Have you ever believed something, only to find out that it wasn’t true? Consider these old wives tales. If you go outside with wet hair, you’ll catch a cold. Cold weather, wet hair, and chills don’t cause colds; viruses do. Reading in dim light will damage your eyes. Although reading in a dimly lit room won’t do any harm, good lighting can help prevent eye fatigue and make reading easier. Cracking knuckles causes arthritis. Habitual knuckle cracking tends to cause hand swelling and decreased grip strength, but does not cause arthritis. Feed a cold, starve a fever. Both high fevers and colds can cause fluid loss. So you should drink plenty of liquids and eat regular meals. Missing nutrients may only make a person sicker. Wait an hour after eating before swimming. The Red Cross says it’s usually not necessary for you or your child to wait an hour before going in the water. Chocolate causes acne. Sudies show that no specific food has been proven to cause acne. Eating carrots will improve your eyesight. While carrots help maintain healthy eyesight, they don’t improve vision.
Sometimes we are raised to believe something only later to find out it’s not true. That’s what happened to the Apostle Peter. From birth, good Jewish boys and girls were taught that the Gentiles or everybody that wasn’t a Jew was unclean. Jews referred to non-Jews as "Gentile dogs". They wouldn’t sit down to eat with them and were prohibited from even entering a Gentile home. If a Jew touched a Gentile, even accidentally, he would have to go home and wash to become ritually pure. And, if they had to buy something from a Gentile merchant, that item had to be washed before it was used, even furniture. Now in the early church, the followers of Jesus were Jews who believed the Messiah had come. So they practiced the Jewish faith and all of its traditions, avoiding things like the unclean foods and even Gentiles. Now, however, God intended to change all of that.
One day, Peter went up to the roof to pray and God came to him in a vision. In it, a large sheet descended from heaven and contained all kinds of animals and birds. The voice of God spoke and told Peter to kill and eat. But seeing unclean animals on the sheet and being a good Jewish Christian, Peter told God he wouldn’t eat anything unclean. And God responded, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." The sheet then ascended back up to heaven, leaving Peter wondering what the vision meant. As he does, two servants and a soldier arrive at the door. They had been sent by Cornelius, a Roman centurion, to invite Peter to come to Cornelius’s home. Now understanding his vision, Gentiles were not unclean in God’s eyes, Peter accepts the invitation. At Cornelius’ home, Peter presents the Gospel and the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard and they spoke in tongues. Peter couldn’t believe what he was seeing and said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Peter then baptized them in the name of Jesus.
Peter had been raised to believe one thing only to find it wasn’t true. Peter had always thought God was an exclusive God, for the Jews only, that Gentiles were second-class who didn’t deserve God’s attention like the Jews did. But now, Peter sees he was wrong. God loves the Gentiles just like the Jews. In fact, Peter realizes that God wants all people to believe and be saved, not just for a select few. This was revolutionary in the eyes of Peter and not only changed the way he had thought but now how he lived and ministered. And it changed the church’s mission too.
Now it’s one thing to have an inclusive Gospel, another to have an inclusive God but quite another to be an inclusive church and have an inclusive ministry and worship experience. In America today, studies have found that 92% of all churches are mono-racial, that is of the same race. Martin Luther King said that the most segregated hour of worship is 11 AM on Sunday morning. He was right then and he’s right today. And yet that doesn’t seem to be the desire or prayer of Jesus. In his last recorded prayer, Jesus prays for himself, his disciples and for those who believe in Him. “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23
Amazingly, Jesus prays for just one thing for those who come to believe in Him, and he does so three times: unity, that we would be one. Jesus wants us to become mature in our faith, and completely united with each other and the Father. Why is unity so important? Two reasons. First is so that the world would know God’s love for them and for all people. Second is so that they may come to believe, that our oneness of mind, love and spirit might be the most powerful witness we could ever share with the world. When the world sees such unity among believers of all nations, races and cultures, they will experientially understand he is truly the Savior of the world because men and women of diverse backgrounds are walking together in faith through Jesus Christ. So when Christ prays for the world to know God’s love, he is speaking directly to the fact that salvation is not just for the Jews. In the 21st century, it will be the unity of diverse believers walking as one in Christ that will proclaim greater than any sermon or Bible study that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and loves all His children.
That means we are to be about connecting to diverse people in the name of Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel. In New Orleans, we know about diversity. New Orleans is best described as having a gumbo culture. New Orleans started as a place where Africans, both slave and free, and American Indians shared their cultures. The French government encouraged their citizens here to intermingle with them as well, seeing this as a strategy to produce a durable culture in what was a very difficult place to live and survive. The resulting way of life differed dramatically from any other culture in North America. Thus, from the beginning New Orleans was different and special and continues to distinguish itself today. Even though steamboats and sailing ships quickly connected French Louisiana to the rest of the country, New Orleaneans jealously guarded their culture and way of life, continuing even today.
