Monday, May 21, 2012

One of the most famous speeches in recent times was delivered by President Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate, prior to the demolishing of the Berlin Wall that has had existed for many years, and symbolized the divide between freedom and communism that marked the Cold War.  One of the most memorable lines the President delivered was, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe...Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!  Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”  He firmly believed that freedom would pave the way to prosperity, and result in the burying of what he called “ancient hatreds”, as well as clearly marking the path forward.




Take A Visit With Me To The Wall

I want to take you to another wall, if that’s alright.  I’m not talking architectural such as the Great Wall of China; not geographic/political as the Berlin wall.  This is not historical or memorable such as the Vietnam War Memorial dubbed simply “The Wall.”  I don’t have in mind the religious or symbolic such as the Western or the Wailing Wall in East Jerusalem that carries with it profound implications of identity and title deed to the Jewish people.  No, what I have in mind is much, much closer to home.  In fact, it resides in the human heart and is referred to as “the dividing wall of hostility.”  Please read and consider (Eph.2:11-18) ESV which so richly declares:

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

Recently, much of the nation was stunned and captured by the tragic events surrounding the slaying of a 17-year old teenager Trayvon Martin, by a local neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, FL, George Zimmerman.  There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions, but almost immediately this even was jumped on and politicized by numbers of people. There were very few sober, restrained voices warning of the dangers of any case being tried in the media without all the facts investigated and corroborated.  In the end, what we are left with is a sad, sad legacy that will forever scar this teenager’s parents, and all the others close to the case and individuals.  What it has served to accomplish is to bring the issue of “race” or racial divisions to the forefront of the cultural conversation.  I don’t have statistical evidence of this, but it seems that the “race card” is being played and exploited by a lot of people more & more frequently, and is not helping.  So, instead of people being brought together and old wounds being healed, the racial divide seems more pronounced than ever.  This was not supposed to happen!

It is right here that the true Gospel of Jesus Christ shines!  The Gospel paints the glorious picture of humanity reconciled to God, and thru Jesus Christ, to each other.  Ephesians 2/3 present us with the Biblical and theological foundation of this reality. According to God’s word the life lesson about the problem is two-fold.  First, the one word that sums up the human condition and so much of human history is the word...alienation.  As a very young Christian, the earliest explanation given to me about sin was the fact of separation: sin separates people first from God, and then from one another.  The second lesson that follows is that the roots and origins of racism are not political, social, or economic (although these certainly contribute to the problem); no, they are spiritual.  You don’t have to look any further than the human heart to what gives this its death-dealing power!

It’s also true that you don’t have to go very far or look very hard to find examples and illustrations of this alienation, this “dividing wall of hostility.”  You have the tribalism in Africa that often carries genocidal tendencies like what happened in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis, which much of the world turned a blind eye to.  In the Asian community, the Koreans don’t like the Japanese, and vice versa; plus they both dislike the Chinese.  I live in Arizona where the label ‘racist’ is attached to any attempt to address the problem of illegal immigration.  Among some Latino people they get very offended and say, “Don’t call me Mexican; I’m Spanish.”  Amongst the Native Americans you find the neighbor on neighbor conflict between the Navajos and Hopis that has been going on for generations; also including their neighbors to the north, the Utes.  Then there’s the Islanders.  In the Micronesia, the Chamorros hate the Chuukese.  Not to be outdone, in the Polynesians, the Samoans and the Tongans are not wild about each other.  My chaplain friend, Bob Mecado, confirmed that the prison system is one of the most segregated places on earth where you’re forced to make a choice about “what car you’re going to ride in.” Will it be white, or Mexican, or Black?  It’s hard to fight a war and bring stability in Afghanistan to a people where tribes or clans have been fighting one another for generations.  Dear ones, this is just a small sampling of the world we live in, with all its walls.  I haven’t even got into the travesty of apartheid in South Africa, and the wall between whites, blacks, and colored.  Or Sierra Leone, where you have the Mende and the Temne, with the Creole feeling superior to all the indigenous people.  We can look around and find the ancient political tactic of DIVIDE & RULE is being propagated, and originated with and learned from the “father” of it all, which is the devil!

