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Jesus' Message: You Are One With Everyone

Yes. Tear Down That Wall of Bitterness: a Reflection on Psalm 51:1-12, Hebrews 5:5-10 and John 12:20-33

Lent is forty days of reflection and preparation before the celebration of Easter that begins on Ash Wednesday. We are well into those forty days. By observing Lent, Christians focus on Jesus’ baptism, temptation in the wilderness and his earthly obedience. Lent is marked by lament, fasting, forgiveness, confession of sin and repentance. Keep focused, my friends. Today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent.

Repentance is the most powerful expression of the transforming power of God in and through Jesus Christ. Lives change. Yours, mine and others. John Perkins retells the following story of the power of repentance:

The movie Woodlawn is a beautiful story of how the gospel sparked a spiritual awakening that tore down walls of hate and prejudice in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1973. Violence in the city was so rampant because of integration and busing that the FBI considered closing Woodlawn High School. But there was a chaplain who shared the gospel with the football team. Almost every player accepted Christ as Savior. After finding a “white power” sign behind the gym, the chaplain challenged them that “Jesus, and what’s written on this paper cannot coexist.”.…The players decided to love one another. They linked arms, black and white players were seen fellowshipping together at home meetings through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The coach accepted Christ when he saw what was happening with his players. And the revival spread through the entire city of Birmingham.[1]

Speaking the truth of the gospel changes things. John M. Perkins writes don’t try “to escape those who don’t look like you…speak truth to power.”[2] Repentance begins when we have a consciousness that something is wrong. Think for a moment. Is something quite not right with congregational vitality, structural racism and systemic poverty? If you say “yes,” seek God for how you can begin the process of lament and repentance to become a part of the solution.

Psalm 51:1-12, Hebrews 5:5-10 and John 12:20-33 proclaim that being mentored in the Christian faith through the reading, teaching and preaching of God’s written Word is imperative for maturing in Christ.

Psalm 51:1-12 models the practice of confession. Psalm 51:1-2 reads “Have Mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.”

Hebrews 5:5-10 assures believers that their salvation is real, and one will not lose it. Why? We identify with Jesus who is the ultimate high priest. Hebrews 5:5-6 reads, “…Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you. You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’”

John 12:20-33 focuses on the grandeur of God’s plan of salvation. It demonstrates the importance of the horrific suffering and injustice Jesus endured for you, me and every human. The text occurs during the Passover festival. Passover celebrates the death of all the first-born which God inflicted upon the Egyptians in the book of Exodus. Passover commemorates God passing over the Israelites during the final plague. The Jewish people celebrate their deliverance, but in this case, Jesus had just entered Jerusalem and he would reframe Passover in that he becomes the perfect Lamb to accomplish forgiveness for God’s people. Yes, faith in Christ then and now is the way to ultimate deliverance from the power of sin. John 12:31 reads, “‘Now is the judgement of the world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” When Jesus’ triumph over death becomes normative we will resist doing business as usual. We will resist doing church as usual. We will want to overcome everything that degrades and denies true human flourishing.[3]

Say YES to love. Say YES to ending bitterness. Leading with love and inclusion builds a multicultural congregation which then builds congregational vitality, dismantles structural racism and eradicates systemic poverty. The multicultural “us” builds significant inroads to meet real needs of real people who live in a real world. Again, John M. Perkins writes, “It took a while to convince people that this was really our heart…We cried out to God many years ago and asked Him to send us people—and He did…So we are grateful that we reflect the kingdom of God and we reflect the heart of the Father.”[4] We need to end being bitter people. Bitterness is a form of hate.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is on the cutting age of change. On this Fifth Sunday in Lent be reminded to focus on building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. Humanity will benefit from these three initiatives. However, it is only in and through Jesus Christ that we begin to see these initiatives as kingdom/kindom building principles not part of a political agenda. As Christians we desire congregational vitality as do all who worship in their traditions value synagogue, mosque and temple vitality. We are one blood, one race and should work at dismantling structures of racism. We all share the earth’s resources and are to eradicate systems that keep people in poverty. Build congregational vitality. Dismantle structural racism. Eradicate systemic poverty. My friends say yes. Tear down that wall of bitterness that separates you from others.

[1]John M. Perkins, One Blood (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 2018) adapting the story from Suzanne Niles, “Director Jon Erwin Shares the Amazing True Story Behind ‘Woodlawn,’” Sonoma Christian Home, October 28, 2015, 113 and 196. [2]John M. Perkins, One Blood, 123. [3]In the four paragraphs of textual analysis above, I have benefited from the thinking of Kimberly R. Wagner, Jerry L. Sumney, Anna M. V. Bowden, Diane G. Chen and David Dark in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020), 95-98, 99-101, 101-102, 103-105 and 105-106. [4]John M. Perkins, One Blood, 123.

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