Multicultural Unity in an "Us vs.Them" World (Ephesians Sermon 14 of 54)
October 04, 2015 | Andy Davis
Racism, The Purity and Unity of the Church
So last week in Ephesians 2:11-17, we saw how Christ's death on the cross has demolished the “barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, by abolishing the Law with its regulations, thus making peace between Jews and Gentiles.” The Law of Moses excluded uncircumcised Gentiles from the assembly of the people of God. God Himself established that barrier. God set it up, and it did in fact keep the Gentiles out. But God also removed that barrier, in Christ, by establishing in Christ a new covenant in His blood, and welcoming anyone, Jews or Gentiles, into close fellowship with Himself. Jew and Gentile unity in Christ, therefore, is possible, it is promised, it is commanded as a result of this New Covenant in Christ.
Now today, the basic thesis or idea of this sermon is this: If barriers between people that God did set up have been completely removed by Christ, then how much more are barriers that God didn't set up get removed in Christ. That's the basic idea. It's a "how much more" argument. If barriers that God did set up had been removed, then how much more those He never set up. The dividing walls of hostility between people that destroy peace on Earth have been addressed at the cross. So Christ's death lays the foundation for the removal of every “barrier, every dividing wall of hostility,” resulting in a supernatural unity between Christians of all racial, and ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds.
A World Divided
Now, in this sermon we're going to address two of the most controversial, two of the hardest topics facing us in America today; the issue of racism on the one side, which has been very much in the news over the last year, but not just the last year. And then, the issue of immigration and illegal aliens, and other issues like that, which are very much in the news in this campaign. So, we begin by looking at our world, which is a world divided. We live in a bitterly divided world, with many dividing walls of hostility separating people. They're around us constantly. We think about racial conflict in the U.S. over the last year or more, honestly, over the last century and a half, honestly, even beyond that. The issues of race connected with police incidents led to open racial conflict in Ferguson, Missouri, and demonstrations in Baltimore, Maryland. It's given rise to the movement Black Lives Matter. The level of hostility between blacks and whites has been one of the greatest disgraces in American history, and continues to be a bleeding wound in our national identity.
Sometimes, we must wonder if anything can ever heal the rift, the rupture, this wound between us. But honestly, black-white hostility America is not the only example of the deep divisions that continue to rend our world. What I'm going to call in this sermon, “us versus them,” the dynamic of us as a group versus them as a group is all over the world. Just go to the hot spots in the last century and you'll know what I'm talking about.
For example, if you went to the Balkans with a long history of racial and religious conflicts between Serbs, and Croats, and Muslims there have bubbled over again and again into war. And when that happens, then revenge creeps in, memories, bitterness, a steel curtain, a “dividing wall of hostility” comes between people. Or think about recent events like Russia's invasion of the Ukraine. Russian troops under the command of President Vladamir Putin. That is leaving scars between those people's national hostility and hatred that those actions have caused. In 1994 in Rwanda, there was a terrible genocide of the Tutsi people by the dominant Hutu majority. A 100-day period in which 800,000 people were slaughtered. Today, the survivors of that conflict live side by side in the same communities trying to forgive and forget, but they know what other folks have done to their loved ones, their ancestors, their relatives, husbands, wives, children, etcetera. Many in Korea and in China retain an intense hatred for the Japanese for the atrocities committed by Japanese troops during World War II, as well as ongoing historical revisionism in Japanese textbooks in which past events are not dealt with honestly. In Nanjing there's a massacre memorial dedicated to the memory of 300,000 Chinese people wantonly slaughtered by occupying Japanese troops. Many Chinese feel an obligation to hate the Japanese forever, a nationalistic obligation. Every year on December 13th in Nanjing, the date the massacre began, then alarms are rung throughout the city so that people will never forget.
I could go on and on. You know what I'm talking about, we live in a divided world, a world of “us versus them.” A deeply fragmented wall, fractured by sin and hatred, memories, bitterness, the “dividing walls of hostility.” This is the very thing that Jesus Christ came to remedy. By reconciling, vertically, sinners to God, and then as a result, horizontally, sinners one to another.
