Saturday, August 11, 2007
Blatant racism is exposed in a small town here in Louisiana, culminating in the burning of the high school and attempted second-degree murder charges against six students (the “Jena 6″) for a high school fight. The high school in this 85% white town evidently self-segregated, as schools often do, but apparently it became less about choice and more about enforcement because a group of black students found it necessary to ask permission to sit under a tree where white students normally sat. The school administrator told them they were free to sit where they liked, and when they went to the tree the next day; they found three nooses hanging from the branches.
Attempted murder and conspiracy charges against a black high school student accused in the December beating of a white student escalating racial tensions were reduced Monday to less serious charges that could mean far less time in prison if he is convicted.
Mark 16:15 states a well know quote from the New Testament, " 15He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation."
I have read and heard the Great Commission spoken about many times, most likely due to the fact that it includes Jesus instructions to his disciples before he ascends to heaven. A commission is meant to be a sending/mission. In church history, artists were commissioned to create art pieces and music for the purpose of the church. These artist's efforts were used to educate and express the word of God in order to complete the "Great Commission"- sharing the gospel to the world.
Its easy to rush though familiar bits of scripture at times, but upon reading this text recently I found myself asking the question, "What is my word, where is my world and who do I live with in it?" Possibly it's the news like the war in Iraq and the Jena 6 that I see on the Web, in Newsweek and on the radio, that makes me wonder how I am to "go" and share good news to the world in such conflicted times. The Jena 6 situation is a return to segregation and racism that makes me wonder if we haven't learned from the history of damaging results of slavery in out own country. Racism, Conflict and warfare seem to have our world by the tail. How do we "go" to this world and not become caught up in the fighting? In a world that so desperately needs some good news, we need to find our voice to share it.
Isaiah was a voice of awakening and challenge to the people of Israel living in a world much similar to the challenges faced in ours. There is much conflict, warfare and abandonment of God. Wealth and prosperity are the most desired qualities of life and the poor, widowed and orphaned members of society are left to fend for themselves.
Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted.
The people have turned away from God not only in their actions, but also within their hearts and seem lost to the destructive lives they have embraced. The "whole heart (of Israel) is afflicted". – Their heart is unfaithful and divided.
Imagine an eloquent cathedral, filled to the brim with worshipers, a colorfully lit stage filled with the most accomplished musicians and the most beloved preachers world-wide all set to put on the greatest worship service of all time… only to find God saying, "I'm tired of your flashy performances, cheering audiences, and mouthy speakers. Have a great time without me."
God is so frustrated by the attitude and behavior of Israel that He has no desire to listen to the divided and insincere sounds and smells of their offerings, incense, religious celebrations and noise.
After God made his case against the actions and unfaithfulness of Israel, he completes his argument and calls for their repentance and change of heart.
"18 "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD"
The ritual that Isreal depended on to be made right with God only was unacceptable because the people's heart behind the ritual was disconnected and unfaithful to God. The prophet Isaiah calls for the people to " wash and make yourselves clean" and "learn to do right", he also reminds them of the need for a willing and obedient heart.
What is the key to allow for the balance between right actions and right thinking?
What is it that God really wants from Isreal, from us?
God's ultimate desire is to "reason together" so that whole-hearted health and relationship can be restored. There is wisdom in knowing the past. If the community of Jena were to consider the ongoing and damaging effects of slavery upon the history of our country, the attitudes of racism could have been put to bed generations ago. Knowing the past is necessary if we are going to change the reality of our future. Over and over again, God attempts to remind Israel of their past (their abandonment of their first love) so to save them from division and self-destruction.
In Revelation 2:4, God states to the churches,
"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love."
The connection between right thinking and right doing is a heart that is fully devoted to God. Combined actions, thoughts and changed hearts living and growing in a functional tension accomplish working out our salvation. The spiritual tension we sense is a result of the giving over of our lives, thoughts and actions to God. Tension is a part of the growth process.
God's hope for Israel was that they come back into a whole-hearted relationship with Him. This whole-hearted relationship needs to build upon the foundation of a willing and changes heart in partnership with right thinking and right doing. It is God's promise as well as His warning at the end of chapter 1 that shows the contrast of between human sin and the divine mercy of God.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword."
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
In the end, it is humanity's response to God that determines the future.
As for the Jena 6 their future is not decided:
Mychale Bell still faces trial on charges stemming from the Dec. 4 beating. But instead of facing sentences totaling 80 years, he now faces maximum sentences totaling 22 years if convicted.
In contrast to the Jena community conflicts, consider how the students in Ashburn, Georgia made an effort to include all members of their student body in their prom tradition…
"April 2007, ASHBURN, Georgia (CNN) -- Students of Turner County High School started what they hope will become a new tradition: Black and white students attended the prom together for the first time on Saturday.
In previous years, parents had organized private, segregated dances for students of the school in rural Ashburn, Georgia, 160 miles south of Atlanta.
"Whites always come to this one and blacks always go to this one," said Lacey Adkinson, a 14-year-old freshman at the school of 455 students -- 55 percent black, 43 percent white. (Watch students arrive at dance Video)
"It's always been a tradition since my daddy was in school to have the segregated ones, and this year we're finally getting to try something new," she said. Inside the auditorium, students put the controversy aside and danced for hours. Stone said he was pleased with the outcome. About 150 students, including some dates from other schools, attended. Students leaving the prom praised the evening. "We been separated for a while. I sure appreciate how the school got all of us together, and we had a blast," said John Holmes, 16. Aneisha Gipson, who was crowned prom queen, said the night could not have been better. "Amazing. It was absolutely amazing. It was perfect." Superintendent Ray Jordan said he couldn't be more proud of Stone and his students.
"If I could write this story it would be a story of celebration of students making a difference for themselves and for future students. I believe they wanted to leave their mark, and I certainly believe they've done that.""
So as we try to answer how we " Go into all the world and preach the good news." It is good to consider the condition of our hearts.
The prom students in Georgia show the possibility and promise for racial tensions to be overcome. It is their example and commitment to speaking out against racism and segregation that speaks hope to the future.
It is only when our thoughts and action are connected to a changed heart that our lives can become the good news that our world needs to hear. Our first great commission is to consider the condition of our own hearts – then and only then will the voice we speak with ring true with the sound of good news to the world.