Rethinking My Neighbor
Morning, church. I’m Matt Nestberg. It’s so great to see you. We are in Luke chapter 10. So, if you have a Bible, you can open it and look at these verses that you just heard read about being a neighbor. Fred Rogers was the well-known creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Ever heard of it? Of course, you have. He hosted all 895 episodes of that show. He composed over 200 songs (He was very talented), composed over 200 songs for the show, and imagined to life 14 puppet characters. He was also a Christian. He was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church. His passion was to use television to transform how we think about the inner lives of children. And so, each episode he invited us, invited them and us, into his world with the simple refrain, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Columnist Alissa Wilkinson says that Rogers, there was no chance that he did not have the story of the Good Samaritan in mind when he structured his entire show around being a neighbor. She writes,
“Fred Rogers was a kind and gentle man who saw children as important, his work as ministry, and kindness as essential to human existence… So, the main goal of ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ is to convince us that while kindness and empathy are in short supply today, it need not be that way.”
Rogers proved to be a neighbor to more than children. See, by the end of the 1960s, segregation was no longer the law of the land in America. But segregation was still practiced in a lot of places, and one of those was at public swimming pools. Very simply, white people did not want black people sharing the same pool water with them. It was in that environment that Fred Rogers made a gentle but powerful point on May 9, 1969. Rogers invited Officer Clemmons, who was a character on his show, to come and share the pool with him. He had a children’s wading pool and invited him to come and share the water. Clemmons at first declined, saying that he didn’t have a towel. But Rogers insisted, and so he agreed. Rogers offered his own towel to be used. And so, each of them took off their shoes and rolled up their pants and shared the water. It was not a complex point. It was a very simple and gentle point. But that day, Rogers and Clemmons demonstrated that a black man and a white man could peacefully share the same water. And when Clemmons had to go, he used Rogers’ towel to dry his feet, and then Rogers left the pool and dried his feet with the same towel, which was another powerful point.
In 1993, Clemmons made a last appearance on the show, and he and Rogers reenacted the pool scene during which Clemmons sang, “Many Ways to Say I Love You.” But this time, Clemmons didn’t use Rogers’ towel to dry his feet. Instead, Rogers took his towel, and he dried Clemmons’ feet himself. Clemmons saw a connection to how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and found the act very moving. He would later say, “I am a Black gay man and Fred washed my feet.” Fred Rogers was clear on who his neighbor was and what his mission was toward his neighbor.
Today, in this sermon, we are concluding our series that we’ve been in called, “Serpents and Doves,” with a second message about our relationship to people of different ethnicities. Our goal has been to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Now, today, this sermon is a bit different because rather than just declaring things that are true, this sermon is a lot of my experience in learning what it means to love my neighbor and live that way and loving him like I love myself. This is a story of my growth. So, because of that, it likely will not mirror yours. In fact, there might be times, there probably will be times, that I say things about my experience in my life that you don’t agree with or doesn’t mirror your life and you might not like, and that’s okay. I’m very okay with that. See, something’s missing today in popular culture where we fully consider a matter before we tweet it to death. And so, with the wisdom of James, my dear brothers and sisters, I’m asking you to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
So, today I’m going to try to accomplish three things, and I have my clock in front of me to try to stay on track. Here are the three things. Number 1, I want to make some observations about this text in Luke chapter 10 that you may not have considered. Number 2, I want to tell my story and how my heart has changed in this area of racial prejudice. And number 3, at the end, I want to give some recommendations that I hope will be helpful. So, are you ready? Alright.
Now, I’m going to take make five observations about this text. First of all, I take it for granted that you know the story of the Good Samaritan. I think even in non-Christian culture, that story that you heard read from Luke 10 is pretty well-known. With that assumption, I’m not going to go through the story line by line. I’m going to make five observations about the text of Scripture and ask you to think about these things. So, here they are.
Number 1, this is eternal life or death. What Jesus says here is eternal life or death. So, the lawyer comes to him and says, “How do I inherit eternal life?” Jesus says, “Do this and you will have life.” So, whatever we do with this passage of Scripture, it is life or death eternally. James, who is Jesus’ brother and writes a lot about Jesus’ words, said this in James 2.
“Judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy.”
The word mercy that James uses is the same word that’s used in Luke chapter 10 when the lawyer says, “The one who showed mercy.” And Jesus says, “Go and do the same.” And James says judgment will be without mercy to the one who doesn’t do what Jesus said in Luke 10.
Number 2, the standard of love is you. Kind of sounds unchristian, doesn’t it? Because you want to say the standard of love is Jesus. But in this passage, the simile, the “as” term, is love your neighbor as yourself. The standard of love is you. And what Jesus is communicating here is that, generally speaking, the person that we give the most understanding and the most deference to is ourselves. If I respond wrong, I’m very quick to in my heart go, “Oh, well, I was just hungry or tired, so it’s okay.” But if you respond wrong, “What’s wrong with you?” Right? You with me? Only me, I’m the only one that gets hangry? The people that we are most giving to is ourselves. I am most generous to me. I always give myself the benefit of the doubt. I never prejudge me, never. I am infinitely patient with me. And that’s what Jesus is driving at. He says that is how. Take that picture and love your neighbor as yourself.
I’m going to say our “inner lawyer” is not our friend. Our inner lawyer is not our friend. Let me explain. The man in the story is an actual lawyer. He comes to Jesus, and he asks a law question. He’s an expert in the law, and he plans to use the law to exonerate himself. Jesus sees the man’s heart. And Luke tells us that the man was attempting to “justify himself.” That word “justify” is the same word that’s used in Romans chapter 3 where Paul says that we are justified by grace through faith in Christ. We are justified, which means by faith we are declared righteous. And the same word is used here in Luke 10 that this man is seeking to declare himself righteous by using the nuances and maybe ambiguity of the law to say, “Really, I am righteous.” And we have that same impulse inside of us. I think it’s Paul Tripp that coined the term “inner lawyer.” He writes,
“All of us carry inside ourselves an inner lawyer who is easily activated and quickly rises to our defense. We’ve all been in one of those moments when someone is pointing out some wrong in us, and although we are not speaking aloud, we have already begun a silent defense … against what they are saying.”
Have you ever done that? Somebody is sharing a concern with you, and you’re building your case. And as soon as they breathe, you’re like, “Oh, yeah, but …” And they’re like, “I just took a breath. I’m not done. I have more to say, and now I have to talk about you’re interrupting.” We all have this inner lawyer that lives inside of us. That may have happened already to you today as soon as we started talking about racial prejudice. Maybe your lawyer said, “Don’t worry about this, you’re okay.”
I am by nature a legalist. I love the nuances of the law, especially when I can use the nuances of the law to justify myself. I love it when the law is on my side. Notice I didn’t say I love it when I’m on the law’s side. I love it when the law is on my side. When we were (when Katie and I were) early on in marriage, and we would have a disagreement — We only had those early on in marriage, not now. But early on in marriage when we’d have a disagreement, at one point she would say often, “I can’t out-argue you.” And I would say, “Well, thank you. I agree.” But she wasn’t complimenting me. She wasn’t saying, “Good job.” You know what she was saying without saying it? She was saying, “Your inner lawyer has got yourself at heart so much and so strong that you will not relent about you.” She didn’t say it that way. It took a while before I finally went, “Oh, wait a minute, I don’t think that’s a compliment.” Our inner lawyer will keep us from listening. Our inner lawyer will keep us committed to self-exoneration.
Number 4, Jesus’ point is relational, not political. Jesus’ point is relational, not political. Now in the story, the priest and the Levite, he’s talking to a Jewish audience. The priest and the Levite are the bad guys, and the Samaritan’s the good guy. This is not good for the people that are listening. I mean, it is good. But their inner lawyers are firing off. They’re going, “Wait a minute, shouldn’t the priest and the Levite be the good guy and the Samaritan, the bad guy?” But Jesus, knowing what he’s doing, uses this example that has political overtones. We know this because of the way Jews and Samaritans interacted in other parts of the gospels.
