2 Corinthians 5:1-21
1950. Georgia. Nighttime. John, a black man, is driving his two daughters home from a gathering. And, according to his own words, he did something very foolish and dangerous: he ran out of gas.
He pushed the car for miles. Finally, he came to a filling station. But it was a “Whites Only” service station. He did something even more foolish and dangerous. He knocked on the door.
Hat in hand, looking down with shoulders slumped, John tried to help his request. “Excuse me, Sir. I ran out of gas. I need to get my two girls home to bed. Could you sell me a couple of gallons of gas?”
“Can’t you read? Your kind ain’t welcome around here.” The White Man had not used the words ‘your kind,’ he had used the common racial slur of the day.
“Please, Sir! I’ve got the money!” John said. He was crossing a line, here. It could have very well led to his being beaten or worse. The White Man turned away from him, shut and locked the door.
John, returned to the car, sat behind the wheel, and composed himself. “What are we going to do, now, Daddy?” asked his daughter Sarah?
Before he could answer. The door to the filling station opened again. John tensed. Was the White Man going to do him and his girls harm?
The man exiting the service station was a different man than the one John talked to a minute ago. The man approached the car.
“I’m sorry that happened. There’s no need for such behavior. I’d be happy to pump you some gas,” the other guy said.
“I can pay for it,” said John.
“No need,” said the man.
John thanked him and drove home, happy to be home.
That is the best I can recollect of a true story. It stuck with me. What part of the story stuck out to you? For me it was the second white guy’s generosity. That’s what was running through my mind at the end of the story.
The story-teller was the daughter. And she became a teacher. She would tell that story to both white and black people. She said that, for most Whites, the generosity of the white guy stood out. But, for most Blacks, the Jim Crow system of oppression stuck out.
For her, personally, it was a moment when her Dad became a little bit smaller. What does that mean? She had always looked up to her Dad—strong, tall, intelligent. But he was reduced to groveling at that gas station—the cultural shaming.
The relationship between the races of America has been front and center this week. Hate. Violence. And politics. It is so difficult to not get caught up in the tension and ugliness.
The post was ugly. The post was hateful. The post was judgmental. The post was sinful. A former colleague, a Christian, posted something really ugly on Facebook/Twitter this week. Here is the conclusion this person came to: if you weren’t explicitly/actively against Trump, you were the enemy of God and not Christian.
My old colleague is free to not like Trump (there are plenty of people in that group). But to declare that Trump is God’s enemy—that is dangerous. When we demonize someone we don’t agree with, we find that we can justify all sorts of horrible things.
But my reply was: Jesus loved his enemies—and told us to love our enemies, too. And love is costly and dangerous. For that, I (and all other Evangelicals) was chastised and told I would be held accountable for my (our) apathy concerning race and politics.
Friends, I truly believe our nation and, way more importantly, Jesus’ Church in America, is in a precarious place. We sit on a precipice flirting with disaster. Can you feel the tension amongst us? Suspicion? Anger? Angst? It is like the little bubbles forming on the bottom of a pan…releasing!…the episodes of ugliness and violence rising to the top. How long until we boil?
Racial strife is not imaginary—we know our sin as a nation and Church. Who were the first people here? Native Americans? What did the majority White culture do to them? We decimated them nearly to nothing. Are Africans indigenous to the Americas? No. Our white forefathers brought them here as slaves. How have Asians been treated in a majority white America? How have Hispanics been treated in a majority white America?
Did you know that God holds nations accountable for their sins? Did you know that God holds nations accountable for the unreconciled sins of the past? Read the Old Testament! Both Israel and the pagan peoples around them were held to account for their national wrongs.
But, here’s a caveat. What this person said on Facebook/Twitter…it was the pot calling the kettle black. To lump people of a particular political opinion together and label them as the enemies of God is bigoted. To lump people of a particular religious opinion together and label them as bigots is bigoted.
Sigh. Ugh…Who can save us from ourselves?! …I know! You know! But we can easily forget when we get caught up in the whirlwind of troubles we have inherited from our ancestors and the ones we have created for ourselves.
Instead of being representatives of Jesus to a broken world, we tend to fall into our current culture’s pattern: we get defensive or begin to attack the attacker.
Paul dealt with racial and cultural differences—strong ones. These differences were so strong that it threatened to undermine the Good News of Jesus. Sound familiar?
Jews and Greeks and Romans and Others…they didn’t mix well. They were different from each other. And now they were to be under one roof?! They were to eat from one table?! That was not… Kosher.
Paul says in Galatians 3:26-29…. Friends, when we come to know God as Lord (or as Paul says, “When God comes to know us”), our identity changes. Our identity is based on Jesus…not ethnicity, race, employment, imprisonment, addiction, freedom, politics, not even our gender and sexuality.
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I am an adopted child of God the Father. That is my identity. I happen to be an American, Caucasian, male, married heterosexual.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 that our identity has a particular calling related to the situation we, as One Church, find ourselves in today. We are called to the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciling back to God… those at strife with Nature, with each other, and with God.
I don’t know where you are at in your heart today. I don’t know where you are at in your actions today. Maybe when I talked about the post being ugly, hateful, judgmental, and sinful, you thought I was talking about you.
I do know where I want us to be. Verse 20 says it: We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
We are Christ’s ambassadors…God is making His appeal to this world through us! What a privilege! What a responsibility! (Oh, man…that’s heavy.) I can do better. We can do all this through Christ who strengthens us.
Our nation needs a witness to God’s Love. God has provided that witness: Us. Let us be known as reconcilers and not as an angry and petty people. Lord, continue to love us…continue to reconcile us to You, one another, and our world…teach us as only One who truly sees us can…send us to those You will. All of this for Your Kingdom and Your glory, Amen.