The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-charge Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

I recently took a short trip to Natchez, Mississippi. It is a small city with gorgeous antebellum homes and lovely new homes built after the Civil War.

In addition to its history of fine homes, slavery was a fact of life in antebellum Natchez. The wealth and prosperity of the town "was a direct consequence of a labor force that consisted almost entirely of enslaved African Americans brought from Virginia and the Carolinas or imported directly from West Africa." It was a divided society of the home of the free and slaves. As we know, even after the war when the slaves were freed, the struggle for equality between the races continues to the present day. Other distinctions separate us as well, such as sexism, gun control, religious strife, and the tragic treatment of migrants and those seeking asylum, especially children "kidnapped" at our borders. We've got a long way to go to bring about a united society.

In St. Paul's day one of the dividing issues was between those who were circumcised and those who were not. Jewish men were circumcised as a sign of God's covenant with Israel. Gentiles, however, with whom Paul was sharing the good news of Jesus, didn't have this same requirement from the Law of Moses. Jews who were followers of Jesus thought that Gentile men needed to be circumcised first in order to become followers of Christ. But Paul taught that circumcision was of no consequence. It was an artificial division of people. In Ephesians, attributed to Paul, we hear that Christ "is our peace; in his flesh he has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace." In Galatians we read the famous passage of Paul that in Christ "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3: 28) We were all created to be one. Male and female and its variations are all us; black, white, tan, and all colors of skin are us. LGBTQ people are us. Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, and those of other faiths are us. Citizens, migrants, and those seeking asylum are us. In Christ, in God, we are all meant to be one.

Our country is terribly divided these days - politically at odds among ourselves, squabbling with other countries, and holding to an agenda of me first without compromise. One doesn't have to rehearse these divisions. But like brave souls who gather to protest the outrage of separating children from their parents, the peace of Christ, with or without that label, is being proclaimed. It is the peace, love, and justice that God desires for us all. And our implements for fighting this conflict are peace, love, and justice. We've got a long way to go since the days of St. Paul, but we can support one another in our prayers and efforts to bring unity where there is division.

At a votive stand at the Convent of the Transfiguration where I am a chaplain, there is a prayer card that expresses the distortion of values that many have that keep us separated from one another:

In GUNS we trust,

Forgive us, O God

In POWER we trust

Forgive us, O God.

In WEALTH we trust

Forgive us, O God.

In LIES we trust

Forgive us, O God

Merciful God, when we put our trust, our hope and faith anywhere but in you, shake us up, give us ears to hear truth and hearts to act with your wisdom. Forgive us, O God.