Sitting Under the African American Voice
The whole concept of the Imago Dei…the ‘Image of God’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected…This gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this…there are no gradations in the Image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the Image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Next to the blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
– CS Lewis
This year on the Sunday evening before the MLK holiday, our Christ Presbyterian family welcomed our brothers and sisters from New Livingstone Church, an African American church in East Nashville, to minister to us in our sanctuary.
The blended choir, led by New Livingstone and including singers from both churches, was a beautiful, joyful, unifying highlight. But perhaps the greatest treat of the evening was the sermon from New Livingstone’s Senior Pastor, Ronnie Mitchell. (Please do yourself a favor and carve out 30 minutes to listen to Pastor Ronnie’s sermon here, which was a capstone to my sermon that same morning, which can be heard here).
If you have read my blog previously, or if you have read chapter 14 of my book, Befriend, then you already know a little bit about Pastor Ronnie’s influence on my life. The following words, shared in his sermon, is also the overriding theme and passion of his life and ministry:
Anything you can do,
we can do better.
– Pastor Ronnie Mitchell
May our hearts, both today and every day, be drawn to the vision championed by Pastor Ronnie and Dr. King, and that was also given to us centuries ago in the New Testament, which calls us as one, diverse humanity of redeemed sinners — one Lord, one faith, one baptism — and one family of God through Jesus.
Oh, just one more recommendation. After you listen to Pastor Ronnie’s sermon, you might also want to take a slow read of Dr. King’s masterpiece, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which Patti and I do every year at this time — both to encourage us about progress that has been made since the time of Dr. King, and also to inspire us to continue working toward the world that is not yet, but that most certainly, under Jesus, ever more shall be.
But for now, I will leave you with a text version of my introduction of Ronnie and our family from New Livingstone, which can also be heard in audio form at the beginning of this recording.
Introducing Pastor Ronnie Mitchell and New Livingstone Church
My friend Pastor Ronnie Mitchell is more than a friend. He is also a mentor to me.
Pastor Ronnie calls me his “brother from another mother,” and yet, we are different. He has lived in the same neighborhood his entire life. He is nearly two decades my senior and has been married to the same woman for almost as long as I have been alive. While also working for the city of Nashville, he has pastored one African American congregation, New Livingstone Church, for close to forty years.
Pastor Ronnie has taught me more about life in Jesus than books or sermons. He has been to me a picture of grace and longsuffering. He has shown me, in the presence of his granddaughter, what it looks like for a grown man to be wrapped around a little girl’s finger. In one breath, he is a model of dependent, childlike prayer. In the next breath, he shows me what it looks like to storm the gates of heaven in power. When I’m close to Ronnie, I always sense that Jesus is close, because Ronnie lives his life close to Jesus. In more ways than I can count, he makes me want to be a better man.
Pastor Ronnie invited me to preach at New Livingstone’s “Revival.” This was one of the top three most heartening experiences I have ever had as a minister. From the moment I stepped foot into their sanctuary, the New Livingstone family received me not as a guest preacher, but as one of their own. Their receptivity and hospitality toward me, toward the musicians from our church that Pastor Ronnie invited to lead the singing, and toward our church members that Ronnie invited to attend, was a taste of the Kingdom of God.
Pastor Ronnie has taught his people, just as he teaches me, to see color not through the eyes of cynicism and despair, but through the eyes of hope; not through the eyes of separation and alienation and otherness, but through the eyes of God’s Kingdom reflected in every race, nation, tribe and tongue. He has taught us about how much we all need each other, to learn from and listen to each other. By treating me as one of his people, and by calling me his brother from another mother, Pastor Ronnie reminds me that being united to Jesus also unites us to each other. It means that through Jesus, our definition of “us” must expand, and our definition of “them” must shrink.
Pastor Ronnie handed the microphone of his church to me, a white minister from the other side of town. He did not treat me as a foreigner; instead, he treated me as a friend. He did not belittle me; instead, he elevated my dignity. He did not ignore me; instead, he treated me like I had something important to say. He did not treat me as one of them; instead, he welcomed me as part of his us. He did not give me crumbs from his table; instead, he gave me a seat at his table. He did not call me a white man from the other side of town; instead, he called me his brother from another mother.
Pastor Ronnie is my mentor.
And from Pastor Ronnie, I still have a lot to learn.