For Mother’s Day, I preached from 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 on the subject, “Passing on a Legacy of Faith.” Just as the apostle Paul and Susanna Wesley both passed on a legacy of faith to others, we can do the same for those within our circles of influence, including our families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Here’s the audio of last Sunday’s sermon —
First it was vampires, now zombies. Our appetite for the bizarre and scary seems to know no end. Of course film-wise, it all started in 1968 when George Romero directed the cult classic, Night of the Living Dead. Even the Library of Congress has recognized that film as a giant in its genre, and selected it for the National Film Registry.
However the Apostle Paul may have been the first to write seriously about the living dead. In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul reminds the Colossian Christians that they not only “have been raised with Christ” but they have also died to their previous way of life. In other words, first century Christians were the new living dead–alive to Christ, but dead to the world out of which they had been saved.
Paul lists specific behaviors to which the Colossians should have been dead: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed. If those aren’t enough, he adds more like anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. When we look at that list, our spiritual pride tells us we are not as bad as the Colossians. But before we get too self-righteous, we need to realize that Paul was simply reminding the Colossian Christians that before they came to Christ they acted like everybody else in their society. In Roman culture, sexual mores were lax by Christian standards, and society prized the strong, the rich, and the powerful. The Colossian Christians weren’t worse than we are, like us they had just been doing what everyone else was doing.
For Christians then and now, to be dead to our old life means to stop living like the culture around us lives. To be alive in Christ means to live as Christ enables, with new values, new ethics, and new behaviors. In this new society driven by the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, there are no ethnic, political, or social divisions — “no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.”
Christians are the new living dead in the 21st century. It doesn’t take long to realize that our Western culture glorifies casual sex, worships at the cult of personality, and values material possessions as trophies of success. As the new living dead, Christians should be like dead people to the culture in which we find ourselves. We might be immersed in it, but we should not be enmeshed in a culture that is at odds with the Kingdom of God.
However, just because Christians are dead to culture doesn’t mean we are not a pervasive presence. Our living essence is salt and light, preserving and illuminating the world that God created and is redeeming.
The next time you watch a zombie flick, just remember: there are some experiences more amazing than horror film accounts of the dead who come back to life. The real living dead are followers of Jesus Christ who have been raised with Christ, but who are dead as mackerels to the culture around them. Pretty incredible stuff when you think about it.
The challenge for Christians, both new and old, is to continue to follow Christ long after our initial profession of faith in Him. This must be hard because thousands of books have been written about how to faithfully follow Jesus as a disciple.
The apostle Paul gives us a big clue about how we follow Christ in his letter to the first-century church in Colossae. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…” (Colossians 2:6a NIV).
In other words, Paul says, we follow Jesus in the same way we came to him. The question then is, “How did we receive Christ?” Here’s my take on what it means to continue to live in Christ just like we began with him:
1. Like the Colossians, we don’t trust the popular gods of our culture.
Roman culture in the first century embraced a pantheon of gods headed up by Jupiter and his wife, Juno. A host of lesser deities hung out on Mount Olympus. Romans called first-century Christians atheists because they didn’t believe in these rather fractious divinities. The Christians at Colossae rejected the gods of popular culture, affirming that Jesus Christ was the son of the One True God.
Today our cultural gods are power, money, and technology. Interestingly, like the gods on Olympus, our new gods often hang out together, too. Even though we all use power, money and technology, twenty-first century Christians are challenged not to place ultimate trust in these gods as the solution to our social and spiritual problems. Following Jesus like we received him means we continue to trust in him, and him alone, as the creator, sustainer, and savior of the world.
2. Like the Colossians, our politics is Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.
In the Roman empire, citizens were required to affirm their loyalty to the emperor by stating, “Caesar is lord.” Paul radically altered the politics of his day by asserting “Jesus is Lord.”
