A Ministry of Reconciliation
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” — 2 Corin 5: 17-19 NRSV
As a child I read the Bible through a different lens.
Early on, I understood the gospels account of Jesus as the portrait of a man concerned with the spiritual and physical reality people lived in. I was arrested by the moments when he sat to feed his listeners hungry souls with truth and their stomachs with fish and bread. I internalized the message as one concerned with a persons total well-being. Then, for me, it was not either or but both and. That is, we as followers of Jesus must commit ourselves to a ministerial vision that mirrors his – serving food that satisfies spiritual and physical hunger. We must care not just for the soul but the body.
While the Apostle Paul devalues the physical body calling it a mere “jar of clay (2 Corinthians 4:17),” let it be understood that these jars have been thoughtfully crafted by God’s hand exclusively. Indeed, we’re all created in the image and likeness of God. Consequently, living into a gospel message that affirms the body is our challenge against looming marketing ads and media campaigns that tell us were too short, tall, dark-skinned or full-figured. Reaffirming the fact that we’re all “fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14 NRSV)” is our call. However, it’s going to take a committed effort towards reconciliation in order to reaffirm God’s beauty through our bodies – and particularly, the bodies of persons who are marginalized, oppressed, and subjugated.
Growing up in a diverse community I learned to appreciate cultural differences. I look back on my childhood and smile as I think how fortunate I was to be encapsulated in a womb filled with such diversity. Nevertheless, as I grew into adulthood it became clear that not everyone welcomed diversity and inclusion as I had been taught to. Slowly my eyes opened to the reality of implicit biases, prejudices and racism.
Subtle comments and nonverbal cues reminded me that I was a black man – and that what came along with that was certain stereotypes. Our sordid American history has framed black men as brut, beastial, sub-human, hyper sexual and aggressive. Centuries of propaganda supporting these erroneous claims have led to less-than stellar attitudinal behaviors and treatment of the same.
America’s historical gross mishandling of those who have been created in the image and likeness of God, is in part, the root cause of today’s unrest.
I’m not a thug, aggressive, unruly or belligerent. In fact, my friends often share how my welcoming heart overextends to people whose intent may not be so advantageous. Call it a character flaw or whatever you will, I just believe that as followers of Jesus we are called to love – even those the world has categorized as unloveable. Indeed, I and countless other people of color defy the stereotypes heaped upon us by fear and ignorance.
In no uncertain terms have I been reminded that I am black – a black male. As I grew in ministry, I began to recognize the importance of preaching liberation theology and a social gospel. Afterall, it was how I understood the work of Jesus Christ in my youth. However, what I noticed was that preaching about relevant issues like the senseless killing of unarmed black men and women and structural racism that targets people of color was a theologically, politically and socially dividing line. I have been called an angry black preacher, accused of preaching secularism, and many other pejorative names all because of my commitment to stand in solidarity with persons who are oppressed. I’d be lying if I said some of the comments didn’t sting – because they did. They were intended to. But, what I believe resonates from a place within that I didn’t even know existed. I now understand how Jeremiah must have felt when he said:
“if I say, I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” — Jeremiah 20:9 NRSV
As I considered how I may stand more faithfully in my heritage, advocacy and call to ministry, I concluded that I must have a ministry of reconciliation. This means standing side by side with Christians of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and lived experiences to create a beloved community which recognizes that until all of us are free, none of us are free.
The Racial Reconciliation Experience held at the National Youth Workers Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio was a reminder that we are all called to do what Jesus did – reconcile. He worked until his death reconciling families, the ostracized back into community, and humanity back into fellowship with God. Then, so must we. We must go and do likewise. We must work to undo white supremacist ideology and deconstruct every system that seeks to subjugate any human being. Wherever we find ourselves and from whatever platforms we proclaim the liberating message of Jesus we must remind our listeners that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).” Then, reconciliation is possible only when we allow his ethics to become ours – his morals to become ours.
As we worshipped together at NYWC, I imagined how our praise rose to God’s ears not as a color but a sound. When we move beyond the racial constructions that have divided us Jesus’ prayer will be answered.
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” — John 17:20-23 NRSV
Even so, God make us one.
Dawrell Rich is an author, pastor and public speaker. He is also the founder of Joshua’s House—a youth and young adult leadership organization that focuses on mentoring, community service, health & wellness and education. WWW.DAWRELLRICH.COM Twitter: @DAWRELLRICH FB: DAWRELLGRICH
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