Summary: To be an effective and compassionate church, we must risk the criticism of those who would like us to do church within our old confines. But not to take risks may cause our best to leave us. This is a time to work for peace, family life, community.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun; and makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”
"Something there is that doesn’t love a wall …” So speaks the poet Robert Frost, reflecting on the ravages of a New England winter at the boundary between his farm and his neighbor’s farm. The frosty earth kept heaving up and toppling the stones. "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall."
Let me tell you today a tale of two walls. Two walls, two cities, and two men.
One wall stands as the boundary between the Temple and the city. One wall in the city of Jerusalem marks the boundary between the sacred and the secular, between the house of God and the world of everyday life. This wall, next to the Gate called Beautiful, props up every day a man with a need.
Behind this wall are said every day the words and psalms of praise, offered to a God of justice, mercy, and redemption. Yet this wall keeps outside a man whose disability makes it impossible for him to worship, a man whose poverty makes him distasteful to those inside the wall.
This wall protects the house of God and the people of God from intrusion.
But, remember, "something there is that doesn’t love a wall." "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, and spills the upper boulders in the sun; and makes gaps even two can pass abreast."
The other wall, in the other city, is the boundary between the city itself and the desert. The other wall, the wall of the city of Damascus in Syria, is designed to protect its residents from war. That wall is a mighty fortress, or so its builders intended, and it, like the Temple wall in Jerusalem, seems to provide a haven of safety. The wall of Damascus is high and firm, a sure desert shield against the desert storm.
But that wall has also the capacity to confine. It is capable not only of keeping out the intruder, but also of confining its residents. And so, in this tale of two walls, two cities, two men – behind the wall of Damascus there is a man named Saul who has managed to get himself into trouble. And that wall threatens to confine him and make life very, very dangerous indeed. That wall stands between Saul and the freedom to follow the will of God as he sees it. That wall, like the other wall, keeps some out, but also keeps others in.
But remember, remember, "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall." "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, and spills the upper boulders in the sun; and makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”
Can there be any doubt this morning that we live in a world which builds walls? Walls are meant to separate; walls are meant to hold people away from other people. We think they are meant to protect, and sometimes they do. But more often than not, the walls men build confine and imprison those who build them.
War is such a wall; it builds barriers in the minds of people, so that they can no longer see the enemy as a real person. War builds barriers in the heart, so that we begin to treat a battle as if it were a football game, and announce the score ever so often. War is a confining wall. And this morning many of us, I suspect, feel as though we can scarcely breathe, so confined are we.
Racism is such a wall. Racism builds walls between people. Racism constructs elaborate apartheid systems, thinking that those on one side of the wall can be protected from enemies, real or imagined, on the other side, just because they are different. But racism is a confining wall, because it means that your life and mine are impoverished if we have no way to share with and live with one another. Dr. King reminded us that none are fully free until all are free. Racism is such a wall.
What are the people of God called to do about these walls? What will God’s people do with such barriers? Look with me again at the tale of two walls – two walls, two cities, two men.
At one of the walls, the wall of the Temple, one man waits to go inside the wall. But when he does, he creates a firestorm of complaint and criticism.
At the other wall, the wall of Damascus, another man must escape the plots and the hatred of others, and so he waits to go outside that wall.