Roy Miller’s Wall – Homily, September 18, 2016

Have you ever built a wall?

I have always had a weird interest in walls, a fascination really.  Sometimes when I see one, I wonder who built it and why.  I especially think this as I’m walking on the trails in the nearby woodlands of my hometown.  There are numerous ancient and overgrown stone walls that once marked the edge of a property or were constructed probably with great effort to keep something in.  Or out.  To separate.

I remember as a child growing up having as neighbors, Roy and Camille Miller.  They were older and didn’t have any children themselves.  When I was a kid, I didn’t know what a hobbit was otherwise I would have likened the Millers to the small creatures in Tolkien’s world as they seemed quite small and jolly to me.  Once, they invited my family to their cottage by lake.  I don’t remember the experience very much, but there is one thing that stands out in my memory.  It was Roy Miller’s wall.  He pointed out to us that he was building a stone wall around his property.  He showed us the one side he had nearly finished and then pointed to the others still to be built.  Roy said he hoped to finish those off in the next year or two.  I remember later in the day observing Roy walking off into the woods with an old rusted wheelbarrow and then returning some time later with one large rock.  He carefully tipped the rock down onto the ground and then shoved it into place into his growing wall.  Camille approached me as I was watching her husband and asked: “Did he tell you about the wall?”  When I said he had, she proceeded to say: “Yeah, he loves that thing.  He’s been working on it for the forty years we’ve had this place.”

Roy and Camille are now long gone but in my imagination, I see Roy’s wall still standing there, still partially built.  I suspect it’s overgrown now and maybe it’s just a curiosity to whomever sees it.

Have you ever built a wall?

I suspect you have.  I know that I have.

Let me explain.  Some walls consist of matter, exist here in the physical world.  Some exist only in our minds.  Psychologists call the latter “compartmentalization”, whereby we construct separations in order to deal with some dissonance or conflict in our lives.  Our values may be at odds with our actions for example and so we construct a wall of sorts to keep one separated from the other.

That is precisely what today’s first reading is about.  Amos is addressing a group of merchants who are observing the sabbath saying that as soon as it is over, they will go back to cheating, trampling upon the needy and destroying the poor.  He was calling them out.  For the walls they had built.

Talk about a calling out…

In our Gospel today, Jesus is telling his followers that they cannot serve both God and mammon, the expression for wealth or riches.  There are no shades or gray here for Jesus – it’s hate one and love the other, for “no servant can serve two masters.”

I would love to think that I can serve two masters.  Live my life the way I would like to… while also being devoted to Christ.  But Jesus is saying here that that cannot be.  It’s one or the other.

Today’s Gospel asks us to consider our primary pursuits and then to ponder whether we are pursing Christ as vigorously and as ingeniously as those things.  What might those pursuits be?  What could be our own personal mammon?

It could be wealth.

It could be influence.

It could be comfort.

It could be certainty.

It could be intelligence.

It could be stature.

It could be fitness.

It could be possessions…

In truth, it could anything that is not Christ.

In the stark contrast between one side of a wall and the other laid down by Christ, we must choose which side we want to be on.

Christ will prevail.  Investments in him last forever.  They yield peace, consolation, joy, eternity.

Everything else will not.

Most of the walls we build will end up like Roy Miller’s.  Pursuits that in the end don’t amount to much, don’t get completed, lay overgrown, unused, without meaning or purpose.

There is one wall that stands, however, and it is the one that Jesus has constructed between eternity and everything that in the end won’t last and won’t matter.

Have you ever built a wall?

I suspect you have.  I know that I have.

What is your priority?  What are you pursing?  And will it last?

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