“Breaking Down the Walls”

Posted By Beckie Sweet on Aug 27, 2023 | 0 comments

August 27, 2023 ~ 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Beckie Sweet ~ Tending the New Creation


You don’t have to go too far to discover walls of hostility that divide people.  Here are a couple of this week’s headlines:

  • Gangs engage in deadly shootout in busy downtown Syracuse;
  • Store owner shot to death by man who made “disparaging remarks” about Pride flag;
  • Mass shooting at Dollar Tree Store in Jacksonville, FL in predominantly black community;
  • Deadly high school football shooting in Chaktaw, OK


Those are just the most obvious ones.

And what about other physical and virtual walls that have divided people throughout history?  The Berlin Wall.  The Gaza Strip.  The DMZ – Demilitarized Zone.  Prison walls.  Apartheid.  Slavery.  Checkpoints at the border.  The other side of the tracks.  The wall at the US Southern border.

Unfortunately, conflict is one of the most ordinary spaces in which we live as human beings.  It is true at the global level.  Nations are constantly clashing against nation.  Israelites and Palestinians, Russia and Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the list goes on.  It’s true at the national level.  The mudslinging has just begun in preparation for the 2024 presidential election which will not be held for 14 ½ months.

You likely remember when it was true in the back seat of your car.  Those sweet little, innocent children draw an imaginary line between them and then out comes the ultimatum, “Don’t cross that line, or else!”  “Mom, she’s touching me!”


All of those examples may seem far removed from where each of us are today.  And yet, we each, and we all, are involved in conflict in some way.

Take a moment to think about a conflict you are engaged in.

Perhaps it is with another individual.

Perhaps you are in conflict with an unjust system.

Perhaps it is an old conflict you have not been able to move past.  You may even be in conflict with yourself.

Hold that conflict in your mind for a while.  Visualize that conflict as a wall between you and the person, persons, or system.  That wall may also be extended between you and God.

How did that wall get built?  Brick by brick, piece by piece, the wall gets wider, and higher, and soon one cannot see the other side.  Actions taken, words spoken, love withheld.  A bitter word.  A hateful comment.  A cold shoulder.  One walking out on the other.  Brick by brick, piece by piece, the wall gets wider and higher until it is so high and so thick that it seems impossible to change.

Can you see that wall in your mind?  The question today is, “How can we break down this wall?”


Our scripture text from Ephesians 2 deals with this very challenge.  As I mentioned last week, the Apostle Paul wrote this letter while in house arrest.  It is important to note that the reason Paul had been imprisoned is directly tied to our topic.  Paul was in trouble because he was accused of breaching a wall, meant to keep groups of people in their appropriate place.

You see, the Temple that sat in the heart of Jerusalem was a series of walled-in courtyards.  In the center is the Holy of holies.  Only high priests were allowed there, and only once a year, because this represented the very presence of God.  The next courtyard was called the Court of Israel, which meant that only circumcised male Jews were allowed entrance to that space.  The next courtyard was the court of women.  Only the Jewish women were allowed there.  Then, way outside all of those areas was the Court of Gentiles.  If you were not a Jew, you were not welcome Inside.

Imagine what our worship space would be like if it were under these rules.  We would have a big curtain around the altar and only Bishop Hector would go there once a year.  Then another curtain around the chancel, and only a male pastor would be allowed to step foot in there.  Then only male members of the congregation would be allowed to sit in the pews.  Female members of the congregation could stand in the narthex, outside the sanctuary doors.  And everyone else would not be allowed inside the building.

Enter Paul.  He had been out traipsing around the countryside, interacting with GENTILES.  He even brought some Gentiles back with him.   The horror!  He was accused of bringing one of the Gentiles into this space, the sanctuary, the Court of Israel.  That’s why he was imprisoned, and could have been killed.


I mapped this out for you because when Paul speaks of a wall of hostility, he is not just speaking in the abstract.  He speaks about this physical representation of the division and exclusion of people from the community of God’s people.  And he goes on to say that God sent Jesus into the world to change all of this, to break down the walls of hostility and division.  Jesus, the Christ, is our PEACE, uniting those who were once separated by the constructs of the world, all built with human hands.  It was by human choice that walls were constructed: walls of greed, jealousy, power, mistreatment, and the list goes on.  And all of these walls  separate humans, and groups of humans.  They also separate us from God.  How many times have we hurt God by our pettiness and anger, lying and cheating, and on and on?  If anyone has the right to be hostile toward us, it would be God.  But God looks at us.  God looks at you and me through the eyes of Christ and says, “I have died to the wall.  I have died to your sin and the many times you have hurt me and others.  I forgive you, and I love you.”

And as God looks at us with that eternal love, all of the bricks come down.  Jesus looks at the walls of hostility that still remain between us and says, “I have knocked this down.  I have proclaimed peace.  How about it?”  Dr. George Stroot of the Columbia Theological Seminary states, “Peace has already been made, even though hostilities and bloodshed continue, in the same sense that death is no more, even though people continue to die.”


Let’s get back to your conflict, your wall.  Look at each of the bricks of the wall you visualized, each of the hurtful things that you want to cling to.  Once you were defined by them.  Once there was another person far off on the other side of the wall.  But now, because of God’s love demonstrated in Jesus, and through the power of God’s Spirit moving between the parties, we can let go of the past, forgive other people, forgive the bricks, and work toward the future of peace in the presence of God.

What would it mean to really live in the trust that all of us are forgiven and loved by God?  What would it mean to believe that ALL are children of God and worthy of abundant life?  I know each of our situations are much more complicated than this.  In our worship today, we can only scratch the surface of how to do this.  And I know that sometimes there are legitimate reasons for people to be kept apart.  However, I also think that most times we hide behind these walls and use them as an excuse for not loving the way Jesus called us to love.

God is transforming us through that love, and there is plenty to go around.  There is plenty to go around.  So, this week, we can start by removing ONE brick.  Choose one way that you can begin to remove the bricks in the wall of conflict you envisioned.  Ask God to give the strength and wisdom, forgiveness and love, to remove one brick at a times, until the walls come tumbling down.  Amen.

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