For example, in John 4 when Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. It’s a double whammy. And his disciples come back and they’re like, “What’s going on here? There’s a lot weird going on here.” When the Jews and Jewish leaders insulted Jesus, they called him the “S” word — Samaritan. They said, “You’re a Samaritan.” A racial epithet, if there ever was one. They did not get along. So, Jesus tells this story that has political overtones to it, but he doesn’t defend the story. He doesn’t justify the story. He doesn’t try to make them feel better. He doesn’t try to discount the political overtones. He tells the story because his point is relational. Even though they might go, “So are you saying Samaritans are better?” He doesn’t even address it, because that’s not his point. His point is relational because the gospel’s point is relational. At the very heart of the gospel is the brokenness of a relationship that began in Genesis chapter 3 that broke our relationship between God and man, and then Adam immediately accuses his wife. Broken relationship, vertical and horizontal. And Jesus comes and dies and rises again to address the broken relationship. It’s the heart of the gospel. Jesus’ point is relational even though there are political overtones.
Number 5, compassion. You have to say this. Compassion is the distinction. The man says, “The one who showed mercy.” He says, “You go and do the same.” The word “mercy” is the word pity or compassion. It is the same word that’s used in James 3:17, one of the verses that we’ve been looking at during this series which says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy.” There it is, full of mercy.
So, that’s my five observations about this text that I hope you’ll see kind of filter through the rest of this story. The rest of this is the theme of my story and what God’s done in my heart with regard to compassion towards people of color. So, here’s what I to share with you. I think, in thinking about my story, the theme that runs through is, “I didn’t know.” I don’t mean that as an excuse. I just mean for most of my life, I didn’t know. And you might say, “Well, you should have known.” Yeah, I’ll give you that. But a lot of this I didn’t know. I was like a fish swimming in water who doesn’t know it’s wet. It’s just all they know. That’s the cultural currents that I was in. John Piper gives that illustration when he likens our shaping culture like a fish in water. He says,
“Step back and realize that your church and your ministry (and your whole life) are through-and-through culturally shaped. You may not feel it, since fish don’t feel wet. Wet is all they have ever known. Wet is just the way it is. But in our way of doing things, this cultural wetness is all around us. We have a hundred reflexes and preferences that we never think about. And we love being this way. It feels utterly natural. To us. But not to everyone else.”
There is absolutely no moral judgment in that at all. Part of the reason that you are here at North Hills Church is there’s some cultural wetness that you feel here, that you feel comfortable, that you’re part of something that feels comfortable and natural to you. That’s not bad, right? It’s not bad. It’s okay. That’s how we all function. We all are like swimming in water, like fish. That’s our culture. And that was me when it comes to racial prejudice. I didn’t know it was wet, I was wet. I was swimming in waters of racial prejudice and I mostly had no idea.
So, let me explain. I’m a southern boy. I was born in Atlanta, and we moved to Greenville when I was young, before 5 years old, and I’ve lived here my whole life. I love the South. Can I get an amen? Alright. I love the South. I love being here. I genuinely just love it. I mean, I know we have a lot of people in our church from the North, and I’m not trying to offend you right now. We’re so glad you’re here. But I love being here.
The home I grew up in, in the South with African Americans all around us in the culture, the home I grew up in was, we only were with white people. I went to white church, white school, white friends, white life. That’s what I had. And what that means is I never had people of color that were confronting the waters that I was swimming in. There was never somebody to give me a different perspective. I was just swimming happily in the waters that I lived in. My dad was a city cop in Atlanta when I was very small, before we moved here. At one point, he got caught in a race riot in the 60s or 70s, and that forever changed him. He talked about that story and how he views black people as a result until he died. He always viewed them with a racial prejudice, and that filtered through our family. The use of the “N” word in our family was a regular part of our vocabulary. It was part of who we were, just natural and normal. We would, I would tell jokes. Me, I would tell jokes, insisting that I’m not prejudice, but telling jokes about black people.
