A sermon preached by Bob Keller on July 22, 2012 based upon 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 14a and Ephesians 2: 11 – 22
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
That’s the way Robert Frost began his famous poem, “Mending Wall.” It’s a wonderful poem full of humor, but also a sense of sadness. It’s about two neighbors who go through the same ritual each spring, meeting at the wall to repair it– to refill the gaps that fallen stones have left and to repair the damage done by hunters whose pursuit of their game has left the wall in disrepair. The neighbors have apparently done this for many years, yet it strikes the narrator in the poem to question just why it is they
have the wall in the first place.
“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 tough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor 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?
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 , . ..
Both of today’s scripture lessons are about walls. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he reminds his readers that the walls have been torn down because that was the purpose of Jesus being here.
In the reading from 2 Samuel, David wants to build walls. Walls to house the Lord’s ark.
Now you might say, “Bob, that’s kind of a stretch to tie those two together by using walls, but bear with me as we look at each scripture individually, then we’ll put them together.
Let me tell you a tale of two houses. See if you can tell me which is a home.
One of the houses is straight off the cover of Architectural Digest. Its floors gleam. Its walls are bright with unspotted hues; its drapes, its paint, its furnishings are all color-coordinated, with not one clashing item. Tasteful accents are here and there, pretending to be random but actually carefully placed. The lighting is on sensors, so that as the day darkens, selected lights come up, slowly and gradually, keeping a soft glow in the room no matter what is happening outside.
Across a carpet, on which, mysteriously, no footprints appear, stands a group of people. Their clothing coordinates. They are elegantly accessorized, their teeth line up in perfect smiles, and their hair is styled and shaped. They are speaking with one another, but very carefully. Very cautiously. Cool; calm; and collected. They remind you of the answer to the old question, “How do porcupines hug each other?” “Very carefully.” That’s one house.
The other house is straight off the cover of Antiques Road Show. Its floors, so far as we can see them, could use attention, particularly where the dog’s toenails have scratched them. Its walls have small grimy hand-prints, about so high, and its furnishings are a mixed bag of early orange crate and later K-Mart. Its drapes sag a little, its paint is cracked here and there, and where the magazines have been piling up, there is a coffee cup, half empty, and a pizza box, half full. It’s a little dark, as one of the light bulbs is burned out.
On the other side of this room we see some people talking. It seems very animated. It’s loud; in fact, it’s an argument. They are raising their voices and waving their hands. One of them has her hands on her hips and is giving it the old foot-stomping effect. And another is shaking his head as vigorously as his old neck will allow. Sort of tense over there. Heated. Stressful!
Which of these houses is a home? Truly a home? I will not ask you which yours is like. I know which one mine is like. I know where home is. Home is where the stresses are brought and are dealt with. Home is not museum-like perfection; home is where the issues of life get fought out, but they can be resolved, because home is where somebody loves you. Home is where somebody puts up with you. A house is just a shell, a showplace, a facade; a home, as the poet Robert Frost said, is where, when you go there, they have to take you in. A house is not a home.
A great many of us are very careful about our images. We want other people to think well of us. We want to be esteemed in the community, respected in the family, regarded by our neighbors. We want to build a reputation. The trouble with that is that it is a lot like building the house from Architectural Digest: a nice place to visit, but nobody can really live there, because real life is full of stresses and contradictions. Real homes have smudges on the walls.
David, king of Israel, decided one day that it was time to build his reputation. David got it in his mind that he would create a monument by which others would recognize him. Oh, he didn’t put it exactly that way, but that’s what it was. David decided that it was time to build a temple, a house for God to live in. And he even got the OK at first from God’s preacher, Nathan, proving that not even ordained heads get everything right. But God overruled, for God saw what was really going on.
God saw that what David was after was a monument to David. This house of God that David wanted to build; it wasn’t for God, it was for the king’s reputation. It might have had God’s name on it, but that was just a convenient cover-up; it was really all about David building a facade. And a facade is not a home; it’s not a place where you can live. A monument is not a home. It is designed only to impress and nothing more.
