He is preaching just a few feet to the side of where I am scribing. My marker is flying, but in his building verbal momentum, he is easily outpacing me. As his sermon becomes more forceful and punctuated, some of his points about racism are hard to hear, let alone capture.
This assignment – the first of four conferences for black pastors I am to visually represent – is unlike anything I’ve done in my career. I am submerged into a culture I know little about. This is territory well outside my comfort zone.
I’m loving it.
I have been praying for the past couple of years that God would give me more work assignments that are closer to my heart, ones that connect more to my values. And this arrived on my schedule. It’s clearly an answer to my prayer.
My discomfort is good for me. For the differences are only cultural. From the first words of the opening prayer, I realize the vast reservoir of kinship under the dissimilar topology. The preacher expounds from Ephesians 4: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
But it’s Ephesians 3:10 that captures my joy of finding fellowship with these brothers:
“so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known”
The word translated as manifold is an evocative one. It literally means variegated. Ancient Greek writers would use it to describe a field of flowers or an intricate cloth. We might say multicolored. I picture a stained glass window.
Paul’s point is that in bringing together people of many races, cultural backgrounds, and social standings into his kingdom, God displays the multifaceted nature of his wisdom. In a world constantly fracturing into factions, the global church is pulled together by the love of Jesus. It’s a beautiful thing.
Later, I finish capturing some deep sharing from a group of men. It was not easy for them to talk openly in front of relative strangers. It was tricky for me to find words and images to sensitively summarize what they said on my large sheet of paper on the hotel wall. When I stopped, the facilitator invited the group to come up and put hands on my art. “Everyone get connected. If you can’t reach the wall, put your hand on someone who can,” he instructed. “And let’s pray.”
I stand at the back, my hand on someone’s shoulder, and am filled with gratitude. I’m thankful to have my art used so openly for encouragement.
And I’m glad to be reminded of the multicolored glory of his church.
Father, forgive our divisiveness. It must grieve you to see your children erect walls between each other. Help us to lay hold of our oneness in you. And reveal to all the world – and the spiritual powers that are watching – your wisdom displayed in your church.