“Why is number 42 up there?”, Wil wanted to know. The thing about taking young children to a Major League Baseball game is that there are so many distractions you should assume you will miss most of the actual game on the field. But this is how they learn to love the game, I hope. We had already talked about the names and numbers surrounding the field at Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. I explained how I had seen Yount and Molitor and Fingers play, and that I listened to Uecker call radio play by play for decades. But what about “42”, he wanted to know. There was no name, just the number. I explained that “42” was Jackie Robinson’s number, and that he was the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. My other grandson, Joshua, asked why his number was in gold. I explained that it is a special number, since Major League Baseball retired his number, and now no one may wear it ever again, because they want everyone to remember who broke the color barrier. “What’s the color barrier?”, he asked.
I thought that was a good sign. The idea of a “color barrier” was foreign to his way of thinking. He goes to school with children of all skin colors; he plays soccer with boys and girls of all skin colors; and he worships with people of all skin colors. So, what in the world would a color barrier be, and what would it be for?
One goal of the church should be to become a model where the very idea of color barriers, or any of the other usual social barriers, are foreign to our way of thinking. Whether race or gender or national origin or economic class, or any other distinctives, they are all barriers that the church must help tear down. The Bible gives us all the authority we need to know that God hates barriers, beginning with the first barrier between “Jews and Gentiles”, and continuing with every other barrier humans can erect. “There is no difference”; that is an essential part of the gospel (good news) we are sent to teach and model. This is what it means for the church to be countercultural, to go against the grain of cultural ideas which grow from fear and are used to justify barriers.
God is still looking for people to be the Jackie Robinsons who are willing to break barriers, and for the gatekeepers who will give them an opportunity. Who are the people still separated from society by barriers that God wants torn down? Are you willing to be or to speak for the next “42”?