The Shelter of God

Psalm 91

Two explorers were on a jungle safari when suddenly a ferocious lion jumped in front of them. “Keep calm” the first explorer whispered. “Remember what we read in that book on wild animals? If you stand perfectly still and look the lion in the eye, he will turn and run.” “Sure,” replied his companion. “You’ve read the book, and I’ve read the book. But has the lion read the book?”

Fear is something that we can all identify with in 1 way or another.  It is hard if not impossible to not be afraid of the things we must encounter in our lives.  Our world is riddled with evil and if you don’t believe that simply turn on the news.  We see atrocities be done to children daily.  We see murders and kidnappings, as well as a litany of other crimes.  Of course, you don’t need to turn on the nightly news, the local news has all of these terrible things.

Evil people are not the only things we need to be afraid of either.  There are aspects of this world that simply illicit fear.  We fear disease, losing our jobs, having enough money, our children’s futures.  Even at a simple level we fear things like the dark, snakes, spiders, and long sermons.

Read more…



Fearless Faith

Esther 3:1-11; Esther 4: 12-17; Romans 12:1-2

As I look back on my childhood, one thing that I can definitely see as being fundamental to my growth has been spending a week of my summers at Crestfield for summer camp.  I used to say that Crestfield was my favorite place on Earth.  I would make countdowns in my room for days until summer camp, and these usually started as soon as I came home from camp the year prior, which means I started my countdowns about 365 days beforehand.  Whenever I was upset about anything, I would calm myself by dreaming that I was at Crestfield, because it was certainly my “happy place.”

 

One camp activity that I have grown to increasingly enjoy over the years is canoeing.  As I became an older camper, I had the opportunity to go on a two day canoe trip as part of Mystery Adventure Camp, and I found that experience to be spectacular.  I love the peacefulness of canoeing on an empty river, with the sun shining brightly.  I love the feeling of the paddles in my hands, the light soreness that my arms feel after canoeing for hours, and being able to reach down and touch the cool water on a warm summer afternoon.

 

Of course when you do any activity at a summer camp, safety is the first priority.  A big part of canoeing, especially as a younger camper, was the long safety brief beforehand. We probably spent more time preparing to go canoeing, then actually canoeing.  But at Crestfield, the wonderful counselors managed to make

everything fun, even something as mundane as safety rules.  So there was a “Canoe Rules” song that the counselors would teach us when we went canoeing.  You can ask Caitlin Smith to sing it for you, and I bet she would be glad to do so. Read more…



Not Me

Exodus 4:1-14

Father John is walking down the street one day when he notices a Nathan, a very small boy, trying to press a doorbell on a house across the street. However, Nathan is very small and the doorbell is too high for him to reach. After watching the boy’s efforts for some time, Father John moves closer to Nathan’s position. He steps smartly across the street, walks up behind the little fellow and, placing his hand kindly on the child’s shoulder leans over and gives the doorbell a solid ring.

Crouching down to Nathan’s level, Father John smiles benevolently and asks, ‘And now what, my little man?’

To which Nathan replies with a beaming grin, ‘Now we run!’

One question I get a lot from people is “how or why did you become a pastor”?  The answer is very long and has lots of moments and signs that led me to that decision.  The short answer of course is that I felt God calling me into ministry in the pulpit.  It was something that was planted in my heart that I couldn’t shake and I could not petition God to change.  I certainly had my doubts and insecurities about becoming a pastor.  I wonder why God would call me into this type of ministry.

Where is God calling you?  This is a question that many of us wonder in our life.  What is it that God wants you to do in your life?  I spoke briefly about my general call to ministry, but God continually calls me in other ways in the world, and God is calling you as well.  The question is, where is God calling you?

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Holy Week Meditations

What Makes Jesus Mad

Matthew 23: 13-15; 23-28

13 ‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

23 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

25 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

27 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association recently developed a “three minute testimony” tool to help Christians present the Gospel to a non-believer.

