“From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. -Paul in 2nd Corinthians 5
Two weeks ago today, I had the privilege to go with 10 black preachers and 10 white preachers in Churches of Christ on a bus ride all over the South to see where some of the most historical Civil Rights events had happened.
It was one of the highlights of my life.
We worshipped in Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, we spent time in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham (where four little black girls were killed by a KKK bomb). We saw where Rosa Parks got on the bus, we marched over the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, and we got to spend several hours with Dr. Fred Grey, a life long preacher in Churches of Christ, who also happened to be the lawyer for Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
We got to see and touch (and pretend to preach behind) the very pulpit Dr. King used. It was the pulpit they used when filming the movie Selma, it was a piece of history and it was just standing out in the open in the church basement Bible Class room.
In one of my favorite moments from the trip, someone asked our tour guide/church member “Why don’t you have Dr. King’s pulpit in a case or behind plastic protection?”
She said ‘Because were going to be using it Sunday at 9:30!”
In other words, “We are a church, we were just doing church work then, were doing it still and we’re going to keep doing just good local church work.”
That’s what impressed me the most about this trip, all these churches were so, well churchy.
Did you know that the Deacons of Dexter Avenue Baptist fired the next preacher after Dr. King? Like any church, they have argued and fought over everything from paying utility bills to what kind of songs they would sing. They are a regular local church, warts and all.
But looking back through history, we know now that weren’t just that.
They were living the dream.
But I’d like to ask who’s dream?
Paul the Prophet
The classically trained scholar Sarah Ruden, tells a story in her great book “Paul Among the People” about being in an ivy league class talking about classical literature when the subject of St. Paul came up. And one of her peers began to rail against Paul for his condemnation of sorcery.
Her classmate said that to her sorcery meant “just the ability to project my power and essence.” And just about everyone in the class nodded their head in agreement. Yes, Paul was such a repressive brute.
Sarah said she would have sighed too, except that suddenly an image flashed into her mind of just what kind of world St. Paul lived in and just what sorcery would’ve meant in his Greco-Roman context.
She remembered reading the Roman poet Horace’s story of a small boy buried up to his neck who had been left to starve to death while staring at food, so that his liver and bone marrow, which must now be filled with his frenzied longing, could serve as a love charm.
They would change the meal out 3 times a day, with the most delicious of foods so that the starving boy would be driven out of his mind with longing as he slowly died from starvation.
And then a rich man would buy his bones as a love potion because he thought some girl was cute.
Reading that probably bothers you, but I want you to see the world that Paul was actually planting churches in, so you can see that Paul isn’t just railing against Harry Potter. He was taking on something that we can see clearly now as evil. But only because we have been given his Christian imagination.
Paul spent his life taking on some of history’s most institutionalized systemic evils. He was taking the truly good news of the Gospel to the entire known world, and changing people’s imagination for how things ought to be.
He was giving the world his dream about the Kingdom of God.
The problem we have when we talk about Paul is that we take cruise ships to see the cities that he walked months to get to. We watch videos or look at pictures to see where he, as a middle aged man, backpacked and bled to be at.
The problem we have with Paul is that we aren’t bleeding for these truths, we are bored with them. And we forgot just how deep, radical and beautiful they really are.
You may see Paul as some oppressive, sexist, pro-slavery and anti-freedom guy who talks too much about sex because he’s single and doesn’t get to have any.
But every category that I just mentioned is one that Paul gave you, and spent his life fighting against.
Before MLK had a dream, Paul had a vision and it’s one that we need more than ever today.
Racism and the Kingdom of God
These days we talk a lot about racism. We say things that sound so obvious, like “You shouldn’t be racist.’ But I’d like to ask why? Because for thousands of years no one really thought that was a problem. Of course, you would consider your race to be better than others, it was your race after all.
We say things like all people are created equal like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. But why would anyone think that? It’s not obvious, in fact, the exact opposite it true. The equality of human beings is actually anything but self-evident.
The senior in the wheelchair doesn’t strike anyone as equal to the virile young man. The boy with Down Syndrome is anything but equal to the young winner of the recent beauty pageant. Unless…
You have in someway been shaped by the story of the Bible, a story where the image of God is in everyone, no matter their age, gender, appearance or status in life.
The problem with today’s world is that we have these revolutionary ideas but we don’t know where we got them. It’s not just a part of being a good human being to be kind to the people you disagree with, mercy isn’t the default nature of mankind, and justice isn’t the default state of the universe.
The problem with the Western world is that we have just enough Christian roots to know the problem, but we’ve forgotten the solution.
Did you know that the word kindness comes from the word kin, as in your family. This is because we tend to like people who are like us.
But Jesus had a different vision.
His people were, His family would be a family of a thousand different backgrounds, races, statuses nationalities and kinds.
Jesus had this radical idea that because of His work on the Cross we wouldn’t try to build their identity on who they were better than, but by the overwhelming, overpowering love of God.
This is what Jesus started and Paul planted. The Church is a city within a city, a church of different’s that can make a difference.
A Diverse city of people.
A Church of a Different Kind.
If you are in Abilene, we’d love to invite you to join us at Highland on Sunday mornings at 8:30 (a capella) or 11 (instrumental) this fall for this series, if you don’t live in West Texas you can check out the podcast here.