We have difficulty appreciating what a bold confession “Jesus is Lord” becomes. To replace Caesar, who was believed to be the son of god and ruler of the universe, with a crucified itinerant Jew placed first century Christians outside the social norms of the day. Under emperors like Nero and Domitian, Christians suffered persecution as a radical, subversive sect who refused to acknowledge the emperor cult of their day.
Our political statement as 21st century Christians is still Jesus is Lord. That statement strips us of our primary allegiance to political parties, or even political ideologies as the ultimate guide in our lives. Our political leaders are neither the creators of the universe, nor are they the center around which all things revolve, despite the self-importance of those who live and work in Washington, DC.
3. Like the Colossians, we came to Christ and we continue to live in Christ because our relationship with God is personal.
In the Christian faith, we believe that God loves us, sent his son Jesus to die and rise again for us, and that we continue to know God personally. Unlike the gods on Olympus, who weren’t loving or personal, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus has always related directly and personally to His people.
Baptists, of course, have made a big deal of a personal relationship with God. Our Baptist forebears called this possibility the “priesthood of the believer” or “soul-competency.” Both of those phrases mean that individuals are capable of relating to God, and of receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord. Maintaining an awareness of our personal relationship with Christ models the same way we received Him as our personal Lord and Savior.
4. Finally, we continue to live in Christ because He is present with us.
For the first-century Colossian Christians the decision to follow Christ was a costly one. By rejecting by the popular gods of their culture, they cut themselves off from their families and friends who continued to seek the capricious favor of the gods of Rome. By refusing to acknowledge Caesar as lord, and by embracing Jesus as Lord, the Colossian Christians isolated themselves socially, politically, and economically.
However, the Colossian Christians were sustained by the presence of Christ in their midst. Stripped of social and political community, Colossian Christians experienced the presence of God each time they gathered together. The gods of Olympus never pretended to be present daily with their subjects. But the God who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the God who delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt, the God who brought Israel back from exile, and the God who sent Jesus was ever-present with the first-century church, too.
Elie Wiesel writes of the presence of God with his people in his book, All Rivers Run to the Sea.
“Here is what the Midrash tells us. When the Holy One, blessed be His name, comes to liberate the children of Israel from their exile, they will say to him “Master of the Universe, it is You who dispersed us among the nations, driving us from Your abode, and now it is You who bring us back. Why is that?” And the Holy One, blessed be His name, will reply with this parable: One day a king drove his wife from his palace, and the next day he had her brought back. The queen, astonished, asked him “Why did you send me away yesterday only to bring me back today?” “Know this,” replied the king, “that I followed you out of the palace, for I could not live in it alone.” So the Holy One, blessed be His name, tells the children of Israel: “Having seen you leave my abode, I left it too, that I might return with you.”
“God accompanies his children into exile. This is a central theme of Midrashic and mystical thought in Jewish tradition. Just as the people of Israel‘s solitude mirrors the Lord’s, so the suffering of men finds its extension in that of their Creator. Though imposed by God, the punishment goes beyond those upon whom it falls, encompassing the Judge himself. And it is God who wills it so. The Father may reveal Himself through His wrath; He may even sharpen His severity, but He will never be absent. Present at the Creation, God forms part of it. Let atar panui mineiis the key phrase of the Book of Splendor, the Zohar: No space is devoid of God. God is everywhere, even in suffering…” — Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea.
Paul reminds us that we follow Christ in the same way in which we came to him. By rejecting the popular gods of culture; by our political confession that Jesus is Lord; by our personal relationship with God through Christ; and, by the presence of God, we continue to live in Christ in the same manner in which we received Him.
The epistle reading for today is Colossians 1:15-23. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae contrasting the good news of Jesus with the claims of the first century Roman empire.
In their book Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, authors Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat contend that Colossians contrasts the violence, inhumanity, and corruption of the Roman empire with the new imagination of Christian community centered around Christ.