One of the questions they recommend is this:

“If you were to die tonight and stand before God and God were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what reason would you give Him?”

Interesting question.

Read more…



Holy Week Meditations

The Rules of the Game

Before we get to our scripture reading today, I want to give you a bit of background.

Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem.

The people were with him and some wanted to make him king.

He went to the temple.

Once there, Jesus did several things.

There he threw out all those who profited from the worship of God.

He then taught the people with parables that seemed to conflict with what they were learning at the Temple.

Jesus seemed to be confronting these teachers about their many rules.

So one of them, a lawyer, comes forward to ask Jesus a question.

You seem to be saying our approach to the law is wrong.

So how would you have us live?

What do you think is most important?”

This is how the conversation went:

Matthew 22: 34-40 Read more…



Holy Week Meditations

The Man Who Would Not Be King

As I was reading Matthew’s description of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the title of today’s  message came immediately to mind.

The Man Who Would Not Be King.

Jesus was the man who would not be king!

It came to mind because of the short story “The Man Who Would Be King” by Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling’s story is about two British adventurers.

Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan have decided to become kings.

They have twenty Martini-Henry rifles and plan to find a king or chief in some remote location, help him defeat his enemies, then take over.

That is exactly what they do and become kings of Kafiristan, a remote part of Afghanistan.

People actually did this sort of thing in Kipling’s day.

Most of them ended badly.

Daniel and Peachy do not in the end fare well in Kipling’s story.

Their subjects revolt.

Daniel is killed and Peachy is tortured and driven insane, carrying Daniel’s head around in a burlap sack.

It can be dangerous to be king.

Kipling’s story is based, in part, on the life of James Brooke, a name well known in Malaysia.

In 1833, Brooke inherited £30,000, which he used to purchase a merchant ship. Brooke sailed for Borneo in 1838.

He arrived on Borneo in August to find an Iban and Bidayuh uprising against the ruling Sultan of Brunei.

Perfect!

Brooke and his crew were well armed.

They joined the Sultan and crushed the revolt.

Brooke then did an about face and turned his guns on the Sultan.

In return for not deposing the Him, the Sultan granted Brook the title of Rajah of Sarawak.

Basically king of the northern part of Borneo.

Brook’s family remained in power about 100 years.

Then they were gone.

Lost to history.

Both stories, the fictionalized and real, depict the manor by which people often acquire power.

A place has a need for governmental change,

someone is better armed or has more power,

support the side most likely to win, then take over.

Waa-la, you are king!

At the time of Jesus arrival, Jerusalem was such a place.

The people wanted a change in government.

They were tired of the Romans and their puppet Herod.

Someone who would throw out the Romans and re-establish the Davidic line.

They wanted a return to the days of David and Solomon when Israel was a world power.

They were expecting God to send them a king.

And they knew what he was to look like.

All the prophecies pointed to Jesus.

He had the power to heal and the authority to speak.

And now here he came, down from the Mount of Olives, on a donkey.

Just like the prophet Zechariah had said he would.

And his first task was to go in and tear up the Temple courts.

Throwing out the money changers.

This was the guy alright!

The man who would be king!

But then … nothing.

Sure, Jesus tormented the Scribes and Pharisees.

Sure he told a couple of parables that drove them into a murderous rage.

[He did curse that fig tree, but I have no idea what that was all about!]

But …

He did not lead a rebellion against Rome and Herod.

He did not use his power to make himself king.

He kept talking about the Kingdom of God.

When the people wanted him to be talking about the Kingdom of Israel.

He was not what they expected.

He was not what they wanted.

And that meant trouble … for Jesus.

Author Henry Miller describes what Jesus was up against:

“Fame is an elusive thing / here today, gone tomorrow. The fickle, shallow mob raises its heroes to the pinnacle of approval today and hurls them into oblivion tomorrow at the slightest whim; cheers today, hisses tomorrow; utter forgetfulness in a few months.

