In this, the final part of the Flesh & Blood series, we examine how racial reconciliation is a vital part of the gospel message. To be a Jesus-follower is to be one who seeks peace-making and is always striving towards reconciliation. We discover that we are only able to achieve reconciliation to the degree that we are willing to learn about perspectives that differ from our own.
Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy team up for this powerful message on the vital importance of racial reconciliation. Striving towards one new humanity is not optional for Christ-followers, it is at the very heart of the gospel.
Greg begins by recalling the O.J. Simpson trial. At that time, over 80% of White Americans believed O.J. was guilty. By contrast, over 80% of African Americans, including one of Greg’s friends, believed there was good reason to doubt O.J.’s guilt. When Greg asked his friend how that was possible, his friend asked him several questions in response such as: “When you were growing up, how many times did you see your dad get pulled over and patted down for no good reason? How many times was your father told that he was being uppity and shouldn’t be driving in this neighborhood anyway?” Greg said, “Never.” His friend could recall 17 instances of watching this happen to his father. In addition, while Greg’s friend was learning how to drive, he was coached by his father on where to look, how to move, how softly to speak, etc. when he was pulled over by an officer to avoid anything bad happening. Greg then admitted, “It sounds like you live in a different world than I do.” His friend affirmed, “In some respects, I do.”
Greg learned in that moment that his “map” of reality was very different than his friend’s “map.” The experiences and circumstances that each navigated in day-to-day life were sometimes vastly different. Greg reminded each of us that “our map is not the territory.” And while racial reconciliation is vital and at the heart of the gospel, it is only possible to the degree in which we learn to read one another’s maps.
He reminded us that God created one humanity. There is one race of people. It was at the Tower of Babel, upon receiving God’s provisional judgment of different languages, that people first separated into tribes. Yet God’s goal has always been to reunite the human race. This was accomplished on the Cross, where the “dividing wall of hostility” was torn down and we were made into “one new humanity” (Eph. 2:14-16). In other words, the Cross reverses Babel.
When people endorse racial separation, they are “Babel-ing.” As Christians, our job is to stop babbling and to instead interact with others in a way that manifests the truth of the Cross. Jesus died so the Church would stop babbling and become one new human race. We are called to reverse Babel in a world that doesn’t manifest the truth.
WHC has been on a long journey towards this goal. Paul Eddy highlighted a few victories and mistakes made along the way during the 24-years that Woodland Hills has been a church. Throughout that time, various staff members, consultants, volunteers, and others have helped WHC follow it’s calling to “Face the City” and become a bridge between neighborhoods of affluence and neighborhoods that are struggling under the harmful effects of systemic racial and economic oppression. WHC now partners with multiple community initiatives and the church building is used to provide much needed space for these programs during the week.
While much has been accomplished, there is more to be done. Greg concludes the message by focusing on future steps towards furthering racial reconciliation. First, members are encouraged to individually seek out and welcome friendships with people who identify with a race or ethnicity than differs from their own. Through invested, personal relationships we are better able to understand each other’s “map.” In addition, WHC, which is a predominately white congregation, is engaging in a partnership with a church whose congregation is predominately comprised of persons of color, Sanctuary Covenant Church, to begin to learn from and engage in relationship with one another. Dr. Dennis Edwards is the Senior Pastor at Sanctuary Covenant Church, and he will be visiting WHC on Tuesday, June 21, at 7:00 p.m. He’ll be joined by Greg for a Q&A on racial reconciliation and everyone is invited. Following this event, the Pastors of both churches plan to occasionally swap pulpits and eventually move towards a joint church service.
It’s an exciting time to be part of the body of Christ and to engage in opportunities, both individually and collectively, to live out the gospel as we move towards one new humanity together.
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2 thoughts on “Tearing Down The Tower”
This was an absolute brilliant message and it couldn’t be more relevant for today and always! Striving for peace and reconciliation along racial, ethnic, cultural and religious lines is one of the most important responsibilities we have as followers of Jesus. But it’s not easy and it often requires great sacrifice and the giving up of authority and power that we naively ‘think’ we possess.
It brought to mind a situation that exists in Jerusalem at ‘The Church of the Holy Sepulchre’ or ‘The Church of the “Anastasis” – ‘Resurrection’ as it’s called in the Orthodox faith. Sometime shortly after 300 AD a church was erected over the supposed site of the Crucifixion and or the Resurrection depending on which ‘tradition’ you ascribe to. As the centuries pasted, the complex grew in size and affiliation as different sects such as Armenian, Copts, Syriacs, Ethiopian and other Believers all vied for prominence and control of the area. It has remained one of the most popular and revered sites in the Holy Land to this day. The history of the Church was especially fascinating during the Crusades and Middle Ages. Almost paradoxically though, because of the incessant infighting amongst the various ‘Christian’ groups wanting to control access and worship at the site, early in the 12th century Muslim clerics – ‘Ulama’ were given the ‘Keys’ to the Church as a strategy to maintain the peace. This gave them the power to control the flow of pilgrims and to have the final say when it came to issues of access. The Nusseibeh family along with the Joudeh Al-Goudia family have shared the responsibility for centuries and continues this day. It is believed by some Muslim scholars that both families have strong demonstrable ties to their prophet Muhammad.
