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July 24th, 2018

Morning Star First Baptist Church Revival

Romans 2:1

July 24, 2018

My pal

It is a joy to share the ministry of the Word tonight with my colleague Paul Cummings.  We do this every Sunday at Corinth 8:30 service, both sharing in the sermon time, but this is the first time we have shared a pulpit outside Corinth.

I also want to thank God for the privilege of standing behind this sacred desk where he has called my dear friend, Rev. David Earl Roberts, to preach the word of God.  It was humbling to be invited once.  To be invited back multiple times is actually a bit terrifying.  I want to be worthy before God and my friend.

I’ve learned far more from David Roberts than he could ever learn from me.  He tells me I’m the one who gets him to read a book once a year, but he is a book I read over and over again.  This series of services is just one example.  When he first mentioned to me a few years ago that he had in his heart to have a city-wide revival, I thought, and maybe said, “That won’t work.”  He paid me no mind, which is good.  Here we are.  He’s patient, persistent, and sometimes a little persnickety.  He’s pastoral, persuasive, and, when he wants something, pointed.  He’s proper, peaceful, and, before God, precious.  Best of all, he’s my pal.  Ten P’s for you, Rev. Roberts!

One more feeble attempt

I’m not sure why God put it on my heart to address the subject of racism tonight.  As I sat down today to write out my thoughts I realized I don’t have anything new to say.  It’s all been said by others far better than I could say it.  The truth has been lived by others much better than I have lived it.

Yet two and a half centuries after the Declaration of Independence said that all men are created equal, a century and a half after the Emancipation freed the slaves , and a half century after Martin Luther King, Jr., dreamed that his children would not be judged by the color of their skin there is so much more to be done.  I wish I could tell you that all the problems with racism and prejudice are out in the world, and that we in the church of Jesus Christ have achieved a color blind utopia, but you and I know that is far from the truth.

I also wish I could give you the A-B-C formula for eliminating race-based hatred and discrimination and violence.  But if there were such a prescription someone else would have already cleaned up this mess.

All I know to do is to make one more feeble attempt to name racism for what it is: sin.  The reason I know it’s sin is because of the Scripture that my brother Paul used for his text, Revelation 7.  Whatever is sinful is not in heaven, or it wouldn’t be heaven.  And we know from Revelation 7 as the saints from every tribe and tongue and people and nation stand before God there is no hint that any group is more worthy than another, more favored by God, living in better mansions or singing nobler songs.  Nobody thinks they’re better than anyone else.  They’re just God’s holy people, enjoying his presence together.  If there is no racism in heaven, it must be sin.

No excuse

The Scripture that came to my mind in addressing racism is Romans 2:1.  “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

No excuse.  No excuse.  No excuse.  The words haunt me.

Romans 2:1 is one of my favorite Scripture passages, because I think the Apostle Paul is brilliant in his use of pronouns.  Romans 1 begins with the wrath of God poured out on “all the godlessness and wickedness of people,” and then Paul begins to name all the sins of them.  He thunders against their idolatry and sexual impurity and unnatural lust and greed and murder.  He tells you what they do – they are gossips and slanderers and God-haters and insolent and arrogant and boastful.  They even disobey their parents.  By the time Paul is done with his list, his readers (myself included) are thinking, “Aren’t they terrible?”  That’s by design.  “They deserve God’s wrath,” we call out!

That’s just where Paul wants us, passing judgment on them.  And then, having sharpened his blade of rebuke, Paul thrusts it into his readers, on us.  “You do the same things!”  That’s how I think of racism.

I am a racist.  I hate racism, but I do the same thing.  That’s my confession tonight.  I am what I hate.  Let me give you two examples.

Example 1:  My wife and I just returned from a trip to Turks and Caicos Islands, a gift from our church for 25 years of ministry to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.  I didn’t know much about Turks and Caicos before we went.  As we arrived in the airport, there were pictures of all the important government officials on the wall above the customs greeting area.  I noticed they all appeared to be of African descent.  I found myself immediately uncomfortable.  I don’t know why.  Is it somehow that they necessarily don’t know how to run their country because they don’t look like me?

Example 2: I pulled some books off my shelf to plan for this message tonight.  One is called Gracism.  I picked it up some years back at a church event.  I don’t even remember exactly where.  It was written by a black pastor in Columbia, Maryland, David Anderson.  As I opened its pages today, I realized I never read it.  Is it because the author is black?  Did I not think he had anything to add to my life and ministry?  As I read through the book today, I loved it!  So wise, direct, biblical, humble, helpful.  I wondered when was the last time I read a book by a black author.  It was probably The Warmth of Other Suns, which many of you also read in a community book read several years back.  Why do I only read books written by white people?

