Native English speakers know what this means. Used to refer to the whole quantity or extent of a particular group or thing, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It has implicit inclusivity. So “all my children” means Xander, Deacon, Myn, and Titus are included. No one is left out. I totally understand that I am included in “all people”.
For the past few months, we’ve been attending Ch’ihootso Baptist Church. This is a Navajo church that uses the King James Version of the Bible, so the missionary pastor will often explain some of the wording for those who find some of the language uncomfortable. This week, he talked about the incarnation. He read Luke 2:10
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
I was kind of surprised when he took a minute to explain “all” in that passage. That it wasn’t just Europeans, but it included them. Yet he’s been serving this community with his family for 27 years. There is mutual love evident in his relationship with the congregation. He has a much better understanding than I do about what they hear when it says “all people”.
Shoot! What does it take for a culture to believe “all people” really means “all white people”! When I say “all people,” some hear “all people like her.”
This happens to be the exact opposite of the incarnation message. Jesus came as God in flesh to rebuild broken relationships- mainly that of humanity with God, but also that of humans with each other. So what can I do to actually communicate with people different than I that when I say that Christ died for all, it includes them?
Beth Moore did a fantastic job of this when she came for a conference for Native American women (that I got to attend with the Navajo ladies in my church. One of the coolest experiences ever. Follow the link for their recap). After acknowledging that she may say something culturally offensive and asking them to hear her through the filter of love, she talked about the diversity of heaven. She read from Revelation 7:9
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands
From this she pointed out that whatever we are like in heaven, our diversity is still evident. Evident and celebrated. No one has to be like the dominant culture to be like Christ. God comes to transform us into His likeness, not the likeness of any Christian, no matter how well-meaning. What a good word! Only after she established that did she talk about how Christ wants to heal past hurts and use broken women for His glory.
It took some work, but Beth Moore was able to demonstrate, by her words, by her vulnerability, by her investment in knowing them, that she included them when she said “all”.
The questions then remains, what do I need to do to show others they are included in my “all”?
I might say that I shouldn’t have to do any work because “all” implicitly includes everyone I want it to, so they should just feel included in it. But in reality, that sort of justification drives the wedge of separation deeper. And since my desire is to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15), the responsibility is on me to show all people Christ’s love for them.
How do I do that? Still working on it. Right now, I’m trying to listen first and foremost, to value experiences that are different from mine, to invite people unlike me into my life and circle of love. Because I want to be a part of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.