If you only had a few hours to live and were given the chance to talk with God, what would you say? Would you talk about the trivial, the mundane? Or would you focus in on what was most important to you. The things that you hold to be of utmost importance, the things that you held to be most valuable?
This past week I was reading in the Gospel of John and I was struck by Jesus’ prayer in Chapter 17 during the waning hours of his life:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
I was struck by the call for unity. The unity of all believers, the unity of believers with the Godhead, the unity within the Godhead. I was struck by the fact that this unity would be a sign to the surrounding world of the significance of the redemptive work of Christ and the inauguration of a new kingdom. That in these last few precious moments, what was foremost on his mind was unity.
Jesus, you see, is about tearing down fences. Sadly, his followers seem to be very much at home putting up fences.
This impulse to build fences in strong within cultures, churches and people. Not all fences are physical, of course. They commonly masquerade as rules, theological dividing lines, rituals, traditions and beliefs. These “fences” have and continue to separate us.
Christ prayed that all of his followers would be one, just as he and the Father were. Instead, we have put up fences. We have denominational fences that separate us — Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, Mennonite, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican, Pentecostal, Catholic and on and on the list goes. Of course, if none of those denominationally fenced in pastures is appropriate, one can always consider the recently popular “nondenominational” church. Further, we sometimes see fences within denominations between churches that wont get along. We also have fences within our churches between different groups that mark off their territory, space and significance. Structures erected to demarcate lines of behavior and action.
All of these thoughts brought to mind the classic poem Mending Wall by Robert Frost. Here are some excerpts.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors?
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
When we run up against difficult times our response seems to be to put up fences. Perhaps it is because fences makes us feel safe. Protected. Secure. Comfortable. But Christ didn’t come for any of those things. Nor did he call his followers to those things. As he considered what lay ahead of him in those final hours that led up to his crucifixion and death, Christ called for unity. Not just for his disciples, but for all who would believe in him in the age to come. Perhaps it’s time to stop building fences and start tearing them down. Christ knew that our unity would be a sign to an unbelieving world. What message does our lack of unity send to this same world?
And what prevents us from taking down these walls, stone by stone, line by line precept by precept? Tradition? Fear? Pride? Intellectual sloth?
Good fences may make good neighbors, but they aren’t good for churches and they sure aren’t good for Christians.