Yep!

We humans are certainly a fickle bunch.

We know what we want, the way we want to get it, and want it right now.

Look at our lives.

Soon our children will be on summer break.

No school for two plus months.

They come running out of the building on the last day, expecting a two month party.

Most of their plans will not turn out the way they plan.

And they are disappointed … probably by the next morning.

Adults are the same.

Look at our stuff.

As soon as you get a new phone, you see another that looks really cool and you are ready to throw out the new one for a newer one!

We are always searching for newer, bigger, better, bolder.

Our satisfaction interval is brief indeed.

Look at our relationships.

Elected officials, athletes, employers, family, friends.

God.

And when our desires are not met, we turn on those who disappoint us.

Time to get rid of our favorite player.

Time to get rid of the politician we voted for just last election.

Time to get a new job.

Time to get a divorce.

Time to stop answering Dad’s phone calls.

We set expectations for each and when our expectations are not met, we cast them aside, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.

We might be most like this here in the USA.

We have high, demanding and often unreasonable expectations!

Bill Bryson, an American author, writes of a lecture on marketing he once heard contrasting how products were sold in Britain and the United States.

The gist of the program was that the same product had to be sold in entirely different ways in the two markets.

An advertisement in Britain for a cold relief capsule, for instance, would promise no more than that it might make you feel a little better.

You would still have a red nose and be in your pajamas, but you would be smiling again, if wanly.

A commercial for the same product in America, however, would guarantee total, instantaneous relief.

A person on the American side of the Atlantic who took this miracle compound would not only throw off his PJ’s and get back to work at once, he would feel better than he had for years and finish the day having the time of his life at a local bar, downing light beer and watching the game.

But when the product only made him feel a little better, his expectations would be dashed, and he would run out and file a law suit.

The drift of this was that the British do not expect over-the-counter drugs to change their lives, whereas we Americans will settle for nothing less.

We want miracles!

We want miracles for us!

And we want them now!

We have that attitude about everything.

We have little patience when things do not go as we had expected and we are quick to complain … or worse.

So it was with Jesus.

He enters Jerusalem as a conquering hero.

He is here to become king and to oust the Romans.

At least that is what many expected.

So he was hailed.

They cried Hosanna! “Save us”.

Can you imagine the excited anticipation?

Maybe it was like the nominated candidate coming out on the podium to accept the party’s presidential nomination.

God was going to act like in the days of Moses and Joshua!

The world was about to change.

Here was the man who would be king.

But the adulation does not last!

It took only 4 days for Jesus.

The miracle worker and prophet?

A fraud.

Kill him!

Those hosanna people were either nowhere to be found.

Or were now screaming: “Crucify him!”

How could such a thing happen?

He was not what they expected.

And why not?

Why did God not just give them what they wanted?

Had Jesus done what the people wanted, the way they wanted it done, he would have been considered a great prophet and Rabbi and perhaps a great king, like David, for a time.

Then he would be lost to history, like David.

Or Brooks.

But that was not God’s plan.

Jesus came not to exercise political power.

Jesus was here to exercise divine power.

He did come to save, just as the people wanted.

Just not the way people expected.

The expectations were unsatisfied and they turned, in a horrific way.

Crucify him.

Now this was no surprise to Jesus.

He knew of their expectations, but he also knew what they needed.

They needed an eternal Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God.

And to do that, he had to die.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die.

Not to take over.

He came to bring an eternal kingdom.

Not rule for a time.

And so that is what he did.

His way, not their way.

We are no different than those folks in Jerusalem, really.

We are a fickle bunch when it comes to what we believe.

We struggle to understand what God is doing in our lives and what God is doing in the world.

We have troubles at home, at work, at school, in the community, in the nation, in the world.

We know how we expect it to be resolved.

We know how we expect it to work.

We know what we expect him to do.

But God does things differently.

And we get angry when God does not fix our problems.

When God does not do what we expect of him.

