Tag Archives: Romans 5.8

Proving Love

urlLove is believed to be the most overused word in our vocabulary. We love to say it. We love how it makes us feel. We want to be in the presence of love, to feel loved, to receive love. We want things to love and people to love us. Thinking that this love cannot hurt us, we fall into it— no safety net, no escape plan, no strings attached.

Love. Love. Love. We say it a lot. But, I am starting to believe that while it is overused, it is not overworked. No, love is not employed as often as it is spoken. No clocked in overtime, here. In fact, I think that it is easier said than done.

For love is both a practice and the Presence. It is a verb, an action word and it is a Person because “God is Love,” the One who “lives, moves and has His being” in love (cf. First John 4.8; Acts 17.28).

Love is not just said; it is done. Love is just not spoken; it is proven: “God proved his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8).

It is not just talk. It is not just a word. It is a promise, a commitment. It may leave our lips but it should stick to us, ask something of us. There should be an action on our part that accompanies its profession: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son” (John 3.16).

Everything that God does is from love. In fact, God is the very address of love. I would go so far as to say that if he, she or it does not lead us right back to God that one might have strayed, gotten lost, missed Love. Wrong turn. Wrong house. Wrong person.

And is He really the Love that we are talking about, the Love that we are seeking to find ourselves in, this capital L, Love? Or is it something smaller, easier to believe, manage and say?

What is the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ?

What is the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ?  Is it new or revelatory?  No.  It is captured in the Holy Scriptures and offered to us as believers.  But we, as Christians, have not been able to accept God’s vision for humanity due to the social realities of injustice, violence and oppression caused by our acceptance of the socio- cultural construct of race, our belief in prejudice, our practice of racism, our employment of stereotypes and our choice to live as segregationists.

As Christians in America, we have accepted Christ and race, joining two as one religion.  This is most evident in our racialized images of God and Jesus the Christ and our segregated churches.  But, the two are not partners, co- laborers or co- creators of humanity.  Race is an idol; a god of our creation.  This is why they do not work together and they will not work together no matter how hard we try.

In short, we are blinded by race, distracted by the world of the senses.  We praise God for making us new creatures in Christ Jesus (Second Corinthians 5.16-17) and with the same mouth and often within the same conversation, complain about the historical oppressions that restrict our abilities and limit our aspirations due to race.  We live by the words of race and in so doing, have reduced the vastness of our being in our minds.

This is where the change must begin.  The mind is the place where the first steps are taken.  We must begin to move away from race in our thinking, no longer giving our thoughts to racism, stereotypes and prejudices.  We must take our minds, our thought lives back from race.  If we do not open our minds to this possibility, this truth, then our ears will not be opened to receive it.  “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Matthew 11.15).

The race-less gospel of Jesus Christ is this:

You are not a racial being but a human being.  You are not the sum total of your external attributes.  You are not the social coloring of your skin, the texture of your hair, the shape of your eyes, the size of your nose or the width of your lips.  Your life’s worth and its meaning is internal, intrinsic.  Your appearance will change but your value to God will not fluctuate because of it.  You are made in the image of God not the image of race.  “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1.26).

You are not even what your culture says you are or what your social status or gender suggest.  None of those social designations or boxes matter to God.  “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.27-28).

You are made by God’s design not according to race’s stereotypes.  God did not design you based on the social will of race or assign your life’s purpose according to the stereotypes of race. Race is not the architect of humanity. You are not the dumping ground for fear, shame, guilt and blame. Your life is not based on the past performance of your ancestors but the future plan that God has for you. Jeremiah captures the voice of the Lord, saying, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29.11).

Your existence is not based upon what you are not. You were not created via negativa (that is, a “negative path). You were not made as a comparison but an equal to all other human beings. You are not here as a supplement, an addition but you are fully human, possessing all of the dreams and rights to dreams as any one born before or after you. No one is ever more human than anyone else. John, a disciple and New Testament writer, dispels the thought that the will of race is what determines our lives. He writes, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man but of God” (John 1.12-13).

