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Traveling the way of Jesus means tearing down walls

For Jesus himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace Ephesians 1:14 – 15 The Rev. Christian Fuhrer became the pastor at St. Nikolai in 1980 when Germany was divided most visibly by the wall the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) built in Berlin in 1961 in an attempt to keep its people from fleeing to the West. “In the GDR, the church provided the only free space,” Fuhrer said in an interview with Religion & Ethics News Weekly. “Everything that could not be discussed in public could be discussed in church, and in this way, the church represented a unique spiritual and physical space in which people were free.” In the early 1980s, Fuhrer began holding weekly prayers for peace. In October 1989, on the 40th anniversary of the GDR, protesters in Leipzig were beaten and arrested. Two days later, St. Nikolai Church was full to overflowing for the weekly vigil. Following that vigil, 70,000 people marched through the city. “In church,” Fuhrer said, “people had learned to turn fear into courage, to overcome the fear and to hope, to have strength. They came to church and then started walking, and since they did not do anything violent, the police were not allowed to take action.” A month after the massive demonstration, the wall between East and West Berlin came down.

A massive wall runs through the holy city of Jerusalem and the territory of Palestine, separating neighbors and family members from one another, making travel much more difficult and time-consuming for Palestinians. One of the stories I heard was from a single mother, the principal of a Lutheran school. She didn’t live that far from the school, but as a Palestinian and because of the wall, checkpoints, and roads that she was not allowed to travel on, it took her almost two hours to

get to school each morning and two hours to get home. Some children living in the area have never seen the Sea of Galilee because of the wall that keeps them confined to their own neighborhoods. One person described the Gaza Strip as an “outdoor” prison because of how hard it is to get in or out of the area.

Yet in the Lutheran schools, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish children studied and played together. They did not see one another as enemies. An Anglican priest, Father Chaucer, started one of these schools because he said, “ We aren’t born Christian, Muslim, Palestinian or Israeli. We are all born as babies! We share a common humanity. We are all made in the image of God. We often view walls as ways to protect us, to keep out those we might consider enemies or at least different from ourselves. Those walls aren’t always concrete with barbed wire on the top, but from our attitudes and words, our actions and decisions, which keep people separated. These walls are justified as the only way to ensure peace. Yet the way of Jesus invites us to build peace in a different way by welcoming the stranger, eating with those considered outcasts (people that should be on the other side of the wall), and listening and respecting those who are different. How might the church today be a safe space for courageous and honest conversations so that we can work together not to put up more walls to keep people out but to tear down walls to let God’s reign flow freely?

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