Jean’s Gospel: A Better Melting Pot
Depending on your background, particularly whether or not you’re a minority in any major category of individual identity (such as religion, race or ethnicity), the idea of a “melting pot” – of being assimilated into a pre-eminent and pre-existing cultural identity – may be something you heartily desire or something you find repugnant. The latter group may view the image of a “salad bowl” or even separation more agreeable.
My first experience of a melting pot was in the U.S. Air Force. I remember marveling at how effective the Air Force was at assimilating a very diverse group of young men into a cohesive unit of airmen. Entering Basic Training, we were as different a collection of young men as I could have imagined who in our prior civilian lives shared little in common and ran in very different social, geographic and economic circles. But by the time of our graduation, the survivors had been successfully assimilated into the Air Force and, as a result, we viewed each other as comrades.
Christ’s Melting Pot
Most people never experience the military melting pot. In the civilian realm, the concept of a “melting pot” appears out of vogue. Many people today identify themselves more by their personal feelings and close relationships, rather than by group identities fostered by participation or membership in large institutions. Therefore, unless and until a major cultural shift occurs, don’t expect America to function as a melting pot via military or civilian institutions.
However, there remains a melting pot far greater than anything man could create. The melting pot that I am staking my future on is the one that Jesus Christ created for us. Jesus alluded to it in John’s Gospel: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (10:16)
Jesus forged His melting pot out of His own flesh and blood, which He sacrificed on a cross for our sins to reconcile us to God. “[I]n Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19). This reconciliation becomes ours personally through faith in Christ. It is our entry point into Christ’s melting pot, which I am using as a metaphor for His new eternal family. In Christ’s family the pre-eminent identity is not a set of principles or founding documents, but Christ himself. In Christ’s family we are not conservative or liberal, male or female, gay or straight, citizen or illegal; “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)
Christ’s melting pot is strange because all the folks in it endeavoring to be like Him formerly rejected and crucified Him. Therefore, God has to draw us to Christ. (John 6:44) Another unique aspect is that there are no background checks or entrance exams to get into Christ’s melting pot. Oh, wait, I’m wrong about the entrance exam. There is an entrance exam, but I failed it miserably and I sincerely hope you fail too. Christ only admits failures. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17b)
Where is Christ’s Melting Pot?
Here on earth, Christ has assembled his family into one Holy Christian Church. When I capitalize the “C” in Church, I am referring to a fellowship that all Christians enjoy on the basis of their faith in Christ, regardless of small “c” church affiliation. Regardless of your church affiliation, if you are a Christian, you are a member of His body the Church.
In many churches today, especially liturgical churches, you will even find a tangible representation of Christ’s melting pot – which is called the Baptismal Font. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27) Baptism is both a sign and a summary of Christian life in Christ’s melting pot.
The Church as a Melting Pot?
Unlike military or civilian melting pots, which are focused on assimilating people into shared principles, mission and values, the focus of the Church is on the person of Christ, our Redeemer – in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col 2:9) Through His gifts, Christ conforms us to His image (Rom 8:29). As we begin to reflect the mind of Christ (Rom 12:2; Phil 2:5), we begin to recognize each other as family.
How Does Christ Melt Us to Himself and to One Another?
Christ forms us through His Word. When Christ’s words of Law and Gospel are proclaimed by the Church, seeds of faith are sown into the hearts of the congregation, and the weeds of our sin are rooted out. Even among Christians, if sin is not addressed regularly through the proclamation of Law and Gospel, sin becomes like weeds in the heart that grow up among the good seedlings (of faith). If left unaddressed for too long, the weeds threaten to choke off the good seedlings. But hearing God’s Word renews and strengthens our faith and helps us to see ourselves and the world around us through the eyes of faith.
By hearing from Christ in preaching, teaching and in the liturgy, the sheep learn the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow Him. (John 10:1-18) Christians must listen to Christ, so we recognize His voice and can distinguish it from other voices (often evil) which compete for our attention and allegiance.
In His Word, Christ gives us the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-16)
Jesus gave us His prayer: “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven….’” (Matt 6:9-13) Jesus wants us to pray not only for ourselves but for each other. “Our Father” means we share the same God, the same salvation, as family. When I ask for my daily bread, I ask our Father that you be fed as well. When I ask that my sins be forgiven, I am also interceding with our Father for the forgiveness of your sins.
Jesus also gave us a tangible Word. Through the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us Himself and the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:26-28) – in, with and under bread and wine. This holy meal also is a communion of believers: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor 10:17)
We are living in a time of anxiety, but also of great opportunity in which Christians, living out our individual vocations, can be good leaven which benefits the whole lump of our society. Our society needs good leaven. I have described the place of our preparation as Christ’s melting pot. This is not a ‘to do’ list; we are not the cooks. Christ will prepare each of us through His gifts and service to us – in His melting pot.
Lord, preserve us in Your Word now and forever. Amen.