I insisted that the Civil War was about States’ Rights and had nothing to do with slavery, and I really thought that. I really thought that slavery was not the issue. A big part of that was my education. So, let me just tell you a couple of stories about my education, because it was such a shaping influence in my life. I went to Bob Jones University. I went to Bob Jones Elementary School, Academy, and University — 1st grade to college. So, my whole life. What that means, and I want to say upfront, I am so thankful. I am so thankful for the education that I have. My wife still tells me today, “You got a better education than I did.” She went to public school and she went to the University of Virginia. No offense to UVA, but my point is, is that I’m so thankful for my education that I received in many ways. But what that meant was, I was going to private school with white people, not with any people of color. None. And the waters that I was swimming in and didn’t know it were waters of racial prejudice in my educational life.
Let me give you an example. One of the most influential examples is the conflict that happened between Bob Jones and Billy Graham. When I was going through school, Billy Graham, we were consistently taught, that he was a dangerous liberal, that he was a compromiser. We were not told that the reason that conflict began was because Billy Graham supported the civil rights movement. Billy Graham refused to segregate his crusades. Billy Graham had Dr. King come and pray at his crusades. And that was the core of the issue. Billy Graham was increasingly antagonistic against segregation. In fact, on Good Friday 1960, Billy Graham issued this statement:
“The whole trend of Scriptural teaching is toward racial understanding. Many use the Scriptures that were applied to Israel. It is true that God called Israel to be unique among the nations and told them to separate themselves from the evil nations around them. But the white race cannot possibly claim to be the chosen race nor can the white race take for themselves promises that were applied to ancient Israel … Jim Crow must go. It is absolutely ridiculous to refuse food or a night’s lodging to a man on the basis of skin color … Modern communications and travel have made the entire world a neighborhood. Who is our neighbor? Jesus gave us the answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and yet the Samaritan showed who his neighbor was by helping a person of another race.”
Graham’s statement made the front page of the Greenville Piedmont afternoon newspaper, which doesn’t exist anymore. But I’m old enough to remember the afternoon newspaper, Greenville Piedmont. Two days later, on Easter Sunday, Bob Jones, Sr. aired his response to Graham in a sermon entitled, “Is Segregation Scriptural?” In his sermon, Jones likened segregation to other important doctrines such as the atonement.
Now, my point of telling you that, is that sermon became a pamphlet that was sold in the campus bookstore and distributed to donors, and it became the official school policy throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I started school in 1980. So, for probably half of my schooling, that was the official policy. And once the policy goes away, we all know that things don’t just magically change overnight. Those were the waters in which I was swimming. That’s why I tell you that. So, I thought little about the black experience in America. I was taught through elementary school, middle, and high school, I was taught very little about the black experience in America. I was taught that the Civil War was about States’ Rights. I was not taught about the atrocities of slavery. I was not taught about the civil rights movement and anything positive about that. And I believed it. Those were waters I was swimming in. I was a wet fish. In my music history class, we skipped the sections on jazz and any other style of music that began in any country or area by people of color. Now, there were some things that seemed ridiculous to me, like the school’s ban on interracial dating, which was just a natural outflow of the policy on segregation. That seemed ridiculous to me and made me scratch my head in large part because North Hills was already going. I was already part of North Hills. And because of God’s Word being preached week by week, I was beginning to go, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t sound right.”
On March 3, 2000, Bob Jones, III appeared on the Larry King Show and repealed the school’s ban on interracial dating, which was a good move. But he argued that it was insignificant, saying,
“Let me tell you how insignificant this is. Students never hear it preached. There have been four, five, six generations of students that graduated from there and have never heard this preached in our chapel or taught in our school.”
And that was simply not true. I repeatedly heard it preached in chapel that the Tower of Babel, was the separation of the races, and we could not join them back together. I was taught it over and over again by professors in Bible class. Those were the waters I was swimming in. Now, I’ll say this. In the last 20 years, it’s my understanding, a lot has changed, and they have begun to see some of those things. Just like God’s worked in my heart, and his grace has poured through mine, the same is true in many ways over there. I spend time on that because most of my life, almost all of my life, those were the waters I swam in, and I didn’t know. I didn’t know.