Or does not do it the way we expect him to.

When God does not become king!

A king who tells everyone to do what we want them to do.

And so we turn away.

We are a fickle bunch.

But thankfully, God knows it.

He invites us into his kingdom anyway.

He does not become king in our world, but rather invites us into a world where he is already king.

He is already king.

Just not the way we expected.

And if we think about it, that is a good thing.

Pray with me.

Good Lord, keep us steady in our loyalty to you.

Keep our expectations as you would have them.

Help us to understand what it means to be part of your Kingdom.

And hear us when we cry out to you:

Hosanna in the highest heaven.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

AMEN



This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

So this week we light the “peace” candle on the Advent Wreath. As I was thinking about what to say about “peace”, I kept hearing that Eagle’s tune “Peaceful Easy Feeling” in my mind. It was written by Jack Tempchin in 1971 and recorded by the Eagles in 1972. It’s about a guy who has a peaceful easy feeling. The lyrics don’t really say why he has that feeling, (in fact the lyrics would make you think he shouldn’t) but he does. I think part of the song’s popularity was just that. He had a peaceful, easy feeling and that is what we all want. But who has that kind of feeling in Advent? There are decorations to put up, cards to send, presents to buy, parties to attend, concerts to enjoy, families to visit. I suspect that none of us sings that we have a peaceful easy feeling as we try to get it all done. And that is a problem. Because when we think of the birth of Jesus, it should give us a feeling of peace. What kind of peace? A peace that knowing that God came to be one of us, to know us, to experience what we experience, and to promise us that he will remain with us and in us for all eternity. This is so regardless of the busy-ness of our lives that distances us from God and leads to the anxiety and apprehension so many of us feel, particularly this time of year. We feel out of touch with God who is reaching to us from the manger. We feel like we have put God down the list of importance. And so we feel restless, uneasy, and incomplete. That is where Jeremiah comes in. He preached to a people in exile who lived in a state of severe tension, believing that God had abandoned them. Jeremiah told them that however they felt then, God was going to make a new covenant with them and write his laws on their hearts, so that they would always have God with them. God would be part of them. There would never be another separation. They would be his people. He would be their God. He would forgive them for their wayward ways and remember their mistakes no more. Whenever I read those words, I do get that peaceful, easy feeling. And there are ways to remember and use those words in our lives that will allow us to be at peace – even during Advent. Come and hear about it this Sunday at 8:30 or 11, December 4, 2016 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church when Pastor Jeff preaches “Peace” from Jeremiah 31: 31-34. We will also be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Come, be at peace, at least for an hour.



What do we do when our candidate loses?

What do we do when our candidate loses?

We are a people who do not like to lose. Particularly in politics. And we really hate to lose a presidential election! We often identify with our candidate of party in a way that makes that candidate or party part of our identity. If anyone tells us our candidate should not be elected or our party stands for the wrong things … well … we take it personally. So we fight. But what do we do when we (our candidate or party) lose the fight? How are we to act toward the winner? Peter talks about that in his own context in his first letter.

1 Peter 2: 13-17

13For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution,* whether of the emperor as supreme, 14or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16As servants* of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17Honor everyone. Love the family of believers.* Fear God. Honor the emperor.

How are we to treat the one coming to power we did not want?

Peter says, honor him. But what does that mean? Peter assumes that the one coming to power will do what is necessary to protect the governed people. Punishing those who do wrong and praising those who do right. By living this way, Christians silence those who malign them. Nevertheless, we are free people. Not free to be evil, but free to honor everyone. And fear God.

This does not mean that God has selected and placed specific people in the particular offices of authority. It does not mean that God has endorsed their positions. It does mean that God understands humans need some form of orderly government (though God is not entirely happy that God is not that authority 1 Samuel 8: 1-22). Peter then teaches that is important to respect the government and, to the extent possible, cooperate with it.

