Events of recent days have highlighted present and historical injustices; they have thrown into the light very real wrongs in our societies and people have rightly and understandably wanted to make a stand.
‘So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’ Galatians 3:26-29
I have found myself rather disturbed by the events over the past weekends. I fully agree that black lives matter – and the injustice many have faced is appalling. At one Diocesan conference in Long Island, I was chatting with an elder African American minister from a parish in Queens. He put his arm around my shoulder and gently, lovingly but very firmly told me that I had no idea what it was like to be black in the city of New York in the 60 and 70’s and to have grown up in a culture of oppression, or to know what it still like for him and his grandchildren today. He was quite right – I do not have a clue. When I think back to how things were when I grew up in the 70’s, and what was considered acceptable and normal then, we have come on a long journey. There has been such progress, and there is still a long way to go to ensure that no one is judged, mistreated, or overlooked because of how they look, or as Martin Luther King famously put it:
‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’ Martin Luther King Jr 1963
We are not there yet – not any of us….
As Christians we are called to pray and listen to God, to open our hearts to His heart and stand up for those oppressed. We are to search our souls and our attitudes and see where we have failed to live up to Christ’s call to us, to repent and turn to Him. In this time after Pentecost we are reminded that we have His Holy Spirit within us. We have the Counsellor, the Comforter, and we are told that as Christians we can have the mind of Christ. We have the Bible, God’s love letter to us, to guide us in our thinking and to keep us on the right path, as we walk with Jesus on this road and journey through life. We have to let Jesus lead us, not reject our Christian heritage, and find the road of reconciliation and freedom that does not bring division or polarise people into victims or oppressors, or fail to recognise our shared path.
We have to find Christ’s way of turning the tables, not the violence of a mob, of anger and bitterness.
The apostle Paul wrote these words:
‘Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’ Colossians 3:1
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he is instructing them on how to no longer live as slaves to the world they are living in, but to live in the freedom of Christ’s heavenly reality – alive in Him. In this Kingdom of God there is no distinction between the races, or backgrounds, upbringing or even past history, but as we come to Christ, we are united in Him.
‘Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all’ Colossians 3:11
As I read this and pondered upon Paul’s words earlier this week, I suddenly realised that despite the familiarity of the words I had no idea who a Scythian was and why they were singled out in this list.
If you google Scythian, they are described as the nomadic warriors known for their fighting skills on horseback, who came from southern Siberia. The British Museum had an exhibition all about them and their culture in 2017. Their lifestyle was about as different from that of Paul’s and his reader’s in the cultured Roman city of Colossae as we can imagine. The Scythians travelled everywhere on horseback, left no written records, formed no cities, were ruthlessly effective in battle, making trophies out the bodies of their foes, were known for their drunkenness and the Greeks even used their name to describe the scalping of a victim. Yet to Paul, they could have an equal place in the kingdom of God with Christ. Paul emphasises that no matter our background, gender, race, culture or status, we are one in Christ. This was in stark contrast to both the Greek and Jewish dominant culture of the time. Racism has no place in the kingdom of God. So, what then should our response be to the events enfolding around us?
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14
How do we respond? We declare that we are all one, united, in this together. We recognise that we are all on a journey to eradicate the injustices of the past, not to airbrush history, vilify certain groups, or judge those who have gone before with the attitudes of today. Most importantly we must not allow the situation to turn people against each other. Instead we listen to the stories of those oppressed, to try to imagine what it is like to live as they lived. We look at ourselves carefully and remember that in Christ we are one, united and joined together in His love.
Our society is built on Christian values; it, like us, is far from perfect and is transformed over time.
‘But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.’ Colossians 3:8-10
We have to be careful how we look at the past and not rewrite history by the standards of our times, yet we have to own our part of the problem. Paul joins the barbarian with the Scythian, with the Jew and the Gentile, and says we are all one. There is a fine line between protesting and rebellion. Paul exhorted change and never sought conflict, but pointed all to Christ.
‘Let the Peace of Christ dwell in your hearts…’ Colossians 3:19
I am, and will be praying for our nation that we walk the Christian path. That we can listen to each other, respect the past and the progress we have made, yet continue together in transforming our society to be more fair, more accepting of one another, less judgemental and empower everyone to grow into a relationship and knowledge of the saviour of the whole world – Jesus Christ, and of His love for us all.
Revd Stuart Huntley
‘Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.’ Colossians 3:1-19