There is an old joke that goes:
“What kind of car did the disciples drive?”
“I don’t know. What kind?”
“A Honda. They were all together in one accord.” (Acts 2:1)
I hear you rolling your eyes.
The joke may be a corny church joke, but it also contains an important scriptural message. One we need now more than ever. That lesson is unity through reconciliation via The Word (Jesus Christ).
This past month, we have seen levels of discord and outright violence between the members of the African American community and police as well as unprecedented violence against police while they were protecting the rights of those African Americans to protest. While many have condemned the violence, the events have forced into specific relief a gap we thought long since closed. Our country is far from solving the “issue of race.” What’s more, the church has ignored its injurious effects for too long. After all, it is telling that the most segregated hour each week in our nation continues to be 11 am Sunday mornings.
Now I can hear your protests already. “But, I don’t have any problem with African Americans. I’m certainly not racist. I don’t think they are any less valuable as people just because they are darker skinned than I am.” or “If an African American came to our church, we would welcome them. We’ve had several in the past. We would love to have more people of color in our congregation. They just don’t come here.” Statements like these are all to common, especially among churchgoers. I myself have said similar things. But I now realize, these words betrayed my own lack of commitment to the gospel work of unity and reconciliation.
The opening joke is built on a reading of Acts 2. Though they had disagreements in the past, now, following Jesus death and resurrection, the disciples are bound together as one. Jesus has just finished giving them their charge to go into “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the world” (Acts 1:8) once they received the Holy Spirit. They prepare for this by prayer and worship and by gathering together. Then, the Holy Spirit shows up and all heaven breaks loose. People from all over the known world are there to witness it. But somehow all present are able to hear and understand in their native tongue. This singular event propels the message of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ out to the world. Facing beatings, stoning, imprisonment, peril and sword, the rest of Acts chronicles the journeys of those who are sent out to meet more of these strangers from strange lands. This is done not by inviting them to Jerusalem and the Temple. Instead, they bring the Word made flesh, Jesus, to them.
As we consider a way forward in these tense and tumultuous times, I hope that we would build the bonds of unity that forge the way of reconciliation and peace we so desperately need. As the psalmist says, “Set aside evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). Our African American neighbors are hurting. They have been hurting for a long time. How can we heal their wounds and ease their burdens? I tell you this, blame and anger will not salve this bleeding wound now reopened. Rather with listening ears and compassionate hearts, we may begin to stitch together this body long divided. The Spirit leads us into unknown places to preach good news to the oppressed. We care for widows and orphans of a conflict we did not begin but can certainly work to end.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, I commit to following that Spirit and hope that you will join me. Let us sit down at table together to eat and pray, seeking the Holy Spirit. Then, let us go to our African American neighbors and ask how we can support, help, and pray for them during this time. Let us worship together in one place with people from all nations, not waiting for them to come to us, but going out to them. And in one accord, intertwined like the strands of a rope, we will be able to face whatever difficulties face us and prevail. Together, WE shall overcome.