The sermon text for
this morning comes from the prophet Micah, the 5th chapter, verses 1
you are walled around with a wall;
siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel
upon the cheek.
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
3Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labour has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
5and he shall be the one of peace.’
I almost forgot my
object for my sermon illustration, I had to go back and retrieve
it. This little piece of concrete, I have often wanted to mount in
some way, and to place on a wall in my office. Instead, it's been
in the sock drawer for the last 15 years. Anyone have any idea why
on earth I've kept it? Berlin. Yeah, this is a piece of the
Berlin Wall that a friend of mine sent to me.
As many of you know,
I used to live in Berlin, for three years, from 1978-1981. That's
where I met my wife Judy, and our first year of marriage was in
Berlin. Of course at that time Berlin was a walled-in city,
something that I discovered in great shock the night before I moved to
Berlin. I always thought it was on the border between East and
West Germany, I didn't realize it was in the middle of East Germany, so
that was a rude awakening.
But an incredible
experience, those three years living there in that walled-in city.
I learned a little bit about walls, walls built around cities and
between nations and how they provide for security on the one hand and
yet how they also are often disruptive to human affairs and damaging to
the human psyche. How they divide families and become objects
greatly despised by those living on both sides of the wall.
So I invite you to
reflect with me this morning on the significance of walls.
Especially as we see walls being built once again in the Holy Land, and
walls built on our southern border with Mexico.
And to consider the
alternative that is presented by Micah and how it is seen as realized in
the birth of Jesus.
The first line of
this text -- "Now you are walled around with a wall" -- refers
to that time when Jerusalem was besieged by the Assyrian army in the
year 701 before our common era (BCE). And the wall that had been
built for the protection of the city had now become its prison.
Standing on that wall, I've been told, you can see the hills of
Bethlehem. The Kennedy's were there this summer, Michael said, and
Bethlehem is about 10 minutes from Jerusalem. Not very far.
And yet because of the new wall that has been built separating Israel
from the West Bank it takes an hour and a half to go from Bethlehem to
Jerusalem. And that wall has created tremendous economic hardship,
especially for the people of Palestine, as farmers have been cut off
from their land, laborers have been cut off from their jobs, etc.
So much so, the staff of our overseas mission division and the
leadership of our church brought a resolution to our General Assembly
last summer in Portland condemning that wall, and calling on the Israeli
government to tear it down and to abide by the international agreements
that prohibit such walls.
As we were reminded
by the protesters who where there on that day, and some of you I know
where there and were confronted by them, with their posters and pictures
of the people of Israel who have been killed by the suicide
bombings. And if you spend any time listening to them, you heard
them talk about the greater sense of security, stability, and peace that
has been achieved since those walls have gone up, and the suicide
bombings, as a result, have decreased.
So it is a terribly
difficult and complex issue with concrete results measured in very real
pain and suffering of those who live within the shadows of those
walls. And it is precisely that complexity, that difficulty, which
makes this text from Micah all the more challenging.
Here is Micah, 2700
years ago, in a very similar context as today -- of violence,
destruction, and fear -- and from within those protective walls
surrounding Jerusalem pointing to the little town of Bethlehem outside
of the wall, defenseless. And he says 'From you, Bethlehem, shall
come our savior, our future, our security'. And it's a striking
contrast to the walled-in city. A startling claim for those who
equate security with power and military defenses. This is not just
a new ruler in the long line of Davidic descendents of which he speaks,
but a new kind of ruler 'who will stand and keep his flock in the
strength of the Lord', the prophet says.
In other words, the
hope for peace lies not in the mighty warrior, but a gentle
shepherd. True security will not be found in fortress walls but in
manger stalls. It's not a coincidence, I think, therefore, that
God chose Bethlehem to be that place of where the Messiah would
come. Because Bethlehem affirms that the meek will inherit the
earth, that the mighty will be brought down, that the lowly will be
lifted up. So God chose Bethlehem, and not only Bethlehem, but a manger
as a another sign that God was doing something new, turning the world
upside down. God chose Bethlehem to show us that Kings and
Caesars, dictators and presidents, ultimately will not be the ones who
determine the fate of our world. Bethlehem, now more than ever,
outside the walls of Jerusalem, once again is that symbol of God's
vulnerable presence in the world.
If you are following
the ongoing saga, so critical peace and security in the world, of Harry
fighting the battle against He who shall not be named, the evil Lord
Voldemort, then you know in your heart that when the 7th and final book
comes out sometime next year that it won't be the older, wiser, and more
powerful wizards who save the world from this great evil. But
rather the young and innocent Harry Potter and his classmates.
Does that sound familiar to you? Remember the prophet Isaiah, who
said the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with
the kid, and a little child shall lead them.
The message of Micah,
as well as the gospels is that if you want to find God, if you want
to see the Messiah, don't look to the palaces of power and the
fortresses of walls. Look to the little town of Bethlehem.
