This is the sermon I preached on 10/2/22 as part of our series, The Deeply Formed Life. I’m grateful for Rich Villodas’ book of the same name (of the series). You can listen to the sermon here.
On November 9, 1989, Gunter Schabowski, the top spokesperson for Communist East Germany, received a note during a press conference that declared that the restrictions for travel through the Berlin Wall were no longer in effect. This meant that East German could travel outside their nation to West Germany and other locales for the first time in decades. It was another crack in the Iron Curtain of communism in Europe.
As the news got out to people living on either side of the wall, they gathered to go through the gates, see family and friends, and start tearing down the wall with sledgehammers. Tom Brokaw, who was in Berlin that night, ended his live report by saying, “They are crushing the wall east to west and from the west to the east. They are being joined as one…and no wall will stand in their way.”
Throughout the Bible, the reader becomes aware of a wall between Jews and Gentiles. This wall is made clear in the OT through many laws and commands for Jewish people to be separate and distinct from Gentiles. A non-Jew could not worship in the Temple the same way a Jewish person could. By the time the New Testament comes around, we see Paul primarily ministering to Gentiles. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, he writes,
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barriers, the dividing walls of hostility.”
Paul acknowledges that a wall or a fence has separated Jews and Gentiles because of the distinctions made in the Torah, resulting in ethnic and racial differences. Paul says that Jesus came and destroyed the barriers between the two people groups. Through the Cross, Jesus reconciles us to God and one another, and the result of the Gospel is the creation of a new family, a kingdom people.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is not just about our final destination after death but our life here and now. There is good news now when we receive the Gospel. It transforms our life with God AND our life with those around us. We pray, “your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray and ask that our life on earth reflect God’s Kingdom and reign.
George Eldon Ladd writes,
“The Gospel must not only offer a personal salvation in the future life to those who believe; it must transform all the relationships of life here and now and thus cause the Kingdom of God to prevail in all the world.”
The Gospel of Jesus not only transforms our hearts and souls, but it also transforms families, churches, and communities as we are reconciled to one another through Jesus. The Big “C” Church is a new family comprised of brothers and sisters of different skin tones, experiences, socio-economic realities, and opinions who have made Jesus their peace because Jesus has destroyed the walls that divide.
Here is the challenge- when we as Christians put up walls or allow walls existing between ourselves and others, we are living antithetically to the Gospel. We are living in opposition to the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is why Christians must constantly look to remove walls of division in our lives and communities.
A life deeply formed in Jesus Christ will actively work towards racial reconciliation in our personal lives and communities.
We live in a time of deep division. The division in our country that may be the deepest is our racial division. While I was taught that America is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, and beliefs, we have also been a country with deep separation based on the color of our skin. I’ve encountered reluctance, within the white church especially, to have open and honest times of listening and learning about the issue of race in our communities. When the conversations start, we are quick to put up walls and get defensive. The Gospel of Jesus has to be big enough to engage in the racial divide in our communities (for all the reasons we just studied in Ephesians). The Gospel of Jesus is more than “being saved”. It is about “making things right” here and now.
“Making things right” is a basic definition of reconciliation. Regarding race, individuals and churches are called to “Make things right” in our relationships with others. In the Ephesian passage, Paul uses the word “peace” four times. Peace has the connotation of wholeness and well-being. In the passage from Ephesians, Jesus doesn’t come to bring peace- Jesus is our peace. When we put our faith in Jesus, Jesus calls us to break down the dividing walls between ourselves and anyone we are at odds with. This includes people of other races. Because of Jesus, we are concerned about the well-being of our brothers and sisters who have different skin tones than us.
Being concerned about our neighbors is more than a mental exercise- it is a commitment to work for their peace and well-being. Just as prayer is not passive, concern for our brothers and sisters is not passive. Christians must actively work for justice where ever injustice exists because we have been called to a ministry of reconciliation. We must work to right what is wrong in our world. Dr. Cornell West writes, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
I need to be aware of my prejudices and biases in my relationships with other people, especially those who look different from me. I can think through my life and remember times when I acted insensitive or bigoted toward others. As a Christian, I have sought to repent of the actions that build a wall between myself and others.
I have also had a growing awareness over the last decade of the systems that are in place in our society that favor some people over and above others. We can think of policies like “red-lining” that segregated communities. 1.2 million African-Americans serving in WWII were denied the benefits of the GI Bill. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with racial minorities making up a disproportionate number of the incarcerated.
Throughout the Bible, God has always been concerned for immigrants, the oppressed, orphans, and widows. In Isaiah 10, God speaks through the prophet:
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people…”
God was concerned about rulers and lawmakers creating unjust laws that would oppress the poor in Israel. If Jesus has destroyed the dividing wall to make a new family, I believe God is equally concerned about unjust laws that oppress the poor, the vulnerable, and those who look different than us. God isn’t just worried about unjust relationships; God is concerned about unjust systems.
A Life Deeply Formed in Jesus Will Actively Work Towards Racial Reconciliation
Malachi- kids at school asked him if he had Corona Virus b/c he is Chinese- Kids heard it from their parents, who heard the president at the time call it the China Flu. From the first use of that phrase, hate crimes against Asians in America dramatically increased in our country.
If Jesus has torn down dividing walls between Jews and Gentiles through the Cross- we are called to break down dividing barriers of race. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. If our lives have been transformed, that should be reflected in how we love one another.
Where do we start?
Rich Villodas, in his book The Deeply Formed Life, offers a few practices to help us move towards a reconciled world.
The Practice of Incarnational Listening
Christians must be deeply committed to listening to others even when it hurts and is complex. We have to listen without getting offended. Villodas writes that a sign of our spiritual maturity is our ability to listen without getting offended. Our ability to listen “knee-to-knee” will give us the relationship and understanding to be able to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” as we work together for reconciliation in our world.
The Practice of Reconciling Prayer
Prayer is more than something we do to give thanks for our food. It is the very tool that God uses to move in our lives. We spend so little time in prayer. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells his disciples that they cannot cast a demon out because they do not know how to pray. How can we cast out the demonic power of racism without being committed to prayer? In our prayers, we must cry out to God for reconciliation. We pray, believing that relationships between races can be transformed. We pray, considering that we can be changed.
The Practice of Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness
We are a broken people. We are sinners. We are going to break the peace of our relationship with others. We must confess and repent of our sins.
Today is World Communion Sunday. A Day where believers of every color, tribe, and tongue gather for Holy Communion. Part of our liturgy is a confession of sin. We need this Confession:
As I grow deeper with Jesus, I recognize that I need that Confession in my life. As I grow deeper with Jesus, I know there is deep work that the Holy Spirit desires to do in my life so that my faith would have depth and power. The Church in America lacks power because we are content to remain on the surface instead of going deep where the Spirit leads us.
As we prepare to come to the Communion table today, our skin color is not erased. The Kingdom of God is not a colorblind kingdom. Revelation 7:9 says:
“…there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
Around the throne of God will be people of every color and race. The dividing walls have been broken down through Jesus, who is our peace. Let us break down the dividing walls in our community as we are called into a new family through Jesus Christ.
 Ephesians 2:14, NIV.
 Isaiah 10:1-2, NIV.
 Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life, p.71
 Revelation 7:9, NIV.