Removing the Obstacles

roadblocksigns

Luke 19:1-3 NRSV

Acts 8:26-38 NRSV

Jesus was passing through Jericho where he encountered a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax-collector, and because of that, because he most certainly took advantage of the poor, he he was rich. Possibly feeling as though he was outside of the boundaries of God’s love due to his sins, he was desperately trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not….

We know the rest of the story. To see Jesus, he takes a risk, he goes on on a limb, figuratively and literally. Jesus finds him in a tree, tells him to come down, and salvation comes to not only him but to his entire house.

But what stands out for me is: “He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not…”

For I believe this begs the question: “Are there people today who feel outside of the boundaries of God’s love due to their sins, who are trying to see who Jesus is, but on account of the crowd, they cannot?”

This question reminds me of another one of Luke’s stories: a story in Acts about an Ethiopian Eunuch who asks Peter if there is anything preventing him from being baptized, from truly discovering who who Jesus is.

Which begs another question, “Are we doing something, or are we not doing something that is preventing people today from coming to Jesus?”

I believe Acts chapter 8 has much to teach us on this subject, especially for us trying to do church in the 21st century.

Verse 26 of chapter 8 reads: “Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go…”

One obstacle that I believe stands in the way of people coming to Jesus is that we have forgotten our call to “Get up and go.” In the 1950’s, we in the church grew accustomed to people coming to us. For variety of social and cultural reasons, all churches had to do to attract a big crowd was to open their doors and turn on the lights. There was a great church construction boom in the 1950’s, as the prevailing church growth mentality was “if you build it, they will come.” And people came, partly because they had nowhere else to go. Most people stayed home on the weekends. Going to church and to mama’s house afterwards for fried chicken and cornbread if you lived in North Carolina or chicken-fried steak and gravy if you lived in Oklahoma after church was the highlight of their weekend, if not their entire week.

However, here in the 21st century, hardly anyone stays home. People are constantly on the move, on the go. So, in order to share the good news of Jesus with others today, we have to get up and be on the move, on the go. Like Philip, we have to get up and go and meet people where they are out on the road.

And not only are we to meet them where they are out on the road, we are to meet them where they are, period.

The problem is that churches too many churches today sitting back, not only expecting people to come to them, but expecting people to come to them in a manner that meets their own expectations. That is, they expect people to come to them that look like them, behave like them, and believe like them. Many churches claim their doors are opened for all; however, they really do not mean “all.”

Now, I don’t think we should beat ourselves up too bad for wanting to only mix with our type of people. It may be part of our human DNA. It may be some inborn, instinct of survival. Fear the different. Beware of the other. Trust no foreigner. Avoid the outsider. So we instinctively put up these barriers, all sorts of obstacles.

Consequently, Luke tells us that the Spirit had to urge Philip to get up and go to the chariot to see this Eunuch from Ethiopia. Go against your natural inclination but going to this chariot and meet this strange foreigner; this victim of bad religion who had been ostracized from the community of faith; this one demeaned and exploited for his sexuality; this one who has been clobbered by the Bible by those who arbitrarily pick and choose scripture passages like Deuteronomy 23:1 that says they are forbidden to enter the temple; this one who has been taught his entire life that he is despised by God. Go, Philip, and meet him where he is. Do not stand above him or over him. Do not judge him or condemn him. Join him. Get into the chariot and sit beside him. Ride alongside him. Engage him. Listen to him. Learn from this other, this stranger, this foreigner.

I believe baptismal pools in the church are dry today, because the church simply refuses to be urged, encouraged and persuaded by the Spirit to go out with love and grace and meet people where they are, especially people considered to be outsiders.

Philip meets the Eunuch who was reading from the book of Isaiah. This is not surprising. For this is one of the most hopeful books in the Hebrew Bible for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised by the church, for those who feel despised by God. Imagine the hope that burned in this Eunuch’s heart when he read the following words we find in Isaiah 56:

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs…
…I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
…these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
beside those already gathered.

Philip heard him reading from Isaiah and asked: “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Eunuch responded: “How can I understand it unless someone interprets it for me?

What a great question. What a better place this world would be if more people understood that the Bible needs to be interpreted.

I do not believe God ever intended for people, on his or her own, to pick up the Bible, and arbitrarily lift scripture passages out of their contexts, and try to understand it or follow it. I believe this is one of the reasons that churches are in decline today. Too many Christians are using the Bible out of context to support all kinds of hate and injustice.

