Crows Nest Uniting Church
Sunday 16 • 19 July 2015

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Rev. Chris Udy

All of the Temples in Jerusalem,
from the one that Solomon built
through to the one that was destroyed
by the Romans in 70 AD
were really little more than a series of walls.
The first wall was intended
to keep out anyone
considered impure:
gentiles like you and me mainly,
but anyone who was disabled,
unwell or unwanted
was also warned to go no further
than the gates of outermost wall.
Those who made it through the first gate
found themselves confronted with another wall -
and this one was intended
to keep the women away.
When men went through the second gate
they found a wall that kept them
from whatever it was that priests could see and do,
and even when the priests had made it
through those outer walls
all but one of them was denied entry
through the final wall into the holy of holies -
which is where the ark of the covenant
was meant to be.

Anyone who’s looked behind the doors
from which priests and ministers appear
to lead services of worship
will know that behind those doors
there’s rarely anything more
than storage space and dusty furniture -
and the holy of holies in the Temple
sounds like much the same -
but most of us think walls and gates and doors
are built for security and protection -
and most of us believe
that the further in you go
and the fewer there are who go with you
the more powerful and privileged you must be -
so most of us are vaguely disappointed
when we look behind that ultimate private screen
only to find we’re in the bathroom.

Walls and fences and gates and doors
have a mystery all their own.
We think of the ones we build
as keeping us safe -
and the ones we don’t build
as keeping us out -
and in both cases we imagine
that whatever is inside -
behind the wall or the door -
therefore has more significance or value -
or more danger -
than something that’s open and free.
All the walls we make -
walls of wood and stone,
custom and law,
membership and association,
morals and ethics -
all the walls we build and maintain
are ultimately ideas -
they’re divisions and distinctions in our heads.
They’re lines of separation we think up
and then impose on the world
because we think they’ll make the world
a better and safer place -
or at least a better and safer place ... for us.
But that’s not always the way it works,
either for us or for others.

A few years ago
Ginie and I went to China,
where we visited the Great Wall
just outside Beijing.
The Great Wall of China is also
more an idea than a structure.
It’s really 5 different walls, built in different places,
with the first begun in 208 BC.
At its longest it stretched for more than 6000km,
and it was built to protect the rulers of China
against invaders from the north.
As long as the invaders
were weak and unco-ordinated it worked -
but every time China was successfully attacked
the wall betrayed its builders -
the wall was used to assist the invaders
in one way or another:
sometimes because it provided
a false sense of security
that was easily exposed and quickly plundered;
sometimes because it blocked assistance and relief;
and sometimes because the wall was used
as a kind of highway,
over which invaders travelled much faster
than they could have moved over the mountains.
From its beginning the wall was seen
as symbol of tyranny and oppression
and because so many people died
in its construction and defence,
it was often called “the longest cemetery on earth”,
or the “long graveyard”,
or “the wall of which every stone cost a life”.

Last year Ginie and I
travelled to Israel
and saw another wall –
or really many walls -
built supposedly
to protect Israeli people
and Israeli communities
from their Palestinian neighbours.
But what we saw
were walls that blocked Palestinian people
from getting to places where they could work -
often their own olive orchards,
or markets for their produce,

or office jobs in the cities,
or anywhere
outside the refugee camps
where thousands
of Palestinian families
were forced to go when their land was confiscated
and their villages bulldozed.
The wall in Israel is an instrument of dispossession.

It keeps moving further and further
into and over Palestinian land
making space for settlements
where Jewish immigrants
from all over the world
are invited and encouraged
and financially supported
to come and make their homes.
The walls we build and maintain
are ultimately ideas -
they're divisions and distinctions
in our heads.
They're lines of separation
we think up
and then impose on the world
because we think they'll make the world
a better and safer place.
But those ideas and distinctions
are rarely part of the world itself.
They aren’t natural divisions,
they aren’t geographic or biological or genetic -
they aren’t part of any created order,
they’re ideas; our ideas,
designed from our desire to protect and control,
strengthened and reinforced
by our fear and our greed
and imposed upon the world:
lines drawn, foundations dug,
barriers erected,
fortifications engineered and defended -
but they remain ideas,
and ideas are always changing,
often they’re misguided or incomplete,
and sometimes they’re just plain wrong.

