Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bethany Village Sermon IV: Part 3

This was the final sermon on Mark 13.1-8 that I preached at Bethany Village. This sermon was at the "main" service which was broadcasted throughout the Bethany campus on channel 98.

It was probably a warm day on June 22, 1963 when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy climbed up the podium steps in front of a crowd amassed in West Berlin. Soviet occupation in East Berlin and all of Germany had created much tension within the city as people feared that their very freedom would be taken away. Just under two years earlier a great wall was built, splitting the once thriving city in two, separating families and friends and neighbors. And Kennedy looked over the crowd and said:

"Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner'... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'"

It was another warm day, I am sure, almost twenty four years later on June 12, 1987, when President Ronald Regan stood in front of the Berlin Wall and spoke a phrase that reverberated through the streets of West Berlin. Regan looked over the crowd, the monumental wall standing silent behind him, addressing the General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and said:

"Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

A few minutes later in his speech, Regan said:

"As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, 'This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.' Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom."

It was perhaps a cold day, twenty –nine months later on 9 November 1989 when the doors of the Brandenburg Gate were finally opened and inevitably soon after the wall was torn down, stone from stone. When families and friends separated were able to meet once again, when a city broken, torn in two, was able to begin the journey towards healing and wholeness.

I can only imagine what that wall—that silent presence—looked like, looming above houses and streets, a silent sentinel. It must have been an awesome, terrible sight to behold.

It was perhaps a very hot day almost two thousand years ago when the disciples of Jesus entered into the court of the temple compound. Surrounding them were huge walls of magnificent stone, ornamented with gold leaf and marble. There was probably a sweet smell of burning incense and offerings. There was probably a loud roar of the crowds interchanging monies and animals and all sorts of things. And in the center, looming above the crowd was it. The temple itself, a square building that was over five hundred years old at the time. Inside were several chambers, each more holy than the last. And in the very center was the Kodesh Hakodashim, the holy of holies, as it was called, the resting place of the arc of the covenant, the very throne of God. Only the most holy were allowed to enter, the rest of the crowd kept out by beautifully decorated curtains for fear that their unclean hands might taint God’s throne.

The disciples were in awe, I am sure. One of them called out “Look, teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” Jesus turns to his disciple, his follower, his friend, and perhaps with sad eyes, perhaps not, tells a chilling prophecy: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

It was probably a very sweltering day almost forty years later, on August 4th in the year 70 AD when Jesus’ prophecy came true and the Romans, who were occupying Jerusalem at the time, responded to a revolt and tore the temple apart, stone from stone, so that all that remained was the temple mount and the west wall, known today as the Wailing Wall.

The very walls and curtains which were meant to separate the clean from the unclean were destroyed. The walls were torn down, stone from stone, so that there was nothing left to bar access to God for all the unclean. Let me say that again. The walls, which kept all but a very, very select few from God were now destroyed.

God was supposed to live in the temple. But, the temple could not contain God any more than a bucket could contain an ocean. God is greater than the temple walls. I imagine a cathedral today. Like the giant ones in Europe or even the massive National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Those places make you feel awe and wonder. But, does that cathedral contain God? Can we build walls high enough to hold God down? No! God is bigger than the largest cathedral. God does not live in the cathedrals, but God lives and dwells with us.

Jesus invites us to imagine a world without walls separating the clean from the unclean, the pure from the unpure, and the holy from the unholy. Jesus invites us to imagine a world where nothing can separate us from God and nothing can separate us from living together as one, as a community, as the very children of God.

I want you to stop for a moment. Let us stop and imagine a world with no walls. Where men and women are paid equally for doing the same amount of work, where there is no slavery or where people can be treated the same no matter what race or culture they come from. Where the chains and walls that bind all of us are laid aside and broken down for good. A world where class, social status, politics, none of that matters. Where us on the East or West side of our own Berlin, wherever that is, can see that wall come down.

Even just imagine Bethany Village with no walls. Our community and all the walls taken down, so that the Assisted Living and the Skilled Nursing and the Bethany Towers and the Court Apartments and the West Apartments and all the cottages and estates had no walls so that we were forced to live together as a community. Close your eyes and just imagine this. Count to ten…

Pretty interesting, huh? There would be no more financial, health, or social barriers between us. I’m obviously not telling us to physically tear down the beautiful brick walls of the Bethany Village Community, because there are different levels of need that are important and are strived to be met within the various locations. However, I do want us to look at ways where we can make these walls—physically and metaphysically—smaller in our community. Here and now, how can we make Bethany Village ONE community, not six.

How do we build walls up between us? Maybe we say unkind words to one another. Maybe we hurt one another with our actions. Maybe we spend our time thinking only about ourselves and our possessions instead of sharing our time and our passions with one another.

My challenge for us is to tear down these walls we have built up. Instead of blocking people out, invite people in. How do we do that, you might ask?

Chaplain Sharon Miller gave us a wonderful sermon last Sunday about volunteering our time, possessions, passions, and talents here. I have seen wonders untold—people sharing their artistic gifts, people sharing their musical talents in the choirs and playing the piano for our services, people donating their time by volunteering at activities. These are all ways where we chip away at these massive walls between the “us” and the “them,” where we can uplift our brothers and sisters and become one community. But there is always need for more, more volunteers. We each have talents, let us use them to the best of our abilities. And even if we are in poor physical health, we have one very, very powerful gift. The ability to pray. And to gather as a community—even via channel 98—and worship as one the God who tears down walls so we can be built up.

You see, our God is not a God of high ceilinged cathedrals, as beautiful as they might be. Our God is a God that loves us so much that God become human and sacrificed his life for us, so that the walls between humanity and God that our sin built could be torn down forever. And the good news is that when other people build up walls—metaphysical or physical—to keep us out, when we feel lonely, lost, lifeless, hopeless, any of those things, Jesus tells us that one day all those feelings will perish. All the walls that have kept us down, all the chains that have kept us tethered, will be broken. God says that all the turmoil that we feel is but the pangs of birth—the pain and trials of being in labor.

Next Sunday is Christ the King, and then the Thursday after that is Thanksgiving, where we gather together with family or friends or gather here together as a community and share our thanksgivings. And do you know what Sunday follows Thanksgiving this year? The first Sunday in Advent. How appropriate is it in today’s Gospel that we are told to keep alert, to keep watch. Because soon we will enter into the Advent season where we pay special attention to the expectancy of Christ’s return. When Christ returns… When all the walls that we have built up ourselves or the walls that have been built up around us so that we are separated, like East Berlin from the West, will be torn down. When truly we will be as one people with no separation between us, nothing holding us back from being loved for who we are. When we will be able to lift every voice and sing as one, until earth and heaven ring and the stars and the sun and the very earth itself vibrates with our songs of thanksgiving, as we can shed and lay aside our weary, toiled past at last. Where no stone will be left on top of stone. All the turmoil we live in is but the birth pains, and then… on that day… all of creation will finally be reborn and overwhelmed with love and peace.

Until then, let us continue on this journey helping each other along the way. Until then… Ah, until then…

Let us pray: Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.


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