31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 4, 2019
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
This is Forky, a toy from the movie Toy Story 4. Andy, the original owner of Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the Toy Story toys has grown up and gifted his toys to little Bonnie. As all kids do, Bonnie too is growing up and soon comes the day of Kindergarten orientation. Bonnie is nervous about going to school so Woody decides to tagalong and keep an eye on her – despite toys not being allowed at school.
When Bonnie arrives home again, Woody reports back to the other toys that Bonnie has made a new friend. The toys are thrilled for her. It’s always wonderful to make a new friend – and then Woody clarifies that Bonnie has literally made a new friend – out of a plastic spork, a pipe cleaner, and a pair of mismatched googly eyes.
It’s a good laugh and also a reminder about how easily kids make friends – literally and figuratively. Whether it is at the park, the library, Lake Compounce, or the beach, kids naturally start talking to one another. Kids naturally start playing with each other. And fairly often, even if they have only known each other for 10 minutes, kids call each other friend.
Kids naturally connect with one another, which makes sense because human beings are created to be social creatures. In and for so many ways, we need each other. We crave connection with others. We want to belong – to a family, to a community, to a team, to each other.
Ironically, though, despite being created to connect, we often create walls that separate us. We define an ‘in’ group and thus an ‘out’ group. We create an “us” and a “them”.
It’s clear from Paul’s letter that that’s what’s going on in the church in Ephesus. There are two groups: Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians. Did one think they were better than the other? Likely. Which one I don’t know, but Paul reminds the Gentiles – once you were aliens, outsiders to God’s ways, you were strangers to the covenant, the promises of God (Ephesians 2:12). And Paul reminds the Jews, that Jesus has come to abolish the law with its commandments and ordinances, to break down the dividing wall – surely a reference to the physical wall that kept non-Jews out of the temple.
Paul reminds that there was a time when we were separated, when we did not know any other way than to be divided, but not now. Not any longer. Jesus, through his peace, through his sacrifice, through his unconditional love, has made the two into one, has broken down the barrier to create “one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.” (Ephesians 2:15)
Boom! Done! No more separations, no more divisions, no more us/them. We have been made one in Jesus Christ. We have been joined together into a holy temple made by God, a dwelling place for the Lord, a home for the Holy.
Except not boom, done. Except there are still so many separations and divisions in our society. There is so much us/them and so little ‘we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord’.
Divided is not how God created human beings to be. Divided is the opposite of the way and mission of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, God in human form, came to bring all people together, those who were close and those who were far off, the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ – for the purpose of connecting us in peace, for the purpose of connecting us with God.
And yet, over and over again, we find that we can’t do it. Or is it that we don’t know how to connect?
In a podcast about “Doing Innovative Ministry”, Professor Kenda Creasy Dean was discussing a time when her little church outside of Princeton, NJ, wanted to begin a ministry to young adults who were not college students. The group, many of whom were seminarians, discovered that they did not know any other young adults, so Kenda tasked them with reaching out to community leaders to discover where the young adults in their town gathered. But none of them did it. These were all seminarians, preparing to pastor churches, and yet, they weren’t comfortable with face to face conversations. (Leading Ideas Talks, Episode 35, June 12, 2019)
In the podcast, Kenda goes on to share that talking with other human beings is a “learned skill”, and it might be a generational skill that we are losing. I agree with Kenda that talking face to face with others, connecting in real life, is a skill we are losing; however I don’t think it is a generational thing.
All generations of people, Generation Z, Millennial, Gen X, Baby Boomer, we have all become more comfortable interacting through technology rather than face to face. Two weeks ago, at a memorial service, I asked someone about someone else – if they had seen them, how their health was. The person did not know but assured me they would go home and email them. These two people were in their eighties. All generations of people have become more dependent on technology for our relationships.
What happens to us in between childhood and adulthood? Where do the little kids who make friends and connections so easily disappear to?
They don’t disappear. We don’t lose the ability to make friends and connections. We do let fear and anxiety prevail though. We let fear whisper in our ear – don’t reach out, they might reject you and you will look like a fool; don’t talk to them, they are different from you. We let fear paralyze us; separate us; perpetuate cultural divisions.
Fear and anxiety are not from God though. Fear and anxiety, separation and division are not the way of Jesus Christ. Christ has “create[d] in himself one new humanity in place of the two.” (Ephesians 2:13-15). Christ’s way is ‘that they may all be one’ (which just happens to be the motto of the United Church of Christ.) (John 17:21)
So, I have homework for you this week – Practice making connections. Relearn this skill. Reach out your hand to a stranger and say “Hi, my name is……”.
Practice with me “Hi, my name is ….” Anyone feel the anxiety bubble up inside of them at the thought? Anyone immediately think “no way am I doing that”? Take a deep breath of God’s spirit and let’s let the fear go. Take a deep breath of God’s spirit and let God’s love fill you. And reach out your hand and say it again, “Hi, my name is….”
In this world of division, we have the ability to make connections, to bring unity to our community and the world. And we have the responsibility – because only together can we build God’s community of peace and love, only united can we create a community that all of God’s people can call home.