I’ve called myself a Christian since I was about five. Growing up in a Christian home I was blessed to learn about Jesus through Sunday school flannel graphs (I’m an 80’s baby), scripture songs, and bedtime prayers. Jesus became known to me as my personal Lord and Savior whose torturous death on the cross took the punishment for all my sins and offered me the guarantee of eternal life with God in heaven—what Good News!
Since then I’ve gone through several other “conversions” that might be common to any disciple of Jesus. Disciples, both at the time Christ walked on the earth, and since, are followers who follow his footsteps, listen to his words, wrestle in their hearts, scratch their heads at his riddles, have “ah-ha” moments, and keep growing more like Christ. The life of discipleship and ongoing “conversion” doesn’t end until bodily death frees us from seeing dimly and we find ourselves face to face with the Lord in all his glory.
These “conversions”, these cycles of conviction, and repentance, and turning, and re-learning have opened my eyes to read the Bible differently. It’s always been the same Word of God, but it’s as if another light blub turns on and I see just a bit more clearly what this gospel is all about. Some of these “conversions” include seeing the Holy Spirit’s dynamic activity, how much the Bible speaks about the dangers of possessing wealth, and how much God cares about culture and ethnicity and unity among His diverse worshipers. In the first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul describes the church as a body. I want to explore more of this scriptural theme today.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-26
About 10 years ago I experienced a “conversion” to a gospel of unity for people of every nation, tribe, and tongue who in John’s heavenly vision in Revelation 7 are all together worshiping around the throne of God crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!” On one hand, it’s not surprising that every people group is represented, but on the other hand, its striking that culture is still present in heaven, that it matters to God, that it doesn’t disappear when we dwell in the New Jerusalem.
When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “Our Father in Heaven, Holy is your name, your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9-10), I think it means that this vision of a diverse unified body of worshipers is a desire God has not only in heaven, but also on earth. And yet, what Martin Luther King observed 60 years ago is still true today: “I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hours, in Christian America” (Interview on NBC “Meet the Press”, April 17, 1960). Decades after the now-celebrated Civil Rights movement overthrew Jim Crow laws de jure to affirm a society where a person wasn’t “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” (I Have a Dream speech, August 28, 1963) we’re pausing to see how far we’ve really come… or how far we still have yet to go.
The cries of people marching down our city streets in 2020 and echoing all over social media sound the alarm that THIS WORK IS NOT DONE YET. This heavenly vision of a unified church has yet to be revealed on the earth. And here we are at another critical moment to say YES to that gospel vision, to join hands with brothers and sisters across the nation, and world, to say, “Your life matters just as much to God as mine does, and so it matters to me. We are all made in God’s image and if you and your community suffer, then I and my community suffer with you. We will not be silent. We will not rest until this work is finished.”
The white church of the 50’s and 60’s had an opportunity to add our voices to the cries of their black brothers and sisters, but apart from a slim minority, the white church said NO. We chose comfort and prosperity and thus a counterfeit gospel instead of loosing the chains of injustice and untying every yoke (Isaiah 58:6). Our silence echoed that of the early 1900’s when white church-goers would exit the building to participate in a lynching of a black person who cried out to God as their breath was extinguished. In our silence we are complicit.
But what can we do about the crimes of past generations? Shouldn’t we all just move on? Any of us living in the United States, earning an income, raising a family, eating off the land, have inherited a system of injustice built on lands stolen from Native American tribes, constructed through the labor of black slaves, and perpetuated by successive immigrant groups serving as society’s grunt workers.
For too long we have lived in willful ignorance: ignorance of our nations true history, ignorance of the systems of injustice that sustain our prosperity, and ignorance of our brothers and sisters in Christ (as well as those who are not in Christ) who live daily under the strain of these unjust systems. Though they’ve been crying out, maybe we’ve had trouble hearing them… until now. But I hope that now more of us are listening.
We are at another critical moment. An opportunity to say “YES, I hear you. Your voice matters. I’m listening, I’m recognizing I have a lot to learn. As I realize how your people have been unjustly burdened, I see that I need to do my part to lighten the load, to share the burden until we can all worship together, hand in hand before the throne of God on earth, as well as in heaven.”
Perhaps we are at a corporate “conversion moment.” A week after George Floyd’s murder, the church celebrated Pentecost Sunday, remembered the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all people. The first mass conversion event recorded in Acts 2 led to the radical redistribution of resources in Acts 4 where the new believers, from every nation in the Near East sold property, shared everything in common so that no one had any lack, and worshiped together like the Revelation 7 vision.
Today we are hearing a cry that some of our brothers and sisters have lack and through oppressive laws, policies, thoughts, and behaviors that have persisted for hundreds of years. A part of our body is hurting. How will we, like the early believers, abandon our privilege and possessions so that none of us will lack? How can we educate ourselves enough to see the oppressive systems that need to be dismantled? How can we pray that the powers and principalities will bow the knee to King Jesus because our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12)?
As we say “Yes” to another conversion, a new Acts revival is at hand. As we recognize, confess, and repent, the prophet Isaiah says, “Your light will break forth like the dawn… and your righteousness will go before you… you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings…” (Isaiah 58:8,12) Because of this radical life of love, people will know the Lord! Not only that, but we will know the Lord. We will be “converted” from valuing property over people to loving our brother or sister the way Christ loved us when he laid down his life for his friends.
Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command… Love each other.” (John 15:13, 17)
Let us affirm that black lives matter and love our black brothers and sisters like Christ.
PRAY Lord, show me how your Word speaks of a unified church where very culture and ethnicity is valued, affirmed, and cared for.
READ Isaiah 58, Isaiah 61 & Luke 4, I Corinthians 12, Revelation 7.
LISTEN to a teaching by Tim Keller and Bryan Stevenson (lawyer from the film Just Mercy) on God’s heart for justice.