Summary: Thanksgiving sermon preached at a community service in Richmond, Virginia.
Borders can be places of drama and danger.
I’m not just talking about the borders between nations and peoples. Those places are bad enough. Usually, if a nation crosses the border into another country, they are marching either to victory or defeat. Dig through your history books. Read about World War I and II. Read the history of the wars in the Middle East and around the globe. Wars almost always have their roots in border disputes.
But these are not the borders I am talking about.
We all have our own personal borders as well. We have what we consider our space. The other night I thought I heard somebody in my space. It was late at night and I heard a sound downstairs. I felt vulnerable and afraid, so I sent Jeana to see what was going on. No, I’m kidding. I went to check. It was just our cat. She’s usually in our bedroom at night but somehow she got out and went exploring and made a noise. I didn’t like the thought that somebody might have cross my personal border in my home.
We build a lot of these kinds of “personal space” borders, don’t we? They take the form of gated communities, guard towers, security systems, guns, and surveillance cameras – all aimed to keeping out the people we feel need to be kept out.
But this, also, is not the kind of border I am talking about.
There are also psychological border that we create. We can be stand-offish, aloof, and distant. These are tactics we employ in order to keep others from becoming too close. We do the same thing with attitudes like racism, classism, sexism, and all the other –isms we use to keep away those we consider to be undesirable.
But I am not talking about any of these “borders” either.
What am I talking about? What borders am I referring to as places of drama and danger? Why I am talking about the nearby bookstore named “Borders.” In my experience, a Borders Bookstore can often be a place of drama and danger.
Not long ago I found myself in a “Borders Bookstore” late at night. I was waiting for my son to return from a band trip. Now if you have never been in a Border’s Bookstore on a Friday night around 10:30p.m., you are missing a cultural experience unlike anything you’ve probably seen in the city of Richmond. There are all different people in a Border Bookstore late on Friday nights.
There were two guys on a date, affectionately holding hands.
There was a group of high school aged kids wearing dark clothing and dog collars, all sporting unusual body piercings and tattoos.
There was a lady who was sort of stumbling around. The smell of alcohol was all around her. What kind of person gets drunk and goes to a bookstore for a good time?
There were a group of women at a table near the coffee bar discussing what sounded like some sort of new age religion.
At another table sat some folks discussing plans to attend the Richmond Tea-Party Convention.
There were several families in the store, all with children in tow. One was a Muslim family. The other was Hindu.
There were lots of other types of people wandering the store that night: a few Rednecks, some Hispanics, and one fellow who looked like a Native American. Then there was Jeana and I, a Baptist clergy couple. We had to be the most out-of-place people in the whole establishment. It was a surreal experience. When I crossed the threshold of the Borders Bookstore it was like all the others borders I spoke of earlier began to converge in one place as dozens of people who might otherwise not encounter each other were brought face-to-face.
Sometimes it is very easy to draw lines and separate ourselves from others. It’s so easy to allow ourselves to start thinking in terms of “Us” and “Them.” Of course, the “US” are okay, while the “THEM” are the undesirable. That’s why we build those all barriers, those walls, those borders.
But then, in some sort of twilight zone kind of place, the border lines that divide us become blurred and we start to see one another as everyday people – different, unique, strange, wonderful, weird, and wacky – and yet sharing more in common than we might otherwise admit. We see our common humanity, our common frailty, our common brokenness, our common need for the gifts of mercy and grace.
That’s what happened for me when I was in the Borders Bookstore.
It happened for Jesus’ disciples in the text that we read today. Jesus was traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria. He was traveling along the line that divided two religions, two races, two cultures, two ways of thinking, and two ways of acting. Jesus was traveling through the middle of a border dispute while preaching and teaching and embodying the Kingdom of God.