Unity in Christ

I shared this message with my church community tonight, being with the music video Brother, by The Brilliance

What is it with us humans and liking to create walls between us? Or about classing ourselves differently, and saying “I’m better than you”? I’ve just finished an assignment this week on the letter of James, and as a class we spent a little bit of time on a section with the subheading ‘Favouritisim Forbidden’ or ‘Warning against Partiality’. Reading from James chapter 2 it says,

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

A challenge for the people at the time was that they were creating divides amongst themselves based on whether they were rich or poor. And what can then happen is that over time, the divides become bigger, the rich become richer and the poor become poorer.

In the church calendar today is referred to as Reconciliation Sunday. It’s part of National Reconciliation Week, which this year started yesterday and runs through to next Saturday. The aim of the week is to celebrate and build on the respectful relationships shared by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians. This year Reconciliation Week coincides with three significant anniversaries:

  1. The 20th anniversary of the historic “Bringing Them Home” report into the Stolen Generation, commemorated on National Sorry Day, on Friday.
  2. The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were finally counted as Australian citizens, was yesterday.
  3. The 25th anniversary of the famous ‘Mabo’ case in the High Court, which overturned the myth of “terra nullius” and declared Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to be the Traditional Owners of the land, will be next Saturday.

Today’s bible reading from Ephesians 2 begins with division. Verse 12 reads,

“Remember that at that time you [referring to the Gentiles, those not Jewish by birth] were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (emphasis my own)

However, the passage continues, speaking of unity in Christ …

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

The barrier is gone. It’s like the lyrics from the song Brother, by The Brilliance,

When I look into the face

Of my enemy

I see my brother

In early April I was part of a small group of people, mostly from the Uniting Church, who went over to Port Augusta for the weekend to spend time with some of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. This group, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, is also referred to as the UAICC or you may have simply heard about them as ‘Congress’. They are the indigenous arm of the Uniting Church. If you haven’t heard about Congress before, or the covenantal agreement between them and the Uniting Church before, I’d challenge you to go online and have a look on the Uniting Church website. While we were in Port Augusta we listened to stories about how some of the members there see the covenantal agreement the UCA is involved in, and what some of their experiences of racism have been. We played with some of their kids. We cooked kangaroo tail stew and damper on a bonfire. We participated in their Palm Sunday worship service (with gum leaves rather than palm leaves in true bush fashion). We experienced a new definition of family, inclusion, and safe place.

And that was the biggest thing that I came away with, a new definition of family, inclusion, and safe place. When I was preparing this sermon I actually had to stop and reflect on that for a bit. We went over and into their church, and they made us feel like family. And if you were to ask some of those incredible people I met over there why or how that is possible, I think that they would respond with that it is possible by, in and through Christ.

Ephesians 2:14…

“For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”

Christ breaks down the walls and barriers that we place between each other. In writing this letter, the author declares that Christ is the power of God which broke down the dividing wall of hostility which existed between the Jews and the Gentiles of his day. Likewise, Christ is among us to break down the dividing wall which separates Indigenous and non-indigenous people. Through Christ we can be one. Through the suffering of Christ we can be reconciled. And that process of healing has begun. Christ is calling us, inviting us to be a part of that healing, that reconciliation.

And part of that healing and breaking down of walls is the hope of the covenantal agreement between the Uniting Church and Congress. Throughout the Bible God made numerous covenants with his people. Maybe the best well known is the one that rainbows are to remind us of. After the flood God said to Noah, “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Jesus brought a new covenant with him as well, he reconciles people to God in one body through the cross.

The covenanting statement between the Uniting Church and Congress is simply a statement of agreement or promise between First and Second Peoples, it is a commitment to a respectful and reciprocal relationship together where we sit with, listen to and learn from each. That the walls might come down and there will be reconciliation of both groups to God in one body, through what Christ did on the cross. There are some beautiful lines about this in a church document called the Basis of Union. The significance of that document isn’t important for this message, but I think some of its words are. “Christians in Australia are called to bear witness to a unity of faith and life in Christ which transcends cultural and economic, national and racial boundaries… God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end: to be a fellowship of reconciliation.”

It’s the rest of the lyrics to the song Brother…

Forgiveness is the garment

Of our courage

The power to make the peace

We long to know

Open up our eyes

To see the wounds that bind

All of humankind

May our shutter hearts

Greet the dawn of life

With charity and love

And that’s possible because of Christ.

In the book Rainbow Spirit Theology (p71-72), George Rosendale tells a story about the black and white cockatoos, and how reconciliation was effected among them. I thought I might finish by sharing it…

The cockatoos were brothers who lived long ago. When they became me, the black cockatoo realized he was different. He did not like it. He became very angry with his father because he made him black. He decided to change the way things were. One day he was found by his brother the white cockatoo, sitting under a tree, very upset and angry. ‘What is the matter with you, my brother?’ he asked.

‘I’m very angry with my father,’ he answered. ‘He made you white and he made me black. I don’t like it. I’m going to change my colour.’

He went to his uncle who lived over the range. He asked him for honey and clay. His uncle gave him what he wanted. He took the clay and made it into powder; then he put the honey all over himself and sprinkled the powdered clay over the honey. He looked at himself and said: ‘Now I am like my brother.’

His grandfather, the storm bird, was very angry with the foolish brother. He called the North wind to bring rain. The monsoons came, and it rained and rained and rained, and washed all the clay and honey away.

Later, his brother found him again sitting under the tree, angry, sad and sorry for himself. He said, ‘My brother, you did a foolish thing to hurt our father. We are his sons. He made both of us and he loves us. Come on, be happy! Our father loves you just as much as he loves me. We both belong to him. Be happy and rejoice.’

To this day the black cockatoos are happy. They even sing while flying and eating.

Jesus has broken the barrier that kept us away from our Father and from each other. Because of Christ, when we look into the face of another, we can see a brother or a sister.

Let us pray…

Lord God, bring us together as one,

Reconciled with you and with each other.

You made us in your likeness.

You gave us your Son, Jesus Christ.

He has given us forgiveness from sin.

Lord God, bring us together as one,

Different in culture, but given new life in Jesus Christ:

Together as your body, your church, your people.

Lord God, bring us together as one,

Reconciled, healed, forgiven,

Sharing you with others as you have called us to do.

In Jesus Christ, let us be together as one.

 

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