[Torrey 2010] Ed Gilbreath: Beyond the Reconciliation Blues


Uploaded by BiolaUniversity on 22.10.2010

Transcript:
[music]
Todd Pickett: Let me introduce our speaker, my new friend, Ed Gilbreath. Ed is the author
of "Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity." Former
editor of "Christianity Today Magazine" and now director of editorial for "Urban Ministries"
in Calumet City in Illinois. He is a Chicago man. Go Bears, yeah? Cubs or Sox?
Ed Gilbreath: The Bulls.
Todd: What's that?
Ed: The Bulls.
Todd: Oh, Bulls? Well, what about Cubs or Sox?
Ed: Oh, I don't get into those.
Todd: Oh, OK. He doesn't do baseball. It's too controversial in Chicago. Go Bulls. I'm
a Lakers fan. We'll talk later.
[applause]
Todd: Oh! Kobe, you either love him or you hate him, huh? All right. I know that's how
the rest of the country feels. What were we talking about? Ed Gilbreath! Ed was so good
to come out and be with us today. He's got two children, DeMara and Daniel, 10 and eight.
And, Ed, we're so happy that you could be with us. Please welcome Edward Gilbreath.
[applause]
Ed: Thanks, sir. All right, I'm back again. Hopefully this won't take long since you guys
sort of know most of my stuff already. So, I don't know what more to say here. Family
has been a huge topic over the last couple days, especially with Gary's talks yesterday.
And some of the stories he shared about his family and his relationship with his wife
and his kids. And this whole reconciliation thing, which I sort of dwell in, is really
huge.
And I'm realizing more and more, just resonating with some of Gary's stories, just how much
I need to learn to practice it more in my own family with my wife, Dana. We've been
married 15 years. And my daughter, Demara, and my son, Daniel. Things are coming up all
the time. And it's real tough business that I'm realizing more and more I need to pray.
And I'm going to do that right now for the rest of this evening.
And for moving onto a more specific topic with the issue of race - racial reconciliation.
I sort of skimmed it a little bit earlier this afternoon, but I've been sort of told
to talk about myself more and talk about the book, "Reconciliation Blues." And so I want
to get into that a little more. It's so hard. Part of me feels like... I was telling Todd
earlier how... I don't know. After worship like this, you just sort of want to stop and
let that be it.
And let God sort of work with just the incredible worship and praises that have gone up already.
But I still have to get up and talk. And I'm tempted to do one of those spiritual things
and say I'm just going to sit down. God is telling me to. But I'm afraid I might not
get my check if I do that. So, I better...
[laughter]
Ed: Just kidding. Just kidding. Seriously, this has been good. And just the variety of
worship. And it reminds me of, in my book, I talk about Pastor David Anderson of Bridgeway
Community Church down in Baltimore, Maryland. And how - I mean, this is a multicultural,
multiracial, multiethnic church that is very deliberately that way and very intentional
every Sunday. And he talks about great is thy faithfulness, seven different ways. And
how depending on the Sunday, depending on the emphasis that particular week, you might
hear it several different ways. It might be a little Latin tinge one Sunday. It might
be a little country western vibe another. It might have a real gospel flavor the next
week. And then the traditional sort of straight organ way.
But the idea that everyone that's a part of this community is going to hear that song
in a way that resonates with them. And then as a corporate body, they're going to be able
to come together and experience that and share that. That's powerful. And I felt a little
bit of that over the past couple days, just the variety of styles in this evening with
that little bit of country flavor for that first song, "Nothing But the Blood." And it's
just powerful. And I thank you for just this experience of worship. It's been awesome.
Would you pray with me?
Gracious Father, we are humbled. And we thank you so much for the privilege of being able
to come here to sing with each other, to hold hands, to worship, to hear your word, to hear
you - your spirit speak to us. Father, we pray that as we move forward with this particular
topic tonight that you will just fill this room, speak through me, and just have your
way, Lord. Continue to be glorified in everything that's said and done this evening. And it's
such a tricky topic, Lord, so we just give this time to you. In Jesus' name, amen.
So, how many of you watch late night television? College students, right? Late night TV? No?
