August 20, 2017

Nehemiah 2:17-18; 6:15-16; 10:28-31; 13:30
But when I got back, I said to them, “Jerusalem is truly in a mess! The gates have been torn down and burned, and everything is in ruins. We must rebuild the city wall so that we can again take pride in our city.”

Then I told them how kind God had been and what the king had said. Immediately, they replied, “Let’s start building now!” So they got everything ready….

On the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, the wall was completely rebuilt. It had taken fifty-two days. When our enemies in the surrounding nations learned that the work was finished, they felt helpless, because they knew that our God had helped us rebuild the wall….

All of us, including priests, Levites, temple guards, singers, temple workers and leaders, together with our wives and children, have separated ourselves from the foreigners in this land and now enter into an agreement with a complete understanding of what we are doing. And so, we now place ourselves under the curse of the Lord our God, if we fail to obey his laws and teachings that were given to us by his servant Moses.

We won’t let our sons and daughters marry foreigners.
We won’t buy goods or grain on the Sabbath or on any other sacred day, not even from foreigners.
Every seven years we will let our fields rest, and we will cancel all debts….

Then I made sure that the people were free from every foreign influence….

Ezra 10:10-12, 44
Ezra the priest stood up and said:

“You have broken God’s Law by marrying foreign women, and you have made the whole nation guilty! Now you must confess your sins to the Lord God of your ancestors and obey him. Divorce your foreign wives and don’t have anything to do with the rest of the foreigners who live around here.”

Everyone in the crowd shouted:
“You’re right! We will do what you say!”….

These men divorced their foreign wives, then sent them and their children away.

Mending Wall Robert Frost
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
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 rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door 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? But here there are no 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 offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.

I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

The TaNaKh’s Last Word 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 ASV
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath Jehovah, the God of heaven, given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all his people, Jehovah his God be with him, and let him go up.

****

The Bible is the search for home.

It begins in the garden of Eden, a perfect paradise, except that it is too small for the curiosity of Eve and Adam. No garden will contain the human spirit. It may be a home for animals and children but not for a particular species that has evolved moral agency. Not content to be placed in a garden where all is provided, the human sabotages its home in its quest to push back boundaries, to question authority, to eat the forbidden fruit from the fig tree.

Whether we think that is good or bad or something else tells us something about ourselves. Could we stay in a garden? How long before we, too, question the rules of the garden and push the limits?

Once Eve and Adam have been cursed by the deity, expelled from the garden, and cherubim have been placed at the gates to guard it, humans toil, make love, give birth, and die, east of Eden. The biblical story from Genesis to Second Chronicles is the quest for home. The TaNaKh ends with the invitation to “go up.” Go up to Jerusalem, to the temple, built by the messiah, Cyrus the Persian emperor.

As Christianity took its turn, home moved away from Jerusalem, away from any point on Earth to a heavenly home, a new city. John on the island of Patmos takes a good trip and has a vision. From Revelation chapter 22:

The angel showed me a river that was crystal clear, and its waters gave life. The river came from the throne where God and the Lamb were seated. Then it flowed down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river are trees that grow a different kind of fruit each month of the year. The fruit gives life, and the leaves are used as medicine to heal the nations.

God’s curse will no longer be on the people of that city. He and the Lamb will be seated there on their thrones, and its people will worship God and will see him face to face. God’s name will be written on the foreheads of the people. Never again will night appear, and no one who lives there will ever need a lamp or the sun. The Lord God will be their light, and they will rule forever.

I am sure you have wondered as I have what the difference might be between Eden and this new city. Could we be happy and content there any more than Eve and Adam were content in the garden? Would we obey without question this time? Would we cease being human?

The song, “Amazing Grace” is an all-time number one hit on the Christian hit parade. It contains the line:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.

I can’t quite imagine that eternal sentence. Sure, vacation from toil, tears, and worry will be a nice break. But forever? It won’t take 10,000 years before I will be ready to check out, eat some forbidden fruit, and add a little excitement to situation.

We have a desire for home. We long for home. We pine for home, search for home, try to make a home. Then, we are not satisfied with home. It still needs work, we think. Do we wish to get out of the city or the suburbs and imagine a retirement home away from it all? Then, after a time, we realize we are too far away from it all and solitude turns lonely.

Of course, billions around the world have hardly a home at all, fear and hunger besiege their home. What is home like in Gaza, for instance? It is to those that the promise of the prophet, Micah, is taken to heart:

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;

Then, of course, there are the threats, real and imagined, to our peaceful home. The immigrant, the foreigner, the other. So we build walls to surround our peaceful home, to keep them out and to keep us in.

