This is a thematic sermon for One World Sunday. We had a speaker who had spent two months working on a project in Kenya which is being sponsored by churches in our circuit. The speaker showed us photographs of people working, shopping, learning, building homes, etc. The scripture used in our service was Galatians 3:23-29 and Mark 10:13-16.
I was 9 years old in 1966. Cleveland, the city in which I was living, was at the time the tenth largest city in the United States. During the summer of that year, Cleveland, like many cities in the United States endured five days of race riots.
The riot itself was sparked off by an incident when an African-American man was told to leave a pub because they did not serve blacks. But like many an incident when social tension erupts into violence, there was almost certainly not one single cause.
I’m equally certain in my own mind that the main cause was the gross inequality in living conditions between African-Americans and white Americans at that time.
I’m not claiming that all inequality has gone in my lifetime, but I do want to testify as a witness to what I observed back then. Even as a child, I understood that people with different coloured skins had two different sets of living conditions. If I sometimes wondered why this should be so, adults would tell me that ‘They don’t need as much to live on as we do.’
The 'brotherhood of man'
This morning, Sue has talked to us about the people of Omwabini and the similarities of our lives.
Once you get to know people, we all have the same basic needs and desires. We all need a roof over our heads, we all need food in our stomachs, we all need basic hygiene and we all need healthcare. We all need to earn a living and many of us have the hope and aspiration that our children will be educated so that they can live productive lives.
One of the most important things we can do if we want to live out the great commandment to love our neighbour as ourself is to put ourselves in their shoes and really understand that every single person is like us. In other words, the most important thing we can do is to try to empathise with another person. To understand that just because a person falls into a category that we consider as being ‘other’ that it’s not true that their needs are less than ours.
If we’re reminiscing back to the 1960s, another favourite phrase of the era was the phrase ‘The brotherhood of man’. As corny as the phrase may sound today, and even though it was not a phrase invented by or used by the Christian church, the phrase communicates a central Christian truth: That all people equally precious and beloved in the eyes of God.
There are some Christians who think that the idea of the equality of all people before God is a ‘worldy’ idea and that the primary duty of the Christian church isn’t to try to break down categories of ‘us and them’ but to try build them up in order to maintain the purity of the church. If we believe this, then I think we’ve missed the significance of Jesus’ life, mission and teaching.
God’s universal offer of love
In the ancient world, there were three ideas about how the heavenly realms operated.
The first idea was that there were many gods in heaven and that each tribe or nation had its own god. The gods, just like the people they ruled over, might fight each other. This was basically humans bringing the human idea of ‘us and them’ into the divine realm.
Another option – held in a number of cultures and not just by ancient Israel – was to believe in one Supreme God who loves only my nation. So, for instance, the Masai believe that there is only one God and that He protects the Masai and that he aids them in battle against their enemies.
Many Jewish people invoked this idea of God during Jesus’ time and we even get this idea today – witness George Bush’s suggestion that America is engaged in a war against Islam and that God is on America’s side.
The third option is the belief that there is one God who is the God of all peoples, all tribes and nations. This isn’t a modern picture of God as some people might claim. Along with the two other views, we see it already in the Old Testament. The covenant with Noah and then with Abraham is viewed by both Jews and Christians as being indications of God’s universal offer of his love to all people.
And Jesus models this picture of God’s universal love by deliberately violating all the established codes designed to designate who was an ‘outsider’. He violated the ‘us and them’ codes when he ate with tax-collectors, when he talked with and touched women and when he healed lepers.
Jesus taught that there is no person to whom God will not extend his love. There is no tribe or skin-colour or age that puts us beyond the possibility of being blessed by God. There is no gender or disability that puts us beyond the possibility of being gifted by God. There is no life situation, no past sin that put us beyond the possibility of being forgiven by God.
The Gospel makes here-and-now demands
If we are true disciples of Jesus, it won’t do to proclaim the message of a ‘spiritual’ Gospel and then ignore the consequence of the Gospel message in the here and now. As Christians, we are called to proclaim the good news of God’s offer of forgiveness to all people. We are called to make disciples for Christ.
But, equally importantly, we are also called to show the love of God in a practical way. The practical consequence of believing that God offers his love to all people is that our offers of help are not to be restricted only to those who are Christians or who we expect might become Christians. Nor is our charity to be restricted to people like us.
We are called to offer our prayers, our time and our talents for the good of all people.
As we celebrate One World Week, let’s remember Sue’s talk this morning and reflect on the fact that all people everywhere have the same basic needs and the same God-given humanity.
Let’s remember that there is no category of people who needs less than we do, no category of people who is inferior to anyone else and no category of people who is beyond the love of God. And let’s keep in our prayers all those who suffer because someone believes that their lives are less valuable than other lives.
Let’s pray for the peace of God and for his Kingdom to come quickly. Let’s pray for everlasting life for all people and for life before death for those who do not yet have it.