Yet we are free to express our differing opinion if we feel it is necessary to overcome injustice. And we must never allow the law to make us violate our conscience or renounce our faith and what it calls us to do. But when we stand against the government seeking to change the system that prohibits us from following the requirements of our faith, we must be prepared to accept the societal consequences of our defiance.

Now before you think Peter doesn’t understand what it means to honor and respect a leader who does not measure up, consider the situation Peter faced when he wrote his letter. Nero was the Roman Emperor. He was known for his lustful pleasures, his lust for power, he even killed people in his own family out of his ambition and neurosis. He used Christians as human torches in his garden to light up his evening banquets. Nevertheless, Peter says as Christians we must respect even such leaders.

Also consider the Old Testament prophet Daniel. Daniel and his three friends refused to obey the king’s dietary regulations, they disobeyed the law; but the way that they did it proved that they honored the king and respected the authorities. They were not rebels; they were careful not to embarrass the official in charge or get him into trouble; and yet they stood their ground. They glorified God and, at the same time, honored the authority of the king. And they were prepared to accept the consequences.

Peter and the other Apostles faced a similar challenge shortly after Pentecost. The Jewish council commanded them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, but Peter and his associates refused to obey. They did not cause a rebellion or in any way question or deny the authority of the council. They submitted to the institution but they refused to stop preaching. They showed respect to their leaders even though these men were opposed to the Gospel. And they were prepared to accept the consequences.

None of this means that we are to go along to get along. We are called to live out our Christian faith by seeking peace, social justice and care for those who need it (recognizing that these concepts look different to different people).

How do we do this? Only with God’s help. And so we need to pray.

At the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge there is a copy of  a prayer written by George Washington’s. I conclude with that prayer:

“Almighty God: We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the heads of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, and entertain a brother-affection and love for one another and for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion and with a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can ever hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”



What Are We Afraid Of?

I confess some concern about this election cycle. In my lifetime, I have no memory of a presidential election like this one. Many have described it as a “national nightmare”. It seems that whoever is elected president, those who oppose the one elected predict something of an apocalypse. Armageddon. The end of the world, or end of world as we know it. It is more than a bit anxiety producing. So I have been on a sort of spiritual journey to find a way to speak to these fears to both myself and those around me.

In my journey, I came across this article from the Huffington Post by Don Joseph Goewey, a workplace stress consultant:

Five hundred years ago, [14th century French philosopher] Michel de Montaigne said: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Now there’s a study that proves it. This study looked into how many of our imagined calamities never materialize. In this study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen. Lo and behold, it turns out that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.

That made me feel a bit better particularly because it has been my experience with my life. Those future events I spend so much time agonizing over are rarely as bad as I fear they will be and almost always are manageable even when difficult. That we intuitively know this allows us to get out of bed every day. So, whoever we elect president, it won’t be as bad as those who opposed that candidate fear.

But, being a pastor, I was also looking for a bit of theology to provide a bit of comfort. An I heard it from a surprising source. Stephen Colbert. Yep – that guy from the Colbert Report. He was interviewed by Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air. Here is the transcript of the part that caught my attention.

COLBERT: I’m a Catholic, unironically. … [T]his is the church that I imagined as a child. And this is the church that I was raised in. … And I’ve always enjoyed its century-long view of things. …[T]he church has a message that will resonate with the coming generations as the world slowly changes its opinion of certain social stories.

Colbert said much more about his faith, but those words in particular resonated with me. God is the God of long eons of time. God is the God outside time. People of faith must think that way as well. The long term. The distant generations. Times might not be as we would want them, but times come and go. Presidents come and go. We come and go.

So we must remember the words of Peter in 1Peter 1:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. … 23You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 24For
‘All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord endures for ever.’
That word is the good news that was announced to you.

That gives me some peace. It made me think of Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:

6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

And remember. It will not be as bad as we fear, whichever side you are on.