Now, let me get to the good news. You ready for some good news? Fast forward many years. In 2012 I left North Hills, and we started CrossLife Church in Spartanburg. In 2014, a pastor-friend of mine invited me to lunch with a handful of pastors — half of which were black, half were white. His burden was to meet together because of the recent shootings of unarmed black men and how that had affected black pastors that he loved. He wanted to get together and begin a discussion on race, and he invited me to go. I didn’t know what I was getting into. But he was my friend, and so I went. And in the going, it changed my life.
From 2014 to the present, that group has continued to meet and grow. We invited more pastors across racial lines to come and join the conversation. And what grew was a group of 30-40 black and white pastors that meet monthly for breakfast to discuss issues of race and racial prejudice. Now, we’ve talked about everything. One of our early conversations was, “What do we call you? Are we allowed to say black?” Now, you might go, “Is he allowed to even say that in church? I’m so uncomfortable right now.” But if you think about it, for a white guy who doesn’t want to unnecessarily offend my brother, that’s an important question. And so, we had a great conversation about that. We’ve talked about stereotypes of each other — which ones are true and which ones are not — a hilarious conversation. We’ve talked about politics. Can you vote for one political party and me vote for the other, and we be okay with each other, because we both know that politics isn’t ultimate. Amen? We’ve talked about abortion, and poverty, white privilege, and black prejudice against whites. We’ve talked about it all, and there’s more to talk about. We’ve worshiped together, prayed together, and wept together.
On April 4, 2015, unarmed Walter Scott was shot by police in Charleston. That day, my black brothers went home from work, got their wife, got their children, and wept. For me, it was just another day. Didn’t affect me at all until I realized that my black brothers were weeping, and I loved them. And I began to weep, too.
On June 17, 2015, Dylan Roof entered Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and gunned down nine people at a Bible study — our brothers and sisters. The next morning, I gathered with dozens of ministers at a church in Spartanburg, and we divided into multiracial groups and began to pray. And a black brother beside me began to pray and weep saying, “God, we can’t even gather without being oppressed.” And my heart was shattered. And I began to weep, because he’s my brother, and I’m a Christian.
Can you imagine this prejudiced, white southern boy weeping with his black brother? But I was because God was changing my heart. For the first time in my life, there were black people that I loved — not just knew but loved. And so, it was easy to weep with those who weep. For almost six years, brothers in Christ have met together, checked our inner lawyers at the door (which is sometimes very hard), and sought to love and understand each other. It is not utopia. It has been, at times, very painful. But it has been God’s kind way to surgically cut racial prejudice from my heart. And I’m glad.
So, that’s how God has approached this guy who insisted he wasn’t prejudiced. And using my brothers and sisters to show me what was really going on in my heart and begin to cut it out, and he continues to do that. And so, as a result of that, I want to share with you three areas that have made me rethink. And I share these because they are so far outside of my experience. They don’t make sense for everything else I am. But they’re just things that, it’s made me go, “Oh, I need to think differently about that.” Or at least I can think differently about that. And so, as I share these things, I want to make a couple of comments.
Number 1, these are my experiences. I am describing them to you, not prescribing them to you. Do you hear that? If I prescribe them to you, that would be legalism. I’m describing to you my experiences in hopes that God might use those things to cause you to rethink things in your own life, however that may look. Okay? I hope that makes sense.
And secondly, my point in sharing these things with you is relational, not political. Every one of these things has political overtones to them. But just like Jesus was going for relational, even though there were political overtones, just like Fred Rogers was going for relationships … Somebody might have said, “How dare you? Why would you have the black man share a pool with you on television? That’s so political.” His point was relational. Jesus’s point in the Sermon on the Mount was relational. And my point is relational, even though there are political overtones. I’m aware. I’m aware. So, if you’re tempted to say, “So, are you saying …” I would just ask that if I didn’t say it, it might be best not to assume I did. So, please try to dismiss the inner lawyer and be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to anger — a serpent and a dove.
