The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 18, 2021
God dreams of every kind of human being coming before Jesus in joyful harmony to sing His praise. Revelation 7:9 describes that crowd as “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages”.
Society is fractured by discord and division. The alienation and animosity are not caused by our diversity in race, class, culture or viewpoint, but by our regarding with suspicion those we don’t bother to understand and holding their divergence from our norms in contempt. This shows up most in our politics. Many Democrats and Republicans see the other side as a threat to democracy and the welfare of the country. They disdain and even despise each other.
When in the first century the church was born, a similar antagonistic estrangement existed between Jews and Gentiles. Each resented and shunned the other.
Here Paul lays out how Christ dismantles the wall of hostility between the two, saves them both from the deprivation of their segregation, and unites them in Himself for a shared life of love and mutual support.
Christ is, says verse 14, “our peace”. He creates for whoever opens up to Him peace with God and with one another. He makes those who had once been God’s enemies, God’s friends; and then makes them friends of one another, even if they were former enemies. In this reconciliation, Christ brings forth, verse 15 says, a “new humanity”, a different breed of folks who, the longer they live with Christ, the more they look like Christ and like themselves in their unique individuality and distinct heritage. For example, every Jewish follower of Jesus retains their Jewishness and every Gentile their Gentile-ness, with each valuing their differences as assets for the achievement of their common mission.
Becoming “one body” in Christ does not amount to becoming a melting pot in which differences vanish. The church is more like a stew pot where diverse ingredients are combined in a new creation, with each one flavoring the rest but without losing what distinguishes it from the rest. (In other words, in the congregational stew, the carrots still retain their carrot-ness and the potatoes their potato-ness, even while they blend together to make a delicious dish that wouldn’t exist if they kept separate.) Of course, this only happens if the fire of the Holy Spirit is allowed to heat things up and the Master Chef Jesus is allowed to stir things up and mix everything together in the proportions He determines.
This multi-flavored stew can be cooked up because Christ “brought near” those once “far off” from God and gave each equal “access in one Spirit” to God and thus equal place and privilege in the church. Why, in Christ even those most marginalized before are brought into the center of God’s redeeming action!
Though no two believers are the same, all believers have the same Lord, and from Him the same love for each other – like siblings of the same family, citizens of the same country, building blocks of the same “holy temple” – that is, the “dwelling place for God”.
In her book Roadmap to Reconciliation, Brenda Salter McNeil tells of a group of Christians from various churches and ethnicities touring America to study racism in its various forms. At one stop they visited a museum that displayed graphic photographs documenting the lynching of Blacks. The appalling images of young innocent men, and in one instance a mother with her children, dangling at the end of a noose, while Whites looked on cheering, shook everyone to the core. They quietly climbed back on to the bus troubled and mute.
Some Whites eventually broke the silence. Eager to defend themselves and to distance themselves from the brutality of their ancestors, they spoke of how it was long ago and they had no part in such atrocities. A Black student, her voice calm but reverberating with anguish, stood up, shook her head, and said, “White folks are evil.” That sparked some heated responses, and the conversation degenerated.
A White student, her eye mascara smeared from her wiping away tears, claimed the floor and said, “I don’t know what to do with what I saw. I can’t fix anyone’s pain…but I can see it [and remember it].” She paused, as the tears started again. She added, “I will work the rest of my life to do what I can to make sure it no longer happens.” Her black mascara ran down her cheeks, leaving dark trails of sadness on her face. The bus grew quiet again. Then someone exclaimed, “Look, the White girl’s crying Black tears.” Several Blacks saw her identification with their pain, her solidarity with their sorrow, and her deep embrace of the unity into which Christ draws all His followers.
Christ has made His people one. Hence, the welfare of each of them is bound up in the welfare of the rest of them, and the concerns of even one are the concerns of them all. Thus, as Romans 12:15 says, the church is a body whose members rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, so that no one can be fully OK until everyone is.
Let us then, as Paul says in Galatians 6:2, bear one another’s burden just as we share one another’s joys, that the Prince of peace might complete in us His creation of a new humanity of peacemakers like Him.