So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city (of Jericho). [Joshua 6:20]
But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For 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. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace. [Ephesians 2:13‐15]
St. Paul provides a different perspective on walls than the one we have been hearing about in the last few weeks. Or shall I say years? St. Paul is articulating one of the visions of the faith of Jesus – namely the tearing down of what divides us.
We are in a time of great division. We now define ourselves by what we are against, and sadly, we are more eager to find that it is our neighbor, our fellow pew sitter, our co-worker whom we oppose. In many ways, the wall has already been built.
However, like Jericho, the walls can come down…at least for New England Lutherans
First, let’s reclaim and recall our identity as immigrants. In recent years, I have celebrated church anniversaries throughout our New England Synod. Several of them were 125th anniversaries. Why so many, 125 year events? In the 1880s & '90s, there was significant immigration from the Southern region of Sweden, due in large part to a multi-year drought. Farmers, lumberjacks and merchants left there and came to the United States where they established churches, schools, colleges, and hospitals. These anniversaries are but one of hundreds of reminders that we are an immigrant church.
Second, let's fully embrace our companion relationships with our two Global churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan & the Holy Land, as well as the Lutheran Church in Honduras. They are our partners in ministry. We have people in these churches who need our prayers, our support, and our advocacy. Each of them struggles in different ways and in circumstances that would make many of us shocked, outraged and disgusted.
In February, I along with a dozen people from our synod will travel to Honduras for a week-long mission trip. We are going there to do light construction on a Lutheran church, provide resources so children can attend school and be with them as the hands & feet of Jesus engaged in ministry together. We are also going to visit this country because it is at the epicenter of an ongoing debate about immigration in our own country.
The United States is currently in the middle of a partial government shutdown that has impacted hundreds of thousands of federal workers, and is potentially having a negative impact on the US economy. The primary reason given for this shutdown is over the President of the United States desire for funding for a border wall. In addition, for several years we have heard this President make numerous statements disparaging our fellow human beings, fellow people of the faith and all of them children of God.
This leads me to our third way forward in bringing down the wall that divides us and pits us against one another. We need to reclaim a Christian ethic of civil discourse. We also need to recover that simple, but increasingly challenging call to be decent and kind people.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. Martin Luther King Jr.
This does not mean that we are to lack clarity of purpose or strength of our convictions. I believe one can be kind and decent, yet still forceful.
When the chaos of this time recedes, and I believe it will, there will be a need for people to rebuild our connections to one another, to civic life & democracy as well as to the healing of the injustices that this wall is causing in our souls, in our country and around the world..
New England Lutherans are here because immigrants came here. We continue to be here in our ecumenical, inter-faith and global companionships. We find our strength in Jesus, who demonstrated convictions and actions that tore down the walls of hostility between us.
These are days of division – that cannot be denied. However, these are also days where together with Christ we can rebuild, not walls of division but bridges of understanding, kindness, and justice for all.
Sincerely in Christ,
Bishop James Hazelwood