To the manger. To the shelters and the soup kitchens. To the
jails and the half-way houses. To the places you least expect and
there you will find our Lord and savior.
Thursday evening was
a dark and somber night. A long night in Eugene. No, I'm not
talking about Duck football -- what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas J
[Ducks lost 38-8 in the Las Vegas bowl]. Thursday evening was the
annual memorial service for the homeless who have died on the
streets. It's held traditionally on the longest night of the year,
which is the Winter Solstice, December 21st. It was a tradition
that has now become a national event, began by homeless advocates in
There were about 30
or 40 folk gathered here in our courtyard for Eugene's service.
Workers from the front-line agencies -- ShelterCare, soup kitchen's,
Buckley House, Whitebird Clinic. And the homeless, standing
side-by-side, some who have come for the soup kitchen held here on
Thursday nights. Standing there side-by-side and lighting candles
for each person who was named who has died on the street in the last
year. And then we rang the chimes, 33 times we rang them, and one
for the unknown person yet to be found.
Sacred Heart has this
wonderful program -- No
One Dies Alone -- that provides somewhere there constantly to the
terminally ill, volunteers, so you have that assurance that someone will
be with you at all times. You think about how tragic it is that in
our time, in this modern society with all of our affluence, and yet
30-some people have died on the streets alone, in the cold, without
I was contemplating
that tragic reality as I also wondered about any connections to the
Christmas manger and the walls of Micah when I met Glen. Glen was
formerly homeless himself, and said he came to the service because of
his experience of living on the street and wanted to remember those who
are homeless. And when he learned that I am the pastor of the
church he asked me if I'd like to hear his poem about the homeless and
churches. I said 'sure'. I'd like to share it with you --
it's rather long, there may be an offensive word or two in here for you,
but I was so struck by it, it left me speechless in that context of
standing outside after just remembering the homeless. And he
titles it "A Church Without Walls":
Church Without Walls
church without walls, I said to the Rev
Who purchased my burger, fries, and Coke.
It must have been Winter some years back
I was out on a lunch date with Pastor Jack.
dream was big and kind were his lips
When he asked this question between thoughtful sips.
Glen, I care for the homeless, I really do
I'd like to see them fill my pew.
like to build a new church, you see
One for the poor to come hear me.
I said to the Rev with no thought at all
You need to build a church without walls.
put up a south wall that won't stay
An east and a west wall will keep them away.
Maybe a new north wall to hang your cross
But your four walls won't save the lost.
looked at me a bit aloof
I said "That's right, Jack, forget the roof".
They've begged for a roof for a hundred years
You watched in the rain with crocodile tears.
let them come sit down and dry
Then ran for the exit when they came by.
So for all the drunks that soiled your floor
I hope you found mercy for every whore.
too late for a roof, Rev, thanks for the lunch
He looked at me thoughtfully and nodded a bunch.
One year passed, Jack moved up the street
To a wonderful church where the wealthy meet.
up in the hills, too far to walk
Where gifted theologians love to talk.
I visited there, I ate rich foods
But I was a stranger and kind of rude.
smelled back then, my clothes were old
Yet I walked into Jack's church bold.
Pastor Jack is busy sir, please wait by the wall
Knowing that they'd rather I didn't come at all.
walls, painted halls, pristine toilets every floor
A fully stacked kitchen, what a score.
So I stuffed myself not knowing when
I would ever eat as well again.
I had a few words with Pastor Jack
But I was crazy and not welcomed back.
Some years have passed and I've cleaned up
I found a church with communion cup.
don't agree with all their views
I'm still upset they moved the pews.
We never sing my favorite hymn
But by-and-by I'm part of them.
quit condemning their purple walls
But every chance I crowd there halls.
With homeless bums and smelly feet
Those who need a place to eat.
roughly pushed away
They're the ones I want to stay.
And now my church is growing, see
Forgetting men who sometimes pee.
to be cleaned, carpets too
I love the homeless, how 'bout you?
They hide and sleep outside our wall
I wish they saw no wall at all.
for Josh, who likes our wall
He found a place where he can crawl.
One night it got under 25
I worried if he would stay alive.
if he froze outside our wall
Would it impact my church at all?
Hmm, I often think of Pastor Jack
Do you think that he would take it back?
you go up class, you might find him
Give him my love and remind him
No need to say my name at all
Just whisper in his ear: "No walls".
from the congregation]
I think that could be a poem about any
church. And about us too.
Do you want to know that love which
knows no boundaries? Which cannot be contained by any walls?
Come to Bethlehem. Leave the walled-in fortresses of pride and
privilege behind. Come to the stable, where there are no walls, no
barriers, no protection. Just you and God. Come to the place
where we can be at peace with one another and with
Come where love is born and is here to
stay. Come this night of wonder, to the little town of Bethlehem,
where God's love is found outside the walls.