The Berlin Wall
At the end of WWII Germany became divided into occupational zones. The capital city of Berlin found itself divided as well. East Germany had a Soviet-style authoritarian government and many of the people longed for the political freedoms and prosperity of non-communist countries. Many East Germans fled to these non-communist countries via West Germany.
The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 to prevent this mass exodus. The wall became a symbol of Communist tyranny, especially with news of those shot down trying to escape to West Germany.
With the decline of the Soviet Union border restrictions started to relax which culminated in mass demonstrations and eventually the fall of the East German government. President Ronald Reagan will probably be most remembered for saying, “Tear down this wall.” In 1989 masses of East Germans approached and crossed the wall. The were welcomed by West Germans in a celebratory atmosphere. And over the coming weeks the public dismantled the wall.
Jesus Christ tore down walls
Jesus Christ was and is in the job of tearing down walls. The church was commissioned and continues to be at the job of tearing down walls.Jesus ate with sinners. As a Jew, Jesus traveled through the avoided country of Samaria. Jesus allowed women to sit at his feet and be educated. Jesus touched the untouchable (the lepers, the possessed, the unclean). Jesus gathered the children (who in that day were considered of little value and a nuisance) around him and blessed him.
In Jesus there is no age discrimination, no race discrimination, no gender discrimination. Jesus tore down the walls. In his death and resurrection he spiritually tore down walls. When we are baptized in Christ, Jesus tears down the walls that society has erected in our lives.
Annual Conference celebrated anniversaries of the tearing down of walls. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of full clergy rights for women in the Methodist tradition. Just 11 days after the adjournment of the 1956 General Conference Maud Keister Jenkins to receive full conference membership. Maud Jenkins spent 44 years as a full-time missionary to Korea. She received these credentials in abstensia while in Korea.
It also marks 50 years of inclusiveness. You know that the Methodist Church is divided into geographic regions called Conferences and we are a part of the Central PA Conference which reaches north to the New York border, south to the Maryland border, west to Altoona and east of Harrisburg. We are a part of larger section called the Northeastern Jurisdiction.
There was one conference, the Central Conference, that was not designated by geographic bounds, but by race. The Central Conference was composed of the black or African American churches. Until 50 years ago, the Conferences were segregated. In 1956 churches were permitted to transfer from the Central Jurisdiction to their appropriate geographic conference. Mitchell Memorial Methodist Church of Harrisburg became the first congregation in the denomination to do so.
So the Central PA Conference made history on two counts in 1956 as walls were torn down. And we continue to tear down walls. The mission report was given on Friday. Much of that report was of the ministry through Mission Central. Because of you, $1,747,566 in aid was sent to Katrina victims via UMCOR (100,000 relief kits, 6,000 flood buckets – 1,000 more directly to UM Churches). These supplies came not only from churches from this Conference by 12 other Northeastern Jurisdictional Conferences. And not only from churches, but schools, businesses, government agencies, civic clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and countless unnamed individuals who just dropped supplies off at Mission Central.
Mission Central, a ministry of this Conference, is tearing down walls geographically as materials are received across geographic and church and state borders. Mission Central is tearing down walls as supplies are distributed across state lines as wells as ocean containers sent to the Congo, Guatemala, Africa, and Liberia. You have witnessed the walls coming down as JV students sewed desperately needed school bags.
What walls do we need to tear down?
Maybe it’s these church walls (not literally.) The church is not merely the meeting of people on Sunday morning. We are to be the church outside these walls. We are to carry the message of Christ beyond these walls. Let us continue to allow God to tear down the walls around us and in our hearts. May God open our eyes to the needs around us and give us hearts filled with compassion to reach out those in need. May he give us courage to reach out in love.