Last Sunday I preached on Titus 1:4, which I translated thus:
to Titus, genuine child in accord with our shared faith: grace and peace, from God the Father, and Christ Jesus our Savior.As I rolled the verse over in my mind, I knew that I wanted to open up the significance of this purebred Jewish Rabbi calling this dirtybred gentile Gentile a "genuine child in accord with our shared faith." I wanted to find a way to highlight what a massive thing it was that Paul, for years, had gladly worked with Titus as his Exhibit A of Gentile conversion, his beloved and trusted coworker, and his go-to guy to send into dicey situations.
But I never felt I had it, never felt I had an angle that would come close to doing it justice...until I connected it with a current story in the news.
Ordained United Methodist Church Reverend Joseph Lowery, "civil rights icon," spoke in a Baptist church in Georgia and said that when he was younger, he thought all white people were going to Hell. But then when he was older, he mellowed a bit.
But now Lowery said he had come around to his former opinion. Lowery also expressed incredulity that any — and here he used a foul vulgarity for "black person" — wouldn't vote his skin-color.
This struck me for a great many reasons, one of which being that I've long been concerned about the ongoing racial division in American Christianity. It is still said to be true that the church hour is the most segregated hour in the week, and it seems everyone is pointing fingers in the opposite direction. Often in the wrong direction, as I increasingly see it.
AN ASIDE: by the way, does the identity of the speaker, or his skin-color, or the skin-color of his "joke's" targets, matter? Should it? From a Gospel perspective, could it?
So I thought of Paul, whose own background was that of prejudice. Apart from Christ, he and Titus wouldn't have given each other the time of day. There's rabbinic snark to the effect that God had a good reason for creating Gentiles: as fuel for the fires of Gehenna. I shared a few other lovely sentiments in the sermon.
Yet now here Paul is, expressing in many ways and locations his affection and respect for this Greek dude, Titus.
But even more, here was a ministry in Crete where Paul's own countrymen were present in force (Titus 1:10). Now look: Paul had a common bond with them. They were the oppressed. They had shared the struggle, shared it even now. Titus and the Gentiles were the oppressors. Where would Paul's sympathies lie? With whom would Paul form common cause? And why?
But of course, Paul's relationship with Titus (and many others) showed that something had blasted apart this wall of racial prejudice and hatred. It was a past issue, a state for which Paul expressed no nostalgia. Paul didn't merely talk reconciliation, he lived it. He fought for it.
Can you imagine Paul standing and joking that he'd once thought all Gentiles were going to Hell, had mellowed — and then had come back around to his former opinion? Or can you imagine what Paul would do if he sat in an audience where that "joke" was told? Would he yuck it up?
Well, you know, as long as we've got Galatians 2:11ff. in our Bible, we don't have to guess, do we?
So what was it that demo'd the wall of hatred and division for Paul? You know the answer. It was the Gospel. It was the Cross. It tilted Paul's world.
The Cross should be the death of such things. The Cross is the death of such things. What do we see at Calvary? A white God giving His Son for a white world? God forbid. A black God, a brown God? Yellow? No. Just God, Creator of all things and all humans, so loving a world of lost guilty rebels of every people, tribe, nation and tongue that He gave His Son for them. You see God's Son hanging between heaven and earth, groaning not under white sins or black sins, but under human sins.
That's a snippet of what I gleaned and applied from this passage; you can find the sermon and the outline here, if you like.
God grant that the church — every part of it — work a whole lot harder to embody what Christ did so much to create.