Race has nothing to do with God’s sovereign rule of you. It is not a part of divine meetings concerning your life. Race does not have the ear of God and when God talks about you, race is never apart of the conversation. It does not have a representative, a voice or a vote. The Trinity remains the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

You are who you are because of God’s word not race’s. God spoke you into existence not race. Your life is to follow the path and the plan of God. How do I know this? The prophet Isaiah provides this revelation: “So shall my word be that goes from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty; but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55.11).

You are not defined by the prejudices of others. You are not what people don’t like about you; you are what God loves about you. You are not who people fear; you are who God trusts and has faith in. “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made ” (Psalm 139.13-14). God knows you better than race and gave His son for you. Paul shares with the church at Rome and with us, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8).

The good news of the life, ministry, death, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is for all bodies.  Jesus the Christ died to save you from sin not the social coloring of skin.  We know that the flesh of our bodies does not have eternal life, that God is seeking to save the eternal part of us, our souls.

This message is not just for “them” but for all of “us.”  God’s love is not prejudicial and God’s provision is not segregated.  This is the gospel of Jesus Christ: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16).  God so loved the world in its entirety– not the first world or the third world, not this continent or that country– that He gave.  God did not pick and choose who He would give to, who He would save, who He would love.

Unlike us, God loves everyone and is for and in favor of everyone.  God desires to be in relationship with all of us.  This is true love and this is the way that we are called to love– unconditionally and without prejudice, race-lessly.  That’s good news!

 

A Race-less Meditation

Our world relies mostly on the external for interpretation, meaning and understanding.  We know what we see and we believe it when we see it.  We judge a person based on appearance; we look them over and surmise that we have them all figured out when all we have done is ascribe to them the meaning that we feel they deserve.  We give them the words that we have left and they usually are much and no better than we are.

It all comes down to appearance.   We can dress for success and it doesn’t matter what is really going on inside of us so long as we can “look the part.”  But, what part do we play with race and what role is race playing in our understanding of life, the way in which we view ourselves, our neighbor and our God?  And how can the external, the physical, the body, the flesh, the socially constructed (that is, race) give meaning to what is spiritual, to what is divine, to what is mysterious, to what is unseen, to what is hidden inside of us?

Does everything happen in your life for a reason and is that reason always race?  If you hold this to be true, then this meditation is for you.  You have so much faith in race; I want you to at least pretend that you can live without it, that there is something more to you than your external appearance, that Someone knows you better.

Say these words with me:

I am not who race says that I am; I am who God says that I am: a child of God not a color of race, a son/ a daughter of God not a socially colored skin.

I am always a human being not a racial being.  I can never be reduced to anything less– with or without my permission.

I am not a stereotype; I am a new creature in Christ Jesus, sacred and God’s beloved (Second Corinthians 5.17).

I am not what persons have done to me but my worth is proven by what God has done for me (cf. John 3.16; Romans 5.8)

I belong to God, a member of His royal priesthood and holy nation (First Peter 2.9).  I am not a member of a race; I am a member of the Body of Christ.

I am at home with God who made us all not with people who “look like me.”

God includes all of “us”; there is no “them.”  There is no fight within or without.

I am race-less.  Amen.

The Hardest Commandment

“‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’  He said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This the greatest and first commandment.  And a second it like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'”

~ Matthew 22.36-40, NRSV

“Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers and sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

First John 4.20-21, NRSV

The lawyer asks the question of Jesus Christ not to better his walk with the Lord or to understand what is required of him as a believer but to test him.  Thinking himself smart and Jesus the same or perhaps, a lesser man, he calls Jesus teacher but he tests him.  The lawyer is a part of the plot of the Pharisees to stump Jesus since just a few verses over he had embarrassed the Sadducees into silence (22.34).

And this is situation is no different as Jesus answers the question even better than was expected.  He adds value to a question meant to undermine him and demonstrates why we call him Teacher, summarizing and reducing 613 laws to just two: “He said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This the greatest and first commandment.  And a second it like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'”

The first commandment is the greatest though there is another law that is like it.  It has a twin though not identical.  Still, you won’t see one without the other.  They are connected, share the same DNA and are closely related.

