The People of the Maze
Sermon, Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto, July 22, 2012
2 Samuel 7:114a; Psalm 89:2037; Ephesians 2:122; Mark 6:3034, 5356
There once was a people who lived in a mighty, mighty maze, many, many miles across, and completely walled in. They lived their whole lives in it; it had fields and pastures in it, carefully divided and walled but capable of bearing grain and fruit and raising animals within its bounds. To get from one field to another, or one home to another, or even to just go get water, it was necessary to navigate the maze. There were hundreds and hundreds of miles of wall in this maze, turning this way and that, with dead ends here and there, some leading to pits you couldn’t escape from, some requiring payment of money to get out of.
The people who lived there learned their way around the maze. It wasn’t always easy even if you knew your way around. Your bathroom might be right next to your dining room in real space, but you might need to go out one door and successfully navigate ten minutes of maze at a running pace, passing under a waterfall, and finally in another door to get from one to the other.
A stranger in this maze would of course be utterly, hopeless lost. But there were no strangers. The maze was built for safety: any invading enemy would never survive. But enemies did not invade, for the massive walls of this maze kept them out. There were only two great gates, and they were never opened. Never. Each was held shut by a great bolt that went through it into the stone and could only be lifted from the very top. And they had been that way from time immemorial. And no one ever, ever climbed them.
You knew your own part of the maze, of course. But the maze was so large that you couldn’t know all of it. No one knew all of it. Not even the priests or the king. And, for safety, the priests and the army kept anyone from knowing all of it. Such knowledge would be too dangerous: What if someone infiltrated somehow? Or betrayed them? And there were no hills, so you couldn’t see from above and make even a partial map. Buildings could not come near the tops of the walls, for safety from the enemies outside the maze.
None of the people for generations back had ever seen outside the maze. But they knew the enemies were there. At each of the gates, they would hear the enemy on the other side, and sometimes the enemy would pound on the gates. The people of the maze would pound back and shout back to make sure it was known that they were there and they were masters of their land and they would defend their purity and their sacred sanctuary.
This was the way of it for generations. Generations. They knew they were the great people of the maze, and they were pure, and they prayed to their god and beseeched their king to keep them secure.
And then there emerged among them a young woman. A young woman who started going around saying that the gates had to be opened. That there was much more on the other side, that they would see the world with new eyes. Open the gates. Not to invade, not to conquer, but to no longer be afraid.
Well. The priests weren’t impressed, to say the least. They condemned her. They reminded the people that if the gates were opened, the enemy would rush in and they would be destroyed, if not immediately then soon enough through disease and impurity. The young woman had followers, to be sure; more and more of them liked what she said. But the larger part of the people were afraid and saw her as a threat to their peace and security.
The priests decided she had to be imprisoned. But she knew that was coming. With friends who knew how to navigate her safely through little-known back ways, she made it to one of the gates. Her followers were to come together and join her there. But the soldiers, at the direction of the priests, were waiting nearby, and they closed in when she stepped up to the gate. Her followers shied away or were kept away. Before the soldiers could seize her, she started to climb the gate, aiming to get to the top to lift the bolt that held it to the ground. The soldiers started shooting their arrows at her. The hostile crowd that had gathered started throwing rocks. And as she climbed, they heard the sound of the enemy at the other side, clamouring to get in. They knew. The enemy knew! They knew they were going to get their chance to invade!
And far away, at the other gate, the enemy was also clamouring and banging. The people could hear it. The enemy surrounding their outer walls knew. Word had been passed all around among the enemies without! Somehow this woman had provoked them, drawn their attention, perhaps given them the word; they knew that the gate could be breached and they could pour in. And the people inside the other gate, not even knowing what the young woman, far away, was doing at that moment, but having been told about her, heard the enemy and shouted and pounded the gate and prepared for an invasion.
But with the enemy pounding, the young woman kept climbing. She was going to let these barbarian invaders in! Stop her! They fired more arrows, threw more rocks. She was wounded, she was struggling. But she made it to the top. She lifted the bolt. An arrow pierced her and she slumped… as the gate swung open away from them…
And at the far gate, at the same time, the enemy had climbed and lifted the bolt… and the gate swung open towards them…
And they all stood there facing each other, shouting at each other, throwing rocks at each other, shooting arrows at each other. On the one side, the people of the maze. Facing them, the people of the maze. Between them, open now, the one gate. Not two. One. From inside to inside.
And what did they do then?
I’m sure you know that great quote from Pogo, by Walt Kelly: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” I’m put in mind, too, of those great drawings by M.C. Escher of staircases that go up and up and up, looping back with no top or bottom. Imagine a person on one landing looking back at the people on the landing below and thinking, “Those people. They’re beneath me.” Well, yeah, but of course they’re also three landings above…
My little story is pretty obvious in its allegory. But today’s readings really highlighted for me the change in perspective between the insular, oppositional view of the Old Testament and the universal, unifying vision of the New Testament. I’d like to reread parts of today’s readings, with a little emphasis added.
Here’s from the first one, from the second book of Samuel:
Thus says the God of hosts: ‘I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be a prince over my people Israel; I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off every enemy in your vicinity. … And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and plant them securely, so that they may live in their own place, free from any more disturbance; and evildoers shall afflict them no moreas they have been doing ever since I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies.
Here’s from the 89th psalm:
No enemy shall outwit him, no malefactor bring him low.
I will crush all opponents arrayed against him and overcome all those who hate him.
Now here’s from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
For Christ is our peace; who, in the flesh, has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. Christ has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, in order to create in Christ’s self one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. … So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.
Something happened between the Old Tesament and the New one. Somebody pointed out that the two-sided ring was really a Möbius loop. Pointed out that we are all one. Shortcutted the maze of the law.
So what did happen after the gate was opened? Did they tear down the walls? Did they build up new ones? Did some do one thing and some do another? Did they close the gate and pretend it never happened?
You don’t have to look too far to know that some people are defending the maze still, or building new ones. Some people insist that they are maintaining the right perspective, and they must defend against the threat from outside. Those people you know those people.
You know those people are us, too. There is no “those people.” We’re all pounding on opposite sides of the same gate. Shouting across it angrily.
Oh, yes, certainly there are many ideas that many people hold that are hurtful, harmful, divisive. We don’t want hurtful, harmful, divisive ideas. We don’t want “us and them.” There is no us and them. There is only us. We can’t so easily change what some of us do, not so soon as we would like. But at least we don’t need to thump on the gate.