07-22-18 – “Breaking Divisions” – Rev. Kevin Hay

07-22-18

“Breaking Divisions”

Rev. Kevin Hay

Ephesians 2:11-22

2:11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, 

called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”
a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands–

2:12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, 

being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, 

and strangers to the covenants of promise,

having no hope and without God in the world.

2:13 But now in Christ Jesus 

you who once were far off 

have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

2:14 For he is our peace; 

in his flesh he has made both groups into one 

and has broken down the dividing wall, 

that is, the hostility between us.

2:15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, 

that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, 

thus making peace,

2:16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

2:17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off 

and peace to those who were near;

2:18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, 

but you are citizens with the saints 

and also members of the household of God,

2:20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, 

with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

2:21 In him the whole structure is joined together 

and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;

2:22 in whom you also are built together spiritually 

into a dwelling place for God.

 

 

2:13 But now in Christ Jesus 

you who once were far off 

have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

2:14 For he is our peace; 

in his flesh he has made both groups into one 

and has broken down the dividing wall, 

that is, the hostility between us.

Breaking Down Divisions

from the beginnings of the Church until today

Jesus has been breaking down divisions

and bringing peace

THEN, it was divisions over the Law

and who was in and who was out…

Jews and Gentiles

the Circumcised and the Uncircumcised

strangers and aliens…

those from far away, those from nearby…

Divisions grew deep and people dug their heels in

about who was included on the inside

of God’s Covenant with the people of Israel…

as Paul wrote to remind the Ephesians

who were arguing over who was in and who was out

that they too were once on the outside…

as the uncircumcised Gentiles…

Division is an age old problem

though Divisions often seem to be growing even more, today, 

than ever before…

What are the divisions that run deep today?

What are the things that divide us and cause us to dig our heels in…

in the world, in this country, in this state and community, in the Church…

Who are the circumcised and the uncircumcised?

Who are the strangers and aliens?

What Divisions do we need Christ to break down the dividing walls today?

As many of you know

I come from a pretty long line of Presbyterian ministers

8 generations in fact…

my grandfather – Rev. Dr. Edward C. Hay

was a Pastor of many churches throughout the southeast 

during his life in ministry…

and his 2nd to last church before retirement

he was called to be the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church

in Birmingham, Alabama

so in 1965, he moved his family of 6

his wife, my grandmother

my father, 

2 other sons and 1 daughter

to Birmingham, Alabama

and they moved right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement

to the downtown Presbyterian Church in Birmingham

there was some pretty extreme Division and Racial Tension

going on in downtown Birmingham during this time…

segregation was deeply entrenched

in both the legal system and social culture of Birmingham 

segregation was a way of life in Birmingham…

in the workplace

restaurants, buses, bathrooms…

the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church in 1963

was just 4-5 blocks away from First Presbyterian Church

the infamous fire hose scene also took place downtown in 1963

where Birmingham Police Chief 

Eugene “Bull” Connor used high-pressure fire hoses

and police attack dogs on protestors 

marching from the scene of the 16th St. Bombing to City Hall

protesting this tragic bombing…

and amidst all of this racial tension and division

and protests of the Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther, King, Jr.

found himself in jail… in April of 1963

where he penned the infamous

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

on scraps of paper given to him by the janitor

and later on a legal pad given by his lawyers

and while the letter has become famous

many people skip over WHO the letter was actually addressing…

the letter itself was addressed to 

8 white clergymen in downtown Birmingham, Alabama

it was an open letter, intended to be read for all, 

much like many of Paul’s letters

as it was published by the Birmingham News paper

but it was  addressed to 8 white pastors of churches in downtown Birmingham

including the pastor of First Presbyterian Church

whom my grandfather followed soon after…

  • his name was Rev. Dr. Edward Ramage…

Dr. Ramage faithfully served First Presbyterian 

in downtown Birmingham 

for 19 years in a time of great division and racial tension

he was often caught in the middle of the division and tension

as one who was criticized for supporting desegregation 

by the segregationist

while also being criticized for moving too slowly 

by the desegregationists…

in fact that’s what Dr. King’s Letter was addressing

was pastors who spoke out in support of the Civil Rights movement

but who also seemed to be “playing it safe” 

by also encouraging the movement,

and leaders like Dr. King

to wait, to be patient, to let the process play out in court…

as these pastors had recently published a letter in the paper 

“A Call to Unity”

urging them to stop doing things like 

boycotting local downtown businesses

and organizing various protests, sit-ins, and marches

that were “disrupting” the city…

and so as Dr. King found himself incarcerated

he sought to respond to this “Call to Unity” 

by these 8 local white pastors…

by writing his response in the famous 

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

a letter that was actually just recommended 

by the most recent General Assembly of the PC(USA) 

to be studied for possible inclusion in our Book of Confessional Statements…a letter where Dr. King famously argued that

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere….

as King says…

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, 

tied in a single garment of destiny. 

