Summary: The only walls appropriate for the household of God are load-bearing walls, to strengthen us for the work of the church.
Almost everywhere I looked while preparing this sermon I found a reference to Robert Frost’s wonderful poem, “Mending Wall.” He begins it with the famous line,“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” The poem then goes on to tell of two neighbors who meet at the wall between their two properties to repair it, to replace fallen stones and any other damage that might have occurred since the previous spring. They’ve done it for many years, but this time one asks the other why they have the wall in the first place.
“And on a day we meet to walk the line
and set the wall between us once again
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
we have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers tough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Why do we need walls? Are they always bad? Is breaking down a wall always good?
How many of you remember - more than a dozen years ago, now - when the Berlin Wall came down?
What rejoicing there was! It had been built by the Soviets back in the 50's because the Germans caught by the luck of the draw in the Russian sector were leaving by the droves to live under American, or French, or British rule instead. The wall had divided families for generations, and many who tried to cross it died for their pains. It was built to keep people in.
Another wall is in the news nowadays. It is the wall the Israelis are building between Palestinian and Israeli areas. Palestinians think it’s a bad thing, Israelis think it’s - if not a good thing, at least a necessary thing. And yesterday’s suicide bombing in Haifa underlines their desperation. This wall is being built to keep
There was a wall in Jerusalem when Paul wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus. Actually, it was within the temple itself. There was an outer court, the Court of the Gentiles, which was open to everyone, but the most important part of the temple, the Court of the Israelites, was separated from it with a wall with signs posted on it in Latin and Greek, warning the Gentiles not to come in under penalty of death.
Why did they do this? Pretty obviously, it wasn’t there to keep the Jews from escaping to the Gentile parts of town. And it wasn’t there to keep the Gentiles from blowing up the building, either. But it was there for protection. It was there to protect the Jewish way of life.
You see, from the time Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, the Israelites had been required to observe a lot of pretty complicated rules in order to come near to God, and their access to God was the most important thing in their lives. You’ve all heard the stories of how upset the Pharisees got when Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, because that was considered work, which wasn’t permitted. But that’s not all. There were over 600 separate regulations Jews had to observe to come into God’s presence, and obviously Gentiles weren’t following the rules. They didn’t even know most of them! And so it wasn’t just prejudice, or mean-spiritedness that kept the walls up, it was to protect their special relationship with God. So we don’t want to be too hard on them, even though the rules almost got Paul killed when the crowd accused him of bringing a Gentile into the temple.
All walls are built to create boundaries of one sort or another. Sometimes it’s for good reasons - like keeping people safe, from weather or from robbery or from armies - or for clarity, so that people can live up to agreements they have made. Any psychiatrist, or counselor, or therapist can tell you that healthy boundaries are good. In fact, they’re absolutely essential for good relationships. But healthy boundaries are always porous. That is, you can move from one side of the boundary to another, with permission, for good reasons. People who have been wounded often have damaged boundaries: sometimes they have no boundaries at all and they get into what are called co-dependent relationships, and sometimes the walls are so high that they can’t develop relationships at all.