And because of that there are countless people in this world, countless people in this community, who are the victims of bad religion. They feel marginalized and disenfranchised by the church. They have been taught their entire lives that God despises them. They have no idea that God loves them and has a future for them— All because no one has interpreted the Bible pointing to the Jesus who came into the world, not to condemn the world by to save the world, to love the world.

The eunuch then began to read from chapter 53:

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’

Then Eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’

The Eunuch was asking: Who is this one was also ostracized and marginalized by others, as I have been? Who is this who was led like a sheep to be slaughtered? Who is this one who has been humiliated and denied justice? Who is this who had his life taken from him? Who is this one who is just like me? Who is this one who relates to me so well, who understands my pain, who knows my heartache, who empathizes with my sufferings? Is it Isaiah? Or is it someone else?

Then Philip tells the eunuch the good news. The one who understands your pain, the one who knows your heartache, who empathizes with your sufferings is none other than Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. The one who relates to you, identifies with you, and because of that, loves you, welcomes you, accepts you, and forgives you like none other, is the very one that others said despised you.

When the Eunuch heard this good news about Jesus, the words of the prophet became not only hope for the future, but good, glad, certain news for the present:

For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs…
…I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

Suddenly, the barriers fell. Walls crumbled. Obstacles disappeared. And the very doors of the Kingdom of Heaven swung wide open.

It is then the Eunuch, this one who had no name and no future, but now has a everlasting name exclaims, “Look here is water! What is to prevent me then from being baptized?”

He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

What is it going to take to turn our declining membership around? What do we have to do to increase the number of our baptisms? Where do we even start removing the obstacles that prevent people from coming to know Jesus?

I believe we need to get up and we are go out. I believe we need to meet people where they are and not where we might want them to be, meeting them without judgment, without condemnation. And I believe we need to interpret the scriptures in the light of Christ, sharing the good news of his unreserved love, unconditional acceptance, and unearned forgiveness.

Advertisements

Keep at It

Dont-Give-Up

Children’s Sabbath, Central Christian Church, Enid, OK

Luke 18:1-8 NRSV

We are certainly a church that is on the move. And many of you have been moving, you’ve been working, praying, serving, and giving in this community for years, if not for decades. Although you might not always feel like it, you keep your head up and you keep going. Although the way is sometimes very difficult, in many of you, there is surrender, no concession, no throwing in the towel. And not only is there not any backing down, there’s no slowing down. There’s not only no giving up, there’s no easing up.

But as your pastor, as a shepherd who has been entrusted with the task to take care of the flock, sometimes I get a little concerned about you.

Don’t you ever look around at the sheer enormity of the task before you as disciples and get a little discouraged? Don’t you ever stop and think:

“You know, I have been working my entire life to change the world in the name of Christ. I have attended countless choir rehearsals. I have raised thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for missions. I have given an equal amount or more to the church through my tithes and offerings. I have sat through who knows how many committee and board meetings. I have visited the sick, tutored students, loved the grieving, fed the hungry and shared the grace of Christ with everyone I know. But when I look around my world, very little has changed. Not only has it not gotten better, I think it has actually gotten worse!

I have done so much for children. I have kept the nursery. I have taught Sunday School, worked Vacation Bible School, chaperoned church camps, and participated in more Easter Egg Hunts and Trunk-or-Treats than I could possibly count. But when I look at the plight children in our world today, there are days that I just want to give up.”

Do you ever think that? Do you ever consider that in America…

Every 8 hours a child completes suicide.

Every 3 hours a child or teen dies from a gun.

Every 85 seconds a baby is born to a teen mother.

Every 67 seconds a baby is born without health insurance.

Every 47 seconds a child is abused or neglected.

Every 29 seconds a child is born into poverty.

Every 17 seconds a child is arrested.

Every 8 seconds during the school year a public high school student drops out.

Every second and a half during the school year a public school student receives an out-of-school suspension.

And do you ever consider, that in Oklahoma, when it comes to childhood poverty we rank 32nd out of 50 states.

When it comes to the percentage of kids who graduate from high school, we are worse at 44th.

And if you are woman who graduates from high school, even college, don’t get expect to make as much as a man as we rank 44th in the nation.

