Julius Sprauve Elementary School was an all-black school, until my brother Aaron and I arrived. We were not well received. It got worse when the mini-series “Roots” came out. The vivid depiction of slavery raised deep feelings in my classmates. Their anger was leveled at my brother and me. I learned that time does not heal all wounds. I learn that untended wounds leave scars that last generations.
My best friend was Clyde James. In our secluded neighborhood we talked and played. When Bob Marley’s Uprising album came out, we listened to the cassette all the way through without a word. Then we started it over again and sang along. One day he told me- “I can be your friend here, but not at school.” I understood. I wouldn’t want him to be bullied at school like I was. But it broke my heart.
If Christ has reconciled the world to Himself, how can we be so broken? How do we use tradition, cultural boundaries, and religion to make sure things stay as they are?
When we talk about the Cross, we speak of it in terms of forgiveness of sins. We understate the Cross’ impact on hurt and shame. Hurts are the ways we have been shaped by each other’s sins. Shame is the guilt I feel over what was done to me. To ignore the Cross’ impact on hurt and shame is to preach a gospel that is good news to victimizers, and old news to victims. It gives nothing to the victims and sets the victimizer free. In doing this, we have shrunk the reach of the Cross so it only pertains to the privileged.
We are four generations out of slave days. Every step forward has added wounds and scars. We celebrate June 19th, the date when in 1865 emancipation was announced in Texas. But the emancipation proclamation was signed on January of 1863. Every June 19th is a reminder that for 2 ½ years freed Black Americans continued to work as slaves because nobody told them they had been freed. They lived longing to hear the approach of what was “already”. There are brothers and sisters all around us still laboring and longing for the arrival of what already is. At our most “normal” we are resisting the freedom and obscuring the hope that is here. When we are at our best, are “walking towards already.”
Colossians tells us what God has already done. We say we are living in the “already but not yet.” Really, we are living in the “already but we ain’t adjusted to it yet.” If the Kingdom ain’t here, somebody send the Spirit back. If the Kingdom is here, why do we live like it isn’t?
Paul writes to a people near the edge of Roman rule. Colossae was an otherworldly land of blue springs and mineral baths. There the Lycus river vanished into the rocks-disappearing into the netherworld. Their traditional religions taught their lives hung in the balance of warring good and evil gods. The people lived in fear of failing the expectations of Rome, their local gods, and their traditions. They used Roman Religion, the Local Religion and Asceticism to try and fix their “bad luck”. Like them, we have the pressures of patriotism, tradition, and religion. We follow the rules and rituals at the expense of relationships. We say we want peace, but really we just want quiet. We say we want freedom, while we wrestle for control. We say we want order while we are just trying to keep life from falling apart. Paul shows us that life is not a battle of the competing equals- good and evil. The world is ruled by Christ for a purpose.
Paul begins by saying we belong to a different country, serving different King. God came to rescue you from the country you have been taught to love. The 2nd Century letter to Diognitus describes the early Christians- “every nation to them is like a fatherland and every fatherland like a strange country.” If you are in Christ, His Kingdom is your Country.
- The Kingdom of His Beloved Son
This Kingdom reflects the character of its King. This Kingdom forms our Identity. The Kingdom of the Beloved Son is the place where we become God’s beloved children. He has redeemed us- a recovery of value, removal of shame (We can stand before God)He has given us the Forgiveness of Sins- removal of debts, and of barriers (We can come near)The nature of the Son forms the character of His Kingdom.
Paul identifies our King as:
Image of the invisible God- Jesus shows us the intents of God’s commands. The command for the Sabbath is to give relief and rest to others. The command not to kill is not “stand your ground” but “lay down your life” As the Torah made flesh, Jesus shows us God’s heart.
The firstborn of Creation- The firstborn sibling represented the father’s interests, took on the father’s role and managed the father’s resources, giving the siblings what they needed. Your inheritance is in the hands of One who would die for your good. This frees you from worry, fear, and competitiveness
Creator of all things- So creation is good and valuable. If Jesus’ fingerprints are on everyone you have ever encountered, it should affect the way our fingerprints are on them.
