@robertkwendt || lead pastor
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, a reverend by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech. In it he said, "I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
Growing up, I was taught about people like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and other charismatic leaders in school. I even journeyed down Rosa Parks Boulevard in Detroit from time to time. At church, I was taught about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. As I looked out at my suburban church of mostly white, financially stable men and women, I began to reflect on how the church is so divided.
Following his famous “I have a dream” speech, King was asked to speak at Western Michigan University. It was during a question-and-answer session that he said these words:
“We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing, and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic.”
Fast forward 55 years, and this quote still rings true. The church is divided. According to a survey done by LifeWay Research, more than 8 in 10 congregations are made up of one predominant racial group.
Heaven looks vastly different than most of our churches today (see Revelation 7:9). But how do we get that picture? How do we have churches that look more like those gathered around the throne of God in heaven? It begins by following the example of Jesus.
a divide between people.
When Jesus walked the earth, there was a big racial divide between the Jewish people and the Samaritans (Jesus was of Jewish decent). The divide is discussed in 2 Kings 17:24-41. Long story short, a group of Jews were taken into slavery by the Assyrians. Some weren't made slaves, but they were still a part of the Assyrian kingdom. The Assyrians then influenced these people by bringing their gods with them as well as intermarrying with the former Jews. This group became known as the Samaritans. From that time on, the Jews felt that the Samarians had betrayed God. They would not dare to even consider entering the region of Samaria and went out of their way to avoid this people group.
However, Jesus did something absolutely mindblowing. He went right into Samaria and even talked with a Samaritan woman. (See John 4)
4 steps to bringing unity.
In his interaction with the Samaritan woman, Jesus gave us four steps to establishing unity in our world today.
1. FIND COMMON GROUND (John 4:5-7)
Jesus met the woman at Jacob's well. This was a well-respected location for both the Jews and Samaritans. Their ancestors had always referred back to the stories of Jacob. They both had respect for the common history and what God had done for the Israelites.
As human beings, we have a lot of common ground. We are all 99% the same; very little separates us from one another. Think about when a doctor goes to do an operation—do they think of skin color or appearance? No. They know that, for the most part, what they will see inside is the same as other human beings.
We also have common ground when it comes to our need for belonging, food, shelter, and spiritual needs. We all want to add value while being valued.
As Jesus found common ground with the Samaritan woman, we can find common ground with one another.
2. DISARM NAYSAYERS (John 4:8, 27)
John records the disciples' reaction to Jesus' interaction with the woman as follows in John 4:27:
"Just then, his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, 'What do you want with her?' or 'Why are you talking to her?'"
Sometimes, our closest friends and family have those same type of thoughts when we interact with others outside of our group. It's the 'out of the ordinary' which naturally puts people on edge. Jesus knew this tension ahead of time, so he sent the disciples to go grab lunch.
"He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food." (John 4:8)
When we have naysayers around us, people who don't want to break down barriers, then we need to simply disarm them by sending them away. Tell them to go get some lunch.
3. BE AUTHENTIC (John 4:9)
The woman asked Jesus why he, a Jew, would have anything to do with her, a Samaritan. There was something about Jesus that told her immediately that he was Jewish. It could've been the way he looked, talked, or acted. Whatever the case, Jesus didn't hide being Jewish in order to interact with a Samaritan. He was himself.
In the same way, we need to be ourselves. God created us the way he did for a reason. I didn't choose my skin color, God did. That's all the more reason I should embrace who I am rather than try to hide it.
Too often we put up taller walls of segregation because we're being fake rather than authentic. No one likes fake. Fake doesn't translate into credible. If anyone senses inauthenticity, it ruins our ability to have genuine love for one another. Be you.
4. SPEAK GOD'S TRUTH (John 4:19-26)
The woman mentioned a divide between the Jews and Gentiles.
"So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?" (John 4:20)
In other words, tradition is what she was holding onto as the difference. Jesus didn't respond with a soft, beating-around-the-bush answer. He spoke God's truth.
"But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way." (John 4:23)
Our traditions will cause us to have different thoughts, but that doesn't mean we are right. When we can look to God together—when we see his will—then we are able to find the real truth.
|| challenge ||
Have a real, genuine conversation with someone with a different skin color than your own. See where it leads. Maybe you'll make a new friend!