Thinking more about 1 Corinthians 12:13 (and Galatians 3:28)

This past Thursday, I recorded my message for Pentecost Sunday drawing on 1 Corinthians 12.  In the course of that sermon, I lifted up verse 13:

We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.

Paul, the writer of the letter to the church at Corinth had used that formula before when he was talking to the church at Galatia in response to the teachings that were being spread through that community:

There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In my sermon, I used these verses to suggest that Paul recognized that the divisions that so often define us have no place in God’s kingdom. We are ALL created in the image of God and filled with the same Holy Spirit, I said, and I believe that Jesus treated all people with dignity and respect, even when they were “sinners” (who he was supposed to avoid according to the religious customs of his day). We, as followers of Jesus, are called to cast aside the labels that keep us from the call to love one another as Jesus loved us.

Over the years, the misuse of scripture has led these words to be used in ways that ignore the reality of oppression and the brokenness of our world. We live in a world that is filled with what Paul identified as “powers and principalities.” These are the systems and forces in the world that fall outside of God’s design and desire. People of faith call this “sin,” and it is both individual and communal. It is the reality of the world we inhabit. And, as a person who has often been privileged by these systems because of my race and gender, I want to make sure that I’m not misusing Paul’s words.

I hear this misuse in the voices who use these scriptures to suggest that we all should simply be “color blind.” In their use of this image, they want to ignore the fact that we live in a world in which persons of color have been oppressed, exploited, and pushed to the side in our broader society. After all, these voices have said, isn’t that what Dr. King wanted when he longed for the day folks would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin? Very often they will appeal to their own self-righteousness to say that they only see the other person, and ignore the color of their skin.

In the ideal world (the beloved community of God’s realm) being “color blind” as opposed to racist judgment is a wonderful goal. But we don’t live in the ideal world. We live in one in which people have been enslaved, kept in poverty, and even killed because of the color of their skin. We have scars upon scars upon scars, and while healing sometimes comes, the tensions of living in a broken world reopen those scars and cause them to bleed again. That’s part of what we are experiencing this week.

We can’t be colorblind because there are still systems in the world that judge people by the color of their skin. We live in a world in which our fears are informed by stereotypes that lead us to quick and often faulty judgments. Yes, in the Kingdom of God, there is no slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek — but we are still working and waiting for that kingdom to become a reality.

And, if we’re really honest, a colorblind world is a boring shade of grey without the beauty that is found in the many varieties of colors. Yes, we are one body in Christ, but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12, we have many different ways of functioning, with different stories and different experiences that contribute to the richness of the world. I think all of us want to live in a world that has both Little Richard and Mozart; Richard Burton and Morgan Freeman; Maya Angelou and Margaret Atwood; Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan. God has created a world where tacos and creole and shepherd’s pie all feed us and bring us joy. God made created a world full of difference — and then proclaimed it very good.

May we never forget the brokenness that many in our world experience each and every day.

And may we celebrate the richness of God’s creation in which we all function together as one body.

So be it.

Check out the original worship service at https://cityroadchapel.org/2020/05/29/prime-worship-for-5-31-2020-pentecost-sunday/

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