Walls, Tables, and God’s Kingdom

by Renee Edington

I’m near the end of a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Student.Go internship. I’m Renee Edington, a seminary student at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. This summer, I’ve been working with Sue Smith and Karen Morrow, CBF field personnel and two other interns on a social media campaign encouraging native born U.S. citizens to welcome immigrants to the United States.

A couple of weeks ago, Sue shared a picture she took of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and I’ve been thinking a lot about walls ever since. I’ve developed a hatred of walls. This wall has a stark beauty that draws me in yet how can I enjoy looking at it when I know the purpose behind the tall metal sheets is exclusion?

Walls. Dividers. Barriers. Why do we have walls? In a house, walls divide or separate the rooms. Walls keep people in. Walls keep people out. Walls protect people. Walls separate people. Walls include people. Walls exclude people.

Tall walls, short walls, climbable walls, walls topped with razor wire. Why? Protection, exclusion, safety? Who are we protecting? Who are we excluding? Who are we keeping in and who are we keeping out?

Walls provide boundaries. Walls can be helpful or hurtful. There are physical walls and invisible walls. Invisible walls can oppress and exclude people. Invisible walls can keep us from becoming the person God imagined us becoming. Invisible walls pop up along our journey and stunt our emotional growth or push us in a different direction.

The sermon in church last week was based on Psalm 8, which talks about the magnificence of God and glorifies in the amazement that God is mindful of humans. God thinks about humans and cares for us. In fact, verse 5 says that we humans are made a “little bit lower than God” (NRSV) or a little bit less than divine. We are all unique nearly divine beings created in God’s image. ALL of us are created in God’s image. ALL of us are a little bit less than divine. There aren’t levels of humanity. Every single one of us is special and unique and created in the image of God.

Therefore, why in the world do some humans decide to exclude other humans? Why do some humans build walls? If we’re all indeed created in God’s image and in fact, just a little bit lower than God, how did it happen that some people take control of others through construction of walls?

God gave us “dominion over the works of (God’s) hands.” God expects us to take care of the world and its inhabitants, not find reasons to exclude.

Sometimes I think we as Christians put up walls to God for people of other religions. I recently read something that mirrors my thinking. In The Good News According to Jesus: A New Kind of Christianity for a New Kind of Christian, Chuck Queen writes “I believe in Christian particularism, but not exclusion.” My simple interpretation of his explanation is this: Christians come to God through Jesus Christ. People of other faiths come to God through other paths. Because God is so big, and God’s kingdom is all-encompassing, I cannot put boundaries on the scope of God.

My favorite description of the kingdom of God comes from Rachel Held Evans in Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.” When I think about this quote, I always add that they’re not at the table because they’re Christian, they’re there because they said yes to God.

In her 2012 interview with U.S. Catholic, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine makes a similar point from the Jewish perspective: “If God is the God of the world, then God can’t simply be the God of the Jews. God has to be the God of the non-Jews as well.” Just as Christians cannot claim sole ownership of God; neither can Jews. God is great enough for Christians, Jews, and other religions.

Then let’s start thinking about how we can tear down exclusionary walls, whether visible or invisible. Start with one wall, then another and another and another until every human who is created in the image of God (and that’s ALL humans) has a place at the table of God.

I started with a picture of a wall. I end with a picture of a table where all are equally welcome. May it be so in God’s world. Amen.

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