And yet, the real threat to home is death. Home invites illusions of permanence. No home, no matter how secure, beautiful, and inviting, can keep us safe from death. One would think that we would get that. Why do we spend so much time trying to make something perfect when we know we are but passing through? That is what we do. Like Eve and Adam, we are not satisfied even when permanence is not an illusion.

So given that, how do we live? How do we live in our impermanent homes with seven billion others? We cannot stop our own individual deaths, so it is up to each of us how we live with that existential reality. Find some kind of philosophy to deal with that. There are plenty from which to choose.

But we ought to come up with some kind of shared philosophy of living together in the interim. Ezra and Nehemiah came up with a philosophy. Build walls and be free of foreign influence. That is the “go to” philosophy by leaders who capitalize on our existential fears. Protect yourself and wall yourself from those others who don’t speak, think, act, or look like you. Wall them out. Do not be influenced by them.

They are out to get you and destroy you. How easy it is for our leaders to scare up an enemy and to mobilize against them. When I say “our” leaders I mean anyone’s leaders. It is the easiest and oldest trick in the book.

Be afraid. Build walls.

This philosophy has spread like cancer in our nation. In his latest book, theologian David Ray Griffin writes about the effects of 9/11. Justified by the events of September 11th, 2001, the United States has engaged in the toppling of governments (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and now Syria), the shredding of the constitution through the so-called Patriot Act, surveillance, and the metastasization of executive power. Other effects of 9/11 include obscene increases in military spending, murder by drone, preventative pre-emptive strikes, and Islamophobia, to name a few.  (My interview with Professor Griffin)

We are following the script of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Be afraid. Exclude foreigners. Build walls.

I don’t know about you, but that is not a home for me.

I harbor no illusions of building a perfect utopian home, but the neocon vision of home is death and destruction on a massive scale.

Might there be another philosophy of home?

Yes, there is. It is the philosophy of building bridges not walls.

Did you know that in the Beaverton School district, over 100 languages are spoken in the homes of our students?

Did you know that one in five residents of Beaverton was born in a different country?

Now I am not saying that Beaverton is a utopia and that we don’t have challenges. I am saying that we have an opportunity, in fact, we have a calling, a summons, to be builders of bridges.

Next Sunday, August 27th, Southminster will be hosting a Beloved Community Forum. These are monthly forums put together by the Interfaith Council of Greater Portland. It would have been held at the Muslim Educational Trust, but a wedding and reception made that not workable this month. I was asked if Southminster would host. I jumped at that, knowing this would be a great opportunity for all of us to continue our bridge-building work. This is information about their work:

Starting with the premise that the opposite of fear is friendship, and the opposite of “hate crime” is “building the beloved community,” join a diverse cross-section of your neighbors on the fourth Sunday of each month to make new friends and deepen your community relationships. Each gathering will welcome a different community leader who will share their vision of “what are we for” here in Oregon, and offer us a chance to discern and discuss what we are for as well. Refreshments will be provided. Brought to you by the Beloved Community of Oregon.

Next Sunday. Five p.m. Southminster. You are welcome and encouraged to participate.

Building bridges is easy when the opportunity knocks on our door.

This summer, we thanked the congregation of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church for their long service. It came to a time when their journey had ended as a congregation. A few friends from St. Mark’s have been attending Southminster and we are delighted to be able to make a church home for them.

One of the last acts of St. Mark’s as a congregation was to entrust Southminster with over $3,000 from its Abraham’s Tent Fund. St. Mark’s had held interfaith day camps for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children. Because they knew of Southminster’s active work and interest in building bridges between faiths, they entrusted that money to us.

We now have an exciting opportunity to use that money to build interfaith bridges in our community. I hope already your mind is working to think about how Southminster can carry on this important ministry St. Mark’s began.

Building bridges is easy when the opportunity knocks on our door.

There has been much discussion in the news about the monuments to confederate soldiers and leaders. I think this is an opportunity. This is an opportunity to build new monuments. Monuments to those whose history has been ignored and suppressed. Monuments of bridge- builders and peacemakers, monuments to people of color, the diversity of the rainbow who made life better and more whole for everyone. Monuments to people in Beaverton’s own history who built bridges and homes of peace.

Building bridges is easy when the opportunity knocks on our door.

The image on the bulletin is one of hope. On this side of the wall is destruction. That destruction is the result of wall-building and fear-mongering. On the other side, is possibility, opportunity, bridge-building, a new beginning.

Let’s be for that.

Amen.