Where I get some hope is from our Scripture.  As real as these and all the other social distinctions are: they can’t hold a candle to, and are not nearly as intense or unrelenting as the “dividing wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile in Bible times.  The Jews believed that Gentiles were only good for and were created to fuel the fires of Hell.  It was not lawful for a Jew to give aid to a Gentile woman giving birth, since you’d be helping to bring another heathen into the world.  The collision of Jewish/Gentile exclusiveness was monumental.  The Gentiles were dogs in Jewish parlance; and the Jews were homicidal enemies of the human race in Gentile terms.  Among the Gentiles as well it was written, “The Greeks wage a truceless war against people of other races (whom they consider to be barbarians).  My reason for wanting to visit this wall with you is that if we’re going to experience revival and kingdom fruitfulness then...this “spirit” must be broken.

The Miracle Of The Church

Oh yes, God has something in mind!  Something much bigger, much deeper, much broader than any human solution!  God’s answer to all this was to create a whole new race!  “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility....that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  Only God could think of something so radical!  He’s going to take from the mess around that wall and “create” something brand new: a whole new humanity; not Jews, not Gentiles, but the church of God.  Clement of Alexandria commented on this, “We who worship God in a new way, as the 3rd race, are Christians.”  Paul goes on to spell out the Church’s charter in vs.18, 19, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”  The death of Jesus Christ has created a new humanity (a 3rd race) reconciled first to God, then through Christ to each other.

Never mind the propaganda.  The Cross of Christ is the greatest unifying force in the world, “might reconcile us both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  The meaning here is not that we feel a little bit closer to “our kind” but those who were formerly hostile, divided and hating each other, now experience a profound bond of love and unity.  It also helps to define our task, where Jesus said, “Go make disciples of all nations.”  The word “ethnos” refers to various ethnic groups. This means in the church there are no 2nd class citizens, but dignity or full acceptance for all, and expression, enabling people to fulfill the destiny of God, is open to all.  It reminded me of the “snapshot” we’re given of the church at Antioch. “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1-3) This church on fire for Christ had an amazingly diverse or heterogeneous staff.  Barnabas, a native of Cyprus; Simeon or Niger (Latin for “black”); Lucius of Cyrene (region of North Africa); Manaen who was raised in Herod’s household with privilege; and a young Rabbi named Saul or the Apostle Paul.  This is a kind of microcosm of what the church would and should become in the world, a racially integrated group of Christ-followers and missions-minded people.

I guess the question that begs to be asked here is what about single-ethnic churches?  I understand there are some exceptions due to various circumstances factors, historical, linguistic, and geographical.  The idea is that people come to faith easier when there are people of the same ethnic and socio-economic background.  That might have some truth to it, but how does it differ from a religious-flavored being comfortable with our kind?  The real model should be local churches that reflect the ethnic diversity of heaven and God’s glory. The song of redemption that says, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev.5:9, 10)  A church where Jesus Christ reigns will be a “pocket of reconciliation and shalom in an alienated world.”  Dr. Martin Luther King is noted for saying that the most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning at 11:00am which is when whites go to their church, and Blacks go to theirs.  I’m not denying that this happens; I’m saying that this is not manifesting the life of Jesus Christ or His Kingdom.  A people whose prayer and heart desire is “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The building of God’s kingdom necessitates the ministry of racial reconciliation (“tear down this wall!”), which results in a multitude of diverse people worshiping, serving together, loving, and seeking first the Kingdom of God.  The witness that the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom.14:17)

Ministering The Mystery

The word “mystery” in the Bible is not talking about a crime thriller or an Agatha Christie novel.  The word indicates something beyond natural knowledge; something that has been previously hidden, but is now manifest.  It refers to an open secret!  Paul is over-the-top thrilled that he would have an opportunity to preach among the Gentiles “the unsearchable riches of Christ” and to bring to light this mystery. “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  (Eph.3:6) The mystery involves a “miraculous togetherness” that is the fruit of Christ’s reconciling work on the Cross.

