Lent 2021 – “Breaking Down Walls”

Welcome to our 2021 Lenten Compact

This year, we are on a journey with Jesus who–says the Apostle Paul–broke down the dividing walls of hostility on the cross. Throughout his life, Jesus refused to live within the boundaries of existing social order. He regularly broke down the walls of exclusion as a demonstration of love for his neighbor–giving us an example to follow.

Throughout Lent, we will post daily Scriptures and prayers related to our theme. We will also post occasional links to stories and articles that identify the harm done by existing walls such as racism, sexism, classism, etc.

So, here we go. “Let the walls fall down.”

Day 10 – Old Self; New Self

Colossians 3:9-11. Never lie to one another; because you have stripped away the old self, with its ways, and have put on the new self, which is continually being renewed in fuller and fuller knowledge, closer and closer to the image of its Creator. The new self allows no room for discriminating between Gentile and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, foreigner, savage, slave, free man; on the contrary, in all, the Messiah is everything. (Complete Jewish Bible)

This passage uses the image of changing clothes as a metaphor for the changes Christ initiates in our lives – especially changes in the ways that we understand ourselves in relationship to one another and in the ways that we treat those who are different from us. We are now 1/4 of the way through our Lenten Journey, “Breaking Down Walls.” How have you changed? What “fuller knowledge” have you experienced? What evidence do you see of your life mirroring the “image of God?”

Prayer: One God, in Three Persons, creator of one human species, in many hues: all who pray to you are descendants of Adam and Eve, all members of one race called “human.” Forgive the blindness that causes our eyes to notice and magnify those things we regard as different from ourselves in others. Teach us to see clearly, that we, your children, are far more alike than we are different. Help us to put aside the prejudices embedded within us, and to see within every person the Child of God you created, our sister or brother, destined for Glory. In the name of One who died for all persons, of all colors, Jesus Christ. –Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia

Day 9 – No Difference?

Romans 10:12-13: For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,  for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

No difference? Really? There are so many ways that we are different–the way we look, the food we eat, the way we think, the traditions we honor, the way we worship. Individual differences make us unique. Cultural differences make the world more colorful and more appetizing – literally. (Who doesn’t like cinnamon from Sri Lanka?) If the Apostle Paul is erasing differences in this passage, what’s his deeper point and what’s the takeaway for how we relate to one another across our differences?

Prayer: Good and gracious God, Who loves and delights in all people, we stand in awe before You, knowing that the spark of life within each person on earth is the spark of your divine life. Differences among cultures and races are multicolored manifestations of Your Light. May our hearts and minds be open to celebrate similarities and differences among our sisters and brothers. We place our hopes for racial harmony in our committed action and in Your Presence in our Neighbor. May all peoples live in Peace. –Sisters of Mercy

Breaking Down the LGBTQ Wall

Today, February 25, 2021, the US House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 5, (aka The Equality Act) that will extend civil rights protections outlined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to members of the LGBTQ community. Passage of the landmark bill will prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. While a similar bill was passed last year in the House, it failed to be passed in the Republican-controlled Senate. This year, it is unclear if the new Democratic-controlled Senate will have the votes to pass it into law. However, if it does pass, President Biden has vowed to sign the bill into law.

Supporters of the bill – including many faith-based organizations and religious leaders (see full list below) – say that it only codifies what the Supreme Court has already ruled. On June 15, 2020, the Court ruled that LGBTQ individuals must be protected from discrimination in the work place. For them, passage is a matter of “loving one’s neighbor, even those you disagree with” Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, understands passage of the bill as central to the Biblical tenet of “welcome.” “If all are welcome, all are to be protected,” she told the Center for American Progress. However, there is strong opposition to the bill from religious conservatives. In an email blast, Franklin Graham, President of Samaritan’s Purse, called the bill “a very dangerous piece of legislation” and “a threat to life as we know it in our nation today, and a threat to “the religious freedoms we have been blessed with for so long.”

The division within the church over the Equality Act is reminiscent of church divisions about the full inclusion of Gentiles and definitions of “clean” and “unclean.” A vocal minority rejected the official decision of the Early Church Council to give full welcome to Gentiles and made frequent attempts to rebuild the “Gentile Wall.” However, the official trajectory of the church continued toward welcome.

For generations, there has been an “LGBTQ Wall.” Over the past 50 years, there have been attempts to break the wall, but the passage of the Equality Act would ensure that the wall is never rebuilt and that LGBTQ folk will be welcomed as full participants in public life. The question remains: Will the Church continue the trajectory of welcome as it did in the book of Acts, or will it spend its resources on efforts to rebuilt it? And which side will you be on?

The following religious organizations are among those who endorse passage of H. R. 5: The Episcopal Church, The United Methodist Church, The United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, More Light Presbyterians, African American Ministers in Action, The Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Muslims for Progressive Values, the Hindu American Foundation, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Resource: USA Today

Day 8 – 1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back

Galatians 2:11-14: When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

Poor Peter (aka Cephas). We thought he “got it.” Just the other day, in was in the house of Cornelius, proclaiming “I finally understand. God accepts Gentiles!” And he even defended the full inclusion of Gentiles just as they were (uncircumcised) before the first Church Council recorded in Acts 15 based on the fact that the Holy Spirit had been evident in Cornelius and his family. And now, Peter is in Galatia, pulling back from Gentiles because “certain people” were watching. And because Peter pulled back, so did a lot of other believers. Thank God, Paul didn’t remain silent.

When you think about this passage, where do you see yourself? How do you think the Gentiles felt when they watched Peter and the others excuse themselves from the dinner table? When have you experienced peer pressure to reject people because of their differences? How did you handle it? What does this have to do with the “truth of the gospel?”