Mid-Week Meditation: On Building Walls

Building a wall across the border between Mexico and the United States has been a hot button issue in this year’s presidential campaign. Those who support such a wall do so based on the belief that it will stop illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. Those who oppose such a wall do so based on the belief that such a wall will be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.

Pope Francis said this:

“a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.”

Francis believes we are better off removing barriers between people rather than separating people them.

Then there is this. History has shown that people move from place to place over time and nothing really can stop that. Superficial support for this can be found on Wikipedia sites on historical human migration.

So walls are bad, right? Well … maybe not.

On our recent trip to Mexico, the Chiapas mission team helped build a wall around a church compound in Sibol, Chiapas, Mexico. My initial thought was why? Why build a wall around a church? Don’t we want to welcome all comers into the church? Isn’t that what hospitality requires? Then I recalled my other trips to Mexico – to Agua Prieta in 2004 and Ciudad Juarez in 2009. One of the architectural features of most Mexican homes I saw was a wall around the property.

I did a bit of research on Mexican architecture. Why were walls so prominent? I found out there were at least three reasons, none of which are particularly surprising.

  1. Security
  2. Property preservation
  3. Comfort

The walled compound was brought to Mexico from Spain. But its utility was unquestioned. From the time of the Spanish conquest, Mexico was largely wilderness in the sense that government law enforcement was limited. Communities and residences needed some protection from lawless outsiders and walls provided some of that.

Moreover, when people came together into communities, there were disputes on property lines. Walls were built to establish boundaries thus preserving the property an individual owned.

Then there was aesthetics and comfort. The interior of the walled compound was not just a “yard with a fence around it”. It was considered part of the living space. There were rooms inside where folks were protected from the weather, and there were rooms outside where folks could enjoy a garden or landscaping. So someone’s home included not just the building, but the entire compound inside and out. The wall functioned like the wall of a house, with door and threshold.

This made me think of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is an Old Testament historical book about the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem after its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. The people of Israel were in exile. Nehemiah was one of the exiles and was the cup bearer for the Persian King Artaxerxes. There were some Israelites who had visited Jerusalem and returned to Nehemiah with a report. Here is the story.

1… [W]hile I was in Susa the capital, 2one of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem. 3They replied, ‘The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.’

4 When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

2In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was served to him, I carried the wine and gave it to the king. Now, I had never been sad in his presence before. 2So the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart.’ Then I was very much afraid. 3I said to the king, ‘May the king live for ever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my ancestors’ graves, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ 4Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5Then I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.

The wall that had surrounded Jerusalem was in ruins and that was a disgrace to not only the people of Israel, but to God. The nation that was the “people of God” was also in ruins. The rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem would be a sign that the people of Israel were resurging in strength and that their God was with them. Artaxerxes understood this and actually helped the wall to be rebuilt. Once the wall was rebuilt the rebuilt Temple was safe and the worship of the living God could be done in security.

So … is a wall good thing?

What does Jesus say about walls? Not much. Jesus seems to understand the necessity of walls for the same reasons discussed above. Jesus’ view of walls seemed to focus on their temporary nature and God’s ability to raze them and rebuild them at will.

Paul talks about walls in a more theological context in Ephesians 2:

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For 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. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

The only wall Jesus wanted to eliminate was that which separated Jews from Gentiles and from humanity with God. Once that wall was gone, all of us could enter into and inhabit the Kingdom of God. That wall was a dividing wall of hostility, and it had to go so that the peace of Jesus could embrace everyone.

So what does that mean to our Mexican / U.S. wall? To me it means we, like our ancestors, live in a broken and dangerous world where evil people seek to harm us. It is reasonable to take steps to set up boundaries for security, stability and comfort.

But we are also called to welcome the stranger and provide hospitality to those who seek it from us (See: “Hospitality”; sermon from July 24, 2016). It is a difficult line to draw.

Which brings me back to the original dispute. Wall or no wall? Apparently it is up to us to make that call. But when folks come knocking, we had better be hospitable.

Pastor Jeff