So, here I go. I’m going to wade deeply in some things then pull back out and apply. In 1996, when Governor David Beasley called for the removal of the Confederate flag off the State House dome, I was completely against it. Some of you were in church in 1996 at North Hills with me, and maybe I said something to you. So, if you’re like, “Last time I heard this guy talking about this, he was very clear on his position.” Exactly. If I had to do it over again, I would totally support it, it’s removal. I really thought the Civil War was about States’ Rights. I really did. I thought it had nothing to do with slavery. And yet, though it was about the right of a state to secede, everyone knew that slavery was the economic, social, and moral issue at hand. In fact, the Constitution of the Confederate States, which I never read until a few years ago, which Robert E. Lee was fighting to uphold, explicitly says, “No … law denying or impairing the right of property of negro slaves shall be passed.” Alexander Stephens, who had become the Vice President of the Confederacy, gave a speech on March 21, 1861, ten days after it was adopted, explaining why the Confederate Constitution was superior to the U.S. Constitution. He did so by driving a wedge between what Jefferson and the framers said, (that all men are created equal) which was the death knell to slavery, even though it took a while. It drives a wedge between that and to what they were trying to do, which was to say all men are not created equal. He writes:
“The prevailing ideas entertained by [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically … Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of the races. This was an error … Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth … They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”
That’s despicable. And the church supported it. The reason the Southern Baptists and the Northern Baptist Church split was because the Southern Baptist Church supported slavery. And they’ve admitted that. I had no idea. I had no idea. I had no idea that the flag was not put on the dome in South Carolina in 1862, but it was put on the dome in 1962 during the civil rights movement. There was a reason it was put up there. It was a line in the sand that said, “Not in South Carolina.” I’m a South Carolinian. And we the church didn’t object on the whole either in 1962 or in 1996. I can no longer honor people whose primary contribution to our country was slavery or defending slavery. I can’t honor sin no matter what the sin is.
And that brings me to my second one, which also is full of sin. When we talk about Black Lives Matter, there are two different things. There’s the statement, black lives matter, and there’s the organization Black Lives Matter. I’m talking about the statement. The organization is filled with sin, and I cannot have anything to do with it. Okay? Clear on that? I’m talking about the statement. And when the statement, the slogan, came out, my knee jerk response to black lives matter was probably typical for right-leaning Republicans — Rush Limbaugh-listening, Fox News-watching. I just described myself, by the way. If that’s you, you may have had the same — “Well, all born lives matter. Blue lives matter.” What did I say? “Unborn lives matter. All lives matter. Blue lives matter.” Maybe you said that, too. Me, too. And that’s all true.
But then I talked to my Christian brothers who described their experiences. I learned that black Christians hate abortion just as much as I do. They also believe that unborn lives matter. I learned that their experience with police has not been mine. And since they are my brothers, and they’re not in front of a camera trying to score political points, but they’re looking me in the face and telling me their heart, I don’t have to be defensive. I can say, “Hey, inner lawyer, sit down and listen.” And when my black brother says, “Black lives haven’t always mattered,” I can listen to his experience. So today, this is so far out of my experience, my normal waters. I can say black lives matter to me. In my mind, I see the faces of the men and women that I love that are my brothers and sisters.
And lastly, as if that’s not enough, the most difficult controversy for me going on in America right now is the one surrounding the national anthem — where you have sports figures that are kneeling during the national anthem. And I’ll tell you why. I love the national anthem. I love the Fourth of July. I’m the one that when you’re shooting off fireworks, and there’s somebody cheering when nobody else is, that’s me. I’m the one that’s singing, “God Bless America” to the top of my lungs when no one else is singing. And you’re like, “I wish that guy would shut up. Doesn’t he know that this is not the time?” That’s me. I love America. I am so thankful for God’s grace through our country, American values — things like “All men are created equal,” which has been used in constitutions around the world for the last 300 years, 250 years, (whatever it is). I’m so thankful for that, for God’s grace that he’s poured out through a flawed people. I am the flag-wearing guy. I thought about wearing a flag t-shirt underneath my shirt today so it could just kind of shine through, you know? America! I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me. Amen? All right. That’s me.
