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Last week we talked about the birth of the church and how at the birth of the church we were empowered to go spread the Gospel message and make disciples. What does it mean to be empowered by the Holy Spirit? To be empowered means that you have been given the authority or power to spread the Gospel message and make disciples. Imagine that, God has given you authority! That should really make you jump for joy to know that God trusts us enough to give each of us authority through the Holy Spirit. I want you to think about the fact that God has given you authority to spread the Gospel message and make disciples.
But, what does that fully mean? Does that just mean going out and telling people of the grace, mercy, justice, and love of God? Does it mean just telling people of Jesus? Or is there more to it? It should be pretty obvious that there is more, a lot more, to what we have been empowered to do. In fact, that is what we will talk about today but first I invite you to turn with me to Micah 6:6-8 and then Isaiah 1:17. Now, hear these words recorded in the Old Testament.
Micah 6:6–8 NRSV
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Isaiah 1:17 NRSV
learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.” Friends, I have to say the past couple weeks have been really rough on many of us dealing with friends and family who have been sick, the pandemic, and protests and riots. I want us to focus in on these later two things today in regards to the church. We are not going to really talk about the protests and riots but what led up to these protests and riots and the church’s response and responsibility.
Many of us know that the protests started after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. The reason for the police were looking for Mr. Floyd was it was thought he gave a fake $20 bill to a store clerk, it has now come out that the $20 bill was not fake. Video evidence shows there was no resisting or fight from Mr. Floyd. Yet three officers put their knees on his back and neck, while another watched. Mr. Floyd yelled out that he could not breath for more then 4 minutes with onlookers pleading the officers to get off of him. The death of Mr. Floyd was the tipping point for the protesters to start up.
I say the tipping point because there has been a build up for a number of years for many. Many groups have been trying to bring attention to the public on the deaths of black men and women at the hands of police. If you look at the numbers there are more whites being killed by the police than blacks but when you look at the percentage of population it swaps drastically. Now if you are saying that these are bad cops and there are more good cops, I’ll talk about that in a minute.
Many blacks are at a loss of words. Many are upset beyond our understanding. While the Civil Rights Movement has really made life better it is just the beginning of the change. The are entities within our world that are still professing hate toward people who look different than them. Racism is still an issue in society today. Many of us have turned a blind eye to racism saying its the 21st century everyone is good but that is not the case. The problem is we turned a blind eye and were not willing to speak up when we saw racism. This has led to situations like Ahmaud Arbery.
The church has failed to be the church when racism has reared its ugly head. Now, I know you are probably thinking, “George Floyd was not killed because of racism.” My first point to you would be, how do you know? But, we will not venture there. My second point would be, systemic racism is real! If you do not know what systemic racism is, it is “a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. It is reflected in disparities regarding wealth, income, criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education among other factors.” (wikipedia.org) There are many factors that lead to this type of racism and we have allowed. If you really want to find systemic racism, look to our criminal justice system. I have read too many reports to count regarding the difference in sentencing for blacks vs whites who commit the same crime. Many times the white person’s sentence is a lot less than the black persons.
We are failing the Gospel message. Our text today talk about justice, love, kindness, oppressed, orphaned, and widowed. This means we are to offer love and kindness to all and seek justice for those who are not receiving justice, those who are oppressed. Now, here is the crazy thing about oppressed people, we cannot say who is and who is not oppressed. This is something only those who are oppressed can tell you. If you have never been oppressed then you do not know if someone else is being oppressed. If you have never been treated with a racial bias then you cannot say if someone is experiencing racism or not. It is just a fact.
It is something hard for us to understand. When we are not meaning something but it is received as if we meant something. This is an idea that we came to realization of when we were doing the Adam Hamilton study Half Truths. We use phrases that are meant one way but received another which means we may offend or even present the Gospel message in an inaccurate way. I know this makes it hard to not offend but if we want to show love then we need to be willing to have hard conversations with each other and ourself. We must examine our words and intentions.
In order to seek justice for those who are oppressed then we must be willing to walk alongside with those who feel oppressed. We must be willing to speak out and speak up. If you are white, your voice will be heard and needs to be heard. I went to the Black Lives Matter protest in Villa Rica last week and learned the importance of my voice, not just as a pastor but as a white male. When we call someone out for racism we are making a statement that it is not right. When white people call out racism we say that thinking someone is not equal is not acceptable.
I know some of you probably were a little upset with the idea of me going to a Black Lives Matter movement because all lives matter. Friends, let me say, the Black Lives Matter movement is not saying only Black Lives Matter. In fact, the BLM are worried about all lives but they want to call attention to the unnecessary and unjust death of black men and women. Black Lives Matter is a movement trying to call attention to these issues.
The best way I have come to understand BLM is through the use of scripture and another example. The scriptural reference is the shepherd leaving the 99 to find the 1 one lost sheep. The shepherd knew the 99 were safe and good so he goes to help the lost one. Well BLM is the lost sheep, the rest of us are safe. When we counter BLM with all lives matter it is like a house that is on fire in a neighborhood and the Fire Department comes to put the fire out but we scream what about all the other houses. Those houses aren’t on fire but they want to be noticed.
Friends, it is time for the church to be the church for the oppressed. It is time for us to speak up. We must tell others that racism is NOT ok. We must be willing to have the hard conversations with ourselves and others. We must be willing to listen to the stories. I challenge you to begin to join me in ending racism. If you would like to know how you can help or make a difference, I will share a link to resource document provided by the N GA conference of the UMC. I also challenge you to watch the movie Just Mercy, it is free to stream for the month of June. Let us begin the hard conversations as a church!
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