This past Sunday, in our latest sermon series, Ephesians 2 showed us how the varied bloodlines of humanity – which produced racial, ethnic, religious, national hostilities because of our sinful hearts – can taste unity and peace ONLY through the perfect bloodline of Jesus. This isn’t just something “out there” to tsk at. This is personal because each of us has “strands” of thought and behavior that, woven together, become something strong and potentially destructive – seeds of self-righteousness that can grow into full-blown racism. At root, disdain for others and outright hostility flow out of that self-righteousness: a belief that “I am right. You/They are wrong.” We said that the Gospel pulls the rug out from under each of us because God-through-Scripture says “There is no one who does good, not even one.” No one is right! Except the righteous One himself, Jesus, whose death makes real Peace possible – between God and humanity, and among humanity.
None of us have anything to boast about, and therefore, none of us have any grounds for disdaining others, for thinking them lesser, for criticizing another culture/race. That’s how hostility is put to death. So the Church, for whom Christ died, should be characterized by peace and unity-in-diversity. And the Church should become the greatest agent of peace in the world!
How can we do that, starting inside our walls? Here are some practical thoughts, more than I had time to share on Sunday, but just a starting point:
First, not necessarily directly tied to peace-from-hostility… we regularly have a LOT of new people visiting GRC. Putting self-righteousness to death involves cultivating an other-focus, an imitation of Jesus who came not “to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Look out for someone who’s not engaged in conversation, who might seem uncertain about where to go. My best tip for greeting someone you don’t know is this: “Hi I’m Peter, I don’t think we’ve met.” And also “How long have you been coming to Grace Redeemer?”
Be careful that you don’t always gravitate toward people of the same race. There’s natural comfort and familiarity there. It’s not necessarily prejudice or outright racism, but those are the strands we talked about. Don’t let them twist together and gain strength. Be mindful of your subconscious bias. And one good way to guard against that bias, is to intentionally move toward people who are different.
The Welcome Team, by the way, can always use new volunteers. The job is simple! Be friendly/helpful, answer simple questions or direct people to someone who can answer. Email Welcome@graceredeemer.com if you have any questions!
Taking initiative with people who are different may (probably will) require more effort, more humility, more relational energy. But we’re called to imitate the love of Christ, which is not BECAUSE OF, but is IN SPITE OF. We’re not lovable, and yet Christ loved us to the point of death. So don’t let your friendliness be limited to those who affirm you, who fit you, who complement you. That would be loving “because of,” because in a sense, those people “deserve” your attention.
Look out for those who can easily be unnoticed and even forgotten. Is someone sitting alone? Ask if the seat next to them is taken (leave one seat, lest they be freaked out by personal-space-violation : >) If there’s a consistent pattern of no one sitting next to a single person, a single-mom, a widow… even if that’s unintentional, they may begin to feel like they’re being scorned, avoided, ignored. What a tragedy! But one that’s easily avoided.
Practice hospitality. Invite people over. Include people different than you. Be very intentional about the mix of guests. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out because the three single people and the 2 (insert culture/race here) couples you’ve invited can’t make it. But keep trying! An easy way to engage in hospitality (or experience it) is to sign up for the Dinner 8s which will be held on Sat Oct 20th.
And, of course, immerse yourself in the truth of Scripture. It will expose your self-righteousness and lead you to Christ’s righteousness. With nothing to boast about except Christ, and Him crucified, your love for others can’t help but overflow.
Peter Wang is our Senior Pastor.