When it comes to births to women between the ages of 15-19, we rank 49th

When it comes to the percentage of children living apart from there parents, we’re dead last 50th

And when it comes to households that use high-cost, high-risk forms of credit to make ends meet, including payday loans, automobile title loans, refund anticipation loans, rent-to-own, and pawning, we rank at the bottom at 50th

So, it is no wonder we might be tempted to believe that maybe all of this work we are doing for Jesus is just a big waste of time! After all, it was Jesus himself who said that we would always have the poor with us.”

So let’s be real for a moment.  Let’s face it. Sometimes there can nothing more discouraging that being a part of a church, especially a church that strives to follow the difficult demands of our Lord.

That’s because, as disciples, God has as commanded us to do great things in the name of Christ who taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come on this earth as it is in heaven for all God’s children.  And where great things are commanded, there is great opportunity for failure and disappointment.

The needs of children in this world are so vast. The needs of children in this community are so great. And our resources seem so limited.

This is when I believe we all need to be reminded of the story of the persistent widow and the cold, heartless judge.

To say this judge was not a people person nor the church type would be putting it mildly. The widow had some type of opposition in her life, like we all have opposition—opposition that discourages us, tempts us to give in and give up. And every time this widow would go to this judge for help, the judge, remaining true to his character refused to help her.

However, like a small child, she kept persisting until one day the judge had had enough.

He said, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so she may not wear me out by continually coming.”

Then, Luke said, if a crooked judge honors persistence, how much more will God who has always been persistent in loving us honor it?

This story teaches us that God wants us to be persistent! God wants us to keep at it, never let up, never surrender, never throw in the towel.

And no, we may not be able to change the world, but God wants to keep trying, to keep forging ahead, keep the faith until Jesus returns to change it forever!

It is not our business to change the world. That’s God’s business. Our business is to practice charity, to do works of compassion, to give of ourselves, to love and to forgive one another, and not to worry about the ultimate good that we do, the ultimate outcome. The ultimate outcome: that’s God’s business. Our business is to simply do what we can, where we can, when we can, to witness that God’s reign is coming, bit by bit, step by step, even in us.  And our business is to be persistent in this, to keep at it.

We need to remember Jesus’ words, “In as much as you have done it unto the least of these, in the least of ways, you have done it to me.”

Elsewhere he did say, “The poor you will have with you always, (but then he said) you will have me with you always.”  That is, you will always have the poor with you, to love as you loved me.  So, love the poor as you have loved me. Do for them, as you have done for me. Keep at it even when you don’t see me. In other words, we are to be persistent in God’s work, even when we don’t see results, even when it is not easy.

No, despite all the money we raise and give to missions, we are not going to solve all the problems in Oklahoma.  But we’re going to keep giving.

Despite all of our Civitan dances for children with exceptional needs, we are not going to be able to spread joy to every child, but we are going to keep dancing.

Despite our efforts, we may not ever be able to feed every hungry person in this community but through our continued support Loaves and Fishes, Our Daily Bread and a new ministry we are calling the Enid Welcome Table, we’re going to keep feeding.

Despite our good work with CDSA and Youth and Family Services, we are not going to prevent every teenage pregnancy, but by the grace of God, we are going to working.

Despite our Suicide Intervention Classes, we are not going to prevent every suicide, but we are going to keep teaching.

Despite our proclamation of peace and love, we will not end all war or even all gun violence, but we are going to keep preaching.

Despite our gracious hospitality every Sunday in this place, we will not be able to welcome every child in our community who stands in desperate need of God’s grace, but we are going to keep being open and affirming.

Despite taking a stand for justice, there will continue to be inequality and discrimination in our world, but we are going to keep standing up and we are going to keep speaking out.

Despite all the hard work we do in and through this church, people in the church are still going to disappoint us and discourage us, but we are going to forever be persistent and never lose heart.

And then we are going to keep praying. Keep asking God to take our meager, small efforts and use them. We ask God to do for us that which we cannot fully do for ourselves.

And then we will be given the grace to keep at it.  To keep giving—to keep working—to keep trying—until that day comes when God’s kingdom will fully come for all children and God’s will will finally be done on this earth.

Welcome Others, Welcome God – Remembering Jim Butler

james-butler-1475668196

Genesis 18:1-8 NRSV

“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.”

