Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Torn Down Walls and Open Doors: the Struggle to be the Church
Sermon preached at St. Thomas' Church, Bath,NY, on July 19,2015. Ephesians 2:11-22
I want to begin by reading from a letter that has “gone viral” on the internet. Some of you may have seen it. It is entitled “A Letter on Why We are Breaking Up or Why I am Leaving the Church I grew Up In."
If I told you: “It’s not you, it’s me,” I would be lying to the both of us.
It is you.
I know this is hard for the both of us, but it is true. You see, I’ve moved on. I’ve found a church that respects not only me but everyone around me, and it is really nice. I now realize what I have been missing out on all my life.
See, I know you are the church that my mom wants me to be with, the one she wants me to raise my children with, to grow old and die with, but my mom is part of a generation that is getting smaller and smaller every single day. Even though us breaking up will hurt her, I know she will understand.
Frankly, you aren’t a nice church to be a part of. You discriminate. You won’t let me participate in higher church positions because I am a “woman” and not worthy. You made me work the nursery during the summers because I was a girl, while my cousin got to teach the youth groups because he was a boy. Not cool, church.
Also, you are way behind the times. This new church I met (It’s the Episcopal Church, just to inform you) loves all of my friends equally. When I told my priest that my best friend was gay, he was totally cool with it. In fact, as of last week, my best friend can get married in my new church – full on married, with all the sacraments. You, on the other hand, you just weren’t very accepting. You told me he was going to hell. Not cool, church. Not cool.
Also, I am a bit worried as to where you are headed. You rarely help the poor, church, you pour all your money into making bigger buildings, larger parking lots, and more room for a dwindling congregation. Right now, just outside your walls, churches are being burned because of race, kids are going hungry, and the wealth-divide grows more and more with every passing day.
This gospel you taught me, the one that is focused so much on money – money as a reward for faith, having no money as a response to being a sinner, debt being a sign of a polluted soul – isn't the real good news. No, you judge too many people for things they cannot control, and you raised me to do the same. I can’t live that way anymore. I can’t live with you anymore.
Don’t call me selfish for abandoning you, and don’t tell me that my soul is in danger when it isn’t. I have never felt more sure about anything since I decided to move. I see an inclusive church, one I can understand and one that, in turn, understands humanity. I see a place where I can actually make a difference for Christ, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality. I can make a difference because I am human.
You’re founded on something I just can’t support – a closed door.
So I’ve decided to move on. I’ve found a new church. I’m breaking up with you.
This young woman understands perfectly the heart of the Gospel that St. Paul is proclaiming to the Church in Ephesus in this morning’s reading. Jesus breaks down the wall, and it stays down. Jesus opens the door, and it stays open. Jesus is not a wedge issue. Following him does not divide us from others. Jesus, Paul says, is “our peace.”
Now in Christ Jesus, you who 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.
The Christian Church was scandalous in its early days in the same way its Lord had been scandalous, the one who ate with tax collectors and sinners, touched and healed the unclean, and treated women and foreigners, even religious heretics, as equals.
No matter what your status in the world, the early Christians included you in their gatherings on an equal footing. Paul said this most famously in his letter to the Galatians.
In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed by Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27).
Observers of Christians in these early days called their gatherings “unnatural,” “subversive,” and in the Book of Acts St. Luke tells us they were known as “these people who are turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
All of these epitaphs because Christians refused in their gatherings to observe social boundaries. Unfortunately, it did not last long. We can actually see it begin to erode in the later New Testament books, when women and slaves begin to be reminded of their “proper place.” And in every age since, anyone labelled “sinner” has frequently found themselves outside the door, with no access to the table at which Jesus has always and everywhere wished to eat with them (or us, that is).
We love our walls, the doors that close and protect our fortresses (the buildings we call church). For over fifty years in the Episcopal Church we have struggled to tear the walls down and open the doors wide. The struggle has cost us because many of our members could not tolerate a greater and greater openness.
But breaking down walls and opening doors is clearly our high calling from the Lord who is our peace. And maybe, just maybe, if we get over our timidity about telling the world who we are and whose we are, people like the young woman who wrote that letter will hear the good news in a different, attractive, transformative way.
It is two of the promises we make in our Baptismal Covenant: We will seek and serve all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and proclaiming to all in word and deed the good news of God in Christ.
And that good news is as simple as this: all walls have been torn down and all doors have been opened.