Like Greg has stated in a recent message – “It’s never really been about the location or geography”, and I would completely agree with this but for some, ‘location’ is inextricable linked to their Faith and provides a much needed context for praise and worship. But it’s how we share our space, make room for and openly accept those different than ourselves, that should serve as a true testimony to the kind of open-armed Savior we worship.
One of my favorite MLK quotes is – “We may have come over in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat together”. This is so true and that ‘Boat’ – Our Country, like ‘The Church of the Holy Sepulchre’ needs a crew that can love, respect and cooperate with one another, in spite of the supposed surface differences. Otherwise, it will not weather the storms of geopolitical change; And it will sink – Badly!
The church there in Jerusalem is a kind of microcosm or metaphor for the much bigger post-resurrectional picture. Over the centuries things have not always been so smooth; there have been episodes of violence, petty bickering and vandalism. But the ironic fact that Muslims have held the keys to ‘keeping the peace’ there if you will, speaks volumes to the recent unfortunate comments made concerning the events in Orlando.
But the real irony here is that there are no ‘keys’ to the Kingdom and that Jesus himself is the door, the only threshold of love and forgiveness, that we will ever need to past through. All are welcome and there’s a ‘plate setting’ with your name on it, at the ‘Wedding Feast of the Lamb’ irrespective of the trite social constructions of race, gender, ethnicity, sect and tradition.
There is an other kind of wall that we have built that God is calling us to tear down. It has to do with His covenant being with all flesh. This is the wall we have erected in our minds about who and what animals are, and how they are here to serve us as we see fit.
This isn’t true of course; they are Gods, as all things on earth are (Psalm 24:1). And some of God’s covenants are with them as well as with us.
Of course Genesis has us in right relationship with the animal kingdom before the fall, as well as perhaps well into our history in Genesis. The food of the edenic diet was “all seed bearing plants” for humans, and “every green plant” for animals. (Genesis 1:29,30) But at some point, the Israelites began to have a taste for flesh foods; perhaps it is connected with the sacrificial system. All other nations surrounding the Israelites were likely sacrificing animals to their gods as an offering for the gods to favor them.
At the time of the flood, God made a covenant with animals and Noah and his family, that he would never destroy them in a flood again. The report of this divine bond is repeated five times in the ninth chapter of Genesis. Pretty significant! Also during this time period, he conceded that they could be food for us – why? Animals are important to God, right? Well perhaps he is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and of course we know that we, his image bearers, are extremely important, and it is we who need salvation in order to restore the purposes of the creation. After a flood, there likely wasn’t much vegetation – would need to eat – and also the hardness of our own hearts likely played a large role in this decision (Genesis 8:21, “even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood”).
Greg teaches often that God meets us where we are at. It may be eating animals started with the sacrificial system. With eating animals and the use of them for sacrifice came many rules – Kosher laws – making it difficult indeed – perhaps this was to serve, among many things, as a deterrent for us. Today one does not need to look very far, either in our use of them for food, clothing, medicine/vivisection, in sports where we exercise our dominion as that of a predatory hunter (which does not serve a needed purpose for food in most of the world today), and in entertainment for us, which for them, most of this is likely pure hell. Elephants, for example, cry – did you know that? I followed a rescue story of Mohan, who cried when he was finally rescued from a horribly abusive situation. Pigs are as smart if not smarter than dogs and “wag” their tails just like a dog when they are happy. In order for an elephant to be trained to perform in circus’, they have to be taken from their families as infants; they undergo horrific pain, suffering, loneliness – imagine all of our own emotions were we in their shoes as a child, they experience everything we do except they are not made in the Image of God. They very well may not know how to process this kind of abuse as a human who can reason eventually would.
He makes a covenant that one day, they will live free of our tyranny as well as of that of the their own fallen nature toward one another (the killing of each other for food which may in large part have come about because humans have not left them much choice). Hosea 2:18 says, “In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.” And Isaiah says in chapter 11:6, “the lion will lay with the lamb and a little child shall lead them” signifying the restoration of the created order. Since what Jesus did on the cross restored the created order for humans and for our relationship with the animal kingdom, should we not also be making every effort to live in a fashion that is manifesting this accomplishment now?
Colossians 1:19-20: “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.” So just as Greg says in this sermon about issues dividing us as humans such as race being a front burner issue, perhaps foundational to what it means for us to follow Christ, so too, one could juxtapose, is taking our first mandate responsibilities over the animal kingdom, by what Colossians says, as an issue that Jesus shed blood over! Does the church take this seriously enough?
And finally, just as the first book of the bible brings together humans and non-humans at the dawn of creation, the last book unites them in heavenly places. The book of Revelation repeatedly places both human and nonhuman creatures around the throne of God, at a time when the Lord “shall wipe away all tears.”
We mustn’t forget, that this last book also says, “The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small– and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” Revelation 11:18