This is a posting about the need for the church (that’s me – and many of you) to catch God’s vision for us: We’re called to be reconcilers, peacemakers, celebrators, justice seekers, and being about these things means learning crossing over to the proverbial ‘other side of the tracks’ by entering into relationships with those who are different than us.
We need to begin though, not with the scriptures posted above, but with a consideration of the progressive nature of salvation, because in spite of the fact that most of us reading this blog already know the above scriptures, having read and heard them many times, the fact remains that the church in America is often terribly weak at testifying, (by virtue of it’s non-diverse character in particular local churches), of God’s power to break down dividing walls that separate people. “The most segregated hour in America” as we’ve often been told, is the worship hour on Sundays. So, saved though we may be, God's vision for us in not yet fulfilled. We need to learn how to cross over the barriers that divide us and create reconciled relationships. How do we do this?
Go back with me to God’s challenge, cast to His people on several occasions, to ‘cross over’ some barrier, entering into previously unknown space. There’s the occasion when Israel was standing in front of the Red Sea, awaiting certain death at the hands of an angry Egyptian army. God miraculously opens the Red Sea and says, “Cross Over!” That they did this is, indeed, an act of faith, but let’s be honest; it’s not an impressive one. What, after all, were their other options? Playing it safe and staying on the west side of tracks would have resulted in certain slaughter.
Fast forward two years. Now Israel is once again invited to “Cross Over”, this time the Jordan river being the body of water before them. The trouble, though, is that this time, the enemies aren’t behind them, but in front of them, on the far side of the very body of water God wants them to cross. I might also point out that this time, the body of water won’t open up for them until they step into it. Previously, at the Red Sea, the whole thing was wide open before they took a step.
So let’s see; Crossing One – enemies behind you, safety ahead. Crossing Two – enemies in front of you, safety in status quo. Are you surprised that Israel opted out of option two? I’m not. We don’t easily choose the unfamiliar or threatening, even if it’s the choice God wants us to make. Crossing Two, though, comes later. You came to Christ because it was the best, maybe even the only option, in a life that knew it’s need for a savior. It was good, true, hopeful.
But if it is to remain so, it will be important to keep crossing over, at each point where God creates new challenges. Sadly, the testimony of Israel in the book of Numbers is that they refused subsequent crossings, and so lost the chance to fulfill their calling.
What does all this have to do with church life in America today, and my church in particular? I have this strong sense that God is calling us to cross over the seas of education, wealth/poverty, and race that divide us. I also have a sense that these kinds of crossings are far more difficult to accomplish than, say, building a new facility, or accepting Jesus as my personal savior. This crossing will push me out of my comfort zone and into new relationships, changing my world forever.
As I’ll share on Sunday, an extensive study, found here, indicates that churches know they’re to be about addressing issues of division, racism, and social divides, working towards reconciliation. But it also indicates that we generally choose institutional, rather than relational solutions, hoping that a committee can be set up, a policy enacted, a subset of people within the community empowered, and that will take care of it. But that’s probably not the final solution. The final solution will involve a change of heart for every one of us in the church, so that we become engaged in real relationships with people different than us. This is challenging for many reasons:
1. our lives are full enough already
2. many of us find comfort in people who are just like us…it’s human nature
3. we’re sometimes afraid of what we don’t know or understand
4. there are generalizations that have caused us to pre-judge people different than us.
5. we don’t want to go there
In fact, going there is so rare that when someone actually does go there and becomes a spokesperson for leading others in the crossing, they’re clearly viewed as pioneers, just like Joshua and Caleb, the two men, out of about a million, who were willing to cross over. You can name them right? St. Francis (who we’ll see and consider this Sunday), Mother Teresa, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Dorothy Day, Bono, Martin Luther King Jr. They all crossed over during their lives, from a small circle of relationships with those like them, to an expanded circle that gave testimony to the power of reconciliation. Some were praised for their actions; others lost their lives in pursuit of God's dream. That they shine so clearly as contra-mundum to status quo Christianity indicates the rarity with which we are crossing over.
Crossing Over requires several things:
1. an acknowledgement that I can do better (this is called repentance and will require humility)
2. a collective confession for our collective failure to cross over into one another’s lives
3. an openness to moving outside of our comfort zone as God leads us (and He will!)
Are you willing to walk this road? Am I? What we do to help each other, so that the church becomes the embodiment of hope, a picture of the beauty of justice and reconciliation.
Please share your thoughts… forward this to others so that they can share their thoughts as well. Our collective dialogue and prayer will be an important step in crossing over.
Thanks in advance, for your responses.