Sunday, August 2, 2020

Prejudice and Racism: Examining our Hearts & Taking Action in the World

I remember in my life before I knew Christ, I was quite a troublemaker. And I used alcohol and drugs heavily. My drug of choice, the one I used most frequently was a very powerful drug that made it very obvious from your appearance, your face, your eyes, and your voice, that you were high. I dressed in all black in those days, in fact I still dress in all black, but I would also dye my hair blue black. And you notice, when your high, and dressed the way you are, hair dyed, people look at you differently. People judge you. I recall it quite clearly. People would give you these glares, and looks of revilement, even hatred. And in fact, one of the key ways that I came to Christ, was that I met a Priest that looked at me without judgment, indeed in his eyes I saw the love of Christ.

That is the closest in my life that I’ve come to experiencing prejudice or bigotry. But people looked at me that way because there was something wrong with me, I was messed up on drugs, and they could tell. But imagine people looking at you that way, but there isn’t anything wrong with you. You aren’t high on drugs, you aren’t dressed in a strange way, you are an average person, the only difference being is that you have a different skin color than others.

That is the issue we discuss today, that of racism.

Today we’re starting a new series, in which we’re going to look at important topics and issues within the Christian faith. We’re going to consider a lot of different topics, that we want to be well armed with truth as to consider. We’ll address topics like the sabbath, spiritual gifts, human sexuality, human trafficking, baptism, and so on. But today we address the important topic of racism.

We see this topic of race and racism playing out on a national level in various ways, but today I want to bring this issue home and consider how we as individuals and members of a faith community ought to deal with this issue of racism.

Our scripture today, Revelation 7:9-17 said, “After this I looked, and there was an enormous crowd—no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood in front of the throne and of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 10 They called out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!” 11 All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures. Then they threw themselves face downward in front of the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!”
-Revelation 7:9-17 GNT

Here in revelation we see the end of the story, God’s picture of how humanity ought to look, all peoples, languages, and cultures standing before God, looking to God, united and ready to step into eternal life, paradise, in the new city of God.

This is the goal, the dream, the hope of for the future, that we as Christians around the world, from every country, and speaking every language ought to stand united before God, a new family, to inhabit the new city, the New Jerusalem, our eternal home. So keep this picture in your mind, this glorious image, as our goal and our future community.

But I’d like to draw your attention now from the last book of the Bible, to the very first book of the Bible, Genesis.

We saw that God created man and woman in his own image, but man fell away from God. Murder and division entered the world, when Cain murdered his brother Abel. And things got worse and worse, until the entire world was destroyed in the great flood.

One family, that of Noah, his wife, and his sons, and their families survived aboard the ark. Which makes all of us, all people, all of nations, descendants of Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Isn’t that interesting?

But once again after the flood, Noah’s descendants began to cause trouble once again. It says in Genesis 11:1-9: “11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.-Genesis 11:1-9

It’s a fascinating saga. You see humanity united, but unfortunately united in the worst way possible, to try to build a tower to heaven, and make themselves gods. So we see sin at work once again. So God scatters humanity, into tribes, based around various new languages, and so these humans spread across the whole Earth, settling on the various continents, Africa, Europe, Asia, North America and South America. And depending on where each people traveled to, depending on the climate, and the conditions, and exposure to sunlight, various differing features and skin tones began to develop over the centuries.

And as various societies flourished and grew and developed technologies and more advanced forms of travel, various people groups began intermingling more and more, as faster and easier forms of travel developed. And thus came about this issue of racism, this sinful, foolish idea, that based on someone’s features, or the amount of melanin in their skin, that somehow this means someone is better or worse than another.

Fast forward to the present, and we still see racism play itself out in societies around the world, in various forms and in various places. It plays itself out right here in Owosso Michigan. It plays itself out in our city. So I’d like to consider three questions today. First question, How does God view this issue of racism? Second question, How do we ourselves view this issue of racism? And thirdly, what can we do to be change agents, building toward a better society?

First, how does God view racism? Several scriptures come to mind. 1 John 2:9 ESV says, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”

Any hatred God sees as sinful, so sinful in fact that scripture indicates this sort of hatred proves we are not walking in the light of Christ.

James 2:9 ESV But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Showing partiality, that is favoring one person, or one type of person, or one race over another, is sinful. We must show no partiality, but instead treat people equally.

Many times when Jesus Christ our savior walked on the Earth, he would speak in terms of parables. And how often Jesus would use examples of people like Samaritans, a group of people the Jews hated, to prove a point about love, or truth or justice. And how often Jesus went and ate with people who were considered outcasts, like tax collectors, or prostitutes, or foreigners. Jesus was willing to love those who society deemed to be unimportant or evil.

And if you recall, when Paul was on his missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts, there was a question, should the Gentiles also be offered salvation along with the Jews? And of course the Lord made it clear, salvation is for anyone, Jew, or Gentile, slave or free, anyone, anywhere.

