Observing the Sabbath every seven days is important for many reasons, one of which is that the Sabbath de-centers us. Our eyes are taken off of ourselves and put on God. We step away from pursuing our own ends, our own glory, and are reminded that life is about God’s ends and God’s glory.
And more. For those of us who are white middle class followers of Jesus this every day in seven de-centers our white lives and white middle class values. It does this in a most mundane way:
We say the Apostles Creed, “I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
We sing a song that speaks of Jesus as Lord.
We hear on Pentecost Sunday the words of Peter, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36 NIV11)
Week by week we declare that Jesus is Lord, that he rules and reigns over us, that we submit to him and his ways. And if we are paying attention this declaration de-centers our white middle class Christianity and de-centers us because:
We have declared our allegiance to a brown skinned, middle eastern man; we have put ourselves under the rule of a man of color (some may argue in a rather gnostic way that Jesus doesn’t really have color or that he wasn’t really Jewish [cf. German Christian Church of WW 2, but that belittles his incarnation and the importance of the physical)
We have just declare our allegiance to one who:
- was born of an unwed mother
- became a refugee to escape political persecution
- grew up in grinding poverty, in land occupied by a foreign army
- left a paying job to become a wandering teacher whose work was largely supported by women
- was at constant odds with those in power
- violently threw out the money changers in the temple
- was illegally arrested
- was sentenced to beating and death unjustly—by a system that prided itself on its justice
All of this is outside the value system and even the expectation of many of us who are white middle class Christians. This is neither our experience of life nor our expectation of what we are supposed to get when we become followers of Jesus.
And then there is this: we declare allegiance to a brown skinned middle eastern man who, when talking about how nations will be judged, talks about sheep and goats, i.e. he lays out how life should be lived:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, (think of Jesus in the wilderness tempted by Satan)
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, (think of Jesus with the Samaritan woman)
I was a stranger and you invited me in, (think of Jesus as a refugee in Egypt)
I needed clothes and you clothed me, (think of Jesus naked on the cross)
I was sick and you looked after me, (think of Jesus’ healing ministry)
I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” (think of Jesus arrested and alone)
(Matt. 25:31–36 NIV11)
This sheep style of life is not typically what we think of when we think of white middle class Christianity.
To observe the Sabbath every seven days de-centers us, our way of life, our belief that the ways of western, white Christians is the best way of life. We declare allegiance to a brown skinned, middle eastern man and say that it is his wisdom that teaches us how to live in God’s good but fallen being redeemed world.
But it also teaches us an important lesson in this moment—that there is wisdom that is outside of how white followers of Jesus see the world. That in this moment (and in many moments) we need to listen to our sisters and brothers of color whose lives may have much more in common with Jesus than ours do. It is a moment for us to de-center ourselves and listen to and center the voices of our brown and black sisters and brothers and follow their lead.
This is also a moment for us to lament how our refusal to de-center ourselves and our refusal to see the social implications of the gospel have created and perpetuated the deep brokenness we see around us. (Check out The Color of Compromise on Amazon Prime and David Swanson’s Re-discipling the White Church)
(Thanks to Jevon Washington of Flourish Church Seattle, WA; Kyle Brooks of Tapestry Church Oakland, CA; and Dr. Micah McCreary of New Brunswick Theological Semiary for planting the seeds of this post.)