God’s Plan for Unity
Now, God's plan for unity is established throughout the Scriptures, but we see it right in the book that we're studying. Look back at Ephesians 1:9-10. There in Ephesians 1:9-10, God talks about what He planned to do through Jesus, what His purpose is, in Christ. So look at verse 9, Ephesians 1:9-10, "And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment, to bring all things in Heaven and on Earth together under one head, even Christ." Now, that is so breathtakingly glorious and overwhelming that you could meditate on it the rest of your life. You probably have read over it several times, and didn't even notice it was there, you were more focused on the election and predestination verses that precede it a few verses before that. And your head was spinning, and you missed that one, what God is doing in verse 10 of Ephesians chapter 1. God is intending to “bring everything in the universe together under one head, Christ.” It's what He's doing.
So, as we said when I preached through in Ephesians 1, sin has had the effect of a fragmentation grenade in the universe, blowing things apart into bits. First and foremost, vertically, humans with God. Then secondly, horizontally, humans one from another. And then, thirdly, the physical creation, the universe around us, which is groaning in its bondage to decay, falling apart. Sin blew the universe apart.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ reverses and brings all things back together and makes them one, in Christ. That's what's going on in the world, that is the story of human history. This is the supernatural unity of the human race that only the work of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit can achieve. The United Nations cannot achieve it with all of its diplomats, its diplomacy, its rule and reign. No treaties can. No laws, we cannot look to the federal government or to local officials to do this. It's something that is vastly beyond any force on earth to achieve. The memories are too deep, the bitterness is too real, the hatred, the yearning for revenge. Conversely, the ongoing pride and arrogance that's at the root of racism. We'll talk about that. No external force, the United Nations, no human force can remedy that, it's impossible. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ can, it has, it's going on right now, and it will win in the end. So, I actually stand before you extremely filled with hope and optimism even though this is a dark topic. I'm looking forward to a world, New Heaven, New Earth, a New Jerusalem, in which there will be no racism and no divisions. God's going to win, and that's exciting, isn't it?
Perfect Unity Based on the Trinity
But Jesus died on the cross to bring about perfect unity between people. In John 11:51-52, it said that Jesus would “die for the Jewish nation, and not for that nation only, but also for the scattered children of God to bring them together and make them one.” Let's ponder that. Ponder that. That is what God is doing. So, how great is that unity that Christ is affecting? Well, it is perfect unity. Absolutely perfect unity in the pattern of the Trinity. If you look at John 17:20-23, just listen, you don't have time to look there, I'm going to be moving fast in this sermon. So if you're incredibly fast with your Bible or whatever, you can keep up, otherwise just listen. But there are just so many verses that teach about this unity. John 17:20-23. Jesus prays, He says, "My prayer is not for them alone," present apostles, "But I also pray for those who will believe in me through their message. That all of them may be one, Father. Just as you are in me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me that they may be one as we are one." Do you hear that? As we are one, it's a trinitarian pattern of unity. "I in them and you in me, may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
So, if you look carefully at what Jesus prays for there, He's praying that all of them “may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” “All of them,” is all the elect. Those who will one day believe in Jesus through the message of the Gospel. Revelation 5:9-10, "And they sang a new song, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’ " That is marvelous, Revelation 5:9-10. So astonishing diversity along with a perfect heavenly unity. That's where we're heading.
Now, the unity between the Father and the Son is absolutely perfect. There's never the slightest disagreement, or shadow of conflict between the Father and Son. Never has been, isn't right now, and never will be; they are perfectly one. So what that means is, they agree about everything. I mean, down to the smallest detail. Jesus said in Matthew 10:29, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered." That's the incredible detail of the mind of God the Father over everything. What I say to you now is, the Son agrees about everything the Father thinks about all those things. ‘You mean the Father and the Son have agreed how many hairs should be on my head?’ Yes! They are in total agreement, there's never been a disagreement about how many hairs should be on your head. You may disagree about how many hairs should be on your head, but the Father and the Son have never disagreed about how many hairs should be on your head. They agree about everything all the time. This is mind-boggling. That's where we're heading, with a multitude from every nation on the face of the earth. We’ll have that level of agreement about everything.
