That’s the question Rodney King asked in May of 1992 during the riots that ensued following the acquittal of the police officers who had beaten him the previous year. That question has a renewed application at a time when we are arguing with one another over everything from public health to public safety.
I have engaged in robust conversations with Facebook friends as we seek to discern a Christian perspective on these various matters of contention. These are emotionally laden issues and Christian brothers and sisters do not always agree.
What follows is part of a sermon on Colossians 3:15-24 that I think has something to say about Rodney King’s question, when directed to the Church.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. before the largest crowd that had ever assembled in one place in the USA. He delivered a speech that inspired those who heard it and still inspires me today every time I watch it on videotape or hear a recording of it. He said, “…in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’… I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
Nineteen hundred years earlier, the Apostle Paul wrote to a new church in a town in Asia Minor named Colosse. What Paul says is that God has a “dream.” God says to us, as His church, His special creation, “I have a dream that you will live up to the expectations of brotherhood that I had in mind when I first created you. I have a dream that the barriers that you —not I —created will be brought down as you let my grace overwhelm your prejudices.”
The Word says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6) We need to be wary of the danger of seeing others from our own human perspective, rather than through the eyes of God: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (II Corinthians 5:16)
There is wonderful diversity in the Church. Yet as we celebrate our diversity, we need to take care to rejoice in the richness of God’s creation, embracing differences as if they were different color threads that when woven together form a beautiful tapestry. We ought not turn our attentions to the ways in which we are different without celebrating the many more ways in which we are the same.
In fact, the point of what Paul wrote to the Colossians is that in Christ the differences disappear. In Christ we are one —one body, with different members, but all working together for God’s Kingdom.
It is as if Paul were quoting God as saying, “I have a dream that in my Kingdom all of the differences that occupy man’s attention will become totally invisible. I have a dream that the barriers that men use to divide themselves from one another will become meaningless as they embrace their oneness in Christ. I have a dream that, as people leave the old self of sin behind, the new self of righteousness that they put on will demolish the labels that separate them from one another.”
Look at the barriers that are eliminated in Christ:
I. Race and nation—“neither Greek nor Jew…barbarian, Scythian…”“Different nations, who either despised or hated each other, were all drawn into the one family of the Christian Church. Nations which would have leaped at each other’s throats in battle sat in peace beside each other at the Table of the Lord.” (Wm. Barclay)
II. Ceremony and ritual—“neither…circumcision nor uncircumcision” We must not allow differences of practice to separate us from others who bow the knee before Jesus.
III. Culture and class—“barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free man.” “The Scythian was the ignorant barbarian of the ancient world; the Greek was the aristocrat of learning. The uncultured and the cultured came together in the Christian Church. The greatest scholar in the world and the simplest son of toil in the world can sit in perfect fellowship in the Church of Christ… (Wm. Barclay)
So let’s show the world what God’s special people are like and make God’s dream become a reality:
- Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
- Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
- And … put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
I am praying that my brothers and sisters who serve on the front lines of ministry are experiencing this kind of unity as you serve in the strength of the Lord.