Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
August 5, 2018
Text: Ephesians 2:8-9, Old Testament: Psalm 89:20-37, New Testament: Ephesians 2:11-22
Walls. They protect us. They define us. The world can’t live without walls. High walls. Wide walls. Long walls. Great walls. The world depends on walls to stay safe. The world uses walls to be prosperous.
Usually walls are made of bricks and mortar. But not always. The greatest walls aren’t built made by human hands.
A great wall is the ocean, separating continents. National borders are simply lines on a map that define where one government rules and another doesn’t. Economic class are walls that define wealth from poverty. Racism and sexism are walls in our minds that influence how we treat other people. Language, customs, cultures, norms, and values are walls that distinguish people from one another.
And then, of course, there is religion. People’s beliefs about God, what God is like, what God wants, how God thinks and acts are walls inside hearts and minds that keep people apart more times than not.
Walls often preserve a way of life that’s threatened by other ways of life. As long as a wall exists, hostility can be felt towards others who live one the other side of the wall. Walls keep people out and imprison people within. Walls are the products of human brokenness.
History is filled with walls – walls built from injustice. Where there’s injustice, there’s a wall that divides one people from another. Where a cry for justice leads to walls, those on the other side are the enemy.
Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School’s journal, The Spire, once featured an article by the Dominican priest, Gustavo Gutierrez. Father Gutierrez has served on the poverty side of Latin America’s walls for a lifetime.
He wrote about walls of injustice, “We can ask the poor to be humble, to accept their fate, and to be helped by rich people whose duty is to be generous with the poor. However, it’s difficult for not only the rich but for the churches to understand that poverty is the result of our hands.” Walls block understanding. Neither the poor nor the wealthy understand each other.
People construct walls to protect them from the fear of becoming poor. Their mortar is anxiety over a future that can’t be controlled. Their stone is righteous anger at the threat of others robbing them of their due.
On the other side of such walls live people who fear remaining poor. They suffer in their fear. Their suffering isn’t heard, felt, or known by those outside. Their pain, their desperation, their tears are unacknowledged by the wall of injustice that separates peoples. It hides faces, emotions, shared experiences, and mutual understanding. It stands as a monument to fear. It defies hope.
Father Gutierrez, like all who preach Jesus Christ’s Gospel, offers the grace of God’s love in Jesus Christ within the walled life of Latin American poverty. He preaches “God loves you” to the impoverished. He steadfastly presents God’s grace to those who suffer behind poverty’s wall of fear.
The response of those living behind such walls challenges the grace preached by their beloved priest. “You’re a great humorist, Father Gutierrez. You speak about God’s love. You’re living in our neighborhood. You know our lives. We have no work. We have no food. Yet you say, “Not only does God love you. But you are the first for God!’” The Father’s words don’t change their plight.
Father Gutierrez remembered the poor women from his parish in Lima, Peru telling him, “We’re born to suffer.” Suffering is their destiny. This was the destiny of their grandmothers. This was the destiny of their mothers. This is the destiny of their children. Wounds behind the world’s walls cry for healing. Yet without God’s grace that called Father Gutierrez, their cries would be unknown.
Whether we’re called to peer over the economic wall into Lima, Peru’s slums, or shack huts surrounding Seoul, Korea; whether we’re peering at cardboard structures under Pittsburgh bridges, divided villages on Palestine’s West Bank, or life in Malawi, there are people living behind walls who yearn for healing. Walls mask human needs to be healed.
Walls don’t stand solely in social structures or laws and politics of inequality. They mar the hearts of people sitting in church pews, synagogues, mosques, and temples around the world. These walls are hidden, invisible to the naked eye. They’re constructed by injustice – the same injustice that causes people to turn the other way when a socially unacceptable person walks by. The walls within us are exposed when the great revealer – the tongue – spews forth the truth about how fear dominates our capacity to love.
Words of segregation, hostility, and disgust emerge from their dark place behind injustice’s wall. They condemn those living on the other side, blaming them for their own plight. Injustice’s wall within hearts prevents people from reaching out to one of God’s children whose suffering is before them.
Those on the other side of the world’s walls of injustice remind us that God’s work is not complete. Their anger, their desperation, and their hopelessness strike out from beyond the wall of fear. The unseen, unknown people living on the other side of the wall need healing.
