The last presidential election, including the disappointing debates (not really debates at all in the truest sense of the word), always included the threat to build a wall. Our elected president is still claiming a wall will be built on our border with Mexico, but he is no longer insisting that Mexico must pay for it, at least not entirely. Regardless, this continues to be one of those “hot potato” issues, not only because of what walls represent in the minds of most people, but because of various controversial issues that are in the spotlight when the whole concept is mentioned – immigration policies, deportation, broken families, fractured relationships with our nearest neighbors in Central America, the remaking of America’s image in the world, trade agreements, etc.
This threat has caused me to do a lot of thinking about walls. Walls can and have served a good purpose. On the other hand walls can be built for the wrong reasons. Walls are symbolic. The question is always, “What is their purpose? What do they represent?” To be sure, some walls need to be built. However, there are also some walls that need to be torn down. Walls can protect. Walls can divide. Walls can separate neighbors and nations. Walls can keep people in. Walls can keep people out. If walls could speak, some would say, “You will be safe here,” but others would give an entirely different message: “You are not welcome here.” Prison walls might say, “You are here to stay for a long time”, or perhaps “You will never leave this place; you have been sentenced to live behind these walls for the rest of your life.” On the other hand, there are walls that give visitors a sense of awe, for they know they are standing on holy ground.
Our world has been filled with walls for centuries. Ancient Jerusalem was a walled city. Many of us know the story of Jericho, and have sung, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho….and the walls came tumbling down.” Those of my own generation will never forget when and why the Berlin Wall was built, and will always remember when President Reagan stood at that wall demanding that it be torn down. Every middle school and high school student is familiar with the Great Wall of China. Millions of people around the world have at least heard of the “Wailing Wall” in the Old City of Jerusalem. This is the most sacred ground to all devout Jews and to millions of other pilgrims to the Holy City who, as solemn visitors, put their written prayers in crevices in that ancient wall (it is a part of the Temple Mount, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians). If only all these walls could talk, what stories they could tell.
Some walls are invisible, walls that divide races and religions, cultures and classes, rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, the advantaged and the disadvantaged, the oppressed and their oppressors – walls that are intangible, but as real as if they were walls made of stone, for these walls are created by age-old hatreds, prejudice, greed, the lust for power – dividing walls that are the result of a deep gone-wrongness that had its beginning in the Garden of Eden and led ultimately to another garden outside the walls of Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” But it was not possible, for the Eternal Christ came into this world as the historical Jesus to provide the way for a sinful and lost humanity to be reconciled to a holy God. It was in that garden that Jesus knew there was no way to detour around the cross, and He prayed, “Father, not my will, but Thy will be done.” It was the cross that would be used as a battering ram to knock down those “dividing walls of hostility” that the Apostle Paul speaks of in his Letter to the Ephesians, when he says: “He is our peace; in his flesh he has broken down the dividing wall of hostility (i.e. between Jew and Gentile at that time, and all other dividing walls for all time to come)…that he might create in himself one new humanity, making peace….through the cross, thus putting to death all hostility through it” (Ephesians 2:13-18) – “Now in Christ Jesus those who were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ” (i.e. by his atoning and reconciling death, for those of all nations, all races, all cultures, all tongues, who will take their place beneath his cross, believing in him and receiving him as the Great Reconciler, as Savior and Lord, as the Lord of the nations. as the Prince of Peace).
