The church I co-pastor has been rotating between three preachers of different ethnicities for a year. But it was only last week that I began to realize how hearing only one preacher voice at at time affects how we view God.
Our ears naturally come to hear Jesus talk like our preacher — their voice stands in for his. Jesus’ words come through the preacher’s language and tone. If we hear it every week, we start to assume that Jesus, two thousand years ago, preached in English. Our head knows Jesus spoke Aramaic, but your heart hears Jesus whisper in English.
This starves our theology. If Jesus speaks like a white person, he must be white.
The power of language can override our visual assumptions. Most American movies and pictures depict Jesus with pale skin and blue eyes, something the black church has never bought because most black congregants hear Jesus speak through the cadence of the black preacher. When I hear a sermon from a Korean pastor, Jesus suddenly speaks in Korean, and I see him teaching the Sermon on the Mount sitting lotus position and wearing a Korean dopo. When we speak a language, we breathe in all its assumptions.
The first few times I heard Elder Gerald preach at our church, the way he had Jesus speak to Peter as “my man,” to the disciples as “his homies,” and reprimand the Pharisees with, “ain’t that the truth,” I laughed — the language was novel and unexpected…