Today’s topic is Race. I picked out this sermon series about three months ago and it is unfortunately very timely.
This past week an African American church in Charleston, SC was attacked during Bible study. 9 people were killed. Immediately my stomach churned. A peaceful place like the house of God – turned into a terrifying, madhouse of violence?
Since then facts have come out about the shooter. He is a 21 year old white male. About two years ago he began posting on a website that discussed all of the atrocities that African Americans had brought into America. According to the few who did survive he gave a speech mid gunfire to explain that “He needed to do this – to get back at African Americans and retake his country.”
Racism. Plain and simple.
But what’s scary is how the devil is using this terrible event. Because if you scroll through internet articles, blog posts, Facebook pages and Tweets , you’ll find anger. You’ll find fear. You’ll find deflection. You’ll find people more interested in defending themselves as some kind of representative of their race, than in defending and understanding those of another culture.
It’ easy to see the devil in this. He’s using these events to divide us! We cannot let him. Brothers and sisters, today we will reflect on race – our culture’s perspective and God’s perspective.
I. Our Culture on Race
The media is huge in forming our opinions on race. Consider this – in almost every violent attack over the past couple of years – what is one of the first details to be released? Not the victim’s family name. Not the shooter's job.
“Black Male Kills White Cop.”
“White Male Kills Black Cop”
“Latino Man Attacks Asian Family”
“Middle Eastern Terrorist at Large”
This has worn on our society. We have stopped seeing each other as individuals and instead see each other as our race.
Hispanic. White. Black. Asian. Middle Eastern. Native American. Indian.
Think you’re not infected?
Pretend you’re walking into a coffee shop. As you enter – you see a room filled with African American men with the faint beat of hip hop in the background. What did you think?
Now imagine the same coffee shop. This time you a bunch of white men in business suits talking about the latest Bloomberg report? Did you have the same thoughts?
Or what if you saw a group of men speaking in a Middle Eastern dialect with turbans on their heads and prayer shawls attached to their waist? Grab a coffee, sit down next to them and engage in conversation?
If there’s a difference to you, then you’ve been infected. You’ve stopped identifying people as individuals, and started identifying them as their race. Sadly, this has unintended consequences.
Jesus Loves the Little Children was written by C. Herbert Woolson during the American Civil War when racial tensions were very high – Woolson meant the song to reflect God’s perspective. We usually sing just the refrain but the verses add to it a special focus on God’s love for his children.
Did you hear how it went? Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
But is that really how we view it? Tell me if this doesn’t sound more like how Americans like to think of it:
Jesus loves the Little Children…
All the children who look like me.
Brown hair, tall and German,
Accent gruff and Northern
Jesus loves the little children just like me!
Wait….That’s not how it goes, is it?
Here’s the problem when you find a person’s identify in their race only – you will develop a superiority complex. This is part natural and part defensive. We are sinful human beings who have done sinful things – and if we can’t placate God’s wrath with our own actions – at the very least it’s soothing to think that I’ve got a better chance at appeasing God because he loves my culture best.
Our Culture views our race as what defines us and uses it as a way to divide us.
II. God on Race
The Jewish people struggled with that exact thought. (I can understand why). God had promised to them that he would send a Savior through them. Because of that promise, God protected them throughout their history with incredible miracles. They were very blessed. But many had taken this too far. Viewing it far more than God’s merciful blessing, they began to think of it as something they themselves had done by simply ‘being’ Jewish. Many became convinced that God only loved their kind of people.
Take a look at the first passage you’ve got listed in your bulletin from Romans 10:12-13, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile" (and Gentile means “not a Jew” so here we could include “European Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Australian Americans – even Antarctican Americans --- if that’s’ even a thing) There is no difference --because the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Do you want some visible proof that God loves all people just the same? Dive into that last verse with me.
“The same Lord is Lord of all.” This means that God created all of us. He spent careful time, thoughts, and planning (and he had eternities of time) to make and create you the exact way that he did. He placed you into the perfect culture. He dyed your skin a beautiful color. He made your hair just the way he wanted it.
And look around. God did the same for the person in front of you, the person behind you, the person to your side. God created all and loves all.
“God richly blesses all.” Think about the different foods of this world. Isn’t it amazing how BBQ pork is drastically different from sushi which is drastically different from a burrito which is extremely different from a peanut butter sandwich? God has given people different foods, sure. But God still gives food. He gives clothing. He gives blessings to all of his people
Different blessings sure, but blessings all the same. Blessings that come from the same gracious hand of our loving Lord.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Because as different as the shades of brown our skins might be, God looks beyond our skin. He looks into our souls. As he looks at our souls, he sees something eerily similar.
God sees people who are dying because of sin. He sees people who are lost because of sin. He sees people in danger of hell because of sin.
He sees people who need a Savior because of sin.
God sent a Savior. He sent his Son Jesus for all people. Jn. 3:16 well known verse of the Bible says just that, “God so loved the world – not Irish people, not Mexican people, not everyone north of the equator –nope. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life."
Did you see that? God loves people – all people – even the one who hate him – so much that he died for them.
He died for you. He died for people like you. He died for people who looked totally different than.
And he loves you all just the same.
Did some of you ever grow up watching black and white TV? It’s nice for what it did. It brought live action picture and sound into people’s homes. But compare that to what they have now! Beautiful colors – reds, yellows, greens and high definition. You can see the crystal blue of the ocean. You can watch the golden corn kernels pop in Midwestern field. You can see gorgeous array of purples and blues off the feathers of a peacock.
