Sermons

Summary: The oneness we find in Christ Jesus obliterates the social constructs that we have developed to define who is in and who is out ... who is part and who is to be left out ... who is like us and who is different for He makes us one. Connection to "Woodlawn"

One year ago, racial tensions had stirred to the boiling point in Ferguson, MO. Riots had overtaken this St. Louis suburb in the wake of what was portrayed to be an execution of Michael Brown by a white police officer. As momentum built behind the movement it seemed to no longer matter what the circumstances of the shooting might or might not have been. Witnesses were produced, many of whose testimonies did not fit the unfolding narrative, but served to foment the chaos.

This same scenario would unfold in the streets of Baltimore in April of this year, as an African-American man was mortally wounded, leading to his death, in the back of a police van. Rage swept through the streets of Baltimore, and reports said that the crowds took out their frustrations on anyone who was not African-American.

Again this summer, outbreaks of racial strife would visit the streets of Ferguson, and spill over into the streets of St. Louis.

What causes this kind of outbreak of racial tension?

We could point back to centuries of racial oppression, which have embedded themselves in the social structures that we take for granted today …

We could point to the economic and educational disadvantages that those with a darker hue are subjected to …

We could suggest that it is a moral decay in young people who have bought into a rap culture lifestyle of anger and angst …

We could say that it is the breakdown of the family in the urban environment.

We could possibly come up with a dozen more reasons for the racial crisis we confront as a nation. But I really believe that answer, while all of these issues play a component role, is really much simpler than that … simpler, if not more easily resolved.

Tony Evans says it like this: He says, “The racial problem in America is the asterisk on an otherwise respectable reputation.”

We can do better as a nation. We can do better as a country, as a community, and we can do better as a church.

Early on in my ministry at First Christian Chicago, I was attempting to get a handle on race and multi-cultural ministry. While I had been in ministry for 11 years before coming to Chicago, I had (other than one Latino man) ministered exclusively in white congregations.

I was trying to get acclimated to all of the race issues. Seeking answers to replace my ignorance of some of these issues, I innocently asked one of our ladies of a darker hue this question: “I have come to understand that this is an issue and I want to be able to be sensitive to this. Do you prefer to be called African-American or black?”

Now we all probably have in some way at some time taken an awkward step in an effort to move in the direction of moving toward unity with a different ethnicity. It was a thoughtful question…perhaps poorly worded in some ways. But in this particular case, it wasn’t motivated by malice, and it certainly wasn’t prompted by prejudice. It was asked in an effort to befriend rather than to belittle.

More recently, but still several years ago, I was talking with someone about the ethnic make-up of the congregation. It was in the wake of a racial misunderstanding. We were talking about understanding people by ethnic background. But when I mentioned one of our international members as part of their grouping, I was reminded that “They aren’t one of us. They haven’t gone through what we’ve been through.”

We’ve all said some things at times maybe that we wish we could take back. That’s one of the reasons that I feared tackling this topic in a sermon. I could come up with a lot of reasons for not speaking on racism. Here are three of my fears.

One of them is that by tackling this topic the people most like myself may feel like I am getting on them. Now some will readily admit that there is a problem with racism in our country or in our community, but they may refuse to confess that there’s any stain on them. And so they will deflect any personal responsibility and continue to be oblivious to the obvious. And here’s one of my fears. My fear is that you will listen, seated in a sanctuary, and you will nod approvingly at every Bible verse that I will read and the concepts that are taught today, but when you find yourself in a different setting—or in a divided setting—you may rubber band back to stereotypical judgments or sweeping generalizations which have been ingrained in you for years.

Here’s my second fear: That my non-white listeners may take offense at something that I would say. Now it wouldn’t be something that I said intentionally, but realize I speak from a very different vantage point. I’ve often heard that the white man can’t speak about racism because he has never walked in those shoes. I will admit, there’s much that I don’t understand, and it’s impossible for me to know what discrimination you may have experienced in your very own personal situation. But I hope that you’ll be able to sense that my motives are pure and that you will forgive any unintentional offenses on my part. But I also hope that you would acknowledge that racism can be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways ... that the response to some to the prejudice and hatred they received is prejudice and hatred in return.

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