I had the privilege this past weekend to lead worship at a local church here in Cleveland that I had previously visited as a part of my research for my master’s thesis. It was a blast, what an encouraging group of people! The preacher there, Chip Freed, is one my favorite local preachers. He has a very unique way of preaching that is at once exegetical, relevant, comical, anointed, and told in such a way that it seems like one long story.
This most recent sermon was based on a text I have read and studied many times, Acts 16:11 and following. This text covers the conversion of Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and a slave girl who was demon-possessed. The way that Chip approached this text was both powerful and thought-provoking for me. In an almost inductive way, the real PUNCH of the sermon came at the end, along with an “Aha!” moment.
Paul, once of the strictest orders of Jews, would have said an interesting prayer every morning, the same one that some Jewish men still say today: “Blessed are you, (Yahweh), King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile. Blessed are you, (Yahweh), King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave. Blessed are you, (Yahweh), King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.” Try saying that at your church this weekend!
Did you notice something, though? Who does Luke (the writer of Acts) highlight as the first three conversions in Philippi? Oh snap! A woman, a Gentile, and a slave!!!! Take THAT religious leaders of the first century!!
And then it hit me. What was God doing there? I never like to assume that I know what God was doing (you know what assuming does), but if you take another look at those accounts, it looks an awful lot like God is trying to tell us something. He took the three lowest of the low classes of that time (to the Jews), and brought them before Paul in Philippi as his first converts. What’s more, God extended grace to them each in a different way, as if He actually cares about each person individually and knows how they might respond best to His love and good news.
So going back to it hitting me. Why did it get me so? I started to think, “Hey, who do I thank God that I am not?” Of course, we may not actually pray prayers like that (or we might, you never know). But you know you think it. I think it. We think it. Maybe it may go something like this in the American church today: “Blessed are you, God, King of the Universe, for not having made me…a homosexual…a person on welfare…an illegal immigrant…(you fill in the blank.”
Ouch. Are we really that far removed from the first century? I read a great article in the Forum section of Cleveland’s paper, The Plain Dealer, a few Sundays ago. It was an article by a very educated, bright, African-American man about what the state of racism is today in America. He started with the feel-good stuff, pointing out how far we’ve come in overcoming black-white racism in most of the country, and how the glass ceiling for blacks has all but shattered with Obama being president, and so on.
But then he points out the elephant in the room. We may have all but put racism as we knew it to death, but classism is alive and well my friends. Well-to-do blacks and other minorities may be accepted, but not our inner-city poor black brothers. The same might be said for “white trash,” “illegal immigrants,” and you get the point. We still play the class game 2000 years after Acts 16 was written.
This article was written from a non-believing perspective, but we as the Church (see the big C there?) should be on the cutting edge of accepting everyone no matter who they are.
Who do we play the “class” game with? I’m ashamed at my answers…how about you?
More to come in part II…