It was the booing that threw me. I rarely watch AFL football, but turned it on on Sunday for some reason and watched the second quarter of the West Coast Eagles versus Sydney. Switched it off in frustration. Every time Sydney champ (and 2014 Australian of the Year), Adam Goodes, neared the ball he was booed. Not one or two razzies, but loud drowning waves of booing. Every time. Good thing Goodes had an off game, otherwise the crowd would have had no voice by Monday morning. How were they going to be able to scream road rage at each other on the freeway commute without a voice? Doesn’t bear thinking about.
The booing began after the Indigenous Round of the AFL, when in response to constant taunts, Goodes threw an imaginary spear at the Carlton supporters back in late May. The Indigenous Round. A round of AFL fixtures designed to showcase and revel in the contribution of indigenous players over the decades, and it was riven by booing and jeering at a dual winner of the league’s most prestigious award.
And it all came to a head this weekend when more people in Perth than ever attend church any given Sunday, crammed into the Domain Stadium to be entertained/worship/find meaning (cross out which does not apply to you). By the end young indigenous star, Lewis Jetta, reenacted Goodes’ initial spear throw gesture out of sheer frustration and anger.
Hey, don’t you just love this dialogue from Mississippi Burning?:
Mayor Tilman: Do you like baseball, do you, Anderson?
Anderson: Yeah, I do. You know, it’s the only time when a black man can wave a stick at a white man and not start a riot.
An actual stick? You mean a real one? Wow, you can’t even wave an imaginary stick here in Perth without starting a riot. We could have taught those Deep South good ole boys a thing or two!
What saddens me most of all, is that this sorry mess has not caused the casual racism that infects our society, simply exposed it. The very round of AFL matches that was supposed to bring people together highlighted how far apart we are. And the subsequent excuses for the booing just sound all the more turgid and convoluted in light of it. We are simply being self-righteous in our unrighteousness.
What drives it home even further is the report in The West Australian newspaper this morning of a Sydney supporter, who checked a man for making blatantly racist comments to Goodes during the match. He goes on:
“At quarter time, I approached the Eagles fan and said, ‘There’s no room for that behaviour. Did you call him an ape’,” the member told media in Sydney.
“Then he threatened to beat me up, there and then. He said, ‘I’ll beat the s… out of you as well’.”
Which starts to make sense of that bumper sticker you occasionally see: “I’m not racist: I hate everybody”
All of this brings me to Ephesians 2:11-22. I am preaching on it this weekend. The fulcrum upon which the passage balances is v14:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.
I started prepping for this on Monday morning before the furore over the previous day’s footy match took off. And I was scratching around for a great illustration to highlight that barrier between Jews and Gentiles. I thought of the falling of the Berlin Wall. It’s a great one isn’t it, full of history and visual images. Full of drama and theatre. And conveniently full of thousands of miles from us, and a further barrier of 25 years ago.
Nope, not the Berlin Wall. What else? Could anything better illustrate the dividing wall that Jesus destroys between human and human (and between human and God), than Sunday’s AFL match? And could anything better illustrate how impotent all of our lofty measures at breaking down barriers are than the last eight weeks of booing?
The passage demonstrates that what won’t work is knowing about peace, following the example of peace, or even reading a lot of books about peace. Why? Because we are not capable of peace! Jesus is not simply example or guru, he IS the actual peace we need. Just as he IS the way, IS the truth, and IS the life, so too he IS the peace! He is the peace we need between humans and that is a peace that is only possible because he is the peace we need with God. We don’t need to be better educated people, or better informed people, or even more tolerant people. We need to be NEW people, and that’s exactly what the passage says Jesus does, in vv15-16:
His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
And where does Jesus our peace rule and reign? In the church! Among his people who are now a people of peace! The passage goes on to say that Jesus makes one new humanity out of the two warring factions, and not simply a humanity that can live next door to each other without killing each other, but one that grows in love together.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Our culture is increasingly unable to live with its deepest differences. For all of the education these past decades, people are not transformed. They still drink and drive, still smoke even though it will kill them, and still hate at an alarming rate. No public media campaign, no Indigenous Round, no police blitz can change us, only Jesus our peace can.
And when that peace starts to fill the church, it then bubbles up and flows out into a warring world. Jesus, not just our peace, but our Prince of Peace, ruling and reigning among a people called to peace.