birthday wishes

Turning into my bank, I was chagrined to see steam billowing from beneath the hood of a pickup truck in the parking lot. Yikes. It looked bad. Expensive. The decal on the side advertised a local landscape guy. A black man about my age peered into the engine; the truck was his business. Not mine.

Three hundred dollars, the deposit slip already filled out, sat uneasily in my pocket. I don’t usually carry cash. This was unusual. Everything about it. The man was not asking for help. I contemplated my options, and pulled into the drive-thru and carried on with my business. Conflicted, I looked in my rearview mirror. The man and truck were nowhere to be seen. 

A missed opportunity. A divine encounter averted. God knows I was- at that very moment- thinking about reparations. Not the why or the whether– which I explored in Wages & Wealth and Our Neighbors– but the how. Could white individuals implement reparations with black neighbors they encounter?

Every high priest is taken from the people and put in charge of things that relate to God for their sake, in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebrews 5:1 (CEB)

I am one of the people. I can relate. How do ideas translate into everyday experience? God’s plan for reparations involved neighbor-to-neighbor transfers. Simple and outrageous. Who is my neighbor? Why was I unable to pull into the parking space and release that cash for the repair of the pickup truck?

The high priest is able to deal gently with the ignorant and those who are misled since he himself is prone to weakness. Because of his weakness, he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the people. Hebrews 5:2-3 (CEB)

God deals gently with me, Jesus intercedes, and then I deal gently with others. This encounter was no accident. The barriers of neighbor-to-neighbor reparations are many. Impractical. Awkward. I couldn’t manage it once, let alone model something reproducible. 

Direct deposits were on my mind. Stimulus checks for descendants of former slaves. I am not a believer in big government. I don’t expect our administration to fund reparations any more than Pharaoh would have compensated the Israelites for generations of unpaid labor. 

What if the church led the way? I imagine that on the occasion of my birthday, I contribute a chunk to the church reparations fund. Or perhaps for MLK’s birthday. Or on my kids’ birthdays. Or in honor of my parents’ birthdays. And on the occasion of my African-American neighbor’s birthday, the church distributed funds to them. A return on the investment that black Christians made in multi-racial fellowship. White churches partnering with black churches.

Getting bogged down in the details, the debate, is easily exhausting. But reading further in Hebrews this morning, I was surprised to laugh out loud. Though I have a friend who describes God as the funniest person in the room, I rarely get the joke. But the Lord knows I needed to laugh.

We have a lot to say about this topic, and it’s difficult to explain, because you have been lazy and you haven’t been listening. Hebrews 5:11 (CEB)

There is a lot that’s already been said. I haven’t read nearly all of it, and it seems difficult to explain. Maybe reparations are simply outrageous. Birthday wishes. Maybe they start with me. Double down on that three hundred. A good bet, a blessing ahead.

No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God…. Hebrews 5:4a (CEB)

“Who Hears in the House of Eli?”
1/17 Order of Service

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