We are a city of diverse communities. As more foreign immigrants than Americans came to take up residence in the city in the 19th century, they began to add to the culture. Immigrants were met with discrimination and suspicion from locals which caused them to congregate in certain neighborhoods which then reflected the native language and culture of the people living there. The resulting conflicts were addressed by living in different areas of the city. The native Creoles lived in the French Quarter. They then began to settle in the Faubourg Marigny. In the late 19th century, the French Quarter became known as Little Italy when the Sicilians moved into what had become the run down apartments there. Americans from other parts of the country moved here and settled in Faubourg St. Marie. It became known as the American Quarter, which today is now the CBD. The Irish settled in what became known as the Irish Channel. Free African Americans began to develop and live in the Treme area with Creole slaves forming the earliest black urban settlement in North America. Germans settled into the Bywater area and Gretna. Jews from Eastern Europe settled in Central City around Dryades Street. Cubans came fleeing Castro. But the largest Latino population can trace its roots directly back to Honduras and the banana trade which came through New Orleans. While no one neighborhood became known as Honduran, this population retained its identity and family ties while assimilated into the city.
Many of these nationalities formed social clubs and benevolent organizations which further connected them to their heritage and their homeland culture as subsequent generations moved out of the neighborhoods they grew up in and into new developing parts of the city. Add on top of this the distinction between the Catholic and Protestant faith and diversity was everywhere.
All of these diverse peoples added to the complexity of New Orleans’ population and enriched our culture. As a result, New Orleans has remained a different way of life unlike anywhere else in the America. Part of its strength is that New Orleans has successfully fashioned a public culture that transcends all of its varied peoples and individual customs and unites us as one. We are more than a mosaic of different cultures. Instead, we share a combined cultural identity which unites us all. Neither race nor nationality excludes any group from this common ground because each nationality and neighborhood made their own contribution to our city’s culture. Some of those include the following.
The French contributed the Catholic faith, the Napoleonic code and a focus on enjoying good food and sensual pleasures. The Creoles contributed masked balls, café life, their joie de vivre and Creole cuisine. African slaves contributed their drums which were then combined with European horns and mixed with the music heard in churches and barrooms, and thus gave birth to Jazz. They also contributed Jazz Funerals, Second Linin’ and Mardi Gras Indians which were taken from American Indians. Latin rhythms have always meshed effortlessly into New Orleans’ musical heritage. Adopting a Cajun tradition, New Orleanians took to crawfish boils, jambalaya, crawfish etouffe and gumbo. The Haitians introduced voodoo into the city’s culture. Germans brought the tradition of Brewing beer like Jax, Falstaff and Dixie but also started beer gardens which were outdoor picnic areas with live music for families to drink and dance. These became the center of the social life of New Orleans.. They also contributed bakeries like Leidenheimer’s, Haydels and Hubigs. The Irish contributed their accent and why New Orleaneans sound more like people from Brooklyn rather than the South. They also added Hibernia Bank, Parasol’s and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Sicilians contributed St. Joseph’s Day and the muffuletta,. Many of New Orleans beloved retail stores were Jewish-owned: Krauss, Maison Blanche, K&B, Adler’s, Hurwitz-Mintz, and Rubensteins. They also founded Touro Hospital. And since Katrina, Mexicans have added taco trucks and restaurants to our landscape.
The food, the Christian faith, the festivals, the music, the Saints, the joie de vivre, the laissez les bon temps roule, and even Mardi Gras all create a powerful sense of identity which unites us despite our differences and diversity and make us who we are. It is the diverse communities and neighborhoods and their identity and culture which make New Orleans what it is and what it will become. And it is to these diverse people and cultures with whom we are to connect as followers of Jesus and are to connect them to Jesus. For they “are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Yes it is our culture which unites us a city, but it is Christ Jesus which can unite us as brother and sister in Christ.
John Ed Mathison, former pastor of Frazier Memorial UMC, tells the story Tommy Waite an African American man serving time in jail and converted through Frazier’s Prison Ministry. They didn’t stop there though. They discipled him and even helped him to get his GED. When he got out through the work release program, the church decided to hire Tommy as a janitor. Tommy enjoyed sweeping and cleaning around the church but what he really enjoyed was talking to the people of the church who crossed his path and thanking them for all the church had done for him. As he did, he would share how he came to faith and what his faith now meant to him. It wasn’t long before Sunday School classes started asking Tommy to come and share his witness. Now Tommy is a very imposing man standing 6’ 4” and 260 lbs. As Tommy was sharing his testimony one Sunday to class of more than 120 people, he said for all that God has change din his lifem, the biggest change was his hatred of white people. He didn’t like white people and didn’t trust them. As he shared this a man by the name of Wes Straine came from the back of the room to the front. Wes had been a policeman and he stood just about the same size as Tommy. There was a hush in the room as people didn’t know what was going to happen.
Wes said, “His Son was going to get married marry but he told Wes that he couldn’t come to the wedding unless he came to church once. So Wes committed to attend worship once. At the end of the service, the pastor called people to come forward for prayer at the altar rail. A young crippled boy stood up and was struggling to come down the isle so Wes stood and helped the young crippled boy down the isle and to kneel at the railing. Wes knelt down next to him. It was in that moment that God did something in his heart. You see, as a policeman, Wes’ biggest problem was that he hated blacks but he hated black men the most.
Tommy and Wes Started out toward each other. Tommy stuck out his hand. Wes said we can do better than that. In that moment, these two bohemoth of men hugged each other. John Ed Mathison said, You can’t legislate that or even educate that but ultimately it’s the redemptive love of God than changes us.