As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, our special guest, Pastor Ira Carty shares a message from Revelation 7 entitled, “Recapturing God's Holistic Vision for our Times”.
Ira is an alumnus of Tyndale University and is currently serving as an Associate Pastor at Avenue Community Church in Toronto.
You're a good good father. That's who you are. And I'm loved by you. What an affirmation, what a wonderful reminder, to know that the God who made the heavens and the earth loves us, and He loves us with an intimate love. First of all, I want to say what a privilege it is for me to be invited back here at Tyndale, and to offer a reflection on a couple of faithful, black Christian leaders and influencers in my own life from the past and present. And of course, to share about their importance to me, and why the influence should be important to us as we live within a very, very divided world. It is my hope that through my reflection today, it may lead us truly to consider the ways in which the Spirit of God is inviting us to respond faithfully, to the story of Jesus and his vision for the Kingdom of God. I want to highlight how much I do appreciate the prophetic imaginations, and as we have heard from Revelations today, even though they saw consistent chaos and brokenness within the worlds and the times in which they live, they often point to another reality. They show us a differentiated unity that needs to recapture, be recaptured, especially within our own present time today. And so I begin my, as I begin my reflections, I want to begin with these words, which were read again, from Revelation 7: 9 to 12. And in some sense, it truly captures my own philosophy and shapes the way that I seek to be God's telos in the world.
Hear these good words that calls us from the spaces where our minds may presently reside. I look again, and I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there, all nations and tribes, and races, and languages, and they were standing dressed in white robes and waving palm branch, and standing before the throne and the Lamb, heartily singing Salvation to our God, and on His throne, salvation to the Lamb, and all who were standing around the throne, angels, elders, animals, they fell on their faces before the throne, and they worshiped Gods singing, Oh, yes, the blessing and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving, the honour and the power and the strength to our God forever and ever. Oh, yes.
As I speak on recapturing Gods holistic vision for our time, might I invite us then to ground us within scripture, in order to safeguard our own hearts and our minds, especially in reflecting on the divided and fragmented times in which we live, and work our way out from there. For those of us who are students of the Word, we all know that God's purpose in Abraham, in which continue to the patriarchs, and which reach it's combination in Jesus, was to create a people that will bring blessings to the world, and undo the damage that was caused by the fall. And so as people of this new Exodus, we are cognizant that we find meaning by looking back at God's creational purposes, and looking forward to His coming Kingdom, that the Messiah, Jesus, as King of Israel, is the fulfillment of God's desire to create a people from every nation, tribe and tongue, who will reflect Him in the world. And this would mean that our very diversity, my Afro Caribbean-ness, your European-ness, your Asian-ness, your South Asian-ness, your nativeness, whatever your ethnicity is, it is a manifestation of the saving power of God's glorious Gospel, and that we together under one King, are the climax of the covenant to the manifestation of God's glorious ga, grace. The nature of the gospel to which all of us are indebted to, it demands that whatever your ethnicity, in my case, my blackness endures forever and be visible until eternity. Our ethnicity, as we see within the passage that was read, it is eschatological. The Gospel message, it informs my own understanding that a human Jewish Jesus is the key to my identity, as an Afro Caribbean male, and my anthropology. I am who I am because my ancestors were created to offer our distinctive gift to the Creator God. And so the goal for each of us is really Christ. He is our true north star. And so what was Jesus' goal, His goal was all about reconciling all of us. Jesus gathers all of our failures, and together, of even our oppressors, and this is just mind boggling, mind boggling, and He deals with it on the cross. And this means for each of us, even as we think about all that is happening within our world, that we can live our Christian life in the presence of Christians, or friends, of enemies, who disappoint us, because Jesus did. The gospel is clear. God wants to redeem all of who we are, that Christ's reconciling work climaxes with the entire family of God, united one to another, by the blood of Jesus. This is mind blowing, that my blackness, which includes the story of my ancestors, our journey from freedom to slavery, our kinship with the deep suffering of Christ, is affirmed, as unique manifestations of God's desire to create a peculiar people from every nation, every tribe, every tongue, and this is my trajectory. This is my grounding. And this is where I give my reflection.. and so I invite you to sta, to sit with me in solidarity.
As I think about the list of black Christian individuals who have shaped my own life, the list is numerous, but I would submit two, in the interest of time: Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reverend Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, who has gone on to join that great cloud of witnesses. We have one, which is Dr. Martin Luther King, who is very familiar to many of us, and the latter who may not be as familiar.
Sir Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of us were familiar with his own story. But again, just to allow us to recall he was a civil rights legend from the mid 1950s. He led a movement to end segregation and counter prejudice in the United States through the means of peaceful protests. His speeches are noted is some of the most iconic of the 20th century, and had a profound impact on national consciousness. His leadership contributed to the overall success of the civil rights movement in the mid 1900s, and still continues to impact.