No? No? I mean, come on. Are there any Jay Leno fans here? Yeah? How about David Letterman?
You guys like David Letterman? Yeah? And then the big controversy earlier this year, last
year, with Conan O'Brien. You know Conan, people? Yeah? I am convinced that maybe perhaps
rivaling some of the racial and political issues in our country, the late night divide
is maybe even a bigger thing. You know? Are you a Leno? Are you Letterman? Conan? This
and that.
I have to confess, I am old school. You know? I like Letterman. I like the sort of weirdness
and the bizarre stuff that he does with the stupid pet tricks and the top 10 lists. And
all that general craziness. But one of my favorites, although I must admit, I haven't
been able to stay up the past year or so to watch late night TV like I used to. I'm just
feeling my age. But I remember one of the classic little bits that he would do was something
called "Is This Anything?" Does anyone remember that from Letterman? "Is This Anything?" Well,
then let me explain.
[laughter]
Ed: "Is This Anything?" was this deal like there would be a curtain, right? And there's
something back there. And Dave and Paul, they don't know what it is. But it's something.
And when the curtain comes up, they have to look at it. And they have to determine at
that moment whether, you know, is this anything, or is this not? And usually it's something
very strange; the curtain comes up and it's a guy on a unicycle, wearing a bikini, with
a hairy chest. Then he's juggling bowling balls, and doing all types of things.
Then they have their other stuff going on, on the side, with a woman with a chainsaw,
sparking amour suit on herself, and a hula-hooper. It's bizarre. It's mass chaos! And I have
to decide, is this anything? Is anything worthwhile going on? Is that something?
Usually, it's no. It's not. [laughter] It's usually not. The curtain goes back down. But
I've found myself playing that game; a version of that game, "Is This Anything?" in my own
experience, especially, as a person of color, who has found himself as a minority in a lot
of situations.
I begin to think, when something comes up that could be racially motivated, or some
race-related issue, I have to ask myself, "Is this anything? Is this a race thing?"
There was a moment a couple of years back. My family was traveling up from a trip down
to Disney, through northern Florida, going into Georgia. And we stopped at a "Sonny's
Barbecue" restaurant. Good barbecue, if you're ever on the road, down south; fast food barbecue.
And we were going in, but it was one of those things; you're just not sure. And we saw lots
of white faces as we were going in. Then we walk in and we realize, "Uh-oh, we are going
to be the only black family in this restaurant, tonight"
Actually, there was another black family. But they were leaving as we were coming in.
[laughter] I don't know if there was a policy about how many to have at one time, but...
[laughter]
So, we go in and we sit down and we order. And there's some confusion with the order.
I wanted cornbread, not Texas toast, and it goes on. The waitress just treats me like,
"No, you asked for this." And I'm pretty certain I asked for this. And it goes on. It's one
of those things like, "Just forget it."
But I have to ask myself in that situation, being the only black folks in there; Is this
anything? Is this a race thing, or did this waitress just have a hard day? She's a little
cranky and taking it out on me.
There's another incident, a few years ago; a situation in the city of Peoria, Illinois.
A friend of mine at a church that I spoke at told me about a pastor there. The incident
involved two police officers. A white officer was suspended for an indiscretion that made
headlines in the local news.
A little while later, a black police officer who committed a similar offense, was, actually,
immediately fired. And this turned into this big thing. There was a comparison of the two,
like, "What's going on, here? This just doesn't seem right."
The local chapter of the NAACP got involved. Then, it became one of those ugly things.
This friend of mine, the white pastor, shared with me that, even he was feeling tension
with a black pastor friend of his in the area.
And these guys were good friends. But the white pastor was surprised to discover that
his black pastor friend actually thought that this was a race thing. He saw it as; there's
a law here, and they actually caught the black guy; the black cop on tape. It's not a race
thing.
He was surprised that his black pastor friend would feel that way. He told his friend as
much. He said, "Come on, Bill. You've got to understand. It's not always about race."
But the black pastor looked at him and countered, "No. What you need to understand, Jim, is
that in America, for a black man, it's always about race. It's always about race."
