As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, All One in Christ Jesus, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 19 June, 2016. The Reading was Galatians 3:23-29.
I am, perhaps showing my lack of age here. And I mean that in no disrespect to my elders. Just recently, Liesl and I watched the movie, The Butler. If you haven’t seen it, I really do recommend it. It tells the story of an African American who started picking cotton, then after his father was shot was brought inside and trained as – to use the terminology from the movie – a “house nigger”. You follow him as he eventually becomes a butler, and finally a butler within the White House.
As you watch the movie, you get a real sense of the exclusion that was held at the time. That they couldn’t sit at the same lunch counter. Sit in the same seats on the bus. Drink from the same water fountains. And when I watch other films dealing with similar issues, such as The Help, or read books like To Kill a Mockingbird, you get an understanding that these things were held to be “just the way things are”.
And then I realise that segregation was outlawed in 1964, some 52 years ago. And that’s what hit me – when my parents was born, the United States of America was still segregated. I think nothing of it these days, because that’s the way it’s always been for me. I have to remember that it wasn’t always that way.
We are all different
I shared an article on Facebook the other day which talked about our need to start to ‘think about thinking’ – that is, instead of just stating our opinion, and listening to someone elses opinion, without really engaging in it, that we need to start to think about why they might hold that opinion. What that person’s life experience is that has led them to make that opinion.
And when I think about why anyone would segregate another person, it’s easy to see why. We are afraid of what is different. We understand those that are like us, because they are like us. But those who are different…. Well, we don’t know about them.
And we see it all throughout history. Men and women weren’t allowed to do the same things because the men – the ones in power – didn’t understand the women. The whites would segregate the blacks – whether they be African American, Afrikaans, or Aboriginal – because they are different.
The problem is that when we are afraid of what is different, we start to behave in a way that is not befitting of our faith. There’s a great quote from a wonderful movie, where the great Master Yoda says “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” And while it may come from a movie that not everyone may have seen, it is still a line that holds much truth.
Christ removes all exclusions
In order for us to get away from this fear of the different, we need to start recognising that we are the same. When God created humanity, he made them male and female – that is, in the major division of the day, we read that God made both of them, and they are precious in his sight. When we think of the different languages, we realise that it was God who divided them and developed them. When we think about every different exclusion that we may place, we realise that everyone, after all, is the same. We are all created by the one loving God.
In the reading we heard today, Paul is saying that because of Christ, we can no longer hold any of these exclusions in our church. Verse 28 reads “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
In talking about Jew or Greek, Paul is saying that there is no distinctions between nations. But he’s also saying more than that. See, the Jewish Christians were arguing that all Christians must uphold the law of Moses to the letter. Where as Paul, in his mission to the Gentile nations, was arguing that the law was necessary up until Christ came – and since Christ came, we now find our justification through Christ, not through the law. And in this statement of verse 28, Paul is saying that even despite this difference of opinion, all are welcome.
When talking about slave or free, Paul talks about the class – those who were lower socio-economic were more likely to be slaves, as opposed to those who were free, who were likely to be of a higher socio-economic class. Paul states that the gospel is for all people, not just for the upper class.
And in talking about male or female, Paul is saying that it doesn’t matter who we are, that as we are all created by God, then we are all one in Christ.
All are welcome
In writing about this verse, our Co-founder, Catherine Booth wrote “If this passage does not teach that in the privileges, duties, and responsibilities of Christ’s Kingdom, all differences of nation, case, and sex are abolished, we should like to know what it does teach, and wherefore it was written.”
The reality is that all people are welcome in Christ’s kingdom. Anything that may have excluded in the past is abolished – all are welcome in Christ’s kingdom.
When we start to recognise that everything that was excluding has been abolished, and that we are all the same – that we are all created by God, and we all have God’s fingerprint on us, and that we all are equally loved by God, it has to change how we treat other people, even if they don’t yet believe in God.
When we meet someone who is different, we don’t have to be afraid, because we understand that they are a loved creation of God. When we understand that they are a loved creation of God, we can be truly welcoming.
Part of that is also recognising where we have failed before. Being able to say “I’m sorry that I didn’t welcome you properly” or “I’m sorry that I excluded you” or “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to know more about Christ”.
Welcome all people in Christ Jesus
When we start to realise that we are all one in Christ, and that we are all God’s loved creations, then we don’t have to hold back from sharing God’s love. If we believe that God’s word is good news to all, then we need to share God’s good news with everyone. And if there is anyone that we think doesn’t deserve the good news, is it us, or is it them who needs to change? We need to remove the barriers in our own lives, and allow ourselves to share God’s love with all people.
We’re going to spend some time in prayer, and while we do that I invite you to listen to this lovely song by Lorraine Nelson Wolf. It speaks to a lot of what we have been talking about. That in God’s house there is room for all. All who hunger. All who thirst. All who love Jesus. Because every child is a child of light, and precious in God’s sight. But it asks the question as well – in God’s church, is there room for all? Do our eyes and hearts and hands bear God’s truth which understands?
As we listen to this song, you’re invited to come up and pray. Maybe you’ve been coming along, wondering if you are welcome in this place? I’m here to tell you that today, no matter where you have come from, no matter what you have done, that there is room for you in God’s house. Or maybe you’ve been thinking about people who you haven’t shared God’s truth with, because of something that’s been holding you back. You’re welcome to come and pray about it, asking God to open your heart the way that he opened his heart to you, and give you the courage to go and share God’s truth with all people. No matter what you would like to come forward for prayer about, there is room for all here.