He’s not one of us, Jesus.
They’re outside the tent, Moses.
She’s in a different parish, Father.
My Lord, stop them!
There is something deep within us,
something primal and instinctive,
that longs for clear-cut boundaries,
Reinforced border walls.
Is it fear?
Collective memories of danger and risk?
Whatever our motives,
we operate out of a default setting
that tries to keep some people
and other people
We embrace as normative
the practice of marking our territory
and nailing up physical and virtual,
“No Trespassing” signs.
We love both the idea
and the reality of a perimeter—
drawn in the sand that says,
“This far, but no farther,”
“My space, not yours.”
“These people, not those.”
Despite the physical labor involved,
mapping boundaries and constructing barriers
is a not really a surveying task or an engineering feat.
It is a political and social act—
an act that speaks of power, and access, and control.
Who steps inside the tent;
Who crosses within the circle;
Who holds keys to unlock the gate;
Who guards the tower and fills the moat;
Who is left standing outside the wall--
These lines of demarcation establish membership.
Amplify or silence voices.
Make people visible
Browse any website that sells fences and walls,
and you will wonder how you ever survived without one.
According to marketing brochures,
a good fence
Offers security and protection
Marks boundaries and defines property
Hides unpleasant views
Separates you from the outside world
Increases property value
Creates a barrier from invasive plants, animals, and people.
A good fence holds something good
and keeps something bad
As the poet Robert Frost said,
“Good fences make good neighbors.”
And that is definitely true
when your neighbor’s hobbies include
cultivating poison ivy and breeding attack dogs.
But the problem with boundaries,
and our love for holding things in
and keeping things out,
when we carry those fences around with us--
When we sling them over our shoulder,
Pack them along with our lunch,
Load them in the back of the truck,
And tuck them safely into our pocket,
just in case.
Just in case we encounter something ugly
or run into someone who doesn’t belong.
just in case someone prophesies outside the tent.
The trouble with circles drawn in the sand
and inner sanctums
and barriers to invasive plants and people
comes when we place our need for a safe perimeter
ahead of God’s inclusive embrace.
Discipleship is not meant to be a private enclave.
The job description, “Christian”
does not include erecting walls
and establishing barricades to separate
It does not involve keeping guard on the border,
or viewing Jesus through the bars of a gated community.
Our call to faith is not an invitation personal privilege
or a first-class ticket to safety and protection.
the invitation to, “Come, Follow Me”
invites us into a crowded and unsettling world
where outsiders reign
and expectations are overturned.
In this world, sinners dine at the head of the table,
the lowly are lifted up,
and the powerful need to watch their crowns.
In this world,
God invites us to see the destruction of walls
and the dismantling of barriers
as a religious act of hope and liberation.
The nameless young man,
seeing Eldad and Medad prophesy outside the tent,
pleaded “My Lord, stop them!”
But Moses responded, “Everyone should prophesy!”
The disciples of Jesus
drew a circle to keep the exorcist out.
But Jesus enlarged the circle to let him in.
The spirit of God
is not confined to the tabernacle,
or the tent,
or the inner circle.
The spirit of God
is not limited
to men who wear a collar
or theologians with big words and impressive degrees.
The spirit of God does not reside solely in our sanctuaries,
no matter how beautiful they may be.
The spirit of God
blows where it will,
unbound by our boundaries,
empowering, expanding, inviting--
giving voice to people the world may have forgotten.
The spirit of God blows through border towns,
inspiring determined immigrants to grasp hope with both hands.
It stirs among exhausted hospital workers,
strengthening them to keep fighting a microscopic killer.
It rises from the ashes of a charred forest,
affirming life in the midst of ruin.
The spirit of God sings,
even if the world holds us to silence.
Our instincts may whisper,
“Guard the gate.
“Establish a perimeter.”
“Draw the tent curtains closed.”
But God will just keep enlarging the circle.
God will open up the tent,
drain our moats,
call us to a more inclusive,
and yes, riskier vision of discipleship.
Along the way, we might just discover
that the mightiest messages
come from the unlikeliest messengers—
and that the view beyond the wall