When you worship and follow the Lord, the creator of all that is, the one who has graciously chosen to accept, forgive and love us, be in a relationship with us, then you never know when or where the Lord might appear. It could be the most ordinary of days while you are doing the most ordinary of things, like sitting outside your tent, or on your porch, or sitting on tractor, or sitting on a four-wheeler in the heat of the day. You may or may not be in the right frame of mind to recognize the presence, but the presence is nonetheless real and nevertheless powerful.

Abraham is minding his own business in the middle of the day when, out of nowhere, three strangers appear on the street.

Next, without hesitation, Abraham does what the Bible says the people of God do for others, he welcomes them with a generous hospitality.

And notice, that when he sees them, he does not safely call out to them from a distance. He does not cautiously walk over to them. And he certainly does not practically ignore them and allow them to walk on by. When he sees them, the scriptures say that he runs to meet them.

And when he encounters these strangers, he does not stand arrogantly over them, above them, but humbly bows himself to the ground before them and speaks to them like a servant.

“Please do not pass me by. Let me get some water and wash the dust off your feet. Let me make a place for you to rest in the shade. My wife, Marjorie, I mean Sarah, bakes the best bread. Come and allow us to serve you. Then, you can continue your journey, refueled and refreshed.”

When the strangers agree to stay a while, Abraham can hardly contain himself. He is absolutely thrilled. He runs back inside, “Hurry, Marg, Sarah, prepare three cups of choice flour, knead it, and bake a delicious cake. He then runs out back to the field and takes the best looking calf of the flock and has his servant prepare a delicious dinner. He brought it to them under the shade tree and waited on them while they ate.

In other words, when Abraham sees the three strangers he said with his words and his deeds, with his very heart and his soul, with all that he has: “Boy, am I glad to see you!”

I never once visited Jim, when he did not say those beautiful words of welcome to me. Never saw him when he did not act like he was absolutely thrilled to see me. But here’s the thing, Jim was never acting. It was always so evident that his words of greeting were never said casually or disingenuously, but said from his very heart and and soul.

And I am told that this is how Jim welcomed everyone: “Boy, am I glad to see you!”

One day he came in from the house and told his family: “The Oklahoma Highway Patrol just pulled me over on my four-wheeler.”

“What?” asked his family.

“Yeah, I was riding in on the state road the runs by the farm and he pulled me over!”

“Did you get a ticket?”

“No” I didn’t” said Jim.

His family looked at each other and said: “It’s probably because when the patrolman walked over to Jim’s four-wheeler, the first thing that he said was: “Boy, am I glad to see you!”

As verse one of Genesis 18 suggested, we later discover that these three strangers were actually angels, messengers from God. I believe the point that our God wants us to get is this: When we welcome others into our lives, the Bible tells us, we welcome God. When we welcome others, the Lord appears.

This truth was also taught by Jesus. In chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel we read the following words of Jesus to the disciples, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40-42). In Mark’s gospel we read where Jesus took a little child in his arms, and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:36-37).

And in Matthew 25 we read Jesus’ words, “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Do you see the pattern here? Jesus said that when we welcome others, we are welcoming Jesus. And Jesus said when we welcome him, we welcome God.

When we open our hearts wide, when we sincerely invite others in, when we let them know how glad we are to see them, we are welcoming God into our lives.

No wonder we always felt so good every time we were in Jim’s presence. We were also in the presence of God.

I am so happy that I had the opportunity to speak with Jim during the last week of his life to tell him how, as a pastor, I wished everyone in the church had the same gracious, hospitable spirit that he possessed. Because I truly believe that when we swing wide the doors of the church to sincerely welcome others, letting others know that they are genuinely appreciated, that we are truly glad to see them, as Jim welcomed and appreciated others, no one will ever doubt that God is in our church, that the Lord himself is present, healing us, forgiving us, loving us, leading us to be the very embodiment of Christ in this world.

As you have already heard from his children and grandchildren, it was obvious to all who knew and loved Jim and were known and loved by him, that Jim had most certainly welcomed the the Lord into his life. Not only because we know that he hardly missed a Sunday worshipping here at Central Christian Church, faithfully attending the early 8 am service which gave him time to do some work on the farm on Sunday if needed. But we know that Jim had welcomed the Lord into his life, because we know that Jim truly emulated Christ in all that he did.