As a Roman outpost, Colossae participated in the emperor cult which asserted that the emperor was the son of god and the deity around which the universe revolved. The Roman empire was also the undisputed example of political organization and military might. From Rome’s dominance came what was ironically called the Pax Romana — the Roman peace. However, the Roman peace was secured with overwhelming violence against those nations and city-states Roman legions pacified by force.
Paul challenges the ideas of the emperor’s supremacy, the empire’s legitimacy, and the Pax Romana with the assertion that Christ is the image of God, the creator of all things, the sustainer of the universe, the first-born from the dead, the head of a new community called the church, and the true prince of peace.
The point of Paul’s letter to the Colossians was to contrast the misplaced confidence they formerly had in the Roman empire with the new hope they found in Christ. Prior to following Christ as Lord, the Colossians had placed their trust in the Empire for their security, happiness, and fulfillment.
Today millions have misplaced their trust, too. If Paul were writing the letter to the Colossians today, he might contrast the trust we place in power, money, and technology with the supremacy of Christ.
Power is still the currency of international relationships. Mao Zedong said, “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun.” That philosophy is shared by virtually all of the nation-states on the world stage today. While the United States is still the most powerful nation on earth, countries like North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and others project the power they have in order to influence international events. Just as the Roman empire used its military, economic, and political power to shape the course of history, nations continue to be seduced by the promise of power today.
The second member of our illegitimate trinity is money. China is relocating 325-million peasants — rural farmers — into newly-created cities. Why? Because China’s economy, according to the IMF and other economists, doesn’t have enough consumerism. The key to growth in the Chinese economy in the near future, economists say, is creating a new class of consumers who will buy TVs, refrigerators, cell phones, and cars. In a world where one billion people live on less than $1 a day, money is a seductive force, often coupled with power.
However, a new player has entered the arena as a close partner to power and money. Both power and the quest for money are being driven by technology. We now have the technology to instantly deliver books, newspapers, and magazines to personal computers, tablets, or mobile phones. In 2007 Steve Jobs of Apple introduced the iPhone and revolutionized the mobile phone industry. Today over 5 billion cell phones are in service, and 1 billion of those are smart phones.
The NSA surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden showed us that the US now possesses and uses advanced technology to track every telephone call, email, and cell phone location everywhere in the world; scan those communications for suspicious links to suspicious characters; track users by location; and, know who everyone everywhere in the world is talking to and what they are talking about.
Technology is our Pax Romana — both the new security savior and cyber weapon in our war to be safe from terrorism. Our trust in technology compels us to give out our credit card information, our personal history, our family and friend connections, the schools we attended, our workplace, our daily routines, even where we eat, shop, and travel. Why? Because we cannot live without the always-on, always-available world at our fingertips. We depend on technology for friendships, for commerce, for security, and even for our faith (yes, there are online churches and faith groups). Increasingly, we give away our own privacy in pursuit of friends, followers, page views, and search rankings.
But power has not brought peace, consumerism has not brought satisfaction, and technology has not brought with it the authentic life we yearn to live.
We have separated our faith from our function as human beings, believing that we, too, can place absolute trust in power, money, and technology. By doing so, we are letting those things shape us.
Paul reminds us that we ought to be shaped by the radical good news that this world system, whether the Roman empire of the first century or the internet of the 21st century, are not the legitimate gods of this world. They are the pretenders, the interlopers, and the pale substitutes for that which is real.
If you want to know God, Paul says, look at Jesus. If you want to know who the creator of the world is look at Jesus. If you want to know who keeps the world turning, look at Jesus. If you want to know who’s in charge of everything, even the things that are not acting according to God’s plan, look at Jesus.
If you want to know where real peace comes from look at Jesus.
Despite the fact that misplaced trust in power, money, and technology are found in every culture on every continent, Paul says the good news about Jesus is also ubiquitous.
The question then becomes: Who do you trust? After all, the Roman empire is no longer a world power, is it?
This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow on Transfiguration Sunday. I trust that your experience of worship will be rich and wonderful as you see the light of the glory of God together.