I recall this particular article that was written by Michiko Kakutani, who is an American literary critic, a former chief book critic for the New York Times. In her article, she recalls the day of Dr. Martin Luther King, I Have a Dream speech. And she knows that it was late in the day, and it was hot after a long march, and afternoon or speeches about federal legislation, unemployment, racial and social justice. 250,000 people were gathered that day, as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, he finally stepped to the lectern in front of the Lincoln Memorial to address the crowd. He began slowly, which was described as this magisterial gravity, talking about what it was like to be black in America, in 1963, and the shameful condition of race relations, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. King, unlike any other speaker, he situated the civil rights movements within the broader landscape of history, time, past, present and future and within the timeless vistas of scriptures, and that's why I admire him. Michiko noted that Dr. King was about halfway through the prepared speech when Mahelia Jackson, a gospel legend, who earlier that day had delivered the stirring rendition of the spiritual, "I've been buked and I've been scorned" and she shouted out to him from the speakers tent, "Tell them about the dream Martin, tell him about your dream". That's like the way, growing up within the Caribbean churches and you have those wonderful old ladies, mothers of the faith. That's exactly how they will shout out to you. "tell them about the dream". And she was referring to a riff he had delivered in an early occasion. And so we have Dr. King, he pushed the text. And he began an extraordinary improvisation on the dream theme that would become one of the most recognizable refrains in the world. And so it is impoveris, within his improvised rift. He delved into history, he jumped from prose to poetry from the podium to the pulpit, and his voice arcs into an emotional crescendo as he turned from the sobering assessment of current social issues, to this radiant Vision of Hope of what America could be. I have a dream, he declared, for little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. There was this silence, this reverent silence when he began speaking, and when he started to talk about his dream, they called out "Amen, preach it, brother preach it". And so he recalled that one could feel that the passion of the people flowing to him and even James Baldwin, who was a skeptic of that day's march in Washington, would later write "In that moment, it's almost like I stood on the height, and I could see our inheritance. Perhaps we could make the kingdom real."
You see, Dr. King's speech was not only the heart of an emotional cornerstone of the march in Washington, but it was a testament to the transformative powers of one man and his words. 60 years later, it is a speech that can still move people to tears. 60 years later, it's most famous lines are recited by schoolchildren, and it's sampled by musicians. 60 years later, the four words "I have a dream", it has become a shorthand for Dr. King's commitment to freedom, social justice, non violence, inspiring activists from Tiananmen Square to Soweto, Eastern Europe to the West Bank. Why does Dr. King's dream speech exert such a potent hold on people around the world, and across generations? Part of it is said because it resonates with his own moral imagination. Part of it resides in his mat, his masterly development to speak, and to make a connection with his audience, and part of it resides in his ability, developed over a lifetime, to convey the sense of urgency through language, richly led with Biblical and historical meanings. Quotations from the Bible, along with this vivid imagery, suffused his writing, and he used them to put the sufferings of the African Americans in the context of Scripture, to give black audience members encouragement and hope, and white ones this visceral sense of identification. In his dream speech, Dr. King alludes to a famous passage from Galatians. When he speaks of that day, when all God's children, black man, white man, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, Catholics, will join hands. As he did in many of his sermons, he also drew parallels between the Negro still in exile in his own land, and the plights of the Israelites in Exodus, who, on their side, they found deliverance from the hardship, the oppression, escaping slavery from Egypt, to journey to the Promised Land.
His speech that day, the march in Washington, it is still something that reverberates. It reverberates biblical rhythms with parallels, references to historical literary texts that would have resonated with his listeners. In addition to allusions to the prophets, Isaiah: I have a dream that one day, every valley will be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. And Amos: We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. The echoes also of the Declaration of Independence concerning the inalienable of rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He quotes from Shakespeare: the sweltering summer of the negros legitimate. This content, and popular songs of Woody Guthrie's: The land is yours, let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York, Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. You see the knowledge that Dr. King gave his life to the cause, it lends an added tenderness to the experience of hearing his speech today, even within a fresh way. It would not be easy to transform the divisiveness of a nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. Many things have happened, that Dr. King never foresaw. We know that on the 50th anniversary of his death, we had the first black President Obama actually standing there giving a speech. We also have this monument that is built in honour of him. But Martin Luther, he dreamed of a future, in which a nation would embark on the sunlit path of racial justice. And he foresaw the bitter sweet pre-science that 1963, as he puts it, it is not an end, but a beginning. He had a vision of the future. He had a vision that moved him beyond what he saw within the present time. And I believe that this was something that was given to him by God.
So what are some things that we can learn from him? The importance of recognizing our collective unity is something that we can learn within our own present time. You see, achieving justice and liberation for all people, for him depended on recognizing our shared humanity. Our shared him, destiny. The impacts of segregation, of injustice, they are not limited to the oppressed, but extend to everyone in our society.