In the 18th Century Count Grigory Potemkin was one of the favorites at the court of the Russian Czarina Catherine the Great. Potemkin was always currying favor with the queen. He found that the queen only wanted to hear good news. She wanted to believe that her people were happy and loved her. So whenever the queen announced travel plans, Count Potemkin would go out into the countryside ahead of the queen’s procession, and he would take just shells, just fake buildings, and would prop them up. He would hire some peasants and put them in nice clean clothes, so that when the czarina came by, these perfect people would wave cheerfully in front of these nothing buildings, and she would be impressed. How well my people were living! What a fine job my government is doing! The only problem was that the Potemkin Village, as it was called, was all shells, just fronts and facades, nothing inside. It was lovely to look at, but it wasn’t real.
Our lives can be like that too. Like David, we decide to do something dramatic and spectacular, and we convince ourselves it is for God.
But God says, “I don’t want show. I don’t want empty nothings. I don’t want decorator show-houses. I want you. I want to live with you and in you. Monuments I don’t need, particularly since they are monuments to you. I don’t want a house; I want a home. And a house is not a home.
Don’t build this house, God said to David. And not only because it would have been a monument to David, and not a temple for God. But also because that wasn’t God’s plan. God’s plan was not, and is not, building houses, but homes. God’s plan is not building structures, but people. God’s plan is not filling institutions, but filling spirits. We invest ourselves in big dreams and plans, the noble works of our imaginations, but God invests Himself in lives, hearts and souls. God builds not houses, but homes.
Listen to what God told David; it’s a wonderful play on words:
… the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. … Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me;
It’s a play on words. The word “house” is used in two different ways. David says, “Lord, I want to build you a house, a place to live, walls and a roof.”
God says, “No, David, I don’t want you to build me a house, a place to live. Instead I want to build you a house, a family. I want to give you a lineage, a heritage. That’s the kind of house-building I want to do. I want to take the raw material of human beings and make them into something fine. I want to take the sorry state of humanity and shape that. David, forget about the cedar and the ceilings; forget about the stone and the slate. Come see what I am doing, David; I am giving myself to your son and to your son’s son and to your daughter, and to your daughter’s daughter. I am giving myself to your house, David, but not to a house of brick and mortar. I’m giving myself to a home of flesh and blood. Remember, David, a house is not a home. And I am building a home. The beginning of the New Testament, Matthew’s gospel, traces the lineage of Jesus and includes the house of David.
God said, “Look, I’m not looking for a perfect house; I am looking for love, messy though it may be. I am looking for real, rough-edged men and women, into whose hearts I can come. The Lord wants to be in our hearts and in our homes. He wants to be in the lives and in the homes of poor, lonely, distressed, and sinful people. He wants to be among those whose houses are not perfect, and neither are their lives. He wants to settle down with those whose floors sag, and so do their spirits; with those whose windows are grimy, and so are their souls.
God’s plan is people, making a home for Himself among people. God’s plan is lifting up the fallen, binding up the brokenhearted, healing the wounded, forgiving the flawed. God will bless us if in the rough and tumble of our lives, we find a need and fill it. We find an itch and scratch it. We find a weary heart and comfort it. We find a hopeless mind and fill it with imagination. We find a lonely life and fill it with love. We find a wandering soul and bring it home. God is always about building lives.
Remember those two men from the Robert Frost poem? They don’t have cows anymore that might stray onto the other’s property, just trees. So why is the wall there? Hasn’t the time come that its purpose no longer exists? Yet, it remains . . . why? Because it has always been there!
The truth is: its human nature to construct walls, isn’t it?
In our neighborhoods, we build our houses and then hold up inside of them rarely venturing out to get to know our neighbors. . . . I mean really get to know them. In society in general, we construct walls.
There are the walls which, even after the end of slavery, still divide black and white. There are walls which divide men and women; there are walls of social status- the divide of affluent and the poor. There are walls that keep gay people out and walls that keep our money in. Walls that try to keep immigrants out, though the vast majority of us come from immigrant families. Perhaps, most importantly, are the walls that surround our hearts – the walls that keep love from flowing out or in. Walls are all around us! And for many- perhaps they help us feel comfortable, protected, unchallenged.
In the early church there was a wall between Jew and Gentile.
Ephesians is about the church. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus to show them how to be the church! He emphasized the blessings that are found in Christ, the power that is found in Christ and he reminded these Christians from whence they came when he said “you were dead in your sin.” But ALL of THIS has been to show the church how to be the church! God is about building His church!
In Ephesians 2:11-12, Paul said, Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (NIV)
Paul starts this passage by saying, “Remember the WALL!”
