This past Sunday, I had a tearful moment at church (a few minutes, actually)… thanks to an excellent sermon, a reference to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior, and a revelation.
We were in Acts Chapter 10, and my pastor had done an incredible job of explaining what a profound thing it was for Peter to go into Cornelius’s home. This was a radical break from Jewish practice. It was unlawful for them to associate with a Gentile, let alone go into their home!
But after being instructed to do so by God, three times, Peter got the message & did the unthinkable. (Sidebar: Don’t you love Peter?! He is such a great example of how God has patience with us, even repeats himself when necessary, to get his message across. Thank you, Jesus!)
Peter went to Cornelius’s home & shared the Gospel with everyone gathered there. Cornelius had hopeful, faithful expectation that whatever God planned to do through Peter, it was going to be GOOD! Like, so good you have to get your family & close friends together so no one misses this. “Why is he coming, Cornelius?” “I don’t know. But God told me to ask him to come. So, I don’t need to know the reason, I just know it’s going to be GOOD! You don’t want to miss this.”
Cornelius was a powerful military leader, he knew what it meant for a soldier to follow orders. And that’s the manner in which he obeyed God’s command. No talk-back. No questioning the order. (Which, by the way, is how Peter initially responded to God’s command! Ironic that the “rock upon which the church was built” had to be told 3 times, but the God-fearing Gentile obeyed immediately.)
But the key is this: they both ultimately obeyed, and the result was a massive shift in everyone’s understanding of God’s plan for the Gospel. As Peter shared the good news of Jesus Christ, Cornelius and his family & friends believed, received the Holy Spirit, and the Jewish believers “were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.” (Acts 10:45, ESV, emphasis added.) Peter & his companions realized God’s gift was for all mankind, not just their own kind.
This outpouring of the Spirit shattered the barrier that had existed between the Jews & Gentiles, just as Jesus himself tore the curtain in two and destroyed the barrier between God & man. This was a game-changer.
As Pastor Ray closed, he mentioned that as we celebrated MLK Day the following day, we should be sure to thank God for this flawed man & the change he brought about. “We should thank him for this,” he said, gesturing to our church family at Christ for the Nations. And I realized I had never thought about that before… how MLK and the Civil Rights Movement affected my life in such a personal way.
My church is very intentional about being “multi-everything,” as we jokingly refer to it. We want to bring all kinds of people together in worship: every nation, language, ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, gender, age, marital status… you name it.
All in the name of Jesus. Because that’s what heaven’s going to be like! In God’s eyes, we are all equal. In Christ, we are all equal. Just as Jesus elevated the personhood of women & children to be just as valuable as men, unheard of at that point in history, we are all equalized in God’s sight. All equally valuable, equally loved.
The McKelvys (Pastor Ray, Robyn & their 10 kids) are my second family… as Robyn says, they’re “my chocolate family.” They call me the “vanilla McKelvy,” which I love… because their family is awesome, and I love being part of it! They’ve been a huge part of my life for over 11 years. The kids are like the younger siblings I never had. The McKelvys are like a bonus family God gave me as a special gift!
So when Ray mentioned honoring MLK & being thankful for “this,” our multi-everything congregation, I was overcome with gratitude for my church family… and my second family. Neither of which would be in my life, if not for God’s work through MLK & his fellow brave warriors.
Yes, we have a long way yet to go… I’m sure there are racial injustices every day that are worthy of tears. And we need to keep pressing on to be better people, to be a better country, to recognize that every human being has value. Black or white, pre-born or elderly, wealthy or in need, 46 chromosomes or 47… whatever our differences are, we are all part of the human race.
It’s easy to think of MLK & the Civil Rights Movement benefiting others, righting wrongs, benefiting society as a whole… and it’s easy to appreciate that. But as I got up from the pew after service to give Ray & Robyn hugs with tears streaming down my face, my gratitude was acutely personal. As I considered how impoverished my life would be without the people I love, without the McKelvys, without my church family, I couldn’t help but cry.
I thank God for what he did through the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and for the progress we’ve made, and for the family I get to enjoy because of it. Above all, I thank him for the hope that comes from knowing he’s not finished with us yet.