Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Walls for Everyone

I am leaving tomorrow morning for a two-week Volunteer in Mission trip to Cambodia.  I was asked to prepare a "sermon" for a service this coming Sunday (hopefully, a translator will be present!)  Below is that sermon:
Section of Wall near Tulkarm, Palestine
I’d like to tell you about a long journey that I made recently – almost exactly a year ago, actually.  I spent three months in the Holy Land – Palestine and Israel – last spring.  As you know, the Holy Land is now a very troubled place, and many people believe it is a violent place, where the Arabs (who are both Christian and Muslim) and the Jewish Israelis want to hurt each other.

I was there with the World Council of Churches, working with a program called Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, and our job was to work with people on both sides of the Wall to help them live in peace.

How many of you are aware that there is an actual wall between Palestine and Israel?  I’m going to pass around a picture of what a small section of that wall looks like.  Those of us who were working with the church there – and a lot of other people – do not like the Wall. 

Palestinian workers wait in line to pass through checkpoint
If a Palestinian wants to travel from their side of the wall to the Israeli side, they have to go through checkpoints – and often are not allowed to go through at all.  And Israelis are not allowed to go to the Palestinian side (unless they are settlers who live there).  Their government tells them it is “dangerous” and “forbidden” for them to go into the Palestinian territory.

So the Wall – the actual physical wall – separates people.  But so does the wall of ignorance and prejudice separate people – not just in Israel and Palestine, but throughout the world.   In Galatians 3:28, Jesus said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  Yet, in Palestine – and in Israel – this very real wall keeps people from getting to know each other and see that they are more alike than they are different.

I could see that Jesus was right; we are all one under Him; and the other people in my team could see it – because we were able to cross the Wall; we were able to meet and talk with people on both sides of the Wall.  But the people who live there are stuck on whatever side of the Wall that they happen to live in – and they can’t meet each other and see each other as people very much like them!

"Warning" sign at checkpoint into Palestine
Every one of us lives behind a wall.  It isn’t a 20 foot high concrete barrier, such as the one in the Holy Land, but it is a wall built of our experiences, our education, our government and our associations with other people.    There aren’t very many people in Portland, Oregon, who know what Cambodia looks like, or what the people of Cambodia are like.  They probably have never met someone from here, and while they may know something of your history – or at least the recent history that the US was involved in – they cannot know or appreciate your culture, because they haven’t experienced it.

Of course, that is true of us too.  Most of you have probably not been to the United States and your knowledge of “Americans” is limited to those of us who have visited here – or, of course, American media, like television, movies and music.

So to return to the scripture about “turning the other cheek,” I think what Jesus was trying to tell us is that we should look for Him in the eyes of everyone we meet.  “The unknown,” the person who is different, should be regarded with the same love and compassion that we would give to our families and to our close friends.  And I do believe that everyone wants peace; the problem comes when we disagree on what peace is – and how we can best find it!

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