Their healing will come when those who fail to reach out to them in love are healed by God’s love.
The walls lying within and without us separates us from Jesus Christ. They obstruct us from seeing God’s grace is for people on the other side of life’s walls. Jesus’ offer of grace from the Cross isn’t just for us, who live behind walls of His sanctuary’s security. It’s for those who see in Jesus’ crucifixion their own suffering. God’s amazing grace tears down walls for those who cry for healing through Christ by bringing people together who have been separated by walls.
God’s healing grace isn’t just for those who repent. It’s for those who are unrepentant and are filled with cries for justice from their hopelessness. Both need Christ’s healing to tear down the walls dividing humanity.
God’s grace, His amazing grace, isn’t just for those who are afraid of a future they can’t control. It’s for those who carry the moral burden of decisions, words, and actions that hurt others, that build walls to hide from others, and preserve walls in the unresolved guilt that wounds human hearts.
God’s grace tears down the walls separating humanity. His amazing grace doesn’t depend on human efforts of repentance. Nor does God’s amazing grace require human justice to prevail before He brings together those on either side of fears’ wall. Jesus Christ doesn’t wait for the poor to accept the common humanity they share with the world’s wealthy. Christ’s grace doesn’t wait for those who are blessed by God-given riches to be compassionate to the poor.
Our Savior forgives those who live on either side of walls we erect to keep people in their place. Christ draws us beyond the walls of fear and shame into the same neighborhood of life. Abundant life. Eternal life. Christ’s life together.
God’s grace in Jesus Christ restores our hearing of suffering’s voices, whether in Malawi, Wilkinsburg, Palestine, the Sudan, or Bellevue. God’s grace in Jesus Christ brings the plight of those who were born to suffer right into the center of this sanctuary. God’s grace in Jesus Christ brings we who live in the security of this sanctuary’s walls into the neighborhood where cries for justice pray for healing.
God’s amazing grace puts a face on the world’s suffering so we of Bellevue United Presbyterian Church empathize with the feelings, the emotions, the needs of people this sanctuary’s walls hide. God’s amazing grace makes it impossible for us to ignore His love calls us to overcome life’s injustices with healing mercy.
God has not divided this community into different neighborhoods. God has not put hills and valleys in this community to keep us from each other. God has not subdivided these great Victorian homes into apartments so that transient people come and go in Bellevue to never be noticed by us who have lived here for years.
Humans have done these things to keep people at a distance.
God has not drawn people from other cultures and religions to walk the streets of Bellevue with us to keep us at a distance from them. God has not given some of us better jobs than others so we can escape our moral responsibility, our spiritual responsibility to love our neighbors by inviting them to worship with us.
God is saying, “Enough.”
Enough. “I have sent Jesus to you to bring this community, this place of many people with common human needs for love, peace, and justice to be one house of worship – this house of worship! Right here!!
God’s amazing grace unites the divided world for a greater future; a hopeful future; a promised future where those who treasure God’s healing gift of grace eagerly anticipate seeing those on the other side of the world’s walls joining them in God’s community of reconciliation.
God’s grace overcomes fear. His grace alone heals. God’s grace reconciles the world to see our common humanity as His creatures that He is calling to worship Him in the name of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, our Savior, is restoring people to God’s vision of us when He gave us life. Jesus, our common Savior, is healing our brokenness so we are of one heart, one mind, one spirit, living in one neighborhood without walls, through the blessing of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the one who says get outside these walls, get inside the walls of your neighbors’ lives with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. Offer your neighbor the grace that heals, the grace that reconciles us and makes us one people.
Offer your neighbor the invitation Jesus is giving them to come and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth at Bellevue United Presbyterian Church.
You know your neighbors’ lives. They’ve shared with you their challenges and their opportunities. They shared with you their concerns and their hopes for the future. You know what they are yearning for if you have been listening to them with sincere love for them.
Jesus is there for them and we are His angels of mercy to offer them new hope. We have an amazing gift to give them, the gift of Jesus!
Give them Jesus. Invite them to Jesus. Share with them Jesus. Bless them with Jesus and bring them with you to honor Jesus’ amazing grace! Amen.