You know what? The sad thing is that in America today, I think, both of them are right. Depending
on your life experience, where you come from, what you've seen; it's always about race.
And then, it isn't.
A divided Supreme Court rules against diversity programs in public schools. It is, both, about
race, and it's not about race. Arizona legislatures pass a bill to crack down on undocumented
immigrants. It's about race, but, maybe, in some ways, it isn't.
It goes on, and on, in different situations where we find these controversies and divides,
all the way back to the OJ Simpson trial. The voting patterns on shows like "American
Idol," and the dance show. What is that dance show called?
[audience answers]
Ed: What's that? "So, you think you can dance?" No, I'm thinking about the one with all the
washed-up stars. [laughter] Oh, yeah, that one, "Dancing with the stars." Where do they
get these people on that show?
A lot of folks with the barber shop, kind of, conversations; they're convinced that
there's a conspiracy going down that the black folk are always going to get the boot first
on those shows when people are calling in. It's always about race, but, well, maybe,
it's not.
The Tea Party Protest; there's controversy around all that. Barack Obama and his presidency,
and his birthplace, or his religion; all these things are, both, in ways, about race, and
then, they're not.
So much of our efforts toward reconciliation and unity are complicated by this frustrating
reality. There are, rarely, any really clear-cut answers. There's usually just a lot of gray;
complexity and grayness.
This is one of the reasons why I wrote this book, "Reconciliation Blues," to tell my story
and the stories of others. I want to give Christians a starting place for engaging in
a more honest conversation about race.
We're so afraid, or we don't know where to begin. We don't want to say the real tough
stuff that really needs to get out there, because we're afraid we're going to alienate
each other. Or like I said this morning; immediately become labeled as a racist, or whatever.
So, my book talks about the evangelical community's struggles with issues of diversity and race
relations. I wrote about my journey as a black evangelical, who has spent most of his professional
life in, predominantly, white, Christian settings.
And I wrote about the journey of other black and non-white evangelicals who have had similar
experiences. I want to say, black and non-white. I'm speaking, mostly, from that black-white
context, because that's my experience.
But I do acknowledge in the book, and always that, it's much greater than that. There are
many different tensions between different racial groups. And I want to be sensitive
to all of those. I write about the experiences that a lot of folks have had; their struggles,
and their triumphs, the failures, the frustrations, their yearnings, that sense of being, either,
the first, or one of among a handful of non-whites at mostly white, Christian churches and ministries,
and institutions.
For many minorities, that experience comes with a whole bunch of angst, and internal
self-doubt. At times, I found myself at "Christianity Today" really, frustrated with the reality.
I was a little younger then, but I sometimes felt like I was going nowhere. These people
are not going to 'get it.'
I also found myself, often; thrust into the role when you're the only one, or one of just
a few; the role of being the representative; the expert on all things African-American.
Do you know what I mean?
When issues came up, or when there were opinions needed, "Let's go to Ed, and figure out what
this is all about on the 'black' thing." I was looked upon by my white colleagues as
the authority on all things African-American.
If someone wanted to know why Jesse Jackson was going over here to march; "Let's go ask
Ed." "Why would Michael Jackson be ashamed of being black? Ed might have an opinion on
that." [laughter]
"What was Charles Barkley talking about last night on that NBA show? Let's ask Ed." It
was strange that I didn't feel comfortable filling that role all the time. But at other
times, I have to admit, there was a strange, perverse pride that creeped in.
And I began to realize, "Wait a minute, you know what? I am the only black guy that a
lot of these people are going to get to know personally. What can I do with that?" This
is a strange, sort of, pride.
It got to a point where I was even protective of my turf as the only black guy. At "Christianity
Today, " when another black person would come into the office for an appointment or something,
I'd look at them like, "What's he doing here?" [laughter]
"Where did he come from? These are my white people!" [laughter] "Come on. There's plenty
more out there that you could go get yourself. I've worked too hard over in this spot." [laughter]
I know that sounds crazy and silly, but those are some of the weird things that go through
your head; that you wrestle with when you're the only minority; when you're the only person
of color in the room.
