My Lenten theme this year is Breaking Down Walls. I was not just thinking of the controversy about the wall on the U.S/Mexican border when I chose this topic. All of us have walls in our lives, products of our own brokenness and often too, of our responses to the brokenness of others. These walls separate us from the one true God, from each other and from God’s creation.
So how do we encourage our congregations to break down walls during Lent this year?
1. Preach a theology of inclusion. So often we create walls between us and those who look or practice faith differently than we do. Preach a sermon of Galatians 3:28 where Paul reminds us that “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
What does that look like in our world today? How could we use Lent to break down walls that exclude other ethnicities, other denominations and other sexual orientations?
Why not invite each member of your congregation to visit a church of a different denomination during Lent. You might even consider visiting a place of worship for a different faith than yours. Then have a discussion asking: What did you learn about God? And What did you learn about faith?
2. Encourage practices that help you get to know your neighbors. Random acts of kindness in the neighborhood are great ways to break down walls that isolate us from those around us.
My friends Trevor and Hilary, of Kardia church in Seattle researched their neighborhood to find out who had moved in over the last few months. They then visited each of the new people and gave them a small gift to welcome them. For many it was the first form of welcome into their new environment they had experienced.
More recently, during our heavy snow they went around the neighborhood shoveling sidewalks and driveways for those who were unable to do it themselves.
3. Be open to change. When we interact with people who are very different from us we need to be willing to learn and be receptive to the change God may demand of us.
I am still impacted by the words of African American preacher Leroy Barber who once told me “white people want us to show up but they don’t want us to change how we do things.” We need to encourage flexibility and a willingness to both see things differently and do things differently.
4. Share the pain of the excluded. When we listen to the stories of other people’s pain we have the possibilities of strengthening the walls that divide us by turning away from or ignoring the suffering that overwhelm us.
Alternatively we can take the pain we hear expressed into ourselves in the same way that Jesus took on the pain and suffering of the world. Then we must allow God to comfort us in the midst of that pain and share that comfort and compassion with others. Teaching our congregations to listen to the pain of others and respond in compassionate and caring ways could be one of the most powerful things we could teach during Lent.
Listen, pray, respond is a great mantra to teach our members to use during Lent.
Lent is meant to be a season that prepares us to live more effectively as followers of Christ. And that is all about breaking down walls that exclude and isolate us.
What will you do to break down the walls within yourself and your congregation during this season?
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