Without Hope or One in Christ?
Do you remember where you came from? Some of us came from wealth, some from food stamps. Some of our parents were educated in schools, some on the streets. Some of us were raised in Christian homes while some were openly hostile to Christianity. We spoke different languages, had special traditions and funny quirks. At one time we were all separate from Christ. We were dead in our sins. Have you ever seen one of those old boarded-up churches? With plywood covering stained-glass windows and chains on the doors? Reminds me of how we were dead in our sins—with chains around our hearts and plywood over our souls. We were following the course of this world.
We sang “God Bless America” and believed that God wanted us to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We saw no conflict between capitalism and Christianity, the American dream and the cost of discipleship. Faith was a correct system of beliefs, and religion was defined by where you spent Sunday morning and whether you avoided certain words and substances. The soul was something that mattered only in terms of its final destination. We were following the course of this world.
But we were created in Christ Jesus for good works. Created to be reconcilers in a hostile world. Created for God’s beautiful light to shine through.
Remember that we were separate from Christ. There were chains around our hearts. We were not allowed in the temple. Our souls were boarded up. We had no voice.
You were strangers, outcasts, excluded from full citizenship. You were judged a heathen because of your ethnicity. You couldn’t shop in our markets. You had not the right to vote or go to school. You were only three-fifths of a human being. You were without hope in this world.
We judged and excluded others because of their ethnicity. We claimed that things could be separate, but equal. We rose up in violence against peaceful protestors. We denied and stripped others of their humanity. We were without hope in this world.
But God, who is rich in mercy, loved us—even when we were dead in our sins: our racism, ageism, classism, our hatred, our misogyny and our misandry, our violence; yes even then, God loved us—ALL OF US;
whites and blacks,
Klan members and Civil Rights martyrs,
men and women,
young and old,
God makes no distinctions;
God made us alive together with Christ—by grace we have been saved.
And in his flesh, Jesus destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between us. It was a painful irony that when they beat him and tore apart his flesh, they were really tearing apart the dividing wall of hostility. Through his crucifixion, Jesus created a new humanity without barriers.
No more division between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, black and white.
No separate pews for the “colored folk” and separate roles for women.
No separate drinking fountains based on skin color, or employment opportunities based on gender.
No more walls or curtains, boards or chains, to keep us from accessing God.
He gave each of us access to God through the Spirit.
No more intermediaries, no more separation.
All are one in Christ. We have been made into a new humanity.
No longer are we foreigners, striving to be included. No longer are we “the circumcised,” struggling to stay on top of the heap. We are all one in Christ. We are no longer outsiders, we have all been brought into the family of God. And in this family some of us are dark, others are light. Some are wrinkled, others tattooed. Some are left, others right. This family is not homogenous, and we don’t get to choose who our brothers and sisters are. It doesn’t look like we would expect it to, and we can’t quite be sure who is far away and who is near. God’s grace is lavish and unexpected. God's kingdom is upside-down where the last are first, the lowly are exalted, the poor are blessed, and the prisoners are set free.
This new humanity is being built into a beautiful dwelling place for God. Are we letting God’s light shine through the stained glass, in a rainbow of colors, shapes, and sizes? Or are we shutting it out, boarding it up with plywood that’s a uniform color and shape, and instead manufacturing our own light and calling it God’s? Are we embracing the messiness of community life, or preferring the veneer of apparent unity masking disinterest, disempowerment, or the driving away of all who disagree with us?
God’s family is stunningly diverse and mysteriously united. Do we have eyes to see it? It’s not a hoped-for dream; it’s a reality that’s already been accomplished in Jesus. It’s part of the mystery of “already, but not yet.” We need to lean into it, embrace it, celebrate it. Do we see it? Do our churches reflect it?
Can we allow God’s breath to flow through us and speak such a world into existence? Are we ready, church? Ready to fling wide the doors of our churches? Ready to admit that God’s grace is freely given and freely received by all who accept it? Ready to let our power structures be dismantled, and for our economy to crumble and give way to God's kingdom economy? Ready for the boards and chains to give way to new creation? Ready to become partners in interrupting systemic injustice? Ready to usher in God’s reign of true, abiding peace and unity, because we believe in our bones that we are all one in Christ?
Will we remain without hope in this world, or are we ready, church?
This piece is adapted from a sermon entitled “One in Christ,” focused on Eph 2.11-22, delivered at the Lipscomb Preaching Workshop on February 13, 2013, just after the week-long DMin Civil Rights Tour.