Disunity: Addressed in the Epistles
Now, unity in the churches then, is a huge issue in the Epistles. How many New Testament Epistles plead with the churches to be one, to be united, to get along with each other? Answer: Almost all of them. And frankly, probably if you look at it closely, all of them. For example, later in Ephesians, look at Ephesians 4. Just flip over maybe one page, verses 1-6. There it says, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is overall and through all and in all." That's a strong appeal to unity in Ephesians 4.
But so also you see the same in 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians was about a church ripped apart by factions and divisions. “One followed Paul, one followed Apollos, one followed Cephas, one group followed Jesus,” I don't know what that meant. Sounds good, I don't know, it sounds divisive, too. We're the Jesus party, don't know about the rest of you. And Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 1:10, "I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another, so that there may be no divisions among you, and that you may be," listen to this, "perfectly united in mind and heart." Perfectly united. Does the same thing in Philippians chapter 2. He says, "Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or in vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others." Unity. Same thing in Romans. In Romans 14, he deals with Jew/Gentile divisions over controversial issues; meat sacrifices to idols and special religious days and all that kind of thing, and he pleads for unity among Jewish and Gentile believers. It's an issue in all over the New Testament.
Unity Makes for a More Powerful Witness
Now, here's my point: The greater the unity within a church, the more power that church will have to preach the Gospel in that community. The more that unity is surprising and super naturally based, the more power will come in preaching the Gospel to that community. So, if you look again at John 17:22-23, as Jesus prays that they may be one as we are one, John 17:23, "I in them and you in me, may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me." So, that's not talking about Heaven, that's talking about right now, as the world watches us and as we become more and more united, the world will want to know more about Jesus, will want to learn more about Jesus, because they know how hard it is for this unity to happen. It's something that just doesn't happen.
So, surprising unity glorifies Christ. So, in Palestine, if you have former Muslims and Jews converting and becoming Christians, and they're living out that unity in worship, let's say on a Sunday morning, that is a powerful witness to the Gospel and to the surrounding community. It shines in a very dark place. Just ripped apart by factions and divisions and dividing walls of hostility. And that's happening. Reading about the church in Bethlehem, the Baptist church in Bethlehem, look it up, it's an interesting place. Imagine being the Pastor, of First Baptist Bethlehem, Israel. Not Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I'm sure they're having a good ministry, too. But the focus there, it's amazing, putting the Gospel on display.
So in the Balkans, when Serbs and Croats and former Muslims come together and come to faith in Christ, and then shine with a supernatural unity, it just makes the Gospel more powerful in that community. In Korea when Koreans and Japanese Christians come together and worship, the same thing. So also in Durham, North Carolina. What would be the most surprising unity? I think it would probably be the issue of the black-white division, the African-Americans and Caucasian people coming together in a supernatural show of unity that will make the Gospel very powerful and shine in this community.
Jew/Gentile Unity: Pattern for Worldwide Reconciliation
Now, let's go back to last week just to root all this in the text. I am preaching Ephesians 2:11-17, just in case you were wondering. “I thought we were an expository kind of preaching church though.” But I want to root it in that. So, home base for Ephesians 2:11-17 is Jew and Gentile unity. The spiritual work that Christ did to make Jews and Gentiles one stands as the pattern for all surprising unity all over the world. That's my basic thesis here. The Jew and Gentile issue was a special case in redemptive history, because it involved the Law of Moses. It involved God's direct action in separating people up. He put up the barrier, the dividing wall. It was erected by the Law of Moses, the Law of God. So that included dietary regulations, circumcision, other certain rules, a focus on genealogies, all those kinds of things, the Gentiles were excluded. And again, the basic thesis of my sermon, then if barriers between people that God did set up have been removed in Christ, how much more then barriers that God never set up have been removed by Christ? Christ's death lays the foundation for the removal of every barrier, every “dividing wall of hostility,” resulting in supernatural unity between Christians of every racial, ethnic, linguistic, national background. So how was it back in the day before we were Christians? Look at verse 11 and 12, "Therefore, remember that formally, you who were Gentiles by birth and called uncircumcised by those who call themselves the circumcision, that done in the body by the hands of men. Remember, that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world." That's what we were. We were aliens. We were strangers. We were outsiders.