Sustainer– lifts the fear of lack, fight for power and control
Head of the body, the beginning, the firstborn of the dead- He is our source and our future.
He occupies the first place- so we don’t have to fight for it, He lets us take part in it.
Christ’s Kingdom is not a future abstraction. It is our primary address. In it we live out the declaration that “Jesus is Lord.” So, where do you live? If traditional, cultural expectations, and superstitions have a stronger hold on you than life in Christ, it is time to move.
God’s People Live at the Center of Christ’s Reconciling Work (19-20) There is joy in doing something lavish for a loved one. It was the Father’s good pleasure to put His fulness into the Son. The Son endured the Cross for the “joy set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) The merchant bought the pearl (Matt 13:45) That joy is you. To God, You + Him= joy.
Reconciliation involves an exchange of places (v19) Christ had every right to enthronement and eternal praise and He gave up His privileges for you. He took on our human limitations and disadvantages. If only what has been assumed can be redeemed, this affects how we participate in Christ’s redemptive work. When Christ’s earnest love for us does not lead to identification with others, we have come to a dangerous place. When Christ’s love leads us into the lives of others, we see privileges to which we were blind.
I have walked through my grandma’s neighborhood and lived to tell about it- Trayvon Martin could not. I have jogged down a road and lived to tell about it- Amoud Aubery could not. I have been pulled over for a busted taillight and lived to tell about it- Philando Castile could not. To join Christ’s reconciling work involves putting our privileges in the service of those who have none.
Reconciliation Requires Justice and Something More (v20) It is the way that God brings Peace between all heavenly and earthly powers. How is the Cross and the shed blood of Christ a fix? How can a horrible miscarriage of justice bring shalom? How can wholeness come for such brokenness?
Reconciliation Must Address the Depth of the Rift (v21) At creation, we were created male and female, in the image of God who is One. We were intended by our unity and diversity to reflect the image and Glory of the Triune God. But we were deceived into thinking God did not have our best interest in mind, and our mistrust is unfolded in the stories of Adam, Cain, and evil Lamech. Rather multiplying to fill the earth we gathered and built a tower to take the heavens. Not declaring the Name of the Lord, we sought to make a name for ourselves. God scattered us. Our languages were confounded, families were scattered, and the curse was solidified. But God made promise, choosing a family bless the nations so the nations could again be a family. To accomplish this, the LORD used the blood of a Lamb to bring a mixed-multitude (Ex 12:38) out of slavery through the baptism of the Red Sea to a New Covenant at Mount Sinai, and there, to remove our sin, sickness, death, and shame, the LORD made daily ordinances of blood sacrifice. We needed continual atonement so the HOLY LORD could dwell with us as a Holy People. What was temporary and local, was God’s preparation for something Global and Eternal.
God spoke of a future time when the cleansing blood of His Lifted-Up Servant would cleanse a global gathered people: thus, shall He sprinkle many nations. In Isaiah 11 the LORD’s “resting place” would be filled with Glory and as a result He summon the nations and make peace between them and all creation so that they would dwell on the Mountain of the Lord.
God’s People Display God’s Reconciling Reality (v22) In fullness of time, God sent His Son. The LORD would reconcile me by harnessing what I have most- rebellion and hardheartedness. I am revealed by encountering the Love of God wrapped in the meekness and finitude of a human form. If I believe I am loving welcoming, accepting, tolerant and sweet, He shows me I am a hypocrite. And if I think I am good, moral, upright and holier than them, He shows me I am twice the child of the devil. And rather than allow Him to fix me, it is so much easier to shout, “away with Him. We have no King but Caesar” I would sooner kill Him than deal with what His life revealed about me.