And I think, all of us, regardless of our race, have been in situations where we are
the minority in a particular situation, and felt that sense of "Is this anything?" Am
I being called upon to answer a question because I'm the only white person here? Or, is this
anything, does this have something to do with the color of my skin?"
"Does this have something to do with the fact that I come from another country?" But through
it all, I realized that God had given me a desire to see real, racial healing and reconciliation,
and to actively promote it, rather than become an angry, or cynical, detached, observer of
this stuff going on.
He wanted me to get in there and to be a bridge, and to remind folks that there is hope, that
we can apply God's grace to these broken situations; these divisions. Now, there are probably many
definitions of racial reconciliation, and I'm not going to pretend to have the definitive
one. But let me start by saying what it isn't, OK?
It isn't color-blindness. OK? It isn't your annual choir exchange with the church of a
different race, from across town; that you get together once a year. It isn't your one
time a year drive-by, diversity chapel service. I don't know what you have here, but at different
places, it might be the 'Black History Month' thing, or whatever.
It's not those quick, 'tip of the hat, ' things to diversity, and then leaving it alone
for the rest of the year. But it also isn't, necessarily, a church of many colors, either.
In the real world, reconciliation... and I'm talking racial reconciliation tonight... it's
a process. It's a long, slog, going through.
My friend, Alvin Bibbs, who is on the staff of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago,
put it in culinary terms when he said, "Reconciliation is more about marinating than microwaving."
OK?
We often want our Christian issues to get solved with the quick fix, instant formulas.
You push 'Cook' and wait thirty seconds, and then take it out right away, or it will boil
over. You should be done. But reconciliation doesn't work that way. Life doesn't work that
way.
Instead, it's a process; an on-going investment in a relationship; in a ministry; in a calling.
Reconciliation is a heart bent toward biblical unity and justice. Not because it's cool,
or because the music sounds good, but because it's a biblical call; a kingdom call.
It is preferring others before ourselves. It's a commitment to the gospel message, and
all its real world messiness. It's the inevitable result of living out a life of grace, and
mercy, and love, and righteousness. It's what happens when we take seriously, God's desire
for us to act justly, and love mercy, and to walk humbly, with him, in that Micah 6:8
prophetic fashion.
Listen, my book came out late '06, early '07. And I've been to Christian colleges and conferences
all over the nation, sharing this message of racial reconciliation since then. And I've
seen a lot of different things, and heard different stories. And I've seen the hunger
for folks wanting to know, "How do we move forward with this?"
And how, very divided we still are, out there. In the words of sociologists, Michael Emerson,
and Christian Smith, from their book, "We are, in many ways, divided by faith." Then
you hear the 11o'clock, Sunday morning blah, blah, blah, stuff, and the segregation and
the division that continues.
Don't get me wrong, but I still believe in pushing through this. But this stuff can get
pretty tiresome, and exhausting. Especially for folks who've committed their lives to
working through it and full time ministry. And I don't necessarily put myself in the
company of those who really are on the ground sort of plowing through this stuff every day.
In this current climate, like we talked about earlier this afternoon, this climate of racial
resentment and paranoia that are often influenced by politics and by our ideological views.
Remember Shirley Sherrod? That story from earlier this year. The USDA employee who the
white house fired from her job after a conservative website posted an out of context video clip
of her at an NAACP event apparently talking about how she didn't want to help a particular
farmer because he was white. And it was just a clear cut example of reverse racism, according
to the conservative pundits.
They latched onto it and it was soon on all the different websites and on the news. And
the NAACP and the white house both felt they needed to immediately distance themselves
from this woman. You know, race is just to hot of a topic and we don't need that, especially
in an election year, and that's just to much.
But soon the full video was played and folks discovered that, in fact, she wasn't being
racist, she was being honest. Honest about her struggle with prejudice, with issues from
her past, regarding race. And in that video she eventually shared how she overcame that
prejudice to help that white farmer. And it came out later that they're actually very
good friends to this day.
It wasn't racism, it was a story of redemption, of racial reconciliation. But, alas, that
kind of story doesn't play to well in this poisonous vitriolic overheated climate of
hate and division that we have today. It's hard to be really honest about racial issues,
to be vulnerable when folks are just waiting jump on you.