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… 

Anyone who lives inside the United States 

can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

and King addressed the suggestion that the movement wait for the process to work itself out in the courts, saying…

“‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.'”[6] 

Declaring that African Americans had waited 

for these God-given and constitutional rights long enough, 

King quoted Chief Justice Earl Warren, 

who said in 1958 that justice too long delayed is justice denied.”[6] 

arguing that…”Perhaps it is easy for those 

who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.'”[10] 

It was a time when Division and Racial Tension ran deep…

and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

sought to offer leadership in the midst of division in in the South

much like Paul sought to offer leadership in the midst of division in Ephesus

another aspect of the civil rights movement in downtown Birmingham

amidst the boycotts of local businesses, protests, sit-ins, and marches…

and the stirring conversation around the “Call to Unity” 

and Dr. King’s response in the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

there was a growing rumor 

that on Easter Sunday in 1963

the black community was planning 

to enter the local white churches in downtown

on Easter Sunday…

and of course, in a deeply segregated city…

the big question was

what would the pastor do if this happened?

and since it was such a widespread rumor…

there were even rumors of tv cameras
hanging around the downtown churches on Easter Sunday 

prepared to report on this development…

the daughter of Pastor Ed Ramage 

– who was the Pastor at First Presbyterian at this time…

reflected on this experience in a blog…

saying…

Kathy (her friend) and I stood dead still and fell silent 

when they walked into our sight. The choir kept singing. 

They were finely dressed walking arm-in-arm, bravely, 

like two Joan of Arcs, heads held high and proud, 

their shoulders square. 

They were two young African-American women 

holding on to each other tightly 

in a fancy downtown church of all white people. 

They looked straight ahead 

and kept walking down that long red carpet.

I couldn’t see their faces but I could tell they were brave 

because everybody was looking at them 

and they didn’t take the first open seat, or the second. 

As they passed rows, 

I saw members of the congregation in the side sections 

peel off and walk right out of the church.

The young women walked all the way down to the second row. 

Kathy’s daddy moved over and motioned them in. 

I felt so relieved and was certain that he and my daddy 

had cooked up a plan for him to do just that 

because Dr. Joe didn’t make a habit of sitting up front.

Daddy delivered the shortest Easter sermon in history that day, 

and I did not listen to a word of it. 

Then it was over – “May the Lord bless you and keep you and may his face shine upon you both now and forever. Amen.”

2 young black women bravely came into a church service

not long after the 16th St. Baptist church bombing just blocks away…

walking all the way down to the 2nd row…

while other church members walked out

and news cameras awaited to report on what happened…

the following weeks and months… after allowing this to happen…

Pastor Ed Ramage began to receive hate mail, death threats

people slashed his tires

and he began to fear for his own safety

and the safety of his family…

the division and racial tension was so extreme

the he eventually decided to leave this church and move his family away

in December of 1963…

and understandably so…

this was the type of Division and Racial Tension

that was prevalent in downtown Birmingham

at First Presbyterian Church

a church and community

my grandfather soon moved his family to in January of 1965

Division and Racial Tension 

of the Civil Rights Movement

the 16th St. Bombing

Fire hoses and police dogs

boycotts, sit-ins, protests, marches

the Letter from a Birmingham Jail addressed to his predecessor

the controversy over the black community 

coming into worship on Easter Sunday…I’ve been told that…

the next several years as my grandfather was the Pastor

in preparation for Easter

and in fear of another visitation from the black community 

on Easter Sunday

the Session would discuss and vote on 

what the Pastor was supposed to do if this were to happen again…

My grandfather knew all the background going in

and he was clear with the Session before he came

that he believed God’s Church

and the Lord’s Table was open to all God’s people

and that if we was going to go to Birmingham, 

they needed to know where he stood on this issue…

and that he would stand firm in his views…

yet for the first several years, as the Session voted, 

the Session continued to vote that…

if any African Americans attempted to enter the sanctuary 

on Easter Sunday

they would NOT be welcomed by the Pastor.

it was a time and place of extreme Division and Racial Tension…

I remember my grandmother telling another story several times

it was the time for the Presbyterian women in Birmingham

to come together for a Triennial luncheon gathering

the women of all the Presbyterian Churches in town

would gather every 3 years for a luncheon

and my grandmother was involved 

with a group of women in charge of organizing this gathering…

but one of the churches that would be invited

was the historically black Presbyterian church 

in downtown Birmingham

the church where Condoleeza Rice grew up actually…

and nobody knew what they were supposed to do…

how do you have a luncheon with the women from the black church?

when at the time, it was culturally and socially 

inappropriate and unacceptable 

for white women and black women 

to sit together at the same table…

when divisions are so deeply engrained in our culture

when we have our heels dug in so deep…

how do we break down divisions like Jesus does for all of us?

how do we throw open the doors 

and invite all God’s people into worship?

how do we invite all of our neighbors to join us for a meal, 

when it’s culturally and socially unacceptable?

