The first time I came to her salon, she asked me about my work, and she listened. I told her about my call to ministry, about the work I do with suicide prevention and recovery, and about my new project on calling in Christ, on vocation. Then she said, “I know exactly how to cut your hair, now,” and before I knew it, she had cut off about a pound of hair. We talked about church, and faith, and our families, and promised to pray for each other. We even wept together, and she told me she could hear my gift in my words. That was before the covid-19 pandemic. It was before the murder of George Floyd, before Breonna Taylor. This second time when she styled my hair, both of us wore masks, we spoke a little more about my hair, and the trouble I was having managing it. She said she would have to take some more weight out of it. Then I asked her, because I wanted to know, her perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement. She answered my question with a question: “Do you want to know what I think as a black woman?” And I said, “Yes, absolutely. I want to listen.” Her scissors flew and her talk flowed. Another three pounds of hair fell on the floor which she deftly brushed over to the vacuum opening before I could grasp the full impact of my layered and thinned hair; I felt like Absalom who cut and weighed his glorious tresses. Yet as she shared her thoughts, her words were worth all my time and attention. You see, none of us can understand the problem or how to solve it unless we listen.
Astonishingly, she said that she believed that the pandemic served God’s purpose to get our attention. Those are the sure words of a prophetess. Plague, sword, famine, flood. When God wants our attention, He is wont to use our circumstances, natural disasters, conflicts, and illnesses to get our attention. The point? When we are forcibly confined and unable to be busy, when we are quiet and isolated, we have time to see these red flags of our continuing failures as Christians. We fail to love other people as Christ loved us, we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we live by our own feeble idea of justice rather than God’s. Her biggest concern was that the church was not rising to speak. It was not enough for us to participate in the world’s solutions, the church had to speak. She said, “Black Lives Matter is the world’s solution. What is God’s solution? Reconciliation.” I was floored! I hadn’t expected that. How must the church respond? With reconciliation. Reconciliation. A message that is as old as the church, as old as the cross and resurrection, as old as the Gospel: reconciliation. She said that we had to do the hard work of reconciliation, and the church had to show others how to do it. It is not enough to believe in Jesus for salvation. It is not enough to get our fire insurance. It is not enough to evangelize and get people – black and white – into the Kingdom, or at least into church. Our churches are plagued by the idea that once someone is saved they will automatically start being loving and just. But Jesus taught that being born again spiritually is like being born; babies need to be nurtured and fed and loved and cared for, taught to walk and to talk and to use the toilet. How many times in Scripture are Christians condemned for immaturity, for being satisfied with spiritual milk and not moving on to the solid food of mature faith? How do new believers know what is true and what is false? How do we know what we consume is of God and will feed us, or what is of the world and needs to be weeded out of our lives and discarded? Once we are saved, that is when our journey begins, and it is a journey of sanctification, of becoming more mature, of always becoming more Christlike. And, by the way, we are called to do this in community, not alone. We are to help each other build more faith, help each other love and worship God more, build more love for each other, obey Christ more, serve Christ and serve others more, find our calling and do it, invite many others to receive Christ by grace, and we can only do all that in community. The great commission does not stop with evangelization, with baptizing new believers; we are called to teach all that Christ commanded us, and keep teaching it, until He returns. We are ambassadors for Christ, preaching the message of reconciliation. And to whom are we reconciled? We are reconciled first to God by Jesus Christ, and then we are reconciled to each other by Jesus Christ. The most startling thing my hairdresser said to me? “There shouldn’t be a black church and a white church, it should all be the same church.”
We tend to think that the virulent prejudices and weaknesses of our culture are new and unprecedented, but in the primitive church there was prejudice and conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians that was just as destructive. Ephesians 2:11-22 gives us God’s solution:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called “the circumcision,” which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off [Gentiles] have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, Who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility. By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off [Gentiles] and to those who were near [Jews]. For Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Paul is kind of a pro at mixing his metaphors, but the point is this: the Church of Jesus Christ is a faith community built on peace, the price of which was the blood of Christ Himself. His sacrifice on the cross ended the hostility between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, and made one church out of two peoples in the first century, a reconciled church where everyone was not only a citizen of the Kingdom of God, but a family member. Brothers and sisters, all together, regardless of ethnic or religious origin. No more aliens, no more outsiders, once we believe in Christ, there is no wall of hostility, there is only one body of Christ, only one bride of Christ, made by peace for peace.
Reconciliation happened in the primitive church through hard work, some of which happened in the first church council in Acts 15. The law of the Jewish Christians, the paganism of the Gentile Christians had to be swept away to make room for grace, grace that when it was fully functional in the hearts and gatherings of believers blasted through their prejudices and traditions and surpassed the law and usurped unworthy idols. We face the same challenges: dismantling our prejudices, traditions, and trashing the idols that keep us from being the family of God, then reconciling with brothers and sisters, coming together from every nation, tribe, and tongue to be one church with one voice.
Just a couple more questions from my hairdresser:
What would happen if the church of Jesus Christ would awaken and take up leadership in this crisis by reconciling within the church and modeling reconciliation for the world?
What would happen if the Holy Spirit burned through the Church?
Two things you can do. Pray, pray, pray, a lot. Find someone to listen to, someone different from you, someone who shares your deep faith in Jesus Christ, someone whom you can trust.
~ by Elizabeth Stone
Sermons online at www.stanfordpresbyterian.org