Breaking Down the Dividing Walls
July 19, 2015

Breaking Down the Dividing Walls

Passage: Ephesians 2:11-22


Intro: Scott Hall, InterVarsity, urban ministry internships for college students

    1. A few weeks ago leading a conference call with an InterVarsity staff, a 24 year old African American woman in Chicago, the day after the Charleston murder of nine Black lives
      1. Tabled my agenda to pray together
      2. In tears she prayed, “Jesus, you say you are king, that your kingdom is coming, that you have won the victory…right now it doesn’t look like you are winning.”
      3. She’s right: it doesn’t look like God is winning
    2. In Revelation 7, Scripture paints a portrait of the people of God from every nation, from all tribes and tongues standing before the throne worshipping God together as one people: it’s a portrait of what’s coming, what we are to become
      1. But that’s not where we are today
      2. In 1963, Dr. King said that 11 am Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America…you’d think we’d come so far since 1963
      3. Yet his statement is as true now as it was then
    3. There’s a chasm between where we stand and Revelation 7: Where does the Church fit? How do the people of God bridge that gap?
    4. That’s my job: bridging that gap
      1. I mentor and train college students who are trying to follow Jesus into living lives of faith that actually engage and transform the social problems of our world
      2. In middle of leading 25 college students through this experience in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma
    5. In today’s Scripture reading I see hope, but I also see a challenge…I see an answer to bridging that gap:
      1. Ephesians: Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility


  • Ephesians 2:11-22—what Christ did to the dividing wall of hostility
      1. To appreciate this, need to recognize the hostility that existed between J & G:
        1. Religious tension, but especially ethnic, racial tension
        2. Jesus’ first sermon, Jewish audience, loved it…then he cited two examples of faithfulness in the OT—both Gentiles—and they suddenly tried to throw him off a hill and kill him—like he gave a rousing stump speech at a Klan rally…and then took off his coat to reveal his Malcolm X t-shirt—that was Jesus’ first sermon
      2. So much hostility that the temple had a literal division, a wall: court of Jews, court of Gentiles…you can worship our God, but you’ll always be second class
      3. But then Paul tells the Ephesians that the blood of Christ changed all that
        1. Christ’s blood gave all people access to God: not because of ethnicity, or adherence to cultural rules…but by the grace and invitation of God
        2. And because of that, the ethnic divisions between Jew and Gentile became irrelevant
      4. Christ’s blood broke down the dividing wall of hostility: it’s a metaphor based on the actual wall that separated the temple courts: Christ’s blood broke down the dividing walls:
        1. No more separation, no more division, no more hostility
        2. One big temple court…everyone together
        3. Not just Jew and Gentile, but Black and White, Asian and Latino, Middle Eastern and Native American
  • Christ breaks down the walls between us
  • But life in America builds those walls back up
      1. Our churches are segregated by ethnicity and language
      2. Our neighborhoods are divided by economics
      3. Our quality of education is dependent upon tax revenue in our cities
      4. And there’s a direct pipeline from poor schools to prisons: state of Texas uses 5th grade test scores to determine how many prison beds they will need when these kids turn 18: this many below a certain percentile? That many beds 7 years later
      5. Prisons are privatized for-profit institutions in our country: as a result we incarcerate nearly twice as many per capita any other nation in the world—today 2.3 M—and while African Americans are 13% of our population, they’re 47% of our prisons

  • Christ breaks down the walls, but life in America builds those walls back up
  • Life isn’t equal for Black and White college students
      1. Four Black women in our Tacoma Urban Program: all students at PLU
      2. Intelligent, attractive, charismatic…yet with a set of circumstances and experiences in life and in college that their White friends just can’t relate to
        1. One of them, her father went to prison when she was 2 months old…never known him…he got out this past Tuesday
        2. Another on full-scholarship at PLU, but last year in March scholarship was changed into loans that she’ll never be able to pay off…she dropped out and is hoping to start at UW Tacoma next year
        3. A third, at her first day serving at a Christian non-profit in Tacoma had the training supervisor intentionally butcher her name—D’Ajah (dah-dah, jah-jah, yo-yo)…kept doing so intentionally when she kept correcting him
      3. And as you might guess, our White students don’t know how to be there for their Black friends because their experiences is so foreign
      4. So to help students go deep in friendships we actually have to split them up into ethnic specific groups—it’s like we’re helping them break down the walls brick by brick
        1. The Black and Asian folks need to vent about their anger, their pain, and the frustration of not being understood by their White friends so they can be healed by the grace of Christ
        2. The White folks need coaching in how to not react defensively to their own ignorance, and training in how to own up to their apathy, to ask the right questions, and to listen without trying to fix everything so they can be more led by Christ than by White-American social norms

  • Life in America builds up the walls, but Christ breaks them down
  • We’re at a pivotal point in the Tacoma Urban Program right now
    1. I see God’s Spirit inviting folks deeper—inviting Black and Asian folks into forgiveness and trust, inviting White folks into empathy and humility—but will they respond?
      1. My job is to hold their feet to the fire, to hold up the beautiful dream of Revelation 7, to remind them that if the people of God can’t overcome racial segregation and inequality, than no one will, to teach them how to let Christ break down the walls of hostility one brick at a time
    2. And so I’ll turn the same question toward you and hold your feet to the fire:
      1. Which Spirit leads you more strongly? The Spirit of America that builds walls up? Or the Spirit of Christ that breaks walls down?
      2. I don’t think there’s a middle ground…it doesn’t happen overnight, but brick by brick we’re either building up the wall, or breaking it down.
    3. The gospel reading shows the people hungry for what Jesus has to offer. I believe the world around us has that same hunger: hunger for something beyond partisan politics, hunger for a quality of community that transcends ethnic, economic, or social differences, hunger for the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr…the dream of Jesus.
    4. Will we let the Spirit of Christ lead us, brick by brick, to break down the walls? Will we become the kind of people, the kind of community, that our world is hungry for?