I believe that God’s word speaks into every human crisis – those that are personal and those that are social. This has been a tough period for our American neighbors. Over the past two weeks most of us witnessed, by television or internet, Caucasian police killing African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota. Later we were stunned by the actions of an African American sniper shooting at police in Dallas at a Black Lives Matter rally.
In subsequent interviews, a number of social activists described themselves as depressed, fatigued, confused, and angry. A journalist commented that segments of the population are wounded and enraged. We instinctively understand the discouragement of this moment for Christians who work for God’s rule of justice, mercy, and the dignity of each human life.
What does God’s word have to say to Americans who struggle with the legacy of slavery, to Canadians where indigenous women are at risk in cities like Winnipeg, to Bolivians where Aymara and Quechua people are judged by the color of their skin and the traditional clothes that they wear, in India where the caste system still relegates some people to be untouchable, and in countless other social locations where people are judged by their race or ethnic background?
I have been reflecting on two verses from the apostle Paul. I want to introduce them by saying that the cities of the Roman Empire were melting pots of different ethnicities and races. People tended to live in areas that were determined by ethnicity. And there was violence and misunderstandings between different groups. People often lived in fear. It was into this context that Paul proclaimed the message that God’s grace was freely given to all through the death of Jesus Christ. He died as a Roman prisoner executed by the state; he also died as a sacrifice for our sins. He rose from the dead through the power of God. The first Christians lived in a world that called Caesar Lord and Savior. They defiantly called Jesus Christ their Lord and their Savior. They were a new people that could be called the family of God and the body of Christ.
Paul wrote the following words in the second letter to the house churches in Corinth. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view, even thought once we 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” (2 Cor. 5.16-17). In simple words, faith is transformative. Faith changes us dramatically. We simply cannot follow Jesus and uncritically accept the destructive standards and prejudices of the social world around us. There is a new creation and we are called by God to live into that new creation. It requires us to change through the presence and grace of God’s Spirit.
The second text comes from Galatians. Here we have another mixed church community. The city around them is divided by social positions, ethnicity, and patriarchy. Paul makes the following statement about this new social group called the Christian church. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is not longer male and female, there is no longer slave and free, there is no longer male and female. You are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28). He does not mean that ethnicity no longer exists, that gender no longer exists, that slavery had disappeared from the Roman Empire. He means that these divisions are not tolerated and perpetuated by followers of Jesus. There is a new fellowship around the cross of profound and transformative inclusion.
I pray that followers of Jesus will hear God’s voice, deepen their faith in the power of the gospel, and recommit their lives to be servants of God’s kingdom and witnesses of God’s love in their families, communities, and world.