We Display Our War Against Each Other The Crucifixion of God incarnate shows my mistreatment of you. The Cross displays my bigotry, my hatred, my prejudice. If I have never done anyone wrong, why are those wounds on Him, and why are those wounds on you? The Cross shows my sins have hurt others, my misplaced rage. The Cross removes our justification of death row and our denials of lynching. We believe we can dodge charges of prejudice if only we can show we have never gained from our discriminations. The Cross shows the world that I have benefited from the exploitation of others. In fact, it is so impossible to be reconciled to God while ignoring the pain others have suffered because of us that God has made it only possible for us to be saved by acknowledging the pain Another has suffered for us.
We Display the Healing Work of Christ (V22) Friendship with God requires we see we were His enemies. We must come and fall before Him. Then we discover not only was He wounded for our transgressions, He was also bruised for our iniquities, He also bore our sorrows, and by His stripes, we are healed. The Cross of Christ, Paul tells us, is the place where the alienated become beloved children of God. The place where enemies become family. The outpouring of the Spirit on the Church was Babel played backwards, diverse tongues became united in declaring the name of the LORD.
If the purpose of the Cross is to make a new people of God from among the nations, why is the church divided? If the Holy Spirit gives us boldness to speak and ability to understand, then why do so many in the church feel silenced and misunderstood? Can a fractured church live the ministry of reconciliation? It can only happen when I come to terms of the ways I have been your enemy. I need the courage to admit it and open myself to love you when you have every reason not to return that love. If We Continue In Faith (23A)
The key is: “If indeed you continue in faith.” Faith is the determination to live by the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven even when the Kingdom of the World will hate you for it. Faith will demand that we be inconvenienced by the present for the sake of the future. And the more we surrender to that reality, the more visible the future becomes.
In the school yard one day, a crowd of kids corralled me to the cement lid of the school septic tank, where they were going to beat me up. I heard a roar, that parted the crowd. Clyde walked into the center of the circle and stood beside me and shouted, “If you are going to fight him, you’re going to have to fight me too.” A murmur went through the crowds, “Clyde, what are you doing?” “Are you friends with him?” He looked at the crowd and said, “Yes, and leave my friend alone!” I was relieved, but the fact that my friend stood up for me meant much more. In a crisis, my friend proved true.
The Cross heals our hearts as we discover that our Father, who might be ashamed of us has stood and fought for us. But God did not wait for a crisis to decide to save you. He always had your best interest in mind, He has always fought to have you and keep you.
After the protest and murder at Charlottesville and the administration’s minimization of white supremacy, three black ministers, good friends, asked me, “Where are our white brothers and sisters in Christ? We heard rhetoric during the campaign and knew what it was. We see this happening, we feel alone, afraid for our children, like we don’t have a place in this country, but we thought our white evangelical brothers and sisters would have our backs.” Do we? Will we?
Or do we simply use our wounds as weapons and use our hurts to keep each other from healing?
As I listen the stories of very different people, I learn we have matching scars. Imagine you met a stranger who was different from you in every way. But then, on closer inspection, you discovered both of you had the same scars, in the same places. You would feel a kinship, understanding, and mystery. Your scars could connect you. Discovering the hidden ways you are alike is powerful enough to turn a stranger, an enemy into a friend. Your scars could reinforce one another- an alliance in which we use our hurts to harm others. We can wound with our wounds. But we have no power to heal with them.
What if there were someone with wounds just like yours, Someone who matched your wounds scar by scar, and hurt by hurt. What if they matched, not because they were His, but because He bore yours? What if this Person did not wound with His wounds but healed with His wounds?
Rejection, Betrayal, False Accusations, Denial, Maligned, Assign False Motives, Made Guilty by Association? You have a savior with matching scars. The One who stands pleading for you in the Holies place has all your wounds on Him. Because the One Who loves you humbled Himself, you no longer need to be humiliated. He was rejected so you could be received. Because He took your wounds to Heaven you no longer need to be ashamed. He has freed you so much that you are even capable of love.
But do you trust Him enough to give yourself to others. Are you crazy enough to live, not by rules and standards of this wicked kingdom, but by the Laws of the Kingdom of the Beloved Son?
Christ is calling us now into the reconciling work He is already doing. Will we join Him? Will we come to Him today not only confessing our sins of racism, but also bringing to Him our hurt and shame.