So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away—see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:17-18
Here’s my Providence elevator speech: There’s a wide range of opinions among Providence people. We don’t all, for example, think alike or vote alike and we believe that this kind of diversity is a strength because the New Testament tells us that the church is made up of different people from different walks of life who may not have anything in common except for the fact that they all love Jesus. A New Testament church is diverse, and that’s the sort of church we want to be: Full of grace, unified without being uniform, and committed to keeping Christ alone at the center of our life together.
I’ve given this elevator speech countless times to guests, prospective members, curious people in the community, and even to some of our own members. Not everyone is interested in a church like ours. Some folks are more comfortable being in a congregation of more likeminded people—and that’s fine.
From the very beginning of its existence, however, Providence has emphasized the importance of relationships—our individual relationships with God and our mutual relationships with one another. I’ve heard Bo Prosser, one of our former associate pastors, describe Providence as “a church where people matter more than issues.” This is our heritage as a church—and it’s a blessing. We are here, at Providence, because we want to belong to a church where people matter more than issues. When we celebrate Anniversary Sunday together in a few weeks, we will, once again, give thanks to God for the big-tent vision of our founders. It’s a vision that is increasingly rare these days, but no less biblical than it was 67 years ago. Several times in his New Testament letters, the apostle Paul makes the point that, as he puts it in Ephesians 2:14, Jesus “is our peace,” and in him the dividing walls between us have been broken down. Sin scatters us into competing, adversarial tribes. By the power of his love, Jesus gathers us into one body, the church, in which our shared loyalty to him transcends and, over time, transforms our other, lesser loyalties. We don’t stop being black, white, Asian, rich, poor, native-born, immigrant, conservative, progressive, and so on when we become Christians, but these attributes no longer define who we are in relationship to one another. Once we are bound together in Christ, we become sisters and brothers, fellow sinners for whom Jesus died.
That’s what the New Testament tells us. It’s hard, though—really hard—to put this good news into practice, which is why I was eager to participate in an event a few Thursdays ago sponsored by ForCLT, an organization with a mission to bring diverse believers together for Christ-centered ministry to promote the common good in our city. The event was called “Overwhelmed and Exhausted” and focused on God’s desire for God’s people to build communities of reconciliation. The featured speaker, David Bailey, did a great job laying a theological foundation for this holy work that, in so many ways, is consistent with the founding vision of Providence. He mentioned several pillars that support reconciling communities, but I want to highlight just one here because it speaks to a healing gift that the church can offer a hurting world.
Reconciling communities, said Bailey, recognize and respect the diversity of experiences that people bring with them wherever they go. No one lives in a vacuum. The world looks different to each of us because we all stand in different places and see through different eyes. Reconciling communities make room for this diversity and put a premium on trying to understand not only what the world looks like from someone else’s perspective but also why it looks that way. This takes patience, and humility, and a great deal of love.
Patience, humility, and love aren’t exactly everyday virtues in 21st century America, but they most certainly are gifts that the Holy Spirit cultivates in the hearts of those who are open to receiving and giving God’s grace. Can Providence, now almost 67 years old, be a hopeful, grace-filled sign of what a reconciling community, with Christ at the center, can look like in a troubled, divided world? I believe we can because it’s part of our DNA as a church. It’s what we were built to be. As we celebrate
Anniversary Sunday on May 16, then, let’s renew our commitment to asking why questions that seek to understand each other when we don’t agree with each other. After all, writes Paul in 2 Corinthians, this is precisely the ministry that God has given to us.
May the peace of Christ be with you!