Seeing The Light of Glory
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate (reflect) the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
4 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. — 2 Cor 3:12-4:6 NIV
When We Couldn’t See It
Debbie and I have lost some weight these past few months. Several of you have commented on our progress, and we’re pretty happy with the results ourselves. We have been following a diet developed by Dr. John McDougall, a physician in California, who began practicing in Hawaii. Dr. McDougall noticed that the older Hawaiians were slim, did not have cardiovascular disease, or all of the symptoms that go with it, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and so forth.
To make a long story much shorter, McDougall has devoted his life and medical practice to teaching people that a low-fat, plant-based diet leads to improved health and longer life. Now, Debbie and I started reading Dr. McDougall’s books back in the early 1990s. And, off-and-on we would try to eat as he recommended. McDougall recommends no meat (which means beef, chicken, pork, and fish), no dairy (which means no milk or cheese), and no animal-based foods such as eggs. In other words, a plant-based diet.
That sounds pretty simple, and we tried it over and over. But, its really hard to eat just vegetables and fruit, so we would add things like eggs to our diet. And of course, real butter–because it’s real and not artificial–has to be better for you than fake butter, so we ate real butter. And, we also ate peanut butter, which is vegetarian, but not low-fat. And, we didn’t lose weight, and things like my blood pressure and cholesterol only kept getting worse.
Last year, Dr. McDougall came out with a new book titled, The Starch-based Diet. In this book, McDougall said all the same things he had said in his other books about not eating meat, dairy, or added fat. But in this new book, Dr. McDougall had a new wrinkle — or at least I thought so. He made it very clear that the foundation of healthy eating is starches. I know that flies in the face of the low carb diets that are popular, but McDougall demonstrated that all of the world’s primitive cultures ate a starch based diet. In Asia rice was the starch of choice. In the America’s some form of corn or maize sustained entire civilizations. In Africa, root vegetables, rice, and other starches were the basis for their diets. In the Pacific Islands, poi is a starch-based staple. And, I come from Scots-Irish ancestry, and we all know the Irish ate potatoes, which is why the potato famine in Ireland created such a devastating result.
McDougall also said that you feel more satisfied eating starches, because starches generally are the foods that fill you up and give you as sense of satisfaction. Of course, you need vegetables and fruit, but starches should form the basis for your diet.
For some reason, when we read Dr. McDougall’s new book, The Starch-based Diet, something clicked. We understood what we had been doing wrong. You can’t successfully lose weight and improve your health on this diet without following it exactly as Dr. McDougall and others suggest.
So, this time around, we eliminated all the things that we thought we could have a little of, such as eggs, butter, oils, fats, fried food, along with meat, and dairy (all of it including cheese). We started this diet in May of 2012, and by November of 2012 — 6 months — I had lost 40 pounds and Debbie had lost 30 pounds.
Okay, I do have a point here, and today I don’t have time to answer all your questions about where do you get your protein, and shouldn’t you be eating more fat, and isn’t it boring, and what does tofu really taste like. That’s for another time and another discussion.
But my point is that for the first time in over 20 years of reading Dr. McDougall, we finally got it. The light went on in our heads, the plan made sense, and we followed it, and lost weight, and improved our health.
What happened? Why did it take us 20 years to get it? Why didn’t we see it before? I think it was a combination of the culture we grew up in where you were encouraged to clean your plate, and where fried was the preferred method of food preparation. We just couldn’t see past our own life experiences into a world of thinking about food differently.
Two Experiences of The Glory of God
In the same way, and for some of the same reasons, we miss seeing the glory of God. Okay, let me back up here, because today is Transfiguration Sunday. We’ve read that story before. Jesus invites Peter, James and John — the three disciples to whom he is closest — to come with him for a time of prayer. Luke tells us that while they were praying Jesus’ “face changed and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” (Luke 9:28-36 NIV).