How it is Now
If I can push it to one of the application points at the end, we were illegal aliens in the Kingdom of Heaven, we were. We were outsiders. There were laws against us. So what has happened then? Christ has come. Look at verse 13, "Now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." Verses 14 and 15, "For He himself is our peace who has made the two one." That's what Christ has done. So Christ has brought us near, we are near to God. And being near to God, we are near to each other, near vertically, near horizontally. We've been brought near. Christ is our peace. First, we're at peace with God, “having been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Romans 5:1. And then, horizontally at peace with each other as well.
What Christ Has Done to the Law
In order to achieve this, though, Christ had to do something to the Law, and He has. Look at verses 14 and 15, "He himself is our peace, who has made the two one, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the Law with its commandments and regulations." Do you see that right on the page? These are strong words, very strong. The ceremonial laws, what excluded Gentiles from the Assembly of Israel. Do you remember in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down? Do you remember how residents of that area went out with sledgehammers and started pounding on that wall, breaking it apart, and later selling fragments of it with the graffiti for lots of money? But they were breaking down that wall, and what joy. Can I tell you, this wall was unbreakable by anyone but Christ, and He did it in an afternoon, in a single day, removed this forever. So look at the language. The language is powerful here. The ceremonial law that excluded Gentiles from Assembly of Israel. It required circumcision, established dietary regulations. It forbade intermarriage between Jews and the Canaanite nations. It required national unity among the Jews and annual pilgrimages. It upheld genealogies and the ability to prove that you were physically descended from Abraham. But this Law, this barrier, this dividing wall of hostility has been removed. Christ has destroyed the barrier. He broke it down, tore it down. He has abolished the “Law with its commandments and regulations,” abolished it. Hebrews 8:13 goes beyond and says He's made it obsolete. This is language that we would never dream to use of the Word of God, but Christ has done this. “Destroyed,” “abolished,” “obsolete,” and established in His blood a New Covenant that is the basis of our unity. And in the New Covenant these old racial distinctions are obsolete also. They're gone. They don't mean anything.
What Jesus Has Done to All His People
So what has Christ done? That's what He's done external to us. What has He done within us to bring about this unity? That's staggering as well. Look at verses 15-17. “His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God by which He put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who are far away and peace to those who are near.” So, Christ has made us one, “He has made the two one,” our spiritual union with Christ is also a union with one another, a mystical, spiritual union we have with every true Christian all over the world. And He's made one new man out of the two. So this means we have been transformed. We're different men and women, different boys and girls. We have been changed. We've had the “heart of stone taken out and the heart of flesh put in.” We have been made new in our minds and in our hearts. That's the only way it can happen. We're “new creations.”
And so Jesus has made peace vertically with God, and peace horizontally with one another. Verse 17, "He came and preached peace to you who are far away, and peace to those who are near." And so, on that evening of the first day of the week, resurrection day, the greatest day in history, Jesus came to the upper room where the disciples were, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, came right in and stood in their midst. And then He said these marvelous words, "Peace be with you." And then He showed them His hands and His side. You understand the link between the two? Again He said, "Peace be with you." And so, our peace is blood bought. It's expensive. It's been paid for by the blood of Jesus on the cross. And by His resurrection, we are transformed. We're made new. So Jesus has put to death our hostility by the cross. How is that? By reconciliation, by reconciling us vertically to God through His blood. He has, as I said last week, reached down and taken the sword of revenge and hostility and bitterness right out of our hands. You understand He's done that?
Do you remember the parable of the 10,000 talents? Remember that? There's a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants, and there was a man there who owed him 10,000 talents; 750,000 lbs of gold. Some of you may collect gold, you don't have 750,000 lbs of it. The gross national product of the Roman Empire, that's what you and I owed before God, and God cancelled all that debt. But then that servant went out and found horizontally, found one of his fellow servants who owed him about a third of a year's wages. It's a lot. It's a lot of money. And he grabbed him and began to choke him, "Pay me what you owe me!", he said. And that servant fell on his knees and said, "Be patient with me. I'll pay it back." But he refused; would not forgive. Instead, he had that man thrown into prison until he should pay back all he owed. Well, the king hauled that guy back in. He said, "I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to, you worthless servant. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had on you?" In anger, his master threw them into the jail to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed. And Jesus said this, "This is how my Father will treat each of you if you will not forgive your brother from the heart."