Hear again to the words from his children, how they remember him, this time paying attention to the many ways Jim imitated our Lord:

Vickie said that he was always there for her, that he always had time to listen. Through words, but more importantly through his actions, giving her guidance and wisdom, teaching her integrity, honesty and respect for others and teaching her to be grateful for all of the blessings of God.

If everyone had a dad like him, what a wonderful world it would be.  Because everyone would grow up knowing they were safe, protected, and loved.  Everyone would know what it means to have someone to believe in …someone who believes in you, too. Everyone would be given the opportunity, and the joy, that our family’s been given…by having a dad as supportive, as caring, as simply wonderful as he was to us.

And Ron described Jim’s Christ-like life in this way: He was a friend to me. He taught me to give my best in all that I do. He showed me how to love others unconditionally. He put the needs of others before his own need. He showed the importance of a good marriage, loving mom and making her happy for 67 years. He was generous to others, but never wanted recognition for his generosity. He always had a positive outlook on life, saying, “everything is going to be ok.” But what I will miss most is hearing my dad tell others ‘I sure am glad to see you,’ and meaning it.”

And today, because Jim lived a life imitating his Lord, a life that proclaimed the gospel of Christ, because we know that the very presence of the Lord was not only in his heart, but also in his actions, in his love for others, we can celebrate this day. For we the have confidence that because God was with Jim, and because God is with us, “Everything is going to be ok.”

When Rev. Speidel visited with Jim on Monday, this is exactly what she told him. And she told him this with full confidence. “Everything is going to be ok.” Although he was unable to speak, Shannon said that he nodded his head and she was certain that he heard her and understood that everything was truly going to be ok.

Because we have no doubt that Jim had welcomed God into his life, we now know that God has welcomed Jim, fully, finally and eternally into the life of God. On Tuesday afternoon, I am certain that before Jim could utter the words, he heard them the following words from the very throne of God, “Jim Butler, boy, am I glad to see you.”

And because of that, today, we are not saying good-bye to Jim. Jim never liked that. Instead, we are saying, “We will see you again!”

Let us pray together:

O God, help us to continue to be grateful for the life we remember this day. May we graciously welcome others, and thus welcome you. So you will one day welcome us to our eternal home. Amen.

Renewing Our Hearts to Partnership: Embracing Diversity

diversity-shutterstock-998x615

Ephesians 4:1-16 NRSV

There is but one body and one Spirit—just as you were called into one hope when you were called.

Unity. It is the theme of World Communion Sunday. But when we talk about “unity” in the church, what are we really talking about? Are we talking about everyone believing the same thing, thinking the same way, being on the same page when it comes to matters of faith and practice? Are we talking about sharing the same set of values and moral principles? Are we talking about one particular style of worship? What does “unity” in the church really mean?

I believe the ancient story of the Tower of Babel can help us with this.

In the eleventh chapter of Genesis we read:

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

The whole earth was one. One language. One people. One tribe. One race. And they all came together to live in one place. They all came together to build something special, something great, something wonderful that would be a symbol of their unity.

Unity, oneness, togetherness, harmony, people of the same minds living in one accord. Isn’t this the will of our God, God’s great purpose for humanity?

So what’s not to like in this seemingly perfect picture of unity in Genesis chapter 11? As it turns out, according to God, the creator of all that is, not very much.

Let’s look at God’s reaction to this oneness in verse 7 of our story: “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”  So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth…”

What? Are you serious? What is wrong with this great portrait of human unity, of one race of people, one nation, one language, all of one mind, coming together, to build something great, to celebrate the pride of one master race?

The truth is that the builders of the great tower in Shinar had accomplished not what God wants for humanity, but what many throughout history, including the likes of Adolf Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan, have wanted for humanity: One master race of people coming together to form one supreme social order, one culture, sharing the same ideals, values and moral principles.

For so many, diversity is a threat. Diversity is something to fear. Diversity is something to segregate and discriminate. Diversity is something to scapegoat. Diversity is something to send to the gas chambers, lynch in the trees or shoot in the streets.

I am not sure if anyone in my lifetime has articulated the thinking of the people of Shinar better than Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker back in 1999. Some of you may remember his response when he was asked by Sports Illustrated if he would ever play for the New York Mets or New York Yankees.

Rocker said:

“I’d retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the number 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing… The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there.”[i]

The story of the Tower of Babel teaches us that what John Rocker said “racked his nerves” in the world is exactly what God wills for the world. In verse 4 we read that the purpose of building the tower was to avoid what depressed John Rocker on the No. 7 train leaving Manhattan for Queens, and to avoid what John Rocker heard in Times Square.