Many of us naively believed, and I am thinking maybe of myself mostly, that now that we have
and African American president and change has come race maybe wouldn't be as much of
a factor. The terms post racial and post partisan came up a lot in those heady days a couple
years when Obama was first elected. But now, two years later, those blinders are long gone
and anyone who thinks that we're post anything in this nations -- besides our breakfast cereals
-- is not paying attention.
[laughter]
Ed: Having an African American president is historic and it means a lot to many people
in our nations. But at the end of the day we're still the same nation, the same church,
still trying to find our way through the rhetoric and through the misunderstanding, through
the complicated history, through the anger and the pain.
While Obama's presidency has certainly brought excitement and inspiration on the one hand,
on the other hand it also sort of stirred up a lot of the latent hostility and fear
bout race that many of us have within us. And it sort of exposed a lot of that junk
and the distance that we still need to go.
And it certainly just isn't necessarily racism that we're always grappling with anymore.
Is it a race thing? Maybe, but maybe not always. I mean, racism still exists. Don't get me
wrong. But far more disheartening for me in the here and now is this sort of new brand
of bitterness that has sprung up. Back in the day, at least from the view of history
looking back, racism seemed more like this - they just didn't understand this sort of
earnest, innocent sort of thing.
Well, sure, it was definitely sin. It was sinful. But in many cases, it seemed the perpetrators
didn't know any better. These days there's more of this cynical detachment about race.
Today we think we have those people figured out. We know those illegals are taking our
jobs and living off our taxes. And we know that those white people over there don't care
nothing about black folk. And we know that those black folks are just lazy and shiftless
and come with this victim mentality all the time.
And it goes and on. And the cynicism is just staggering. And we often don't even realize
how those attitudes are living within us. Many of our everyday institutions, many of
them with long histories, are sort of steeped in systemic racialized policies and structures
and traditions that we don't even realize influences the way they operate. I know many
will say, you know, the racial reconciliation issue. What difference does this all make,
right?
The civil rights movement has changed things for the better. We've made enormous strides
as a nation. Everyone embraces Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream now, that one day our children
would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Things are better. And race shouldn't be an issue in our lives anymore, right? Especially
as Christians who live by the Apostle Paul's declaration that there is neither Jew nor
Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you're all one in Christ Jesus. Right?
As I've talked and listened to people around the country, one refrain that I hear from
some whites is that if you would just stop talking about race, the problem will go away.
But this mindset tends to ignore the fact that even if some of our problems with race
are exaggerated or unnecessarily imposed on certain situations, that that in itself is
a reflection of a racialized culture, of the racial barrier. Those perceptions matter.
They're very real.
Last week I was at a conference at Indiana Wesleyan University and a college student
there came up to my friend, Michael Emerson, the sociologist who wrote "Divided By Faith."
And she informed him, quite matter of factly, that people from her generation no longer
had problems with race. That it was primarily now the sort of baggage and residue of the
older generation of Americans. But Michael went on to show many of us there, later in
the conference, a PowerPoint slide.
And I don't know if you have it ready up there, but he showed us this slide of all the ways
that our nation is still racialized. That is, how it's influenced by or based upon racial
considerations. And everything from health care to obviously employment. Life expectancy,
the education system, clearly religion, property values. You know? Mortgage rates. It goes
on and on and on. Race still does matter and it's playing itself out every day in systemic
ways that we're just not even aware of, that we're not even thinking about. It's often
steeped in our economic structure. And then there's the infamous 11 o'clock Sunday morning
deal that Dr. King talked about, that most segregated hour in America. And four decades
later, if we look around at most of our evangelical churches on Sunday mornings, I think we can
now see a few exciting examples of multiracial, multi-class congregations.
But for the most part, we're as segregated as ever. Does that matter to us? Does it matter
that Heaven will be a multiracial and diverse and thoroughly integrated reality, but our
churches and Christian communities today, for the most part, are not? Does that trouble
us at all? Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
This afternoon, we read Jesus' prayer in John 17. And I'd like to return to that for a moment
this evening. In verses 20 through 23, Jesus prayed, "My prayer is not for them alone.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them
may be one. Father, just as you were in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so
that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave
me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought
to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you
have loved me."