Well, that reaches down takes and takes the sword right out of the hand, doesn't it? I cannot horizontally be unforgiving to anybody if Jesus vertically is going to forgive me for all of my sins. That's the power of unity. That's the power. Jesus has opened a door of access. Look at verse 17 and 18, "He came and preached peace to you who are far away and peace to those who are near. For through Him, we both have access to the,” same Father, “to the Father by one Spirit." So the same Father, same Son, same Spirit, same access, that's unity. That's what we have. So, we're at peace with one another, and we have access to the “Father by the same Spirit.” But we can't go into the Father's presence covered with the muck of unforgiveness, bitterness, and racism, and arrogance. We can't. We must give all that up.
How This Destroys Racism
So, how does this destroy racism? Well, racism is essentially self-worship. We worship our own skin. We worship our own culture. We worship our own particularities and differences. The cross destroys self-worship along with all idolatry. The cross humbles all lofty, arrogant, proud hearts; and racism is lofty, arrogant, proud in a matter of the heart. The cross enables, empowers forgiveness. The cross teaches the truth about race. For what is it? Acts 17:26, "From one man, He's made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole Earth. And He determined the time set for them, and the exact places where they should live.” So, we are genetically one. And God willed a marvelous, amoral diversity among us. We don't look all the same, thank God! We look different, we have different hair colors, we have different eye colors, we have different physiological things about us. But we also have been settled in different places on Earth and in various mountain valleys and other places, and allowed to just flourish and do culture and develop post Tower of Babel, some languages and other aspects of culture, and those are cultural issues of cultural diversity. Again, I am not using the word diversity the way some educators use it these days. I'm talking about amoral diversity, the differences that God delights in. So, color blindness is not part of my message here. We are different, and we will celebrate. I think we'll be different in Heaven. I think that's marvelous. And so, the ultimate end of this in Revelation 7:9-10, "After this, I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count from every tribe and language and people and nation, standing before the throne in front of the Lamb, and they were wearing white robes, and they are holding palm branches in their hands, and they cried out in a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.'"
Dealing with the Problem of Racism in the U.S. and at FBC
Long, Difficult History: Race-Based Chattel Slavery
Now, let's zero in on the special problem of racism in the United States. This is a long and difficult history, race-based chattel slavery is the basis of it. The first slaves came to the New World, to Jamestown in 1619 on a Dutch ship, which brought 20 Africans captured from a Portuguese slave vessel. Actually, the records aren't clear, they may not have been slaves, but indentured servants, as many poorer white people were, who came over across the ocean for economic opportunity, and they would sell themselves in indentured servitude for seven years, and then they would have their freedom. And so, the records would show of the white indentured servants, their names and then their date of release. But interestingly about the Africans, there was no date of release. So, that might have been right where it started, right there. Slavery was made legal in the colony of Virginia in 1640, though there are only a few dozen slaves at that point. But lucrative crops, like especially tobacco, greatly increased the desire for field workers in Virginia and other colonies. However, even at that point, most of them are white indentured servants coming from England, but The Great Plague and The Great Fire of 1660 in London wiped out a stream of indentured servants flowing to the New World. There was plenty of work to be done in old England at that point, and they didn't want to make the perilous journey, and they didn't need to be indentured servants. They could just work there. So, now what do the plantation owners do? And they turned at that point to chattel slavery among Africans, and the slave trade began in earnest at that point. And over the next 200 years, somewhere between six to seven million Africans were transported in inhuman conditions to America. The issue became intensely regional, as we know, leading to the Civil War.
1845: FBC Durham and the Southern Baptist Convention
In 1845, two things happened, relevant to us. The Southern Baptist Convention was founded that year, and First Baptist Church Durham was founded that year; 1845. Now, the SBC, The Southern Baptist Convention, was founded because of a split among Northern and Southern Baptists who were meeting together to foster missions, and to pool their resources for missions. But they couldn't agree on whether a slave owner could serve as a missionary and bring their slaves with them. And so, the Southern Baptists divided over that issue. That's our denomination. For me, growing up as an Irish Catholic in Massachusetts, not an awesome thing. I didn't know that at first when I got involved in the SBC. But isn't it amazing how the Lord said what God has made clean let no one call defiled? God has the ability to clean things up, and I'm grateful for that. Praise God for that. Well, we know about the Civil War reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, lots of history many of us know somewhat, some of us know very well.
