The family tree of Jesus included the most famous foreigner in the Bible: Ruth, the Moabite who, when her husband dies, does not return to her family but chooses to remain with her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. Claiming a family based on ties that are stronger than blood is what the gospel tells us to do. Jesus warns in Matthew 10:37 that “whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not fit to be my disciple.” Ironically, the Moabites, although hailing from the line of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, were enemies of the Israelites. With God working within us, enemies become kin. The gospel’s genetic code has reshaped the family circle and our ties of kinship include all those who have been saved by the blood of the risen Christ. Church diversity arises out of this genealogy of the spirit, where foreigners become our family. A widowed woman in the Old Testament was expected to return to her own family if her husband died without brothers for her to marry or sons to take care of her. Ruth doesn’t just surrender her ethnic heritage when she joins Naomi on her return to Bethlehem, she sacrifices her individual identity, linking herself to a woman with whom she shares no familial tie. Ruth’s oath is a brave promise to submit to the unknown. “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth surrenders to her mother-in-law’s foreign God and bends to His will. Ruth meets her mother-in-law’s kinsman Boaz, who puts her under his protection, gives her food to eat, and makes sure that she is safe among the other woman when gleaning his fields. Gleaning, or harvesting the leftovers, was a custom which provided food for those who were not otherwise provided for. In this remarkable multicultural congregation of the homeless poor and the landed rich, the rooted Israelite and the far-from-home Moabite, Ruth shows that the cries of the needy and the desolate are heard by God. Boaz knows that Ruth has remained with her mother-in-law, and he tells her, “May the Lord reward you for what you have done.” Well, between Boaz calling on God, and Naomi’s matrimonial angling, it’s a foregone conclusion that Ruth will eventually be the foreigner no longer. She and Boaz marry and have a son named Obed, whose grandson is David. The lineage of a king, from the womb of a foreign woman, planting the seeds that will reap strangers from all continents uniting in multiethnic worship and makes true the words of Paul: “In Christ there is no East or West.”
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Believers know how to move. God makes a promise to Abraham, then sends him away from his familiar surroundings. Rebecca travels the covenant road when she leaves her family to marry Isaac. The patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith pulled up the tent stakes of tradition and moved at God’s bidding, not at all certain of what they would encounter on the way. Today’s multiethnic congregation of global believers was spiritually midwifed by wandering Arameans who didn’t stay put. But God’s compass leads us to places where we discover that, as Jesus said, “Whoever does what my Father in heaven wants him to do is my brother, my sister, and my mother.”
The kinship of unity brings us to the place we’re meant to be even if we are not sure of the road to get there. Philip’s meeting with the Ethiopian official came about without a GPS to guide him directly to his destination in the desert. No Rand McNally road map, no MapQuest, just an angel who instructs Philip, “Go south on the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.” We accept that challenge to go where God leads us; a place where culture and music, speech and worship redefine the holy experience. Unity One’s leaders are confident that God has determined our destination, just as Philip was literally led by the Holy Spirit who directs him to the official’s carriage. Philip explains passages in Isaiah to the Ethiopian, baptizes him, and then is whisked away by the Holy Spirit just as the baptismal soaking is concluded. Try clicking on that “Get Directions” tab and see what happens. But Unity One leaders can tell you what happens when you climb on board the journey to dynamic worship. Historians believe the history of Christianity in Ethiopia owes its roots to this multicultural encounter between two very different people who shared a common bond.
Jesus said that wherever two or more are gathered, He is there. So the Jerusalem-based follower of the teacher from Nazareth and the Ethiopian queen’s treasury official unite in a multicultural worship service unlike anything known to the disciples when Jesus called them to His service. The Ethiopian was a eunuch, a man who would have been ostracized by the strict adherents of the ancient tradition in which the early church leaders were raised. But the gospel calls no one a stranger and so, for Philip, the Ethiopian is part of the new church diversity which transforms disfigurement into healing.
Can we do anything less but go where God sends us, and welcome those who come to us? There are no passports or border crossings when social media is the means of transportation. And there are no divisions among us when Jesus has torn down the walls that separated us.
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God’s first words in Genesis summoning light to the dark void of the silent, uncreated world are a preview of the flames that will brand Christianity with unity. Church diversity was born on the day of Pentecost and thrives in the global community of faith by channeling the Holy Spirit as a spontaneous Rosetta Stone language course. Today, Unity One is expanding the frontiers of faith with cross-cultural dialogue that transcends the boundaries erected by speech, culture, and tradition.
But dialogue in Genesis is limited until a fallen angel with the gift of gab engages the First Couple in a bait-and-switch con game that exchanges forbidden fruit for sin. The Genesis God who speaks when He’s forced to cast his beloved Adam and Eve from Eden is represented as the scolding God, the gotcha God, the God of fear, until, centuries later, the gospels bring Jesus Christ, God-with-us, a man who willingly shares our suffering, and returns us to the God who never stopped loving us. Jesus greets the outcast, welcomes the foreigner, and calls the Gentile his brother. The Son of God who teaches his disciples to accept the hospitality of the stranger is preparing them for a much bigger and broader, richer world than they’ve ever known or expected to know.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit erupts upon the tomb-trumping Christians who, after hiding in silence for fifty days following the death of their leader, suddenly have plenty to say. Exulting in their conversation, the Holy Spirit removes the barriers of language to create a multiethnic congregation: Cretans understand Judeans, and Medes share the speech of the Egyptians, and the Romans comprehend the Elamites. As tongues of fire dance above the heads of the strangers who have gathered in Jerusalem, and the potent wind of community rushes into their midst, they are strangers no more.
God is not a cranky librarian saying “shhh” to his noisy offspring. Embracing the world opens us to God’s presence and possibilities. As Unity One describes it, we understand the Spirit of God better when we are part of worship that extends our own personal boundaries. God is in our midst, the stone is rolled away, and the Pentecost people are pillars of fire as multicultural worship celebrates its birthday every time worshippers join in song.
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