The next thing that we can learn is understanding the different layers of racism, and other forms of oppression. Sometimes we think about racism and sexism, only as blatantly shocking acts of language. But this narrow definition of oppression ignores the impact of systemic and structural oppression, as well as the impact of implicit bias and stereotypes. And so to understand racism, we have to unpack its different layers and manifestation, internalized racism, impersonal racism and systemic racism. Dr. King understood well that, unless we address the racism within ourselves, within our communities, and in the broader systems that govern everyone's life, we would not achieve justice.
The next lesson that we can learn from him is the importance of evolving our ideas and our strategies. His strategy throughout was evolving. He used strategies like organizing, direct action, sittings, civil disobedience, writing letters, giving speeches to those in power, using the media to bring images of the civil rights into people's own home, mobilizing young people. The next thing that we can learn from him is that young people are powerful. Young people knew how important this movement was, and they wanted to participate, and he invited them into this space. They attended marches and protests, and even boycotted school in certain places to participate. And when people across the nation saw young people putting their lives and their bodies on the line, it forever changed the way in which they saw the civil rights movement.
The next thing that we can look at, is movements are made up every, of everyday people. Oftentimes we hear about leaders like Dr. King, and we think of them as extraordinary people capable of doing great things, than average people. But Dr. King, he defined leadership as everyday acts, intentional acts, and leading through love in all that we do. He believed in ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
The next thing that we can learn from him is the fact that words, words do matter. I have been to the mountaintop, this letter from Birmingham jail, and of course the "I Have a Dream" through his writing, his speeches, King outlines a vision of America that was exclude, inclusive, where the colour of a person Skin had no importance, compared to the content of one's character. And so we remain woefully short of this reality that King envisioned, but articulating that vision empowered others to dream alongside him, reading, rereading some of these speeches, these letters, this essay is a reminder that all of us can lead others through the power of carefully choosing our words, what we say.
And lastly, a movement is more powerful than an individual. Had he only been a writer, King would be an important American figure. Had he merely given powerful sermons, he would still speak, we would still speak of him today. And yet he was so much more than that. And a large part of it was because he mobilized 1000s of people, he inspired millions to act. He did so through persuasion, through careful hard working, of convincing people, one by one, that the struggle was everyone. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. This is what he once said.
The next individual I wish to highlight is Dr. Brenda Salter MacNeil. Dr. Brenda Salter MacNeil is an associate professor of reconciliation studies at Seattle Pacific University, directing reconciliation studies program. She's also the Associate Professor of preaching and reconciliation at Quest Church in Seattle. She's the author of "Roadmap to reconciliation 2.0", a credible witness, reflections and power, evangelism and race and a heart of racial justice. How soul change leads to social change, co authored with Rick Richardson. Her newest book, "Becoming Brave, Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice" is now out, it came out in August of 2020. My first exposure to Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil was at Urbana 2006. She was a, she had a very huge impact on my intentional journey in being an agent, pursuing justice and racial righteousness. I have read several of the books that I've noted earlier, and all of which I found to be seeped with scriptures and addressed it, what it needs, what we need in order to repair this, broken this fragmented world in which we are living in. Living within the times where much engagement is taking place on so many different, necessarily important conversation about racism, and the need for racial justice. Her book and her only, her own journey has been very helpful, even within my own life.
You see Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, she is an expert on the topic of racial reconciliation. In following her own journey, following her talk, reading her own books, it's almost as she invites us into her own journey of transformation, in her thinking about race relations, and rich, racial righteousness, while helping us to understand our own journey as well. In her book, "Roadmap to Reconciliation, 2.0", she unpacks her definition of reconciliation as an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance, justice, that restores broken relationships and resistance to reflect God's original intention for all creation to flourish. And this is what God intended from the beginning, and it's what God has entrusted to each of us. What she acknowledges is that reconciliation, it's the journey, but we get there if we walk together, and we stay on the road. What I love about Dr. Brenda, is that in following her over and over again, it's almost like this gentle invitation, "Come". She believes that we are living in a strategic time in history, and that the church has an answer to the question to what the world needs when it comes to racial injustice, division and hatred.
You and I have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. As in the words of Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, so when this generation asks us "Are you coming or not?", we hope that the answer would be a decisive "Yes". Her book, for those of you interested, I would highly recommend that you pick it up. Her book "Roadmap to Reconciliation" is a book that shows us in practical ways how to do that. She notes the distinction between racial reconciliation and racial justice. And for her, it's all about redeeming the term reconciliation, and really placing it from a very Christo-centric view.
Brothers, sisters, friends in Christ, I invite you to recapture God's holistic vision for our times, in seeing a fragmented world being made whole, through you and I, ministers of this New Covenant, sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ, that God in Christ has rescued you and I within this radical way, and it's all about sharing this message. It's the message that's worth each of us positioning our lives in the centre of its reality. Every nation, every tribe, every tongue, around the throne, worshiping the Lamb, who has redeemed us.
Please hear these good words, as you go today. Made the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, rest, remain and abide with us, both now and forevermore. Amen.
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