The Civil Rights Era
During the Civil Rights era in our nation, the first half of the 20th century, began the focus of the Civil Rights Movement, the segregation that was involved there, blacks and whites were separated in society. Blacks couldn't use the same drinking fountains, attend the same theaters, eat at the same restaurants. Here in Durham, the Woolworths on 124 West Main Street was the site of a historic sit-in at a lunch counter, and Martin Luther King Junior was present at that time. This was one of the first presentations of non-violent, but direct responses to segregation laws, right here in our city. This pattern became a major strategy for Dr. King's non-violent approach to overturning unjust laws.
Now, in 1963, Dr. King, Martin Luther King Jr., was in prison, was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama, for his involvement in a demonstration. And he wrote a letter from a Birmingham jail, April 16th, 1963. The letter was written to white clergy who were urging him to be patient and not take such radical steps against racial injustice. "Slow down, be patient." He wrote out of the passion of his heart. I'm going to quote some of it.
"For years now, I have heard the word, wait. It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This wait has almost always meant never. We have waited for more than 340 years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it's easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will, and drown your sisters and brothers at whim, and when you have seen hate-filled policeman curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity, and when you have seen the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society, when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and you see tears welling up in her little eyes when she's told that Funtown is closed to colored children. And then you see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people. When you're forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness, then you'll understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope sirs you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience."
Are We All Racists?
There's a sense of urgency even now in our nation to address the issue of racism. I say that we Christians have the only answer, there is no other answer. This past year, I don't know when, but someone found a photo right from the steps of First Baptist Church, Durham, of two white men standing in suits with a serious look on their face and a black couple on the other side, and we don't know what's going on there, but what was happening here during those years? I wasn't here, most of you weren't either. I went through the phone book, the church phone book about six months ago to count the people who I still regularly expect to see attend worship here on Sunday mornings, whose date of joining FBC precedes mine, 57 of you. That number is getting smaller all the time. You know it can't get bigger. Think about that one, you'll figure it out. But there's a certain number of you that were here in those days. And it's difficult to look back. And there's two categories, always sins of omission, sins of commission, and it's hard, but that's what happened, that's where it was, and they are just questions. I don't know what this church was doing then. So it brings us to this poignant issue. Are we all racists? All of us?
So, talking to Matthew about this, he says, “Racism,” he calls me Doc, “Racism, Doc, racism sneaky, kind of hides in there.” Would it shock you, FBC, if I told you that I don't struggle at all with any temptations toward tobacco or alcohol use? Would that shock you? Well, I don't. I would guess that a lot of you could say the same thing. No big achievement. Some of you maybe couldn't. But it's no big achievement. Alright, well, would it shock you if on the other hand I said to you, "I don't struggle with pride at all."? "Thank God, I have learned to conquer my pride so completely, I know it will never trouble me again." Would that bother you? “Yes!”, alright, thank you. Can I get a witness, right? Yes.
Okay. Well then, apparently there are some sins that only some people struggle with, and we can honestly say “I'm not struggling with that,” I'm not saying I couldn't in the future, but it's just not a problem for me. And I need put no effort toward killing temptations in that area. But there are others that are so pervasive that we know that probably we struggle at some level. I think that racism tends more toward the second, not the first. It's more subtle than you may think. And just because you're not racist toward one category of people, doesn't mean you might not have a latent racism toward another category. So, it's sneaky and it's difficult.
How it is Now
So, how is it now? Well, this church, FBC Durham, has grown a lot since the mid 60s. There are many fruitful ministries that cut across ethnic lines and put Christ on display. But the actuality is that there is a clearly dominant ethnic flavor to this church. If you don't know what I mean, then just take a minute and look around. See, everybody is too embarrassed to do it. But you know what you would see if you looked around. People who study these things sociologically say you have to reach a 20% level before you could genuinely be called multi-ethnic. 20%. If 20% of those that worship in a church on Sunday morning are not of the dominant ethnic background, the dominant, then you're multi-ethnic.
