Fifty years ago today Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated as he stood outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Martin Luther
King was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1954 through
1968. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights by using the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience based on his
King once said the most segregated hour in the American week was 11am on a Sunday morning. I believe that statement is still true in a lot of churches
in this country today. Even though we have had an integrated society - our schools are integrated, our places of work are integrated, our neighbourhoods
are integrated, our social clubs are integrated - on a Sunday we get in our cars and drive to our homogenous churches to worship our God who has
called us to be unified in Jesus by the power of his Spirit. I’m convinced, like King, that our homogeneous circles of comfort are a hindrance
to the gospel as we fail to display the beautiful picture of the church in Revelation 5. It’s a deep conviction as I lead St Paul’s that we be
a transcultural church that is unified in the gospel of the Lord Jesus. This is not primarily because I owe any kind of debt to Martin Luther King,
but because God’s design for the church is to display his worth and beauty and glory.
Ephesians 2:11-12 is a description of the division between Jews and Gentiles. It was religious, and cultural or social and it was racial. The divide
here was as big or bigger than any divide that we face today. Then in Ephesians 2:19-22 we have a description of the reconciliation between Jew
and Gentile. So what happened between verses 11-12, and verses 19-22 that describes their full reconciliation and unity? Jesus Christ, the Son
of God died—and he died by design. We see it in the word "blood" in verse 13b: "You who formerly were far off have been brought near by the
blood of Christ."We also see it in the word "flesh" in verse 15, ". . . abolishing in His flesh the enmity." And we see it in the word "cross"
in verse 16, "...and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross.” The rest of the text is Paul's explanation of how the blood
of Christ—his death in the flesh on the cross—removes the enmity between God and Jew, God and Gentile and Jew and Gentile, therefore,
by implication, between every ethnic group of Christians who are in Christ.
God aims to create one new people in Christ who are reconciled to each other across racial lines. Not strangers. Not aliens. No prejudice. No enmity.God
ordained the death of his Son to reconcile alien people groups to each other in one body in Christ. Christ died to take pride away from our hearts
toward all other persons whatever the race, and whatever their status in Jesus.
Racial tensions are rife with pride — the pride of white supremacy, the pride of black power, the pride of intellectual analysis, the pride of
anti-intellectual scorn, the pride of loud verbal attack, and the pride of despising silence, the pride that feels secure, and the pride that masks
fear.Where pride holds sway, there is no hope for the kind of listening and patience and understanding and openness to correction that mature relationships
require. The gospel of Jesus, just celebrated this past weekend over Easter, breaks the power of pride. It reveals the magnitude and the ugliness
and the deadliness of it, even as it provides deliverance from it.
Jesus’s death on the cross for our salvation is devastating to pride. “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). Jesus saves us by grace alone so that we would boast
in him alone. Pride is shattered. Imagine what ethnic and racial controversies would look like if the participants were all dead to pride and deeply
humble before God and each other.
God’s plan is not just that the gospel will go to all peoples, but that all peoples will be brought together through the gospel to form one people
in Christ.God is calling all people to share in a community that includes their enemies and reconciles them with those who worship and live in
other ways.If this is the design of God then will we not display and magnify the cross of Christ better than by more and deeper and sweeter ethnic
diversity and humble unity in our worship and life as local churches.
John Stott wrote this about Ephesians 2 in his commentary on Ephesians (Bible Speaks Today pp.111-112): It is simply impossible, with any shred
of Christian integrity, to go on proclaiming that Jesus by his cross has abolished the old divisions and created a single new humanity of love,
while at the same time we are contradicting our message by tolerating racial or social or other barriers within our church fellowship. We need
to get the failures of the church on our conscience, to feel the offence to Christ…to weep over the credibility gap between the church’s
talk and the church’s walk, to repent of our readiness to excuse and even condone our failures, and to determine to do something about it. I wonder
if anything is more urgent today, for the honour of Christ and for the spread of the gospel, than that the church should be, and should be seen
to be, what by God’s purpose and Christ’s achievement it already is - a single new humanity, a model of human community, a family of reconciled
brothers and sisters who love their Father and love each other, the evident dwelling place of God by his Spirit. Only then will the world believe
in Christ as peacemaker. Only then will God receive the glory due his name.
This is our vision at St Paul’s week by week.
Rev’d Steve Jeffrey