Prayer: Help, God! We know the truth of the gospel, but sometimes our actions betray the truth. We know what is right and just, but the pressure to join in the hypocrisy is strong. We are faced every day with choices and we often take the path back to our comfort zones, forgetting that doing so leaves those we are called to love behind. Forgive us. We need the power of your Spirit every day so we resist being conformed to the old patterns. And gift us with friends who will call us out and correct us so we can get back on the journey toward reconciliation and healing. Amen.

Day 7 – Leaving the Comfort Zone

Acts 10:34-36: Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.  You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Just going into the house of a Gentile crossed a taboo social boundary for Peter, a Jew. Yet, there he was in the house of Cornelius, making a statement about God’s acceptance of those from every nation. What changed Peter’s behavior? A thrice-repeated vision of “unclean animals” in a sheet that God commanded him to eat. After refusing to obey the command, God said, “Don’t call anything ‘impure’ that God has made ‘clean.’ The experience changed Peter’s life and opened him up to new relationships and a new understanding of God’s radical welcome. What social boundaries have shaped your relationships? Can you think of a time when you crossed a taboo boundary? What did you learn from the experience? You can read the entire story of Peter’s vision HERE.

Prayer: Lord, Jesus Christ, who reached across the ethnic boundaries between Samaritan, Roman and Jew who offered fresh sight to the blind and freedom to captives, help us to break down the barriers in our community, enable us to see the reality of racism and bigotry, and free us to challenge and uproot it from ourselves, our society and our world.  –John Bucki, SJ

Day 6 – Who do you see?

Genesis 1:26-27. Then God said, “Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”   So God created humans in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 

Throughout history, theologians have sought to answer the question, “What constitutes the “imago Dei” within human beings?” Is it that part of human beings that is “immortal?” Is it “having a moral conscience?” Is it “creativity?” Is it the “ability to choose?” Is it our need for “social connection?” Or is it all of the above? Whatever “it” is, being created in the image of the divine distinguishes human beings from the rest of creation, and all human beings – both male and female – possess it in equal measure. Yet throughout history, not all humans have been seen as fully human, which has conveniently justified all kinds of discrimination and abuse. Have you ever struggled with “dehumanizing” words and acts? What is one thing you could do to correct your vision so that you don’t fall into the pattern of dehumanization?

Prayer: Good and gracious God, you invite us to recognize and reverence your divine image and likeness in our neighbor.  Forgive us for our distorted sight that dehumanizes those who are different from us and divides them into categories that you never created. Enable us to see your image in each person we encounter today, and free us to challenge and erase the classifications we’ve created within our society, our world and ourselves.

Day 5 – The Work on Earth

Revelation 5:9-10. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

There is a saying that the people of faith are “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” This song (while heavenly) reminds us that Christ’s sacrifice is all about earth – and specifically about the creation of a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-national priesthood to serve God’s purposes on earth together. What do you picture yourself doing as part of that priesthood on earth? What does your priestly role suggest about how you relate to the diverse members within God’s ‘kin-dom’?

Prayer: Christ Jesus, you hung upon a cross and died for us so that we might live for you. Your body was broken and your blood shed so that we might be healed and made whole. You were faithful unto death so that we might be faithful unto life. Your last command was that we might love one another: one family together from every tribe and nation, a new creation united through your sacrifice, redeemed by your blood, healed by your love, united by your covenant of peace. In your death may we find life. Amen. – Christine Sine, posted on her website, Godspace.

First Sunday of Lent – Feast on Inclusion

Sundays are not counted in the 40 days of Lent because they are considered “Feast Days” rather than “Fast Days.” So, in that spirit, you are invited to take a day to feast on God’s inclusive love. You’re also invited to join KANSA* Collaborative Church for worship, stream live on Facebook.

  • KANSA is Kimball Avenue United Church of Christ and Iglesia Episcopal de Nuestra Señora de las Américas.

Day 4 – Heaven’s Demographics

Revelation 7:9-10 “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 

Have you ever wondered what language we will speak in the heavenly realms? He escuchado que el idioma que vamos a hablar es el español. But maybe we will all have the ability to understand every language – kind of like God’s universal translator. The bottom line is that we are going to share eternity with people who are very different from us. Why are we so resistant to sharing earth time and space with those same people? I’m seriously asking the question. Why? (Feel free to comment.)

Prayer: Compassionate and Gracious God, all tribes and tongues will one day acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Alongside this, we know the truth proclaimed in Your Word that we are all created in Your image. Too easily we allow division based on culture, language, or race. Change our behavior and make us united. Let us focus on our shared status as Your creation and unite together over what we have in common and not fracture over how we differ. And help us to enjoy and celebrate the diverse cultural and linguistic expressions of faith now so we’ll be prepared to belt out “Salvation belongs to our God” when we all stand before the throne and the Lamb, who died to break down the walls. Amen.

Day 3 – Our New Label

Galatians 3:26-28 “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Prayer:  Reconciling God, you have given us a new label, designating us as Your children. Human labels of ethnicity, race, gender, class, ability and status have no meaning to you. In your great love, you have united us together in Christ, yet we have held on to the old divisions. We have maintained the labels of the world and in the process have exalted some and disparaged others, all while cloaking ourselves with out-of-context Scripture to justify ourselves. Forgive us for diminishing Christ in those who are different from us. Forgive us for mirroring the world in our treatment of one another. Help us create a welcoming community, with you as our center, joined hand in hand in your love. We ask this in the name of Jesus- the wall-breaker. Amen.