What do you think of when you hear the word “Solidarity?”
I’ve asked a few people this question over the past couple of weeks, and I’ve received some different answers. Some think of labor unions—you know, workers standing in solidarity with each other, refusing to cross picket lines. “Solidarity Forever,” is the title of a common union song, sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Some took that labor union theme in a different direction, remembering the anti-communist labor union in Poland called Solidarity. It grew so quickly that in the early ‘80s, the Polish government imposed martial law, and in 1982, made the union illegal. Both Pope John Paul II and the U.S. government helped keep it going through the rest of the ‘80s, and when the Iron Curtain was rolled back in 1989, Solidarity helped lead the government.
Others took a different approach, talking about “standing together.” To them, solidarity described how people “stand together” with other people—for example after the terrorist bombing in France, many people stood together with France, even if standing together just meant putting a French flag in the background of their picture on Facebook. Others spoke of standing together with persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Finally, some took that idea of “standing together” a little further. They spoke of the Christian concept of solidarity, whether that means Christ’s solidarity with us by taking on human flesh and dying in our place, or human solidarity—the idea that as image bearers of God, we humans are all a part of the same family. That Christian concept of solidarity is clearly visible in our text this morning—in fact I think it is intertwined throughout Scripture. And so it is that Christian concept of solidarity that I want to focus on today.
I became especially interested in the Christian concept of solidarity, because I have been spending some of my time reading up on the parallels between Calvinist social theories and Catholic social teaching. It’s amazing—Calvinists and Catholics may differ on some important theological issues, but we really have a lot in common when it comes to political and social theory. We often use completely different terminology, which sometimes leads us to walk down slightly different paths. But on social issues, anyway, those paths don’t really deviate very far.
Pope John Paul II, who worked with the U.S. government to secretly keep the Solidarity movement going in Poland, once declared that the foundation of Christian social thought—Catholic or otherwise, rests on three cornerstones. One of those cornerstones is solidarity. So today, let’s focus on the Christian concept of solidarity. To do that, we’ll first look briefly at our solidarity with Adam and then Christ’s solidarity with us. Then, we’ll focus on our solidarity with each other as humans beings, made in God’s image.
II. Our Solidarity with Adam
First, and very briefly, I want to touch on a very important part of the Christian idea of solidarity—our solidarity with Adam. Some people call this “corporate solidarity.” To understand the real meaning of what Christ did for us, we have to understand corporate solidarity.
Corporate solidarity means that a group of people is so identified with a single person that what is said of the individual can also be said of the group as a whole. This idea of corporate solidarity is made plain in Romans 5. In verse 12, Paul writes that “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin… in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”
R. C. Sproul explains this well. He says that “Adam was chosen to represent his descendants; so, when he fell, all people fell.” The old New England primer put even more simply: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”
Because of the sin of the first Adam, all of humanity fell into sin. Because all humans are identified with Adam, we corporately share in that fall into sin. True, we all sin as individuals, but the core of our fallenness as sinful human beings comes about because of our solidarity with Adam.
III. Christ’s Solidarity with Us
Thankfully, there is much more to the story of solidarity than our solidarity with Adam. Jesus, as the second Adam, also represents His people. As Christians, we bear the name of Christ, and we are so identified with Him that what is said of Him can also be said of Christians as a whole. This means that Christ’s perfect obedience to God allows Christians to be counted as having also kept the Law.
I can’t imagine any more perfect picture of solidarity than Christ’s incarnation—his taking on human flesh and living among us and living a perfect life on our behalf.
Ed Knudson is a former pastor who now leads the Center for Public Theology. Knudson points out that the incarnation wasn’t about Jesus becoming “a human being in order to demonstrate how capable God is.” After all, God didn't have to prove anything to anybody. Instead, Jesus became a human being because “God wanted to create solidarity with us as human beings. God in Jesus entered into our lives. God did not just stand over and above us and away from us, but entered into the reality of human life so that God could be with us, close to us, part of us, so that God could know directly what it means to be one of us. … This is solidarity.”
We are reconciled with God—no longer far off from him. And we are set free to live lives of service to God and solidarity with out neighbors.