Our calling as Christians and as a church is to manifest this mystery: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”  We are called to give truth and validity to the “many-colored wisdom of God” in the fellowship of the Church!  This will come at a cost since the flesh (fallen human nature), the world (with its many power-centered agendas), and the devil is constantly trying to re-erect what Christ came to tear down.  A Church that is “manifesting the mystery” is a work of God, not something we can concoct on our own.  It happens when the central impetus of ministry is preaching the Gospel and making disciples.  It also is the fruit of the pastor’s heart.  He must be seized by the Biblical conviction and cast the vision that God wants the local church to reflect the “manifold wisdom of God,” or a multi-ethnic ethos.  It is also the fruit of a spiritual principle found in (1Jn.1:1-3) that the closer we are to God, the closer we become to each other.

I must point out that there is a cosmic drama to all this since not only is there a witness to our broken world, but there is a heavenly audience to all of this. The text says that this “might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” I’m not sure if I fully grasp the entire meaning of this, but there’s something about a local church that is first, committed to the process of tearing down the wall, and second, committed to manifesting God’s “many colored wisdom and plan” that draw the attention of the angels!  They long and love to peer into the nature and purpose of God being played out.  Not only is the world watching, but angels are watching as well!  Wow!  That’s why the place where you’ll find a demonstration of this is not the U.N. but the C.I.C. (Church In Christ)!

I was talking to Pastor Artie Aragon in Chinle, AZ about some of this.  He had conducted a funeral service for one of the original Navajo Code Talkers. What an amazing story and confirmation and conclusion to what we’re looking at.  During the war in the South Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, the Navajo Code Talkers became one of the Marine Corps most valuable secret weapons. The pilot project began with 29 Navajo volunteers in April of 1942, and grew to a force of more than 400 by the end of the war.  They were an integral part of the South Pacific strategy, and only God knows how many 1000's of American lives were saved because of the unique contribution of these “code talkers.”  The Navajo people were used for victory and freedom for the whole of the United States.  To me, one of the amazing features is what they had to overcome.  They fought for a country that had caused them great pain and struggle.  How easy it would’ve been for them to be trapped in the past, and become prisoners of bitterness.  They fought for a country that had broken 197 treaties.  They were willing to submit to the training of a different culture and race, some of them under General George Patton.  They chose to be United States Marines first, embracing a new culture of character, discipline and excellence.  Because they “manifested the mystery” they have been memorialized forever, and rightly so, in a way that brought them great dignity, and a cause much greater than themselves. 

It’s easy to take the posture or attitude of “being more comfortable with people like us...people of our kind.”  But, if we are going to think and live Biblically, then we are Christian’s first, and then whatever else: white, black, Mexican, Asian, native-American, rich or poor, educated or uneducated etc.  Why? Because WE ALL HAVE THE SAME FATHER, THE SAME CITIZENSHIP, THE SAME FAMILY, THE SAME GRACE AND SALVATION, THE SAME PROMISES, AND THE SAME HEAVENLY HOME by aligning ourselves with God and His truth and His people, we too, become part of something much greater than ourselves in a world hopelessly alienated.  That, my friend, is worth contending for; don’t you agree?! TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

Note: Pastor Warner is a white guy from New England, married to a Mexican girl from the barrio, going on 40 years.  He is also glad and privileged to serve in the same church made up of numerous ethnicities, with a burning desire to “manifest this mystery” as a living illustration.  They seek to do this in the context of a passion to reach the world with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, which at this time includes people from 5 different continents, and 26 different countries.


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