Will the war of words ever stop? Criticisms abound in the rhetoric of politics, fights over building walls, spewing out words of discrimination against skin color and righteous indignation over who has the “right” interpretation of the Bible. Christians all over the world proclaim stories about God’s love and forgiveness and their personal relationship with God. Other stories infiltrate news and social media regarding the decline of church attendance because people are turned off by the divisive words and actions by people of faith. A familiar sight around ball games, stamped under player’s eyes and splashed on billboards around the country is a go-to the biblical verse of John 3:16. Are you familiar with the words, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Like many children, who attended Sunday school, I had to memorize and recite these words throughout my childhood. This verse is so familiar to most of us that it might be easy to gloss over its radical meaning. It says “whoever” believes in Jesus, will be with God through eternity.” It does not say, whoever is from a certain denomination, religious affiliation, a certain color or creed, or with the correct interpretation of the Bible gets a free pass into the kingdom. It might come as a shock that with that one word, whoever, God is going to great lengths to spend forever with us. These familiar words are not about what we have to do to earn grace and mercy. It is God’s free gift to us!
Through the years of my childhood, outside of traveling to visit relatives in Iowa, my world stayed pretty much the same. Following my marriage at the very young age of nineteen, we moved to a town near Madison, WI. This is where my small worldview began to crack with my first glimpse of black people. I was fascinated to say the least! All I wanted to do was stare at them so I will admit to hiding behind plants and peeking around corners to freely observe them. Questions exploded in my brain! What made the color of their dark skin so different than mine? Why were there so many different shades of the same color and why were the palms of their hands lighter than the rest of their body? Lastly, my attention riveted to their curly hair. My hands itched to touch it. The texture was so foreign and different than my long blonde locks. My innocent observation and questions were pure and without prejudice. I was not afraid just curious. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for me to recognize prejudices of inequality between races/cultures and regretfully take part in some actions based on my in-actions.
Thank goodness for my college and seminary training, which threw open the world to me. I sat side-by-side with people of different races, beliefs and cultures from Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, and Ghana and Korea. Each contributed their ideas and experiences based on their heritage. The term Christianity grew rich in meaning and diversity. We shared the communion table together as one family of different races, cultures, sexual orientation, genders, and faith practices without prejudice. Recently, I was reminded that the communion table is God’s table not ours. God invites all people to the table of grace. We go to the table in our messes, kneel in God’s Holy presence and stand washed in God’s grace and love. I rejoice that Jesus died for us! Arose for us! By his great love, mercy and grace he opened the floodgates to whoever, no restrictions of color, gender, sexual orientation or religious affiliations or beliefs. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Amen.