And, while Jesus is radiant as the sun, two figures appear with him. Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets in Jewish life, appear and converse with Jesus. Luke says they spoke to Jesus about his “departure” which we understand to mean his death, burial, and resurrection.
The disciples were sleeping, but when they awoke, they awoke to this dazzling display of the glory of God. Peter, of course, has to say something, so he suggests that they build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Of course, you know that Jesus does not allow that, and further that the disciples don’t even tell anyone else about this experience, until much later.
But there is a backstory to the Transfiguration experience. Apparently, this is not Moses’ first experience with glowing like the sun. In Exodus 34:29-35, we have a very interesting account that we read earlier in the service this morning. When Moses came down off of Mount Sinai, he called Aaron and all the Israelites together to hear the word of God.
But, Aaron and everyone else saw that Moses face was radiant, shining like the sun. Apparently, Moses couldn’t tell this himself, so after he tells them what God has said, Moses puts a veil on his face to keep from scaring everyone half-to-death. Which is why whenever anyone encounters an angel in the Bible, usually the first words spoken to that person are “Don’t be afraid!” There must be something about people and angels glowing like the sun that is rather disturbing, to say the least.
So, that’s the backstory behind our reading from 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6 today. Paul is referring to this incident where Moses wears a veil to hide the glory of God. But then Paul turns the image around to use the metaphor of a veil as that which can in itself keep us from seeing God’s glory.
How Do We See The Light of God’s Glory?
Our question today is then, How do we see the light of God’s glory? Well, between these three passages, we can find some answers.
First, we see the glory of God by being in the presence of God. It was only when Moses was in God’s presence that his face shone like the sun. Moses left the people to spend time with God, and when he returned, his countenance glowed and radiated brilliantly. It is only as we spend time with God that we can see, or hope to see, God’s glory.
But, what is God’s glory? Well, in the Bible, the glory of God is usually represented as the dazzling bright light. So, we have Moses’ face shining, and Jesus face and clothes being transformed into a radiant presence. But the word “glory” itself, actually has the idea of “weight” or significance or an imposing presence. So, glory, especially God’s glory, isn’t just light. The light is the expression of the glory, the announcement that God is present, the translation of God’s magnificent presence into something we humans can understand.
But, back to the glory of God. So, first if you want to see the light of God’s glory, you have to be in God’s presence. You’re not going to see the glory of God if you never are in the presence of God. I know that God does sometimes intervene, as he did to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, but in the sense that Jesus and Paul both talk about the glory of God, and in the sense in which Moses experiences that glory, you have to be in God’s presence.
But, the point of being in God’s presence isn’t for us to get all shiny. Moses apparently didn’t even know he was shining. The point is to be with God; the shining is for the benefit of others. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
Secondly, to see the light of God’s glory, we have to understand that we’re only a reflection of God, we don’t glow on our own. As soon as Aaron pointed out to Moses that he was glowing, Moses knew immediately where the glow came from. Moses simply reflected the presence of God to the people. Which is why, I think, that as Moses speaks to the people, he doesn’t put on the veil. He wants them to know that these are the words of God, that he has been with God, and that God is speaking to them. It’s only for the daily routine of living life that Moses wears the veil so everyone will not be completely distracted.
Like the moon reflects the sun, we don’t generate our own razzle-dazzle. We only reflect the glory of God, and we may not even be aware that we’re reflecting God’s glory, but others will be.
Third, we see the glory of God as God goes about his work of calling people into his plan for all creation. In the desert with the Israelites, God speaks through Moses and allows the nation to see his reflected glory so they will know Moses has indeed been speaking with their God, the God who has made covenant with Israel. If you want to see the glory of God, you’ve got to be part of God’s new people, of the community God is creating to reconcile all things to himself.
Peter, James, and John get to see God’s glory, not because they are Jews, but because they are the first of this new community of the Spirit which God is creating. Many biblical scholars believe that the 12 disciples symbolized the 12 tribes of Israel made new, and that Jesus was symbolically reconstituting the nation of Israel into a spiritual community, not a biological one.