Last week Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas
addressed a conference
at the University of Western Sydney
where participants heard
that extremist groups like ‘Reclaim Australia’,
who are holding rallies in capital cities this weekend,
pose a greater threat to our safety and security
than organisations like ISIS or Al-Qaeda.
Since the 11th September 2001
right-wing extremists and ultra-nationalists
have killed twice as many people around the world
as Muslim fundamentalists and jihadists,
and Mr Kaldas made the point
that groups – like ‘Reclaim Australia’
who “encourage divisive notions of us and them”
are becoming some of the biggest challenges
facing the police force. (SMH 17th July p1).
The aggressive ideas of isolation and exclusion
that drive our foreign policy
and our treatment of refugees
are not making anyone safe or secure.
The barriers and divisions we’re creating
don’t stop at our coastline –
they continue along the fault lines of community
until soon we’re building walls
against our neighbours,
frightened about the people next door
and suspicious about those
whose faith or race or politics or lifestyle
is not like ours.

Walls and fences, gates and doors
are ideas,
and ideas are not really part of the outer world
they’re part of the world within.
Walls and their divisions
aren’t so much marking lines in the outer world
as mapping the world within,
and those dividing lines -
the lines between friend and enemy,
good and bad, us and them,
right and wrong,
don’t run somewhere between us,
they run inside - within.

Gradually it was disclosed to me
that the line separating good and evil
passes not through states,
nor between classes,
nor between political parties either –
but right through every human heart –
and through all human hearts.
This line shifts.
Inside us, it oscillates with the years.
And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil,
one small bridgehead of good is retained.
And even in the best of all hearts,
there remains ...
an unuprooted small corner of evil.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

When Paul wrote his letter
to the Church in Ephesus
he was celebrating
the end of the division
marked by that outermost wall
in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Those he was writing to were gentiles -
people like you and me.
We and they would have been excluded
from the Temple
because they had not been born
to Jewish mothers
and they had not been through the rituals
that would have led to their adoption
into the family of Abraham and the tribe of Israel.
The Bible of their time - the Old Testament -
would have designated them
strangers and aliens to God,
sources of infection and agents of corruption
to the purity and holiness of Israel.
“But now” Paul writes,
“in Christ Jesus
you 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,
that is, the hostility between us.
He has abolished the law
with its commandments and ordinances,
that he might create in himself
one new humanity in place of the two,
thus making peace,
and might reconcile both groups to God
in one body through the cross,
thus putting to death that hostility through it.
So he came
and proclaimed peace
to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near;
for through him
both of us have access in one Spirit
to the Father.”

Paul continues to describe a new temple,
not made of stone,
wall within wall within wall,
but a temple of flesh and blood,
a body, a family, a people
who have become - all together -
the dwelling place of God.

So God is no longer shut up and away
in some dusty box,
behind wall after wall after wall of exclusion,
God is in you, and in the person sitting beside you;
God is present in your neighbour,
in the people you live and work with,
and in all the members of your family.
No-one is strange or alien to God;
every one of us, and everyone we meet
is formed in God’s love,
redeemed by God’s grace,
and included in that peace
that Jesus lived to promise
and died and rose to deliver.

The walls of the Temple are broken down:
walls between Jews and gentiles,
between women and men,
between ordained and baptised ...
and surely it doesn’t stop there.

So when we’re tempted,
sometime this week,
to reinforce a wall -
whether that’s an isolating prejudice
about some group or people
we might see on the news,
or a dividing silence
between neighbours or family members,
or a separation we might feel
between ourselves and God,
remember that we are no longer strangers and aliens,
but citizens with the saints,
and members of the household of God,
called to be peace-makers
and to live in peace
with each other and with God. Amen.