The purpose of settling in Shinar and building that tower was to live in a world with no foreigners, no confusing babbling in the streets, no queers or kids with purple hair to encounter on the way to work, no eating in the marketplace with people on strange diets, no rubbing elbows with people wearing weird clothes, head coverings or dots on their foreheads.

No sitting in the same pews at church with people dress differently than we do on Sunday morning and definitely no people who think differently, believe differently, or worship differently.

The people in Shinar said: “We will be truly unified! We will look alike, think alike and believe alike. We will sing worship alike, sing alike and pray alike.”

So they came together and said, let’s build a tower of unity “to not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

And God’s reaction to this kind of unity? Let’s “scatter them over the face of the whole earth,” to create a world of diverse languages and cultures, to create a world of foreigners.”

God was only accomplishing what God had always willed for the creation: diversity. In chapter one of Genesis, we read that the original plan for creation was for humankind to “multiply and fill the earth.” And after the flood in chapter ten we read where God sanctions and wills all nations to be “spread out over the earth.” (Gen 10:32). Simply put, from the very beginning of time, in spite of our will, in spite of our fear and our racial or cultural pride, God wills diversity.

Therefore, if we ever act or speak in any manner that denigrates or dehumanizes another because of their race, gender, language, beliefs, dress, nationality or ethnicity, we are actually disparaging the God who willed such diversity. According to Genesis, diversity is not to be feared, avoided, prevented, lynched or shot. If we want to do the will of God our creator and redeemer, diversity is to be welcomed and embraced. In other words, if we love God, we will also love our neighbor.

And this is what should unite us as Christians!

It is the love of God for all of us, a love that God wants us to share with others that unites us.

I believe it’s why Jesus called it the greatest commandment. Loving God and neighbor is what should unite us; not race, not correct doctrine, not a set of beliefs, not one style of worship, but love.  It was Disciples of Christ forefather Thomas Campbell who said: “Love each other as brothers [and sisters] and be united as children of one family.”

And the Apostle Paul wrote: “I therefore beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”

The story of God’s displeasure with the Tower of Babel is God’s gracious stamp of approval, of blessing, on every race, every tribe, and every language in every land. It is the fulfillment of God’s original purpose for creation. The song we learned as little children cannot be more true: “Red, yellow, black and white, they are all precious in God’s sight.”

God is not color-blind, as I hear some say, for God creates, wills, blesses, and loves color. And it is this love that unites us all, as we have all been created to harmoniously see humanity as God sees it: as a beautiful, diverse, colorful rainbow created by, sanctioned by, and graced by God.

As Bible-believing Christians, our nerves should never be racked on Sunday mornings, [as my mama used to say, we should never get in a tizzy!) if we look around the congregation and see some diversity—see some folks who not only dress differently and look differently, but see folks we know believe differently, live differently, worship differently, interpret the Bible differently, and yet they still choose to partner with us through this church, united by a commitment to share the love and grace of Christ we have all received with the world.

And it should rack our nerves all to pieces on Sunday mornings, if we look around the congregation and only see a bunch of folks who look just like us.

And if we are not immensely bothered by a lack of diversity in this sanctuary, if we are not partners in ministry with those who differ from us, if we would rather remain homogenous by remaining divided, I believe we need to remember not only this story in the first book of our Bible that describes a beautiful and diverse creation willed by God, but I also believe we need to think about a about a passage in the last book of our Bible that describes a diverse eternity willed by God.

And we must as ourselves the question: If diversity bothers us now, what are we going to do when we get to that place we think we’re are going after we die to live forever and ever.

Because guess what? According to Revelation, heaven looks more like Times Square and that No. 7 train on the way from Manhattan to Queens than some affluent suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

In Revelation 7, we read these words:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures [each representing the diversity of all creation], and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.

Let us pray:  Thank you O God for the diversity that is in this place we call Central Christian Church. Help us to accept it, embrace it, love it, as we partner together to be the church you are calling us to be in this city and in our world.

[i] Read more: John Rocker – At Full Blast – York, Braves, City, and League – JRank Articles http://sports.jrank.org/pages/4014/Rocker-John-At-Full-Blast.html#ixzz39oVUCEtA