story.

      Their feelings must have been mixed with fear, because the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple was not just a possibility—it was really happening.

      For Jews in Jerusalem, for Jews all over Israel and the world, the Temple was not just a spectacular, glorious building. It was the place where God lived. It was the center and meaning of their lives.

      In the 6th C BCE the Temple was destroyed by invading armies, and the kings and leaders of Judah and Israel were taken into exile in Babylon.

      When the exiles returned a century later, the Persian king, Cyrus, helped them rebuild the Temple. Then Herod made it a show place with glistening white walls and gold decorations.

      It WAS Jerusalem.           

      So, to think that the Temple could be destroyed, was not unthinkable, it had happened already. But it was unthinkable.

      We have many different ways of coping with the unthinkable. We may try to pretend there is nothing wrong—and just go on as usual. We may run away to find safety or security or peace.

      Those are normal, but not always healthy, ways of dealing with troubling issues.

      We may decide to find ways to deal with the issue—to face it and work through it.

      Our Jewish ancestors found a way to cope with many foreign invasions and other obstacles to their faith. They used a special language called apocalypse. This means “revelation” or “unveiling.”

      Our reading from Daniel, and this part of Mark’s Gospel are apocalyptic writing. This writing uses imagery and symbolism to give comfort to those going through struggles.

      It reminds them to be faithful, and may promise a better future if they remain faithful.

      Often there is an “other worldly” figure coming to the rescue.

      Take a look at The Revelation to John if you want to see this “other worldly” writing.

      This better time is not other worldly, though, because to Jews this earth was the home God promised them. The better time was the Kingdom of God as reality, shalom, here on earth.

      And Jesus isn’t offering the disciples a future in heaven, he was giving them a picture of what they would be facing without him, and the courage to be faithful.

      There is fearful, violent language in apocryphal writing, but it is not violence from God. And God’s redemption of the violence against Jesus on the Cross shows concretely that God’s kingdom is peace and hope. In the website, Preaching Peace, Michael Hardin writes, “true Christianity is grounded in a benevolent Creator.”

      No matter how filled with peace God is, our world is filled with news and events that are troublesome, even unthinkable.

      How do we cope when everything seems off kilter? What language do our lives have to help us look ahead with hope for the future? How do we keep on being faithful and trust in our benevolent God?

      One way I have found helpful is to stay connected, to continue to know that I am part of the family of God, not dealing with—whatever— alone.

      It is as part of the Body of Christ that we can find ways to remain faithful and trusting.

      So, there are walls that need to be thrown down. Not marble walls like the Temple, but the walls that separate us from one another, the walls that we hide behind, the walls that we build to make us feel better than others. Walls that keep us from being connected.

      We can try to throw down these walls by ourselves, but the only way they will really fall is with God’s help.

      God is always about tearing down walls that divide, leading us to be reconciled with each other through his love and in the power of the Spirit.

      Biblical Scholar, Robert McAfee Brown, has said that “reversal is the order of the day in the kingdom of God.”

      Reversal of what our culture says is “the way.” Transformation by God so that we are walking the way of Jesus in the kingdom.

      Trusting in God’s goodness we walk the way in peace, joy, compassion, inclusion, understanding, welcome, connection—I could go on and on—so that the amazing love of our benevolent God is showing through us to everyone everywhere.

      This is also how we are good stewards of the riches of our life in the kingdom as the Body of Christ.

      All of us together, tearing down walls of division, being Christ’s church in the world.

      With God’s help, “Not one stone (of our personal and political) dividing walls) will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details