Also, statistics show that less than 7% of the congregations on Sunday morning are multiethnic. So that leads to a statement that I've heard, that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in America, and it is so voluntarily. It's not like there are segregation laws on this, just people, and here we go, homogenous unit principle, you ready for this? People like to worship with people like themselves. Someone once said there should be a corollary to that, saying, "Yes, but they ought not be permitted to do so.” But what are you going to do? How do you stop it? I have yearned for years, to see FBC Durham to be a genuinely multiethnic community, and we're not, not yet. And just because we yearn to make it so it doesn't mean it will happen, it's very difficult to have it happen, it's hard.
Now, I praise God that across an average year, not just blacks and whites, but many different ethnic backgrounds worship here on Sundays. It's fantastic, I love to see it. We have a flourishing international connections ministry, people from many different nations worship here as a result of that. The black and white issue is not the only one, I praise God that we have African-Americans that worship here with us.
But we have here a tremendous opportunity for ministry, and that's what I want to transition to now briefly, just some applications.
Come to Christ!
First and foremost, can I just plead with any of you that are here that are not Christians to come to faith in Christ? I am offering zero advice to non-Christians on the issue of racism. I have no advice. Now, you could say that's extreme. We can influence non-Christians. I think that's actually true, I think we can, we can be salt and light, but to the heart of the issue, only the Gospel can transform the human heart. So I am appealing even beyond the issue of racism, which is temporary, for the sake of your own souls that you flee to Christ while there's time, that you find forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ.
Secondly, if I can just say to Christians, would you please take Psalm 139:23-24 and say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart on the issue of racism. Show me if there's anything in me that's offensive to you. O God, help me not assume I'm not racist in some way. Please God, drive it out of me. Please make me, as much as possible, heavenly in my outlook now, before I ever get to Heaven. I know, Lord, if you will do that, I'll be far more fruitful and effective in ministry. Make me heavenly, forgive me, God, for what I've done. Forgive me for things I've said. Forgive me for sins of omission, forgive me for sins of commission on the issue of racism. Please change me, God. Search me and know me."
Delight in What God is Doing Here
And then delight in and get involved in the kind of ministries that are going on here. There's a lot of good things you can do. International Connections. Any chance those brothers and sisters would like a little help? Talk to Ron Halbrooks and others. Chase, can you guys use volunteers? Yes, he's saying yes. If you would like to get involved in teaching English on Wednesday evenings or other forms of ministry, fantastic. One of the best things you could do is say, "We would like to host some internationals in our home, we'd like to have them over, we'd like to get to know them." Many internationals never visit a home. You'd like to get involved in that.
Now, concerning racism, can I just tell you the very fact that overt racism could never be tolerated in this church is something to celebrate. If I ever, if the elders ever heard that anything like that ever happened, it would be a matter of immediate church discipline, and we should praise God for that. That's progress. So the spirit in which I'm commending some change to you is this, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10. "Now, about brotherly love, we do not need to write you for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other, and in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet, we urge you brothers to do so more and more." So, we're doing better than we were, but we can definitely be urged to do so more and more. That's all. So get involved. Get involved in International Connections, get involved in Prison Ministry.
In a couple of weeks, we're going to have a chance to hear a testimony from a brother in Christ who was saved in Prison Ministry. We need men, specifically men, to get involved in that ministry. So, pray for it and see if you can get involved in that kind of thing. There are so many things we can do in terms of City Outreach. Talk to Matthew, he'll tell you the kinds of opportunities that we have here. Let's see if we can more and more pray toward our church being genuinely multiethnic, pray toward the 80%-20%, pray toward the 20%, and then 25% and 30%, whatever God wills. Pray that God would make us a genuinely multiethnic church.
Matthew Hodges gave me a bunch of applications. Three pages, I think, Brother. If you want the full list, and it's good, alright. I'll tell you what, I'm going to bring these papers to the back of the church. I'm going to hold them in my hand until someone says, "I would like them." All you have to do is just promise to read them all. I don't have time to read them all, but I'm going to say a few things. The window for racial and ethnic unity at First Baptist Church is now open. Let's use it, let's employ this open window, this opportunity. Racism is a complex issue that needs the whole plan of redemption applied to it. It is easy to become defensive, deflective, and dismissive on the issue of racism. Don't let that happen.