So that the world may know. When we look at Christ pleading to the father on our behalf,
so that the world will know that God sent him. This is not us just sitting around campfires
singing Kumbaya. This is an incarnational, real world, tangible expression of Christ's
love. And when the world sees it, when the world sees that, that's some wild stuff. It's
more powerful than anything that we could ever preach at them. I heard a story not long after my book came
out from someone. They shared with me a story about a situation at a Christian college,
not unlike this one here.
A controversy sort of sprung up on the campus around the issue of chapel services. And the
preaching, you know, the choice of speakers, and the worship styles. And stuff that were
related to that. A group of some of the non-white students from different backgrounds sort of
came together and really had a concern that they took to the leaders. That we need more
diversity in our chapels. We need more expressions of the different racial and ethnic backgrounds
here. It needs to be more reflected in the people who speak here and in the music.
And it turned into this sort of uncomfortable thing, as they often do. But my friend overheard
the chapel director on the staff talking about this and sort of relating to a friend, the
controversy and how it was sort of upsetting things. And the thing that she remembers them
saying is, you know, "They're concerned about this and they're complaining about this, but
they need to stop looking at themselves. After all, it's not about them. It's about God.
It's all about God."
And there, certainly, is truth to that. It should be about Jesus. It should be about
God. But at the same time, what does that say about that community, and about those
relationships, and about preferring others before ourselves? And about that sense that
we get a greater, more complete picture of who God is, through the diversity of all the
folks in our community.
Yes, it's about God, but so is reconciliation. So is diversity. As I said this afternoon,
each race and culture offers a unique slice of God's image. And we need to worship together,
in order to fully experience God's image. We each have something very unique to bring.
And we need to know each other in order to truly know God in his fullness.
So, where do we go from here? There's a young man who I hope is here this evening, who asked
me after this afternoon's service, "It was good, what you said, but it was very broad,
in general. Are you going to really get real specific and provide some real solutions,
and some meat?"
No, I'll probably not. I'll use the journalist's cop-out, "I'm just a journalist. I specialize
in the problems. I like the reader to figure out what to do with the stuff after I'm gone."
I don't have a simple formula for healing our racial divide.
But I do know that this racial divide is not too wide for the cross. That divide is not
too wide for the cross. The same Jesus who interacted with that Samaritan woman, and
brought healing and good news to the rich and the poor, who is the holiest of all, but
wasn't too uppity to stoop down to dwell with the outcasts.
This is the Jesus that we need to draw closer to. And to follow the example of as we struggle
with these issues, as we attempt to bridge this division.
But there is good news. Fast forward ahead, flipping to the latter parts of your bible,
in Revelation 7, we're given this breathtaking view, this look, this sneak preview, at all
the nations joined together and united in praise. It's a sneak peek that isn't, I don't
think, given to us just to let us off the hook.
To say, "Oh, I guess we're going to figure it out, anyway." No, it's, I think, given
to us to motivate us. It's not when we get to heaven, and God will take care of all those
problems that we have here. But how are we living, right now?
We have a responsibility to live out the message, right now, on earth, as it is in heaven. This
life that we're living is not just a dress rehearsal for heaven. The choices that we
make today, the relationships that we invest in today, the bridges that we build today,
have eternal significance.
I love the scene, thinking about the diversity in the body. I love that scene in the second
Chapter of Acts, where the Holy Spirit comes over this multi-ethnic assembly of early Christians,
gathered in Jerusalem.
And the way the Spirit moved, and suddenly people were hearing things in their language
coming from folks who shouldn't be speaking their language. It was a powerful move of
the Spirit.
I don't know about you, but I love it at my church when... I go to a somewhat, multi-racial
church. It's mostly white, but we try to take baby steps towards being truly diverse, in
different ways in our worship.
And, sometimes, we'll sing a song like, "Open the Eyes of my Heart, Lord." We'll sing it
in English, and then we'll sing a verse in Spanish, and go back and forth. I just love
hearing that praise and that worship in different languages.