Division is an age old problem, we continue to wrestle with today…

Paul writes to the Ephesians

as they are still wrestling with God’s covenant with Israel

and whether or not all believers in Christ are equal

when it comes to salvation and God’s covenant

the Division Paul is addressing, 

could as easily describe 

the Division during the Civil Rights movement

just as much as it could easily describe 

the many Divisions we experience today…

but in a world full of Division

Paul reminds the Ephesians, and us

that Christ brings us peace and breaks down dividing walls..

saying..

2:13 But now in Christ Jesus 

you who once were far off 

have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

2:14 For he is our peace; 

in his flesh he has made both groups into one 

and has broken down the dividing wall, 

that is, the hostility between us.

but what does that look like today

what does Christ bringing peace 

and breaking down divisions look like today?

in a world divided over political parties

both democrats and republicans have their heels dug in so deep

it often seems that it’s nearly impossible 

to accomplish anything in government…

we stick to our own groups of like-minded people

watching and reading our own versions of the news

sticking to our own sources of conservative or liberal bias…

as the divisions grow deeper and deeper

we dig our heels in about our stances on…

– separating children from their families

  • immigration enforcement and literally building walls
  • or who should be our next Supreme Court Justice

just to name a few…

and it happens in other places too…

we dig our heels in about our stances on various issues

at work, in our social life…

even in the Church…

we have become so Divided

that conversations

coming together to talk

or to share a meal with one another

has become nearly impossible

much less reaching any agreement or compromise…

It took several years, 

but after continuing to include it on the Session Agenda

after several years of my grandfather 

being intentional about having the conversations 

with the leaders of the Church every year…

eventually, those conversations 

allowed Christ to break down the dividing walls

as the minutes eventually 

showed the word “NOT” being crossed out by my grandfather

instead of saying:

they would NOT be welcomed by the Pastor.

the sentence eventually changed to simply say

they would be welcomed by the Pastor.

and that happened because the Session intentionally engaged in conversation 

with people of differing perspectives

and allowed Christ to break down the dividing walls…

as the Presbyterian Women discussed how to proceed 

with their triennial luncheon with the women from the black church

my grandmother eventually offered a solution

saying – let’s just remove the chairs

and we can all eat standing up

so that’s what they did – they removed the chairs…

and she says it was a beautiful moment, of getting creative

and allowing Christ to break down the dividing walls of society and culture…

so in times of increasing Divisions

socially, politically, even within the Church…

how can we allow Christ to break down the dividing walls?

as the middle of our Affirmation of Faith reminds us today…

“In each time and place, there are particular problems and crises 

through which God calls the church to act. 

The church, guided by the Spirit, 

humbled by its own complicity 

and instructed by all attainable knowledge, 

seeks to discern the will of God 

and learn how to obey in these concrete situations. “(9.43)

So… in this particular time and place…

How can we be intentional about engaging in the hard conversations

so that we can cross out some of those divisions?

In this particular time and place…

How is God calling each of us to get creative

and find ways to 

to remove the chairs…

so that all God’s people can gather at the table…

as we allow Christ to break down the dividing walls…

in today’s society and culture?

How can we say together, as the hymn we sang says it…

Here the love of Christ shall end divisions

All are welcome, All are welcome, All are welcome in this place.

as Paul reminds us so well…

2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, 

but you are citizens with the saints 

and also members of the household of God,

2:20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, 

with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

2:21 In him the whole structure is joined together 

and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;

2:22 in whom you also are built together spiritually 

into a dwelling place for God.

AMEN

WE RESPOND IN FAITH

*Affirmation of Faith – Excerpts from the “Confession of 1967” of the PC(USA)

As a denomination, part of our constitution consists of the Book of Confessions

it is a series of creedal statements like the Apostle’s Creed

officially approved by our denomination.

Each one has it’s own unique character 

and is often shaped by the history and events of it’s time…

While we typically just use the Apostle’s Creed here at Romney Presbyterian

We now currently have 10 confessional statements of the Presbyterian Church

the most recent one approved was the Belhar Confession

and just this summer at the most recent General Assembly, 

the process was initiated, to begin exploring adding another one

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King, Jr.

In that spirit, I invite us today to join in using one of our current confessional statements,

the Confession of 1967 as our Affirmation of Faith

Excerpts from the Confession of 1967 of the Presbyterian Church (USA) 

“In Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. 

We confess that Jesus Christ is God with us, the eternal Son of the Father, 

who became human and lived among us to fulfill the work of reconciliation.

We believe that the risen Christ is present in the church by the power of the Holy Spirit

to continue and complete his mission.

This work of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

is the foundation of all we say about God, ourselves, and the world.” (9.07)

“In each time and place, there are particular problems and crises 

through which God calls the church to act. 

The church, guided by the Spirit, 

humbled by its own complicity and instructed by all attainable knowledge, 

seeks to discern the will of God and learn how to obey in these concrete situations. “(9.43)

“God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. 

In his reconciling love, God overcomes the barriers between sisters and brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. 

The church is called to bring all people to receive and uphold one another 

as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, 

marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. 

Therefore, the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination 

and ministers to those injured by it. 

Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians 

who exclude, dominate, or patronize others, however subtly, 

resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess.” (9.44a)

 

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