I have no excuse.

Why

Let me tell you briefly why I have no excuse for race-based thoughts or feelings or actions.

First, my experience.  I should know better.  I was raised in Pakistan as a missionary kid, where I was the minority race.  Home base in America was Portsmouth, Virginia, and in the 1960s and 1970s it was a troubling and sometimes violent place to live.  My brother lives to this day with only one eye because of an unprovoked race-based attack, but the boys who assaulted him believed they were victims of injustice from other whites.  I have served all my ministry life in a denomination that constantly exposes racial injustice.  The majority of churches in our Southern Conference are black, and my Conference Minister is black.  Three years ago I chaired a national committee hearing that dealt with mass incarceration.  I have visited Israel and Germany and Hawaii, all places where racism has a deep and ugly history.  I live in the American South, and I know a little of our own past.  I know how devastating racial superiority and hatred can be.  I have no excuse.

Second, the Bible.  I’ve been reading it for 55 years, and I have three degrees in Bible and theology and ministry.  I’ve been teaching and preaching the Bible for four decades.  I know what Scripture says.  “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  “God is no respecter of persons.”  “Do nothing out of favoritism.”  “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.  You are all one in Christ Jesus.”  “To show partiality is not good.”  “If you show favoritism, you sin.”  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Last Saturday our Board of Elders had our annual retreat.  Our President, Martha Sowers, has encouraged us to focus on justice issues this year. We’ve been doing this in various ways, and one of our guests last Saturday was Liz Goebelbecker.  She challenged us with this question:  “What is your why?”  If we’re going to battle injustice or any sin, we have to know why.  I suppose we could battle racism out of guilt for what we or our ancestors have done, but I have found that guilt is not a good motivator, not for me anyway.

My why is obedience.  This idea that all people have the same need before God and the same value before God, whatever the color of their skin is simply a matter of paying attention to what matters to God.  I have no excuse because God has made it so perfectly clear in his word that every person has infinite value before him.

Third, the Gospel.  The main reason I have no excuse to harbor racism is what Christ has done for me.  The American impulse is separation – we divide from people who don’t look like us, don’t have the same politics, don’t live in the same kinds of houses, don’t worship like us, don’t enjoy our music or our food.  The American impulse is separation.

The Gospel impulse is incarnation.  God could have “separated” himself in heaven permanently with the vast gap that exists between himself and us.  He could have stayed up there in his heavenly easy chair and said, “It’s too much trouble to get involved with those people who are so different than I am.  Sure, I made them, but they’re so far away and they don’t look like me and they don’t act like me.  I think I’ll just ignore them.”  Instead of that, he loved the world so much that he stepped right down here into our world, into our mess, into our sinful, hateful, racist, divided mess, and said, “I’ll show you how to love.”  And he did.  So we killed him.

But he rose again!    He lives today and he wants those who believe in him to show the world the way to love, even if it costs us everything.

Gracism

David Anderson says that the way to overcome racism is gracism.  Gracism is when you think someone is unworthy, but you love them anyway.  Someone hurt you and instead of pushing them away you pull them close.  Someone doesn’t look like you and instead of assuming the worst you treat them like they’re the best.  Someone shows hatred toward you and when they’re lying in a ditch you do not pass by on the other side.  That’s gracism.

Anderson gives us some simple steps to live out gracism.

First, receive the grace of God into your life.  If you don’t know what God has done for you in Jesus, how can you share that grace with others?

Second, reach over the color line and invite someone into your church or home.  That’s what we’re doing here tonight.

Third, Read on the subject of reconciliation.  His book is a good starting point.

Fourth, relate on purpose to people who are different.

Anderson closes his book with an African proverb –

When I saw him from afar, I thought he was a monster.

When he got closer, I thought he was just an animal.

When he got closer, I recognized that he was human.

When we were face to face, I realized he was my brother.

I don’t know how to solve this big problem of mistrust among the races.   I don’t even know how to expunge every racist thought and feeling from my own heart.   But I know the next step:  it’s to get closer to someone who’s different from me

So, after consulting with my brother David Roberts about this service, I’d like to ask you to do something different for the invitation tonight.  Instead of coming forward, I want you to look sideways.  I want you to spend 5 or 10 minutes with someone near you of a different race.  If you can’t find someone like that, just find someone you don’t know.  Share your story.  How long have you been in Hickory?  What do you do for a living?  Tell me about your family.  Why’d you come tonight?  Then share phone numbers or email addresses.  Take a selfie.  Maybe tonight will lead to getting lunch together or having a meal in each other’s home or sharing in a class or group in the other person’s church.

Let’s overcome racism with Gracism by getting a little closer.  Amen.

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