I was talking to someone earlier today about the experience at an inter-varsity Urbana
conference. How many of you have been to an Urbana conference, lately? It's a powerful
event, incredible worship, and very intentional, in terms of, how the experience is designed
to really shine the light on all the different communities and the diversities of folks.
Every night, sometimes, they'll have a different worship style. And we sang songs in Swahili,
and we saw Hawaiian dancers come and do their praise dances. Of course, we had some African-American
style choir worship in Spanish.
It was just an incredible event of diversity and worship. And hearing God's message, hearing
his name praised through those different languages was just powerful.
Right now, I go through these little phases. I love music, and different types of music.
Lately, I've discovered this singer, this Brazilian singer; Louisa Mitha. Is anyone
familiar with Louisa Mitha? I heard this story on NPR a few months back, talking about how
she's the new voice of Brazil, and this great singer.
And I got her album, and I've got it in my iPod, and I play it all the time. I'm listening,
and it's this beautiful music, sort of, a contemporary, jazzy, samba, sort of, thing.
It's amazing. I have no idea what she's saying. I don't speak Portuguese.
But I just listen and I'm entranced by the beauty and the passion. She could be talking
about dog food. [laughter] But it's just beautiful. Just thinking of, in the worship context,
how God can be praised through different languages.
That Acts two moment is pretty amazing, and what happened there with all those different
believers gathered. Just looking at it, real briefly, to conclude in verse seven of Acts
2; the people were completely amazed when they heard these languages coming from these
different people.
"How can this be?" they exclaimed. "These people are all from Galilee, and yet, we hear
them speaking in our own native languages. Here we are, Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites,
and people from Mesopotamia, and Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, the province of Asia."
"Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and other areas of Libya, around Cyrene and visitors from
Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans, and Arabs, and we hear all these people speaking
in our own languages about the wonderful things that God has done. And they stood there, amazed
and perplexed. "What can this mean, they asked each other?"
But I like verse 13 at the end there. "Others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, Ah, they're
just drunk. That's all."
What if people outside the church could say the same about us? Wouldn't that be great
if they could see us worshiping together, speaking each other's language, maybe, not
only linguistically, but in different ways?
Through music, and through taking the time to understand each other's culture, to know
each other's history, to know each other's stories, and, really, speaking each other's
language in a way that shows that we love each other, that we are one.
Let the world say, "Wow, that's some crazy stuff. They must be full of wine. They must
be drunk." But are we allowing the Holy Spirit to empower us to speak in other languages
that way? Do we love our brothers and sisters from different backgrounds enough that we
are willing to learn their language?
Do we care enough to learn about who they are and where they come from, to understand
them, to put them before ourselves? It's been said that the culture of God's kingdom is
a new culture.
It's not black. It's not white. It's not Hispanic. It's not Asian. It's not Native American.
It involves people of many different cultures, coming together to form something new. I would
pray for all of us tonight as we continue with this week and conclude tomorrow.
That we'll be able to step back and think about ways that we can learn to, really, not
only, listen to each other, but to learn to speak each other's language. To know each
other well enough that we want to enter in to that type of relationship, and community
with them.
God, help us. Help us to get to that place. Worship team, you can come up, now, as we
move into a time of prayer. And I just want to thank you. This is such a difficult topic,
and people from all different backgrounds are in this room, and are bringing different
things to the picture.
My prayer is that God will be able to take something that was said this evening, yesterday,
something that's coming up tomorrow, and challenge us in a way, to move us to that next place,
beyond this place of the blues of reconciliation, of the frustration, of the angst, to a place
of purpose and excitement, of joy, and of true community.
Would you pray with me? Gracious Father, we thank you so much, again, for the wonder of
your grace, the wonder of your sacrifice that you would give your only son to provide us
with a way to be reconnected to you.
And then to, then, through that transaction, be empowered to be your agents of salvation
in the world, and the culture. Father, help us not to take our responsibility for granted.
Help us not to take it lightly, that we are your ministers of reconciliation.
Go before us, Lord. Prepare us. Continue to challenge us, and to help us to grow tonight.
We pray that we will take the things that we have been learning, and that we will use
them to continue to build your kingdom. We pray, in Jesus name. Amen.
[applause]
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