As Paul writes to the church in Corinth in our passage for today, he addresses another community of believers. The Corinthians are one of the first churches to be almost exclusively non-Jewish and formerly pagan. So, you can expect that they would have a lot of problems, and they do. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes to correct errors in their worship and their conduct. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes to re-establish his relationship with them, a relationship that has been called into question by some “super apostles” who are challenging Paul’s standing as an apostle. So, Paul writes to persuade the Corinthians that as a community they must remain faithful to God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
So, those are three keys to seeing the glory of God —
1. Be in the presence of God
2. Recognize that we reflect God’s glory, not our own
3. Be part of a community in which God has established a relationship
The Problems of Seeing The Light of Glory
But, there are problems we can encounter, because obviously seeing the light of God’s glory isn’t just an everyday experience. There are things we need to understand.
First, Paul uses the story of Moses’ veil to make a point. At first, Moses used the veil to conceal the glory of God. But then, the glory fades, but because of the veil, no one notices.
We can get so attached to the veils that make us comfortable in the presence of God, that we focus on the veil, and not the glory. And that’s true of both the leaders and those who follow. The veil that once gave us some relief, now keeps us from seeing that God isn’t with us anymore, that we’ve lost that intimate relationship with Him, and we no longer stand in his reflected glory.
Let me give you an example. Coming to church is a kind of veil. Of course, its a good thing to come to church because this is where the gathered people of God meet God together. But, if we’re not careful, coming to church becomes just coming to church. We can forget that the purpose is to meet God here, and so we can show up, greet each other, comment on how great or not-so-great the service was, and all of that can keep us from seeing the glory of God, because we can’t see past the veil itself.
But the answer isn’t that we quit coming to church. Of course, you expected me to say that. And, that is a popular approach today. Many are saying that what’s wrong with Christianity is the church, and if we can get rid of the church then Christianity will flourish again.
Of course, people have been saying that for about 2,000 years, and it is simply the wrong approach. They’re looking at the veil and not seeing past it.
What needs to happen is for God’s people to spend time in his presence, reflect his glory, and gather as his community. But how will we know if we are reflecting the glory of God?
Others will see it, just like others saw the glory in Moses face, just like Peter, James and John saw the radiance in Jesus’ face. Others will see it and be moved by it.
Iris Dement is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. Iris asked her mother to sing on one of her albums the gospel song, Higher Ground. Her mother sounded about like anybody’s almost-80-year-old mother would sound singing “Higher Ground,” but I’ve got the feeling that Iris put her mother on that album because she knew her mother lived what she sang.
As a result, Iris Dement’s songs are filled with references to the Christian life she was exposed to growing up in Oklahoma with a mother who sang gospel hymns while she went about her daily chores.
In one of her new songs, titled, There’s A Whole Lotta of Heaven, the lyrics to the refrain capture what I’ve been trying to say today —
“There’s a whole lotta heaven shining in this river of tears…”
When the glory of God is reflected in our lives, so that others see it even before we’re aware of it, then there is a lot of heaven shining in this river of tears. When others see God’s glory in your life, even if you’re unaware of it shining, then they are transformed just like Aaron, the Israelites, and Peter, James and John were.
When our community sees the glory of God shining in our church in the ways we help those who need help, in the concern we have for young families and senior adults, in the programs and activities we plan for children and youth, in the leadership we give to this community, and in all the other ways that change lives, then that is when we can say with the apostle Paul —
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
–2 Cor 3:18 NIV
In 2 Corinthians 5:6-17, the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth that one day each of them will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. In other words, it does matter how we live our lives in this world. While faith in Christ secures our eternal destiny, just as it did Paul’s, how we live determines our reward when we enter the presence of God. But we do not have to live our lives in our own strength, for if we are “in Christ” we made new by the power of Christ. Our lives are lived for others, in ways that are pleasing to Christ now and in eternity. Here’s the link to my sermon titled, Everything Is Made New.
