Saturday, February 25, 2012

An AM Epiphany

5:53AM! The stillness of the predawn morning was being interrupted by a raucous noise - it was the jangle of my mobile phone. As my attention was diverted to its demanding call the first thing I saw was the time and the next the name: Bob Davis. Yet the phone’s display did not present the whole picture, for this just wasn’t Bob Davis - it was Rev.

Now I have many pastor friends that have that title in front of their name - sometimes I have even used it - but to me, there is only one Rev. For he is the quintessential black Baptist preacher - more about that later. His first words to me were, “How’s your family?” After I gave him an account I then asked him something similar. His wife’s sister was extremely ill and he wanted me to post a prayer alert via e-mail.

After our initial greetings and before conversation began I told him, “It is no accident that you have called.” His phone call was not the first disturbing moment of my morning devotional time. The first came from the Word of God and yet it was something that Rev has come to epitomize in my life, and the lives of others.

My reading that morning was from chapter four of John’s Gospel which contains the account of “the woman at the well.” That is an oft expounded upon account, but one verse in particular gripped my inner conscience: ‘and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world."’ John 4:42 NASB

This was the confession of the Samaritan villagers. Was this marginalized despised people - at least in the eyes of Jews - the first to proclaim Him as the Savior of the world? Suddenly the implications of this oft overlooked passage were immense.

I love the way the 18th century pastor and commentator John Gill expounds on this line of Scripture: “And know that this is indeed the Christ; the true Messiah, and not a false one; the Messiah spoken of by Moses, whose books the Samaritans received, as the seed of the woman, the Shiloh, and prophet, like to Moses; the Christ of God, who is anointed to be prophet, priest, and King.”

His disciples were so limited by their pedantic ethnocentrism that they had not been able to see Him for who He truly was. Their hopes and expectations were founded in what they believed He could do for them and their own ethnicity. I believe the operative word here is what. They were expecting a messianic figure in the line of the warrior King David who would throw off the gentile Roman yoke and restore them and their nation to the place of preeminence in the known world.

Their prejudicial blinders would not allow them to see the enormity of His mission to the whole of Adam’s race. They had encountered Him conversing with a Samaritan woman of questionable moral character. We might say that she had three strikes against her and as far as the disciples were concerned she was out - outside of the bounds of their limited perceptions.

They totally dismissed her and all she represented to urge Him: "Rabbi, eat." Can we not conjecture that if He would eat they would also be able to satisfy the longing of their own inner stomachs–and see here much more than just a craving for food but the sum total of all base desires. Jesus redirected their attention to His true calling: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” And He began to speak to them of the harvest which they were not able to see: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.”

If they would have looked up what would they have seen? They would have seen the Samaritan people coming toward Him: “They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.” The disciples were not able to see for their attention was directed at their feet. The myopia of their expectations as to what He could do for their people would not allow them to see the great expanse of His eternal purpose–nor their chosen role in that mission.

It would take those who are were outside of their narrow preconceptions to first declare His true mission and nature: “this One is indeed the Savior of the world. “ Although He spent two days with the Samaritans in their city there is no record that He did anything for them. By revelation they recognized Him for Who He was not for what He could do for them. Once again we look to John Gill: “for we have heard him ourselves; not only externally with their bodily ears, but internally, having ears given them to hear, so as to understand what he said; to mix it with faith, and receive it in love; to feel the power of it in their hearts, and taste the sweetness of it, and be nourished by it; and so as to distinguish his voice from another's, as Christ's true sheep are capable of.”

If we define the mission of Christ - or His Church - to the limits of our own ethnicity, gender, generation, political persuasion or anything similar, we betray the fullness of His eternal purpose. We cannot denominate or discriminate. To the extent that we attempt to add to by further definition as to who we are, we actually detract from the hope of our calling. “For the splintering of the church...makes it hard for the world to see the love of Christ among believers;..” (Carter, Anthony J., Peace by His Blood, The Bonds of Brotherhood. Table Talk, Ligonier Ministries: July, 2011, p. 46)

In the midst of this I am reading John Piper’s BLOODLINES: Race, Cross, and the Christian. The chapter being “Ransomed for God from Every Tribe.” He writes: “The redeemed of every race and ethnicity are one in our utter dependence on his effective blood and righteous.” And continuing: “Blood-bought ethnic and racial diversity and harmony is for the glory of God through Christ. It is all aiming at the all-satisfying, everlasting, God-centered, Christ-exalting experience of many-colored, many-cultured worship, an aroma that delights the heart of God.” (John Piper, BLOODLINES, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2011, p. 139)

The song is no longer several, but one. ‘And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,”’ Revelation 5:9 There is no cacophony before the Eternal Throne–only melodious harmony. The Son prays to the Father: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:23

In His discourse with her, to draw her attention away from her own ethnocentrism and its accompanying traditions, Christ said to the woman: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” John 4:23 The denotation here is that picture painted in Revelation 5:9 should begin in the here and now–otherwise how could the Father be seeking? What the Father seeks He will see–and will call unto Himself.

Although filled with artistic symbolism - music - there is no indication that this eternal mission should be so limited. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 This was written to the Church at Ephesus–not to individuals. Paul says we should walk in the them - the singular eternal purpose of God. We are on a journey and we are on it together.

This brings me back to Rev. Although he is everything his community may expect of him, he is no respecter of persons. During one of our Pastors’ Prayer Fellowship gatherings a white Presbyterian pastor lamented that he could not make a hospital visit as he had to go out of town. Rev’s response - the black Baptist - volunteered, “I will go for you.” The Church in our City is replete with many such examples–much of the Genesis of which goes back to the early 1970's to a veteran black letter carrier (Rev) taking a white novice carrier (me) under his wing and showing him the ropes. All the while exuding the impartiality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peter took a deep breath and began. “It’s clear to me,” he said, “that God really does show no favoritism. No: in every race, people who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him. Acts 10:34-35 The Kingdom New Testament (N.T. Wright, HarperOne, 2011, New York, NY, p. 253) Peter inhaled a fresh wind, the wind of the Spirit, devoid of the stale stench of ethnocentrism. This wind would propel him and others to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 which would launch the Gospel onto the World scene–thus avoiding its cultural captivity.

For James had summarized from the Septuagint version (Greek) of the Old Testament the words of the Prophet Amos: “SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,”

Acts 15:30 So when they (Paul and Barnabas) were sent away, they went down to Antioch (to the Gentiles there who were the first to be called Christians); and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter (from the Council). 31When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. NASB

Returning to John Piper: “When we understand that God’s act of justifying the ungodly (Rom. 4:5) is by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, we begin to see how shattering it is to ethnocentrism and racial pride. (p 144)

There were questions in my heart and mind that morning–before I could even ask, my Faithful Father answered.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Soli Deo gloria!