This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Jesus Started It: Breaking Down Walls
Preached in Kahlotus on Sunday, May 5, 2013
(Adapted from a sermon that was preached on
Scripture readings: Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 11:1-18
I was twelve when my family moved to a small town in
the SacramentoValley. Everything was different from
what I had known before, and I didn’t know anybody. My class was divided into
two classrooms (two teachers), and we would switch classrooms after lunch.
Photos Around Washtucna in April 2013
There was a boy in the other class named George. I
seemed to get along with him from the start and we would hang around together
for lunch, and during breaks. One day, Mrs. Hendrix, who taught us English, and
History, and a few other things, warned me to stay away from George. She
wouldn’t tell me why, but she warned me that he would be a bad influence on me.
She even talked to my parents and warned them about George, and my parents had
a talk with me about how I needed to keep away from George.
For some strange reason, I never found out what was
wrong with George, and I think he moved away, the next year. I never asked any
of the other kids, because I was new, and I was afraid of looking stupid. I
also hated being in trouble with my teachers and my parents.
So I avoided George. And I knew that he knew what was
going on. I built a wall between us, and I made other friends. There must have
been something wrong, that I couldn’t see, that the grownups were protecting me
Maybe it is a good thing that I will never know the
answer to that. It is just one of those things that I think about from time to
The Book of Acts teaches us how to see the kind of
changes that the Holy Spirit likes to make in the followers of Jesus. There are
patterns in the life and work of the Holy Spirit!
One of the patterns of the Spirit is the pattern of
welcome. The Holy Spirit breeds a special brand of welcome. It is the kind of
welcome that not only opens doors between people, but crosses borders, and
breaks down the oldest walls.
The first chapter of the Book of Acts warns us about
this. Jesus tells his disciples that they were being called, and sent by him,
to be his witnesses, “in Jerusalem, and in all
Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Jesus commanded his people to go and
reach out; to cross boundaries.
The first few chapters of the Book of Acts tell us
that the disciples started out by not going anywhere. They might have thought
about it, but they didn’t go and do it. It’s true that they had plenty of
things to think about, and worry about; and a lot of things to do. The truth is
that they would never have gone anywhere unless the Lord has essentially forced
them to reach out and to cross those boundaries: to bring the presence of Jesus
to people who were not at all like them.
In the eighth chapter of Acts, persecution came, and
most of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem
were scattered. Some of them actually found shelter among the
traitorous-half-breed Samaritans, and they couldn’t help sharing Jesus with
them, and the Samaritans received Christ and the life of the Holy Spirit.
Philip brought Christ to an Ethiopian in the desert.
The Ethiopian took Christ with him, in turn, to his homeland far away, south of
That was one of the ends of the earth in the ancient world.
Then, Peter was staying in the house of Simon the
Tanner, in the town of Joppa, on the coast west
It was a surprising place for Peter to stay, because there was a prejudice
against tanners. There were Jewish tanners, but, since tanners worked with dead
animal products (hides), they were always what they would call “ritually
Respectable, pious brothers and sisters of the Jewish
people would avoid touching a tanner, or a member of a tanner’s family, or even
the guest of a tanner (like Peter), or anything a tanner might possibly have
touched. (Of course, once leather was processed it was OK to touch. Leather was
alright to touch, but not the tanner who made it.)
So the borders that Jesus had talked about to his
disciples (the borders they would have to cross, to be his witnesses) were not
just borders measured by miles.
Jesus was interested in the ability of his people to
cross borders of respectability and unrespectability. Jesus wanted his people
to cross the borders of untouchability.Jesus wanted his people to cross the borders between people that are
drawn by culture, and by history, and by income, and by family background, and
by behavior, and by conflict and misunderstanding.
Those borders are not lines drawn in the sand. They
are walls and no-man’s lands full of razor wire and explosives.But Jesus wants us to cross those borders
with his love and compassion, and with the message of his good news.
God is on a mission of welcome, to give all people
peace with him: abundant everlasting life, through Christ. In the first chapter
of Ephesians, Paul talks about this plan: “a plan for the fullness of time to
unite all things in him (in Christ), things in heaven and things on earth.”
You can never find anyone or any group of people who
are not the target of the love of God in Christ. No one is excluded. No matter
what you know about them. They are still a target of the love of God in Christ.
You might not have the gifts, or the opportunity, to
reach out to them. At least you might not think you do. But you cannot say no
when God shows you his love for them. And you definitely cannot add another
stone to the wall that divides you from them.
