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Our World: Diverse or Divided?

Dr. Bruce Lancaster

January 17, 2016
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

 

A Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Bruce Lancaster 2014Is our world diverse or divided: YES!

Do you remember the Coca-Cola ad for the 2014 Super Bowl celebrating America’s diversity by featuring a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung in English, Tagalog, Spanish, Hebrew, Hindi, Keres and Senegalese-French.

I personally was deeply touched, but many Americans reacted negatively.

Our diversity divides us. I understand that everyone struggles with diversity at some level, and it seems we settle on our divisions.

There’s a song from my generation sung by Sly & the Family Stone titled “Everyday People” that touts our diversity, “different strokes for different folks…”

But the hook for that song is a verse that seems to be just as relevant today as it was some 45 years ago:

There is a long hair
that doesn’t like the short hair
For bein’ such a rich one
that will not help the poor one
There is a yellow one
that won’t accept the black one

That won’t accept the red one
that won’t accept the white one…

We don’t like certain beliefs or lifestyles. We set up our groups, our blogs, our websites, our walls, our arguments, our ammunition to prove our point, defend our division, destroy the diversity.

President John F. Kennedy, in a commencement address, said “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.”

So how do you feel about making the world safe for diversity?

You see, way before I learned that song from Sly & the Family Stone, I was taught by Mrs. Mack in our little kids’ Sunday school class in a little town in Louisianna:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

I didn’t know it at the time, but as a four-year-old, that was my introduction to Pauline theology, because it’s the same as saying what Paul was writing to the Corinthian churches, in particular, how he encouraged the church to spread the gospel by bearing witness to the unity, harmony and peace that Christ ushered into the world through the Holy Spirit:

“From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view … All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

Just this past December, the Conference of National Black Churches hosted an interracial religious gathering in Charleston, SC, in response to the massacre of those nine worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The president of the group, Jacqui Burton, said, “We really see this convening as a launching pad for at least a three-year focus on race and reconciliation and to look at convening these kind of conversations across the country.”

I was in those kind of conversations throughout the 1080s in Canton, Mississippi. I was in those kind of conversations in youth groups at Montreat, in youth conferences in the 1960s. I remember reading about those kind of conversations throughout the history of the church.

Sadly, we as a church have been having these kinds of conversations for over 2,000 years.

My cynical side paints a crazy picture in my mind where we are the Wile E. Church Coyote chasing the Road Runner of Reconciliation – always getting close but then the Acme Anvil of Divisive Distrust drops down on us, and we’re left in a cloud of despairing dust!

The fact of the matter is that contemporary conflicts surrounding race and gun control, environmental stewardship, war, immigration and refugee policy, and gender and sexual orientation that divide us did not suddenly appear out of nowhere.

Like the Corinthians knew, the empire then and now nurtures inequality for its pecking order of power and prestige to divide and, I wouldn’t so much say conquer, as I would say to divide and keep things copasetic.

Like the Corinthians knew, almost every congregation today has its own divisions and diversities̶–people trying to live under the same roof with different convictions and perspectives and opinions and prejudices.

But it is frustrating when Christians use theological gerrymandering and biblical acrobatics to foster division and distrust, and churches become mirrors of the same fears and anxieties that shackle our society.

When this happens, as someone said, “churches become carnival fun-house mirrors that distort the real image of who we are.”

I’ve learned from many before me that God’s grace is too wide, God’s mercy is too deep, God’s creation of a diverse world suggests so clearly that our differences…in how we think or how we look, our theologies, our politics, our emotions…are not meant to divide, but as we are created in the image of God, then we all have something to learn from each other about God.

A new creation. That’s what I think Paul wants us to discover. In other words, when a person becomes a Christian, redeemed to Christ, brought into a relationship with God–we are a new creation; we are no longer a product of his or her culture or society any longer.

As a new creation, we become a citizen of the kingdom of God.

As citizens of the kingdom, we Christians are called to be agents of reconciliation in a diverse and divided world. Instead of taking sides, we are to follow the way of Jesus.

That’s the horizon Paul saw as he began to pioneer a path into those difficult conversations with the Corinthians, and with you and me, by reminding us of who they are, why they do gather together: They are called to be saints, the people of God, followers of Christ Jesus.

I confess I don’t understand all there is about reconciliation. I know it has a lot to do with forgiveness, as God forgave us. And it has to do with accepting the fact that our commonalities are much more important than our differences.

I think it was William Sloan Coffin who said something to the effect that it’s not so much how we are different from ‘name your enemy’, as it is necessary that we recognize the common bond of our sinfullness.

What if, from the point of view of faith, our divisions are an opportunity to help a diverse people find their way to this table fellowship, invited by Jesus who was known to be a friend of sinners?

Because, as Paul said, “we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.”

An ambassador, of course, is one who goes to a foreign land as an official representative to promote the interests of one’s kingdom where you hold citizenship and to maintain that relationship between that kingdom and this foreign land.

As St. Basil said of us ambassadors, “I cannot persuade myself that without love to others, and without, as far as rests with me, peaceableness towards all, I can be called a worthy servant of Jesus Christ.”

You and me, ambassadors who continue to pioneer the way into a diverse and divided world where:

Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

TO GOD BE THE GLORY.