Just as we thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, last week we all saw some pretty horrifying scenes coming out of America, following the unlawful killing of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers. We also saw a new fence being erected around the Whitehouse to keep increasingly agitated demonstrators away from President Trump, who in the eyes of many religious leaders, flagrantly misused religion when he held up a bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church just across the road from the Whitehouse last Monday. We understand of course that all the pent up anger and frustration that is being displayed right across ‘the land of the free,’ is not just about the death of one man, but it is the result of 400 years of bigotry and racism which has been so endemic in the United States, and it seems now that this nation stands at a crossroads.
One of my American acquaintances wrote on his face book page, “take a single solitary moment to think what it might be like to live in another person’s skin. I say that as one of those mixed ethnic persons that nobody is comfortable labelling, except for the racist, who sees my ‘brown-ness’ and my features, makes some quick assumptions, and treats me accordingly.”
So, does the Bible have anything to say on this issue? Well it certainly does, because God had to deal with racial and spiritual prejudice in two of his choice servants. Jonah, if you remember in the Old Testament, was horrified when God called him to go to an unlikely and unlovely, cruel, and warlike group of people called the Ninevites, and preach against their wickedness. It wasn’t that Jonah was afraid of the people. That I think we might have understood, given how brutal these Ninevites were. But that was not the problem. The problem as far as Jonah was concerned was simply that these Assyrian Gentiles, had no business whatsoever hearing about a Jewish God, who Jonah thought was reserved totally for the Jewish nation! And so instead of going to Nineveh, he ran 2000 – 2500 miles in the opposite direction towards a place called Tarshish, located in modern day Southern Spain.
But God had to deal drastically with his disobedient and prejudiced servant – in the form of a raging storm and a great fish. And then at the end of the story, when Jonah’s preaching was overwhelmingly successful, and there was mass repentance, God had to reprimand his prophet once again, when Jonah became SO ANGRY at God’s grace and kindness to this ‘underserving’ race, that he actually decided that he would rather die than live!
And then over in the New Testament, God set a test for Peter in Acts 10, to see how he would respond to the challenge of racial and religious discrimination, when the Gentile centurion Cornelius had come to a state of spiritual perplexity in his life and was seeking help from God. God of course dealt with Peter in a different way than he dealt with Jonah. He sent Peter a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, which was full of clean and unclean animals, and when a voice told Peter to kill and eat these animals, this heavenly request not only collided with the apostle’s life-long adherence to Jewish food laws, but it was also the means of teaching Peter that God does not restrict any nation or ethnicity from the offer of salvation.
We know of course that later there was a slight bump in the road for Peter, when according to Galatians chapter 2, he allowed legalistic Jewish peer pressure to cause him to stop eating with the Gentiles, and Paul was so troubled by this, that the two apostles had a head on confrontation, but thankfully Peter soon regained his spiritual equilibrium.
We are blessed at Enon to have a very diverse and unified congregation, and our diversity really enriches our life together. We are told of course in Revelation 7:9 that all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues will be standing before the throne and before the Lamb, so we would do well to get used to worshipping with all ethnicities here on earth. But in light of all that has been happening over recent days, it would be good for EVERY ONE of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, to take the time to consider the kinds of people that might be in OUR SHEET if it landed from heaven - the kinds of people we might not feel comfortable associating with, or want in our church congregation even. How much have we really learned from God's dealings with Jonah and Peter?
Joe Stowell wrote, “one of the marks of a true church is whether or not its membership is made up of people who come from diverse backgrounds.” May we always remember that Jesus continually treated with respect and dignity those who were marginalized and on the fringes of their culture, and he demands the same of us. We are to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31). That is Christ’s standard for His followers