Cornelius, the Roman army officer, welcomed Peter,
the common fisherman, by bowing face down on the pavement at his feet. No one
of Cornelius’ rank would do such a thing. The Romans were highly conscious of
the impassible walls of division between different ranks and levels in society,
and between cultures, and particularly between themselves and the Jews. This
was the way they were raised. This was the way everyone around them thought.
Peter, who still couldn’t help wanting to go on
believing that Jesus Christ fulfilled God’s promises to the people of Israel in
a way that would make them (apart from all other people) into the kingdom of
God, overcame that belief. In the tenth chapter of Acts (the original version
of the story) Peter welcomed Cornelius, and his family and friends, by simply
coming inside his house, and lifting Cornelius back to his feet, and treating
him as an equal.
Peter explained how he could welcome Cornelius. He
said: “God has shown me that I should not call any one impure or unclean.”
When God teaches us to welcome others, it does not
mean that we are giving our approval to bad and risky behavior, or to bad
attitudes. The welcome that God wants us to give others is not a welcome that
enables others to harm others or themselves. It means living in the present,
living in that very moment, and treating that other person as if that person
was the target of God’s love, and, therefore the target of our love.
Love does not mean sentimentality. Love is not a warm
fuzzy feeling. Love is not warm fuzzy thinking. Love is the will to make good
possible. The will to make good possible is the heart of grace.
The welcome of God does ask you to treat others based
on how you should be treated by others, sinner that you are. It also helps to
know how God is really dealing with you, sinner that you are.
I don’t think the Lord overlooks anything, but he
does look at you with the will to make good possible. God has a long range plan
for you, but he focuses on the present moment to empower the grace in you that
will make good possible. The wonder and miracle is that he wants you to assist
him in his work with others, even when you are in need of so much work,
And the most amazing thing of all, and the thing we
often don’t understand at all, even though it is at the center of being a child
of God, is that the Lord doesn’t welcome you just to bless you and make you
feel good. Certainly, in the Bible, the Lord never welcomed anyone to make them
comfortable. The Lord welcomes you into
the joy of your master.
You never understand the joy of your master until you
know that this joy is not just about you. The Lord’s joy involves welcoming
others. It is a kind of hospitality and it often begins with sacrifice and
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us about this. It
says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who
for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down
at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such
opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Jesus came down from heaven to save a lost human
world, and so he crossed the greatest barrier of all in order to take that
barrier down. This was his joy. This is the joy of your master. The joy that
motivated your master, who did the work of the cross for you and for others,
becomes your joy too.
Some people actually enjoy their work. The Lord
enjoys his work of reclaiming, and rebuilding, and nourishing others. The Lord
wants you to enjoy taking part in his work; even when it means crossing lines
and breaking down walls to do it.
The first thing that happened in this story was that
an angel came to Cornelius, and told him to send for a man named Peter, who
would bring a message that would save him and his whole household. But why
didn’t the angel give Cornelius that saving message?
The angel could talk. The angel was there. The angel
could have done a much better job talking than Peter could. But Peter was a
follower of Jesus and so Peter needed to be in the business of breaking down
barriers. He needed the barrier in his own heart to be broken down.
This is necessary for us as well. We all have such
barriers in our own heart, and other people have barriers with us that need
more than a wave of the hand by God to tear them down.
The tearing down requires us to be there. We are a
human shaped tool that can reach into human shaped barriers. God became truly
human to reach into us and then make us his partners.
When Peter came with the message, and when God
brought the message home to their hearts, before Peter ever had a chance to
finish speaking, Peter could have told Cornelius: “Now, you can be the core of
a new church, a Gentile church. And we will go home to our Jewish church. And
we will meet in our place. And you will meet in your place. And we will all be
But they did not become good neighbors. They become
one church together in Christ.
Robert Frost wrote a poem called “Mending Wall.” It
is a story about him and his neighbor, once a year walking the stone fence
between their small New England farms and
putting the stones back up that had fallen off during the winter. The neighbor
says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But Frost says: “Something there is
that doesn’t love a wall; that wants it down.”
God wants walls down. All the bad walls in the world
have been built by sin; by pride, by anger, by abuse and injustice, and other
causes too numerous to mention.
The walls are simply sin. God came down in Christ,
and died on the cross as a sacrifice for all the sin and evil of this world.
And so he came to tear down the veil that separated us from him, and to make us
messengers of that same peace that will tear down walls.