God’s world is a lot like that. He doesn’t see his people in drab grayscale. God sees a beautiful, HD colored world AND loves it.
III. A New View on Race
If God views us all the same, how should that affect the way we interact with one another? James 3:1 tells us, “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” That starts as a matter of the heart. When you see how much Jesus loves you, his love will motivate you to love others in the same way.
But after that, how do you make such a countercultural statement visible to a world that divides by race, sticks us into our own little box and says, “That’s where you belong?”
The answer? Radical love.
There was a Jewish man who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. That road goes through the desert. That means it was pretty quiet. It’s not 440. It’s not Capital Blvd. It’s not even Falls of Neuse. It was a lonesome road…similar to walking down a dark alley in the middle of the city.
Suddenly, the man was mugged. The raiders stripped him of his clothes, beat him silly, left him bloodied and bruised, and left him in a heap on the hot desert sand.
Thankfully help wasn’t too far off. It just so happened that a priest, the head of the Jewish religious community, was passing through. He was well trained in the things of God and trained to help the people. Surely, he’d help the man!
But he didn’t. When he saw the man he passed by on the other side.
Then a Levite approached. Levites were the ones who helped the priest. In fact, while the priests might have focused more on the ceremonious aspect of their religious, the Levites would have been useful in connected with the people in need. Here was a chance for him to do his job.
But he didn’t. He too passed by on the other side.
Then, a Samaritan approached. Now this is a big deal. Samaritans and Jews didn’t like each other. They were different races. They were races that didn’t get along. At best they didn’t trust each other. At worst they hated each other. It’s probably similar to how our own sad American history has pitted blacks and whites against each other. But maybe worse – picture a card carrying member of ISIS getting off his donkey and approaching you.
What do you expect him to do? If this were America, the options are too familiar. A few swift blows to his head to get him back for how his people hurt you in the past. A quick selfie with the body in the background, a degrading caption on it, and post it all over social media. A few muttered words: “It’s his people. It’s his problem. If only they worked harder, they wouldn’t be in this mess.” The man passes by and makes his way into town, tells everyone passionately about what he saw, and says, “The government should do something about this.’
But that’s not what happens. Note what does.
1) The Man Offers His Resources
The man pours olive oil – expensive stuff – all over his wounds as a salve. He takes wine –maybe the wine he had saved for the party he was heading to – and rubs its on his bruises to kill infection. He creates makeshift bandages from whatever linens he had available in his donkey’s sack and covered the man up. Then, he puts the man on his donkey. Remember they’re in the desert! Yet he decides to literally get off of his high horse and allow this stranger the luxury of riding into town. Then he takes him to a hotel and puts him to rest.
Do you have resources you can use to help? Has God gifted you with wealth? Has God gifted you with time? Has God gifted you with talents? Start thinking how can you use them to show love to those of another culture. How can you use your resources –God given resources – to reach out with the love of Jesus?
2) The Man Helps Immediately
I imagine that was a frightening situation for the Samaritan man. Here was a stranger lying in his blood. That’s something that might have given him pause just like the priest and the Levite that he’d resolve – I can’t help now, but maybe I can come back with some friends later.
But that wasn’t what the man did, was it? He dropped what his plans were and immediately helped this victim.
It will be tempting after this sermon to think – I like some of the ideas. I’ll put them into practice…someday. Someday when I have enough courage and when things settle down.
Number one, things won’t settle down. The devil’s on a roll and he’ll keep trying to divide us. Number two, you’ve got Jesus on your side. The Lord Almighty is with you. As those kids sang back in May, "Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Why be afraid? Go outside your comfort zone to share God’s love…and do it now!
3) The Man Doesn’t Forget His New Friend
In the story, reality catches up the Samaritan. He has to leave. But notice that though he physically leaves, he doesn’t abandon his friend. He finds the manager. He says to the manager “Take care of him.” He offers to pay all of his medical expenses – whatever the hotel manager tells him it costs – just as long as the man is taken care of.
This was probably an inconvenience for him! I’m sure he had stuff of his own to take care of. Whatever business he had in Jericho he needed to tend to it. But now this man was his business. It was his brother -- of a different culture, sure, but his brother all the same. His brother was his business and he wasn’t going to forget about him.
May I advise you to do the same. Check back in with those you are reaching out to. Don’t just do it once, wipe the sweat off your brow, sigh and say, “There, I did what pastor asked and boy was it hard.” Instead – make them your business. Keep learning about them. Keep listening to them. Put them on your prayer list. Think of ways to reach out to them. Invite them for dinner. Ask them for coffee. Do something to say that I still care about you.
Would you start thinking like the Samaritan? Start think of ways you can put your love into practice with those who are of a different culture. In the midst of a terrible tragedy, you’ve got an opportunity. I want you to intentionalize this. You’ll naturally be friendly and loving towards those who are similar. That’s easy. Go out of your way to improve your relations with those different than you. Do the Jesus thing – He went out of his way (out of heaven to the cross) in order to show his love to us.
Let’s intentionalize our love!
That’s what one of the church members from Charleston did. Ethel Lance was her mom’s name. Ethel died in the shooting.
Her daughter had a chance to talk to the shooter. Her words were striking in the CounterCulture love.
She said this, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but…I forgive you."
May God give us all this unifying, Christlike love. Amen.