IV. Our Solidarity with Each Other
And that brings us to the key point of our text from Ephesians this morning—our solidarity with each other. In verses 13 and 14 we read that “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…”
Paul is referring here to the split between Jews and Gentiles. Christ, by standing in as the second Adam, didn’t just establish solidarity with the Jews, but with all of his people, Jew and Gentle alike.
Healing the split between Jews and Gentiles was an important part of the ministry of the early church. Jewish Christians had a tendency to look down at Gentile Christians, believing that they were somehow better because they came from the line of Abraham.
While the division between Jew and Gentile is not a big part of the Christian church today, there have come to be many other divisions among Christians—differences over style, differences between rich and poor, differences over politics, differences over race.
But there is a level of solidarity that goes beyond simply healing divisions between Christians, as important as that is. After all, God created ALL humans in his own image and likeness. Despite our different appearance, our different abilities, our different cultures—even our different beliefs—we are all reflections of God’s image. Put another way, we are one human family, whatever our differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.
Our text teaches us that Christ’s purpose in atonement is to create in himself one humanity. He came and preached peace to all—those who were far away and those who are near. And as a result, we are no longer foreigners and strangers. Instead we stand together as fellow citizens with all of God’s people. We stand in solidarity with all humanity as we seek to be built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
But how do we do that? How can we live in solidarity and peace with each other?
Note that word peace in verse 17: “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”
The Greek word we translate as peace here comes up 92 different times in the New Testament. Jesus taught that the peacemakers will be blessed. When Jesus healed, he often told people to go in peace and be healed. In John, Jesus comforted his disciples by telling them “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” And throughout the epistles we read of the peace of Christ, and the command to pursue peace with all humans.
The very core of solidarity—of standing together with our fellow human beings, is pursuit of justice and peace. The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict. And like the old bumper sticker says, “if you want peace, work for justice.”
But how do we do that? How do we work for justice? After all, the problems of the world are so big, so seemingly unsolveable. How do we make peace in a world where blustering despots and politicians with their fingers on nuclear arsenals ratchet up hatred and spew threats? How do we make peace in a world where racists march with torches through a town that still bears the scars of Jim Crow? How do we make peace in a world where more than 90% of the wealth is held by less than 10% of the people—and by the way we are in that 10%.
Well, first, note that solidarity doesn’t mean that we need find immediate solutions to all the world’s problems. As Jesus himself notes, we will always have the poor with us. Instead solidarity means standing together with the widow and the orphan, with the poor and the marginalized.
And standing together actually means “together.” Solidarity is more than a feeling of vague compassion for the misfortune of people. It is more than just a feeling of sadness or distress about the bad things our fellow humans often bear. And it is even more than just posting a picture to our Facebook accounts or writing letters or signing petitions
Rather, it is what Pope John Paul called “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good…for the good of all and each individual.” Paul Bailie, a pastor who serves a church in a desperately poor part of Texas, puts it another way. He says that “solidarity isn’t just to agree with somebody. Solidarity isn’t just to help somebody. Rather, solidarity is the process of laying aside your own opportunity and privilege in order to live in equality and mutuality with others.”
“Laying aside your own opportunity and privilege in order to live in equality and mutuality with others.” Kind of sounds like “Sell all you own, give it to the poor, and follow me.”
R.C. Sproul was once asked if this instruction from Jesus to the rich young ruler was true for all? Sproul’s answer was yes—it is true.
He pointed out that we often comfort ourselves by thinking that Jesus’s words were just some kind of test. We argue that Jesus was simply calling out the young ruler for not really obeying all the commandments. After all, he put money ahead of God.
But when we do this we deceive ourselves. Sproul puts it this way: “When we sign on with Jesus we give up our wealth.” In fact “we give up every gift that He had already given us, and every gift He will give us from that moment forward. When we become a part of the bride of Christ our pre-nuptial agreement reads, ‘All that I am and all that I have is yours O Lord, from this day forth and evermore.’”
And so, while the Master may still allow us to continue to steward the money and reputation and gifts we have, we must give it up and give it to those who need it.
How might we do that?
Well, first, note that while Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, the context shows us that he was urging us on to generosity and action, not encouraging apathy. Craig Greenfield, a former missionary who now writes on poverty issues points out that Jesus is using a catch-phrase from a larger context.