During the month of July when we always call to remembrance the walls that had to be torn down in order for a new nation to be formed, and new walls that to be established that would safeguard the beliefs, the values, the freedoms, the new form of government that was adopted in 1776. Once again, these walls are invisible, but we know they are there. They are for our protection, they are there to protect and preserve our liberties, to establish boundaries (not just geographical and political but ethical and spiritual), lest we surrender the inheritance of our founding fathers. I am reminded of the admonition we find in the book of Proverbs, “Remove not the ancient landmarks.” We are faced with the fact that some of the landmarks in our nation’s history have been removed, and others may be removed, if we are not vigilant, and some walls that have been torn down need to be rebuilt. God has just brought the Old Testament story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem to mind (Nehemiah 1:1-7, 2:17-18). He was concerned that the walls which marked the “City of God” had been torn down. In the year 606 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, led his mighty army against Jerusalem. In four campaigns, the last one occurring in 581 B.C., Jerusalem was destroyed. Her walls were torn down, the gates burned to the ground, the temple pillaged. The glorious city of God’s covenant people, the Hebrews, lay in charred ruins, the result of God’s judgment on the nation for their spiritual adultery, their disobedience to God’s commandments, which brought about their exile. During the exilic period, world governments changed as leaders were killed or replaced. The Babylonian crown gave way to the Persian scepter. In the fullness of time God’s people were allowed to return home, to the land God had promised to give them. God had remained faithful, although his people were faithless, until they repented as the prophets of the exile called them to truly and earnestly repent, so God would forgive them and take them home again, so the walls of Jerusalem could be rebuilt, the temple restored. You can read the story for yourself in the book of Nehemiah.
I believe we can find a parallel to this Old Testament story in our own nation today. No, we have not had a strong enemy to come against us in our own land since the War of Independence (except for acts of terrorism). We (i.e. the continental United States) have not been invaded by a foreign power. From the time of our national beginning we have been protected for the most part by our natural isolation, but there is no such advantage today in an era of ICBM’s and other weapons of mass destruction. However, there are strong forces arrayed against us, forces that are strongly opposed to the beliefs and values that have made America great (yes, America is still great in spite of her frailties, her faults, her failures, her faithlessness to the “God of our Fathers” – the faith we sing, and our prayers set to music: “America, America, God shed His grace on Thee”). So many who sing such hymns lustily, especially during this month every year, never darken the doors of any church, never bow down before the God of our fathers and mothers in worship with other believers. What about the rest of us? What about those of us who do so? Are we living the faith we sing, or do such patriotic hymns make hypocrites of us, simply because we are not really living the poetry we sing?
Today in our secular society we cannot even get agreement on the Ten Commandments! So many people do not want Christians to pray in public in the name of Jesus, lest non-believers be offended, and yet the pilgrims landed on these shores in the name of Jesus Christ. It was written into the “Mayflower Compact Agreement,” that those early immigrants had come to this new land to “establish the first colony for the advancement of the Christian faith.” Do we really need to apologize for this fact? Let us acknowledge that we have never been a truly Christian nation, in the truest sense of the word, but our nation was founded on biblical and Christian principles, and it is important to understand that the rest of the world sees the United States as a “Christian nation.” I submit that the time has come for us to rebuild some of the walls that are being torn down, not walls that divide us as a people, but the walls that have always united us as a people. Not walls that exclude, but walls that protect such freedoms as the freedom of religion; walls that will also serve preserve our Hebraic and Christian heritage, respect for God’s moral law, and, for those of us who are Christians, an unapologetic allegiance to Jesus Christ, not only as our Lord, but the Lord of the nations, and the Lord of most of those who came to these shores to help build a new nation under God. Not a theocracy, but a nation governed by God’s moral law, and guided by the teachings of Jesus.
“Well, times change, you know,” some will say. Yes, they certainly do! They changed in Nazi Germany. They changed in Eastern Europe. They have changed in England, which has become one of the most secularized nations in Europe, although it is still a nation of many churches and parishes. However, the majority of those churches are in decline. I know, because I served a church in England. Yes, there are some very strong churches there, including the one I was privileged to serve, but they are the exception. The same thing has been happening before our eyes in our own nation, and most of our citizens are not disturbed by the trend.
Will you help to rebuild the walls that are being torn down? Just as Nehemiah was opposed in his efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, so you too will be opposed. We need bold followers of Jesus today, who will not be afraid to stand up for Him, to speak a good word for Him, for as the Apostle Paul told young Timothy, God does not give us “a spirit of timidity,” but wants to give us a holy boldness, like the superlative boldness of Jesus Himself!