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Sunday Message for 13 March 2022: “Beyond Ethnicity”

What does it mean to transcend ethnic boundaries? This question underscores today’s lectionary message from Philippians 3:17 – 4:1.

Consider the Old Testament, where God is portrayed as choosing the Jews as the exclusive group with whom to forge a sacred covenant. This promise of divine favoritism and preferential treatment was contingent upon obeying a nauseous rule-stew.

The ancient religious laws attempted to cover too much, impinging upon everything. There were arbitrary decisions about clean and unclean foods, what fabrics you could mix in your garments, and how women were polluted and had to be segregated from worship during menstruation. At first dozens, then hundreds of so-called commands proliferated until the entire rotten structure disintegrated.

The Jewish ethnic saga began with the legendary figure Abraham, the mythic man of spiritual steel. Abraham’s trust in the Almighty ignited God’s promise to favor him and his descendants forever. Looking back in time, the later Jewish nation traced it origins and declared themselves Abraham’s heirs. By promoting their exclusive adoption by God, anyone born with the proper Jewish credentials inherited a preferred status, one denied to earth’s other inhabitants.

It wasn’t that being Jewish automatically made you a better person but the evidence was on your side, just as not being Jewish meant that you had much more to prove for even a remote possibility of earning God’s favor. What made it all worse was that the Jews savored their exclusivity. A fatal smugness arose, paired with a privileged entitlement mentality that fed a caustic ethnic pride.

God’s response to his chosen people waxed and waned as the Jews either kept or ignored religious law. Assuming the role of divine disciplinarian, God sent jaw-jarring judgments and provocative preachers. Prophets became hoarse warning of impending divine wrath but to no avail. Alas, the perpetrators killed the messengers and with that so ended all hopes of a peaceful transition from law to liberty. In the end, the rule-based religion could not be saved; God forged another way.

A fatal flaw with singling-out a chosen people is that such a scheme promotes prejudice and discrimination, complicating hopes of universal justice and equality. Thankfully, the Old Testament covenant weakened, decaying from the inside-out. The death-knell came when God was willing to change, recognizing that the Jews couldn’t keep their end of what was already a flawed bargain. The loathsome, fear-based commands irreparably collapsed into a pile of toxic trash. The religious law killed people until it also had died.

Thankfully for us, God progressed with a new plan for redemption, resulting in equal access for both Jew and non-Jew. This transformation in God’s approach was highlighted by Jesus, whose message changed everything. Jesus ushered a bold era of salvation, transitioning and reinterpreting the Old Testament legal requirements under a single preeminent commandment: love God/love others. As a result, you and I are now redeemed citizens of a spiritual community, not one parsed by ethnicity. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 NRSV).

Jesus emphasized father Abraham’s true descendants, those who kept the spiritual promises rather than those who created and enforced rules. The doomed Old Testament experiment with ethnic privilege had ended, and thereafter God altered the spiritual universe. No longer was being born into one ethnic group a privileged path to God.

Jesus shared the good news of his love-based redemption, first to his Jewish compatriots but soon by extension to everyone. After his passing, Jesus’ followers pressed the Lord’s message with missionary zeal. The result is that today we can proclaim the same Gospel of love represented by Jesus’ original message.

Ethnicity is a dead-end when it comes to winning God’s favor. Gone are the days of a stairway to heaven simply because of a misconstrued birthright. Jesus’ new way of love and redemption liberates you for unlimited possibilities. You can now serve God despite who or what you were prior to your spiritual awakening. No longer are you damned by anything outside your control such as your ethnicity, race, color, or birth status.

You share the responsibility and privilege to hear and respond to God’s call. Once redeemed, your citizenship becomes heavenly. You are elevated not by genetics or inheritance but by awakening and cleansing. Spiritual health depends not on your parents but on your preferences, not on your ancestry but on your acceptance.

Followers of God seek a spiritual fellowship rather than something based on genetics or culture. With your new spiritual identity you are part of a faith-based family. God loves you and wants you to be a spiritual citizen of a spiritual kingdom. Do you demonstrate your love of God by the way you love others?

Instead of being buried under the rubble of a religious legal system we stand triumphantly on top of it, potentially closer to God as we raise a banner of spiritual liberty. God now accepts us regardless of our color, what language we speak, or where our relatives originated. Our faith family is vast and includes people of all ages, wages and stages.

We must unite and help oppressed peoples overcome discrimination, prejudice and racism. You are part of one universal human family, celebrating a living, loving God. Stand with your sisters and brothers across the planet as together we triumph over the tyranny of hateful boundaries. We will never fully realize our own freedom until all are free.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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