Seeing Through Walls
Text: Acts 10:1-15
This Wall is not composed of a lovely stack of stones surrounding a flower garden. This Wall is a huge construction of drab concrete that towers into the sky like Jack’s beanstalk and it as thick as fog on the soupiest of nights. To make this Wall even more ominous, it is topped with barbed wire to discourage anyone from ever trying to scale this massive structure. There is absolutely nothing lovely about this Wall.
Some years ago, when I arrived in Tel Aviv, The Wall that is called everything from the Separation Barrier to the Occupation Barrier to the Security Fence, was the most striking sight I saw. It is not just one Wall, but many Walls that weave for miles and not in a straight line but like a serpent slithering along the landscape making sure no one crosses its path.
Jewish citizens in Israel live on one side of The Wall, speak Hebrew, live in the opulent environs of Jerusalem and Jaffa and are terrified of those who live on the other side of The Wall. Palestinians live on the opposite side of The Wall, in Occupied Territory, speak Arabic, some of whom are Christian, many who are Muslim, and all who are subject to hundreds of checkpoints to make entry into and exit from Israel tedious and laborious. They are terrified of the next restriction Israel will put on their lives or the next set of water rights that the Israeli government will take away.
On the Israeli side of The Wall, citizens lament that this barrier is sad but necessary to provide security from bomb-strapped terrorists on the other side. On the Palestinian side of The Wall, they lament that this barrier is a visual reminder that they are unwelcome guests in their own land, cut off from their own religious heritage in cities like Hebron and Jerusalem. As an outsider looking in, it seemed to me as if everyone’s vision was permanently obstructed by The Wall, a Wall that made the Holy Land feel anything but holy.
I am sad to confess that after traveling in the occupied Palestinian territories and within Israel itself for nearly two weeks, The Wall started to become visual “white noise” for me. It was always there, but after repeated trips alongside it, it lost some of its initial visual horror and it did not evoke the same emotional sadness. I cannot help but think that this was a goal of those who constructed The Wall, to train those on both sides to no longer see it, for it to slip into the back of their minds.
Peter had lived his entire life on one side of The Wall. In his case, it was not an immense physical structure as in Israel today, but it was just as a formidable Wall nonetheless. Since his childhood, Peter’s vision of the world included an immense Wall of intentional segregation, where Jews and Gentiles each had their place in the world, but it was never a shared place. Jews walled themselves off from Gentiles by their dietary restrictions and their cleanliness laws. Gentiles walled themselves off from Jews with equal fervor as well.
I imagine Peter was the first one to climb in the boat to exit Gentile territories whenever Jesus found it necessary to climb over The Wall and spend time with Gentiles in their unclean lands. Even after being called by Jesus to follow him, even after his failing Jesus three times on the night of his arrest only to be forgiven by the risen Jesus, Peter remained a follower of Jesus and he remained a faithful, conservative Jew.
Just imagine how fast Peter shook off his sleep after having a religious nightmare to beat all religious nightmares. In this nightmare, God tells Peter to eat all sorts of restricted, un-kosher foods, foods he has never tasted in his entire life because they are expressly forbidden to eat. It does not take long before Peter realizes that this is no nightmare, but a vision from God, actually a gift from God to open Peter’s eyes wider than they have ever been open before. It is a vision with no Separation Wall between Jew and Gentile, a vision of a world in which each person is valued as a child of God and no one must eat different food or dine only at duly designated tables.
Always the argumentative sort, after being giving this vision, Peter argues with God. He reminds God that he lives among clean company, separate from unclean Gentiles, and he goes on to compliment himself on having always honored the Wall of religious separation by living apart from Gentiles and keeping a good kosher diet. God does not return the compliment. Instead, God shatters Peter’s neatly segregated world and opens his reluctant eyes to see through a longstanding, seemingly impenetrable Separation Wall.
I have been a Gentile Christian since my baptism as an infant and though I count many of my best friends to be of the Jewish faith, I am not a Jew. Even so, I have my own set of “Walls” that I need to see through. All my life, I have struggled to see through the formidable Wall of racism, trying not to pretend that I have succeeded and am now color-blind, but praying that God will make me so. As an older, straight, white male, I have struggled to see through the perplexing Wall of gender identity, praying that God will give me eyes to beyond my static gender stereotypes. As a person who has more than enough, I have struggled to see through the insidious Wall of privilege, trying not to pat myself on the back for having hit a home room when in truth, I was born on third base.
God woke Peter in the night with a vision of radical welcome and acceptance that Peter fought fiercely at first. It was a vision that would finally allow Peter to see through one of the earliest Separation Walls and would give Peter a new set of divine lenses with which to look out on the world around him.
This story from Acts is all about God messing with Peter and by implication, messing with us, a God who messes with our sleep and wakes us up from our daily sleepwalking and dares us to see what God is calling us to be and calling us to do.
Take this story to heart and it will not only allow us to see through but it will tear down the Wall of reasonability that restricts us from seeing what God is doing because God defies our idol of reasonability. It will tear down the Wall of sameness that keeps our little worlds little and prevents us from befriending new people not at all like us and embracing new ideas that we have never considered. It will tear down the Wall of caution that warns us against any sudden urge to walk into situations and into people’s lives that need us but caution would keep us from going.
When you and I eat at this table and wash at this font, God tosses a cold glass of water in our faces so we can finally see through the dividing Walls of every name and every description that cloud our sights. God wakes us up and gives us the gift not only to see through Walls that have long obstructed our vision, but the courage to tear down every last Wall segregating us from the “Other,” each of whom – women, men, children, youth – just so happen to be children of God.
So, be careful tonight when you go to sleep. God is just waiting to mess with us until all the Walls that separate us from the love of God and living out that love come tumbling down.