“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all (Colossians 3:11).”
I grew up going to a small country church where everyone was as white as a slice of bread, and that’s how the church had been for over a century. Established before the Civil War, the church building had lockable balconies in which slaves (!) would sit during services before Emancipation.
Before I became a believer, I was very bored with sermons. I would usually crouch on the floor of the pew with my parents and play with a few small toys. I had to be quiet, which probably caused permanent damage to my nervous system, as I continue to find it very difficult to be quiet and still for long periods of time. Sometimes I would get bored with my little plastic soldiers, and my mind would wander. I wanted to swing on a rope out of the balcony and shout like Tarzan. On many occasions, I would bother my parents by picking at them, while they would sit stoically and listen to the sermon (and if I went too far, they would let me know when I got home).
When I was 10 I became a believer, and suddenly, I began to listen to the sermons. As a follower of Jesus, saw the world, differently.
Every Sunday before the service, the women would sit in church and talk while the Men would stand around outside in the parking lot and talk (some smoked…in fact many smoked big cigars-this was Virginia-Tobacco Country).
We had a large seminary in the city next to us, and so if our pastor was absent, the seminary usually sent a student to preach.
On a particular Sunday, while we were waiting and talking (and some were smoking), a flashy, two-toned car pulled into the parking lot. Out stepped a man wearing a loud suit with white shoes and a white tie. He was handsome and stylish and he had a great smile.
All eyes were on him…not because of his car, suit or smile, but because he was a black man…an African American.
As I remember it, everyone thought this was the preacher from the seminary. My father, brother and I went over to welcome him. I don’t remember anyone else speaking with him. I do remember some of the women poked their heads out of the church door and had scowls on their faces.
I heard one of the ladies say, “The seminary should not have sent us a black man…they know BETTER than to send us a black man.”
So that was my understanding of the communion of saints, Virginia style, in the early 1970’s: segregated and bigoted.
My brother asked our guest about his classes, and he told us that he wasn’t from Seminary. He then shared that when he awoke that morning, God told him to go to our church.
A few minutes later, a student from the seminary pulled up in an old car. He hurriedly walked in, ascended the pulpit and gave a sermon that I can’t remember at all. But, I’ll never forget the sermon preached by that black man with a loud suit and a flashy car who came to a white church because God told him to.
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).”