Almost fifty years ago, a Baptist minister stood before a sea of hopeful people in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial to share the dream God had given him. On that day the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
Regrettably, Dr. King’s dream remains unrealized in many communities across America. Rather than diminishing with the gains of the civil rights movement, alienation and inequality between races and classes is more prevalent in American society today than it was in 1975. Black and white, rich and poor, educated and unskilled – these represent some of the groups at odds in today’s American communities.
Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that churches have a role to play in tearing down barriers and in building bridges to that vision he called “the beloved community.”
“The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community,” according to King. In the beloved community persons and groups are reconciled to one another by God’s “divine love in lived social relation.”
The Apostle Paul affirmed the church’s mission as one of reconciliation. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV). While many churches understand reconciliation primarily as a “private affair between God and the individual,” less emphasis has been placed on reconciliation between persons and groups within local communities.
Reconciliation, according to the Ubuntu theology of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is “bringing together that which is separated, alienated, ruptured, sick, or broken.” Reconciliation, Tutu argues, is the ministry of the Church and the “center of our life and work as Christians.”
In communities throughout the United States, there is much that needs to be reconciled. In my state, Virginia’s history boasts both the grand and glorious, and the dark and ignominious. From the colonial era through the Civil War, Virginia’s slave trade was robust. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – words penned by Virginian Thomas Jefferson – did not apply to Africans brought in chains involuntarily to the South. The lingering effects of slavery, and the living descendants of slaves and slave-owners, make it impossible for those in our community to escape easily the injustices of the past.
Reconciliation has also been defined as “a journey from the past into the future, a journey from estrangement to communion, or from what was patently unjust in search of a future that is just.” Given Virginia’s colonial history, its role in the Civil War, and its resistance to desegregation, reconciliation must revisit the past with honesty, and then forge a new way forward.
In December 2005, our small, historic white congregation opened its doors to host a Boys and Girls Club, the first after-school club in our county. As a result of that decision dozens of children, black and white, descended on the church fellowship hall each weekday afternoon. This was the church’s first experience hosting a racially-integrated program.
Because of the church’s involvement with the Boys and Girls Club, Chatham Baptist Church was asked to host the 2008 Martin Luther King Day celebration in Chatham. At the conclusion of the program that day, the African American pastor who moderated the meeting asked everyone in the congregation to stand, join hands, and sing “We Shall Overcome.” Before we began to sing, he looked at me as I stood at the front of the sanctuary. He said, “Pastor, people notice what you’re doing here.” His words of encouragement confirmed what I had hoped for: reconciliation was possible in our community.
Some might argue that the alienation brought about by slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation is a forgotten chapter in a long dead past. Douglas Massey, however, argues against that notion:
‘History aside, there are also good social scientific reasons to expect that categorical mechanisms of racial stratification will prove resistant to change. We know, for example, that once learned, cognitive structures do not simply disappear. Racial schemas honed over generations tend to persist in the minds of adults and get passed on to children in conscious and unconscious ways.”
The story that is passed on to the children of any community is important. For too long the children of our nation in both the South and the North have been bequeathed the cultural legacy of prejudice and privilege, or difference and discrimination. For that to change, churches like mine must imagine and bequeath a new legacy through a ministry of reconciliation. That would be a new story for this community, and one worth passing on to future generations everywhere.
 Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have A Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed The World, 104.
 Douglas S. Massey, Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System, xvi.
 King, I Have a Dream, 95-98.
 Charles Marsh, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today, 1-2.
 John W. de Gruchy, Reconciliation: Restoring Justice, 34.
 Ibid., 19.
 Michael Battle, Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu, 5.
 Putnam, American Grace, Location 588.
 de Gruchy, Reconciliation, 28.
 Massey, Categorically Unequal, 52.