One of the best ways to heal racial strife is to fellowship with Christians of different races. Let's find out African-American churches that are working well, here in our community, and let's pray for them and see if there's ways we can partner with them. We should go out of our way to befriend people of different backgrounds. We should be open to others who don't see the race issue the way we do. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. When we are in the very large majority, we do not even operate in the category of ethnicity, race. We are humans, they're the ones with the race problem. Don't think like that, that's not true.
Dealing With Immigration
One final word I want to say, and then I'll be done. It's the issue of immigration. What's called illegal immigrants, sometimes called undocumented immigrants. This may be the second most controversial "us versus them" issue facing us today behind racism. Lots of powerful political rhetoric going on right now from presidential candidates on this issue. I'm not saying their names, but you know who I'm talking about, saying very potent and clear things about illegal immigrants, and citing dangers of ISIS, and dangers socioeconomically to our health care system, all kinds of things, issues of fairness, etcetera. And many of those comments are finding presently a resonant chord in the evangelical community. So I know I'm probably on thin ice with some of you out there. Where are we going with this? So, help me not to fall through. I did that once when I was 11, it wasn't fun.
Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Life Committee, ERLC of the SBC, said this, "There are 12 million undocumented immigrants or aliens in our country. Our approach cannot be basically saying in Spanish or any other language, 'You kids get off my lawn.' That can't be our approach. This is a Gospel issue," says Russell Moore. “Jesus was a so-called illegal alien in Egypt when He fled for His life with His parents. In that way, he patterned the Jews who were, in some ways, undocumented aliens in Egypt. So much so that God said to Moses in Deuteronomy 10, "God executes justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing." Listen to this, “ ‘Therefore, you should love the alien, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.’" Deuteronomy 10:18-19.
Jesus said in the sheep and the goats, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty you gave me something to drink, I was naked and you clothed me." What was the next one? "I was a stranger and you invited me in." There are serious political issues, I do not deny them. Borders should be secure. Businesses should be held accountable to what they do with their undocumented workers. Some of them bully them and threaten them with deportation if they don't do what they say. The Bible has a lot to say about wages withheld from workers and issues of justice. So there are gnarly issues here, but there's also, do you not see it? An incredible ministry opportunity for us.
Talk about the Hispanic community for just a minute. In our community, the numbers have risen since I've been here, in the 17 years from, I think, something like 2,000 to well over 30,000 in the year 2010, and probably far more than that now. I don't know. Estimates are about 80% of them are undocumented. They are not an issue. They are people. And the issues of legality are real. But as Richard Lan said it, “Our country is saying to the world two things: Borders closed, and open for hire.” Both of those things are going on right now. So it's not as easy as it may seem.
Ministry with Undocumented Immigrants
David Platt, in his book Counter Culture, spoke of a flourishing ministry a pastor friend named Tyler, and as a senior pastor in Arizona. Tons of illegal immigrants, tons of rancorous political debate, Tyler and a handful of people began just simply serving migrant workers in Arizona, giving them food, clothing. Personal relationships started to develop. They listened, they learned from the people that they were serving. He said this, "It wasn't long before people we were asking to help us began donating more than food, they began donating their lives." It led to the construction of a Community Center in a Latino neighborhood. At that Community Center, there are weekly English classes, after school programs, life skill training, Bible studies, and conversions going on, and discipleship going on. Tons of opportunities to share the Gospel and lead people to Christ. Also, tons of controversies and difficulties, too. What do we expect?
And so I'm asking that some of you who have a heart for this city, who have a heart for racial reconciliation, a heart for African-American connections, a heart for the Latino community, step up and say, "How can we begin serving? How can we begin ministering?" I don't know what the answers are. To me, this is the scariest part of the whole sermon; what are we going to do about it? Is it just going to be rhetoric, or are we actually going to act?" But I know this, in the end, every elect person will be standing around the throne, they'll be in a white robe, and they will be praising God. And no one's ethnic or socioeconomic background will in any way hinder them from being there. Close with me in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the Gospel, thank you for the truth that we have in Ephesians 2:11-17, how Christ has made a way for us to be reconciled to God and to one another. Help us to find ministries in this community that will be fruitful evangelistically. For the praise of your glory, in Jesus' name, amen.