I love history, especially American history, and I love to read about it. I even like novels that portray American life as it was lived by people who came from all over the world seeking a new life. I really like the books that tell the unvarnished truth; the good, the bad and the ugly that we don’t like to acknowledge. Not like the sanitized history we studied in junior and senior high school. I believe that if you’re subjected to the truth and how people reacted as a result, you can better understand the how and the why, even if it wasn’t right. It’s something you can learn from. I mean, it’s easy to look back on something and boldly say that if you had been in that position or situation, you would have handled it differently. You would have been on the right side of history. When you have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, you’re always right.
A book I read recently entitled; These Truths, a History of the United States, by Jill Lepore presents the struggle of the disenfranchised for their piece of the American pie in a fashion that, for those of us who have never had to experience such a struggle, is difficult to read. It took me several months to read it. Not because it was long, and it was, but because I could only read small segments at a time as I grappled to digest what I was reading and tried to reconcile the inequalities of the haves and the have-nots, and why it was the way it was. And, the way it is now. I now find myself struggling to explain what I learned to others who have bought into the stereotypes, myths and commonly held beliefs that are used to keep those people in their place.
She took the title of her book from the Preamble to our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain dated July 4, 1776 which reads in part; We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that are among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed. What a novel idea, that all men are created equal and that their Creator has bestowed upon them the right to live as they desire, to be free and subject to no man, and to pursue a meaningful life as a human being.
And, that promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is what I take from our scripture reading this morning. The Apostle Paul has written a letter to the church at Ephesus which was composed mainly of Gentile converts to Christianity. He reminds them that they were once Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by the Jews who were physically circumcised. At the time they were without Christ and were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. Paul is describing that innate human tendency to look down on people who are different from you to make yourself feel superior. The Romans snubbed non-Romans, the Greeks looked down their noses at the Romans, and the Jews, with their exalted history and highly developed religion, felt superior to other cultures, even to the Samaritans who worshiped the same God but were considered impure and not really God’s legitimate children. Paul says; Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God. Paul is telling us that through Christ we are one people, and our differences are only skin deep. You may look different and think you are different, but in the eyes of God you are one and the same. Jesus, through his sacrifice, has broken down the barriers of hatred that divides us as a people. So, why do we as a people work so hard to erect those barriers, walls to separate us from one another, structures to maintain the status quo at all costs? In Galatians 3: 26-28, Paul says; You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul insists that Jesus came to tear down walls between people, not to build them up. Why is it so hard for us, God’s beloved children, to see the other children as our equals and to share in our Father’s limitless love?
Ironically, today in the United Methodist Church, is Peace with Justice Sunday where, according to our Book of Discipline, we witness to God’s demand for a faithful, just, disarmed, and secure world. Now there’s a mission statement. How do we achieve such a world in light of the racial unrest that has played out before our very eyes on the evening news and on social media this past week? And, what, if anything, does the United Methodist Church have to say about racial inequality? What is our position? Well, Article 5 of our United Methodist Constitution, Racial Justice, says; The United Methodist Church proclaims the value of each person as a unique child of God and commits itself to the healing and wholeness of all persons. The United Methodist Church recognizes that the sin of racism has been destructive to its unity throughout its history. Racism continues to cause painful division and marginalization. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate racism, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of racial justice at all times and in all places. And, the Social Principles section of our Book of Discipline has quite a bit to say about our role in the social community. Briefly, in paragraph 162 it says; The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons or groups of persons. It goes on in great length about equality and basic rights, so I think you get the idea and where we are coming from. As Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ we have an obligation to make sure everyone is treated fairly and equally, as all persons are of value in the eyes of God.
Before Christ’s coming, we were kept apart from one another. The Jews considered Gentiles beyond God’s saving power and were, therefore, without hope. And the Gentiles resented the Jewish claims that they were the favored children of God to the exclusion of all others. Christ revealed the total sinfulness of both Jews and Gentiles, and then he offered salvation to both. Only Christ breaks down the walls of prejudice, reconciles all believers to God, and unifies us in one body. By his sacrifice, Christ has destroyed the barriers people build between themselves, and because those walls have been removed, we can have real unity with people who we think are not like us. As Christians, we share a vision and solidarity not only with Jesus, but also with each other. For those who are “in Christ”, all social, ethnic, and gender barriers are broken down.
There are many barriers that can divide us from other Christians, barriers such as age, appearance, intelligence, political persuasion, economic status, race, and theological perspective to name just a few. One of the best ways to stifle Christ’s love is to be friendly with only those people we like. But I know for a fact that “those” people are just like us. They want the same thing we want and may already have. They want affordable housing, they want living wage jobs, they want to live in safe communities, they want good schools for their children, and equal access to justice. What right do we have to expect them to settle for anything less when these truths are self-evident; that it is God’s desire that they and all his children together enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Please pray with me.
Gracious and loving God, we pray for our country, a United States that is divided by differences you do not see. Differences and barriers that you sent your son, Jesus Christ, to abolish with his sacrifice for our sins on the cross of Calvary. Help us to live by the example set for us by our loving brother who saw the worth and value in all people. Move us to do what Jesus would do when we see a wrong that needs to be righted, an injustice that needs to be abolished. Move us to stand arm-in-arm on the front lines in the battle against evil. Remind us that these truths that are self-evident for us, your privileged children, are equally important to the least, the last and the lost who only want to lead their lives free from oppression and hatred, to lead the lives that you desire for them. Make us a channel of your peace and let that peace begin with us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.