We don’t talk about it as much or hear it declared from the pews on Sunday morning.   It’s not our favorite, the black sheep scripture that we do not want to claim though we can’t deny it.  No, it is much easier to say, “I love the Lord” than “I love my neighbor.”  It makes us sound good, feel righteous and look ‘holy’ when we say that we love the Lord with all of our heart, soul and mind.  And perhaps, it is easier to love God because he first loved us (First John 4.19).

Or, maybe God is easier to love because we love God the way that we want to and when we have time to and when we feel like it.  We don’t feel bad about neglecting our relationship because God is all- knowing and all- understanding.  We excuse our absence and speak for God, saying, “He understands.”

But the second commandment to love our neighbor.  We, like the lawyer, try to get around it.  We ask, “Who is my neighbor?”  If it is geographical, then I will create an exclusive community of people that I like and can see myself loving.  We can love these kinds of neighbors.  If not, then we make ridiculous, absurd and impossible attempts to “dehumanize” our neighbor.  We use our racial imagination and make them animals so that we can take away their voice.  Consequently,  we speak for them and say, “They didn’t want us to love them.”

This second commandment is the hardest– not because of who our neighbor is or what she’s done but because of us.  We know who we are and what we’ve done.  And while we would like to say that God does not love us; it is but a projection.  God is but a screen.  We do not love ourselves and do not believe ourselves to be worthy of the love of others.

This is why we created race; it is because we know that we are sinners.  Consequently, the love of God for us remains so unbelievable, that God would love us while sinners, as sinners yet sinning, still wrong (Romans 5.8).  We make believe that we are great through the social coloring of skin in order to make ourselves feel as if we do not need God’s love.  We don’t want to be loved as we are but as we want to be.

We too find it unbelievable that we are sinners so we create our own standard of righteousness and avert the designation altogether.  The argument changes from sin is wrong to black is wrong and “white is right.”  It changes the appearance of evil to a physical one and not a soul condition.  You have to be a white person, look this way and not live this way.

Still, the second commandment confronts and challenges us with a relentless, unaccommodating and unapologetic truth: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Its practice is predicated upon self- love.  If you don’t love yourself (not narcissistically but normally, naturally), you will not be able to love your neighbor so we cannot love God.  And if we say that we love God, we lie.  We don’t love God or our neighbor and it is proven by our self- hatred– not the social construct of race.  This is why the commandment is hard.

It is because we would much rather follow the first commandment of race: to hate than to follow the greatest commandment of God: to love.

The Church of the Undivided Christ

This is the title of the sermon that I heard in this morning’s worship service.  Delivered by the Reverend Doctor Robert Smith, Jr., professor of preaching at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, it was inspired by the words recorded in Second Corinthians 5.18-21. He shared with us his intention to marry the doctrine of adoption to that of reconciliation. While the message focused heavily on adoption, I wish to record the revelatory insights of the latter:

Our Christocentricity is greater than our ethnicity (Dr. Smith used the example “Black Christian”; we know that black is a category of race not ethnicity.).  Dr. Smith argued that our ethnicity should not describe our faith as Christians; instead, our faith should define who we are within our respective cultures.  He pointed us to the words of Paul in his letter to the church at Galatia: “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, here is no longer male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3.28, NRSV).

While adoption is unilateral in that it did not require our participation (Romans 5.8), reconciliation is bilateral.  It is both between the offender and the one who has been offended and between the offender/offended and God.  But, the reconciliation that we demonstrate today is cosmetic and shallow.  We shake hands but reconciliation calls for us to hug.  It must not be adhesive but rather cohesive in nature.  Dr. Smith shared with us that reconciliation is often difficult because we rehearse the hurt, adding Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in No Future Without Forgiveness: “Forgiveness takes the sting out of memory.”  He asked then that we would allow God to take the sting of out the memory.

Separate but equal is a practice of the Church.  This is not just a practice of a racialized society but we are separated in our worship before God because of the notion of superiority in membership in the church based on length of attendance.  Dr. Smith reminded us that there is nothing unreconciled in the Trinity and encouraged us to get rid of our casts, our clicks, our sects as it has no place in Christ’s Church.

I pray that these brief highlights from this morning’s message would encourage us to live into the reality of the “Church of the Undivided Christ.”  Amen.