Remember Paul is talking to Gentiles, here. . . (like us) “Uncircumcised” was a typical & disrespectful term used by the Jews (“The Chosen”) to describe the Gentiles. They were heathens . . . clearly NOT the people of God! It would be hard to adequately describe for you in today’s terms the disdain that Jews had for Gentiles (& vice versa- no doubt). As wide as the divide has been between many opposing groups in America– I don’t think that quite does it justice. As bitter the divide right now between some fundamentalist Moslems and evangelical Christians – that’s not the same thing either! The divide was racial, political and religious, but it extended far beyond those. Other ancient Jewish writings refer to Gentiles as “fuel for the fires of hell.” Man!, that’s a lot of contempt!
In the temple in the 1st century there was a literal dividing wall which separated the important part of the temple, the Court of the Israelites, from the Court of the Gentiles. Signs were posted in Latin and Greek warning Gentiles not to go any farther into the temple precincts under penalty of death! That was a serious divide! Imagine how difficult it must have been for either group to extend the other the right hand of fellowship!
But remember, Paul is talking to Gentile CHRISTIANS! They were Gentiles ‘by birth’ (lit. ‘By flesh’) but they were now Christians and now a part of the church. Paul tells them to remember when they were separated from God! Remember when that wall had separated them from God!
Separation from Christ, from God, is the very definition of spiritual death! They were excluded from citizenship among God’s chosen people.
They were without HOPE because they were without God! Why does Paul want them to remember? Because one needs to remember ‘how bad it was before Christ’ before one can appreciate ‘how sweet it is in Christ.’ There was this bitter wall which had separated them (not just from the Jews) but from God!
In 1949, following the defeat of Nazi Germany in WW II and the re-organization of Europe, the nation of Germany was divided into East & West. In the East, a communist government was set up under the influence of the Soviet Union. In the West a free, democratic government was set up. Life became much better in the West for German citizens. The city of Berlin became a crucible where these divided philosophies literally divided the city.
Fearful of losing many of its citizens, East Germany closed the border between the two states in 1952. But that didn’t keep an estimated 2.5 million East Germans from fleeing to West Germany between 1949 -1961. So, in 1961 the East German government built the Berlin Wall and strictly enforced such defections. The wall stood for almost 30 years as a very real and symbolic divide between the East & the West.
I still remember a speech given by President Reagan in 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate. At the height of the Cold War, the President used the opportunity to encourage freedom and a new peace. As he spoke about the wall behind him which separated West Berlin from East Berlin for decades, Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbechev, tear down this wall!”
I can’t help in hearing those words, from recalling images we saw just a few short years later when the wall was quite literally torn down. The wall is just gone, a thing of the past.
Christ has restored the ideal by destroying the wall and bringing Jew & Gentile together! Notice, the two are made one in Him! “His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace.” The Gentiles who had been so far away from God- separated by so much- have been brought near! Israel, too, who had been awaiting this coming Messiah, but had failed him miserably in their keeping of the law, was reconciled through the blood of Christ. We were walled away from God, and Christ tore down that wall!
The wall being gone gives us access to the Father by one Spirit. With the barriers gone, we ALL (Jew, Gentile, male, female, black, white, gay, straight, native and immigrant) have full access to the Father . . . because we share the one Spirit.
In order to build, one must first tear down. Now, with the wall torn down, God has built his church; the house of God.
Now notice who is in this house. “You . . . are fellow citizens with God’s people (lit. ‘holy people’) and members of God’s household.” In other words, we’re FAMILY! An amazing thing happened when Christ removed that barrier between us and Himself! He also tore down the barriers that we build between ourselves and other people! His church is to be a place where all people can come and share together . . . equally!
The ground at the cross is level! This ‘peace’; the restored relationship; is both Vertical & Horizontal! Between me and God; between you and me!
Too many people believe that religion is only what a person does when they are alone with God. They forget that the vertical relationship with God expresses itself in the horizontal relationships with people. Christianity is to be lived out in community with other Christians! The text did NOT say, “He is my peace,” but rather “He is our peace.”
This text is a call for the church to be the CHURCH!
. . . to be family! . . . to be a place of reconciliation!
. . . to be a place where the walls are let down and open & honest, real relationships are formed!
. . . to be a place where Jesus is central & at the heart & core of everything we do!
And it’s a call for US to be the type of Christians that can form a church such as this!
“What unites us in Christ is greater than that which divides us.” Our unity comes from our common faith in the Person and work of Christ. We have differences, but we are part of one body, the fellowship of all believers. We live in one home.