You know how some catch-phrases are just so well known, that everyone knows the ending—you don’t even really need to say it? “Sticks and stones.”
Everyone already knows the ending, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Just saying “sticks and stones” is enough for you to catch my drift.
It just so happens that in saying “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus was quoting another well-known Biblical phrase—from Deuteronomy 15. Everyone hearing him back then would have caught his drift.
Here’s the full original quote from Deuteronomy 15:
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be … For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”
So, reading Jesus’ words in their original context you can see that His words were meant to encourage generosity towards the poor. “Open wide your hand!” The command to be open-handed towards the poor comes directly from God himself.
But standing in solidarity goes beyond simply issues of wealth and poverty. A Reformed Presbyterian seminary professor, Michael Lefebvre, has been on the forefront of racial reconciliation issues. He encourages white Christians to spend more time humbly listening to the voices of minority communities. And that includes not picking at some of the areas where we may find some disagreement or concern.
He agrees that there may occasionally be reasons to be concerned about things that a few members of organizations such as Black Live Matter say. But he notes that it is more important to listen to what he calls “the genuine voices of appeal.” “Have the charity to look past what is theologically troubling and turn your ear to hear the cry of the oppressed,” he says.
He also points out that cross-cultural friendships are important, but not enough. Racism in our society goes far beyond interpersonal issues, but pervades the structures of our society.
When white folks like most of us think about racism, we’re usually thinking about the interpersonal issues, and not about this systemic racism. There is a reason for that.
Michael Emerson and Christian Smith wrote an excellent book a few years back called “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America.” Several of my friends and I are reading through and discussing this book together.
Emerson and Smith point out that the racial practices that cause and create racial division today in the United States are more and more hidden, they are embedded in the everyday operations of institutions, they avoid direct racial terminology, and they are invisible to most Whites. We can’t see them” But they are still there.
Cecil Murray, senior pastor at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, has a solution to the fact that white folks too often fail to recognize systemic racism. He says “white evangelicals need an at-risk gospel… Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures… The gospel at once works with [the] individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.” An at-risk gospel means we may be giving up our easy lives or our reputations or our wealth, but we are called to these risks in order to root out the effects of sin on the very structures of our society.
Paul Bailie, that pastor from Texas, gives a few ideas for living in solidarity with the poor and taking on the structures of our society, ideas that have come out of his experience in ministry with the poor. He encourages Christians to work together in food cooperatives and community gardens, rather than just creating food banks. He suggests that Christians who have particular skills—crafts and sewing, for example, to put together workshops teaching these skills rather than just giving away old clothes. He encourages Christians to go on different kinds of mission trips—instead of just going and painting and fixing things, he encourages us to get immersed in the culture, and learn and worship together in the communities we visit.
And perhaps most importantly, we can stand in solidarity with our neighbors by making sure that our homes and congregations are places of hospitality for all—places where the poor and marginalized in society feel comfortable and cared for, even when some of their problems seem to us to be preventable or self-inflicted or the result of sin. Solidarity is about standing with people, recognizing their humanity and worth, regardless of the situation.
Over the years we’ve begun to understand that standing in solidarity with the unborn means more than just marching around abortion clinics yelling “murder.” Instead, it means welcoming unwed mothers with open arms, caring for them and their children in love and compassion rather than judgment.
You see, while solidarity is never about attacking or denouncing our fellow human, solidarity also doesn’t have to mean tolerance, or even acceptance, of things we can’t condone. But solidarity does mean standing with people where they are, loving them, supporting them. After all God demonstrated his own love for and solidarity with us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And so we Christians should stand in solidarity with all sorts of people, even when those people don’t match up our personal description of the ideal Christian.
Solidarity forever. If we’re talking about real solidarity—Christian solidarity—we are talking about much more than just some old union ditty. We’re talking about God’s command to us to love our neighbors as ourselves—to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God—to be instruments of peace.
In solidarity with the people he loved, Christ took on flesh and lived a life focused solely on our good. And now we are also called to solidarity with all of God’s people. We are called to stand together in solidarity with our fellow humans in self-sacrificial love—a love modeled on Christ’s love for us.