So we see that God is indeed holy. God is merciful and full of love. This evil concept of racism, that treats people as inferior because of the way they look, must indeed be a sin that God hates greatly. Racism is pure evil, to the Lord.

Second question, How do we view racism? I try to think about it myself. What must it feel like to experience racism? I don’t really know, I’ve never experienced racism. But I asked some of my friends about racism, and what it feels like, and what they’ve experienced. And it’s quite telling. Imagine yourself, as a child, realizing that people look at you differently, sometimes. You even realize certain people glare at you, and they give off this attitude like they don’t accept you. Imagine being stopped more often by the police, because of how you look. Imagine having others reject you, and not want to spend time with you. What would that feel like? What would it feel like to realize, they don’t like me because of how I look. I’m not accepted because of who I am. What a horrible feeling that must be. It must feel like… I’m not welcome. I’m not accepted. I’m not part of. What a horrible feeling. I imagine it would fill me with anger.

But then again, thinking to long ago, what must it have been like, when people of care drove through Owosso Michigan, to see signs that said, “whites only within city limits after dark.” Owosso used to be a sundown town, with signs in and out of town declaring that whites only are allowed. What a disturbing thing. Glad that those signs were torn down.

If you’re a parent, driving with your kids, and you see a sign like that, how do you explain that to your children? I imagine that would fill me with rage. But then I thought to myself, maybe it would fill me with something else… determination. Desire, for justice. A dream… a dream that someday things could be different, someday if I fight, and others fight with me, things could be different. And there could be justice, and truth, instead of prejudice.

Now one might claim, well those are things of the past, they don’t exist anymore. Is that really true? Because just this last Christmas, two people of color, who bell rang for us here at Owosso Citadel, wonderful people, they were at a bar in town, and someone walked over to the jukebox and played a racist song. Certain remarks were made.

So maybe racism isn’t gone. Maybe we need to stand up, and make sure that we are challenging racism, when we see it. But before we consider what others may be doing, I want to encourage each of you to examine your own heart. It’s easy to say, oh look at what that other person is doing. But what about me? What about you?

Stop and look at yourself. Look at your own heart. And I’m going to look at mine. What’s going on in here? Many of us were raised in families where racist remarks were made. Many of us grew up hearing those kinds of slurs. Well, today you’re a Christian.

And let me ask you this, as you examine your heart right now, Do you need to repent of the sin of racism? God looks at the heart. You may try to hide your own thoughts and feelings, but maybe it sneaks out here and there. A sinful attitude like racism, prejudice, isn’t something we can remove from ourselves. It’s something where we need to go to the throne of God, and ask for God’s forgiveness, and and ask God for a new heart. A changed heart. A heart that loves all peoples, and that hates no one because they look or sound differently from us.

You may be sitting there thinking, I don’t have a problem in this area. But I challenge you, pray about it. Ask God to speak to your heart.

Change begins my friends, with you and me. And looking within. It’s easy to look at others, but let’s look within. God please change us.

In a moment we’re going to have some time to respond, and speak to God one on one, but now let’s address that 3rd question, how can we be change agents in society? Well like we’ve talked about, it starts by looking within and crying out to God to change our hearts, and sanctify us. We must confess, and repent, just like we would with any other sin.

God may remove it immediately, but it may also be a temptation you struggle with for the rest of your life. Like with alcoholics, sometimes God will instantly remove that tendency, and it will be gone forever, I’ve see that with people who just up and quit. For others, probably more so in fact, God says, go to Alcoholics Anonymous, join Celebrate Recovery, and it’s a battle for the rest of your life, to stand firm against that temptation.

So after looking within, we look outside ourselves. What if someone you know, a family member or friend makes a racist remark? I would challenge you to speak up, in love, and say, hold on a minute, you may want to rethink that. You better pray about that comment, because it’s a sinful comment you just made. We don’t want to scream at them, or go into an angry tirade. We want to be wise in how we correct others. But call it out. Don’t just let it pass.

Another question, when is the last time you got to know someone who is truly different from you? This is a great thing to do! Get to know some people who don’t look or act like you. Listen to their stories, and become friends. I remember when I went to training college in the salvation army in Chicago, I met people from big cities, small cities, who spoke different languages, people who looked differently than me, even a Vikings fan, I met. And I even learned to love Cubs fans. So you see how powerful it can be when you connect with people you wouldn’t normally connect with.

Follow up number three, make a better world. How can you stand up against racism in our society? In Owosso? In Michigan? I’m sure you’ll learn and develop unique ways to be a blessing. But don’t ever have the attitude that you are going to help a poor weak person who needs your help. No, that’s not biblical. We stand shoulder to shoulder with people of different languages and nations, as equals, shoulder to shoulder, fighting alongside one another. As friends, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and as those who family, a family who will one day live together forever, in the New Jerusalem, the new city of God, a humanity re-united, not to build a tower of babel, but to have ascended to heaven by the gift of Jesus Christ, unique, diverse, yet united forever, one family of humanity, loved forever by Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.