It baffles me that anyone would kneel at those sights and sounds. But some of those people are my brothers. Some of them are Christians who are not trying to score political points but are trying to express grief. And so, when the President vulgarly attacks my brothers, I have a problem with the President because they’re my brothers. I will only be an American for part of my life. I will be in community with other Christians forever, including you, whether you like me or not. You and I will be in community forever. I will be in community with my black brothers and sisters for eternity. Again, my point is relational. So, for me, the hardest thing to do is to set aside my patriotic disagreement and humbly ask my Christian brother, “Why?” Why does the same thing that fills me with such pride and joy and happiness fill you with grief? Why? And then listen. Now, those are just a few things that are way outside my natural response. They don’t fit the waters that I’ve swam in at all. I think you would agree with that. I think you would go, “How did that happen?” But God has used my African American brothers to challenge my heart.
So, how do we respond? Let me just give three categories of people, and I’m done. Three categories that you might find yourself in. Some are good, some are not so good, but maybe it’ll be helpful.
Number 1, maybe today I’ve described your past, too. And if you feel today guilt and shame, that has not been my point. Romans 8 says,
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ … Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies! Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised.”
No one can bring a charge against you who are in Christ. Not the least, me. When Jesus died on the cross, he died for every one of my racially prejudiced thoughts and words. His blood shed and paid for. Praise God! So, the same is true for you who are in Christ. But if that is your past, done. And so, the call of Luke 10 is to go and do the same. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be free.
Second, maybe I described your present. Maybe some of the things I’ve described you’re still there, and either your inner lawyer is firing like crazy or you’re aware that you might have some work to do, or you want to have some more conversations. Great. It is so hard to find a safe place to have a conversation on this issue. Am I right? I’m afraid sometimes if I ask a question then it’s, “You’re a racist.” You’ve got to be able to ask a question. If you need someone to talk to, I’d be happy to talk to you. I’d be happy to listen to you. I’d be happy for you to … I would love for you to find somebody who’s not like you. Sometimes we talk to the people that are like us. We’re like, “I can’t believe this. Can you believe this? I can believe it either! I can’t believe, you know. Well, I agree with you, and I agree with you, and I agree with you!” Okay, but what if we found somebody that doesn’t think just like me?
One of the most helpful things I’ve done as God’s began to do work in my heart is, I volunteer with some other organizations outside of church where I interact with African Americans quite a bit. And on multiple occasions I have said, “Hey, would you go to coffee with me? Here’s what God’s been doing in my heart.” I don’t know if they’re Christians or not. I don’t … I almost said I don’t care. I do care, but not in this point. “Here’s what God’s been doing in my heart in the area of race. Would you be willing to go to coffee with me? I just want to hear your experiences.” And then go to coffee and sit down and say, “Here’s what God’s doing. Will you please tell me your experience?” And then I shut up, I sit the lawyer down, and I just listen. I have heard some amazing things. I have made some friends that I love and that love me. And it all started because I just want to hear what you have to say, because I respect you. I found that I have Christian brothers and sisters that I didn’t know were Christian brothers and sisters that can share things with me and sanctify my heart in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I would encourage you to find ways to do that as well.
And then thirdly, the third category of people is… I am very aware that there are a bunch of people at North Hills that have never had any of these experiences. You might be going, “What?! That’s real? We hired that guy?” And that might be you. I’m aware that it’s a lot of people. And that’s, what a huge gift from God. And I would say to you, the call of Luke 10 is the same. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Alright, this is the end. Jesus, in talking about Luke 2, he didn’t host a children’s show called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” But he did call us to be a neighbor by showing mercy, compassion. This is a matter of life or death. Pastor John Piper, who is a Greenville native, he’s been a leading voice in evangelical circles, challenging us to think biblically about racial issues. And I think he’s right when he writes this. He says,
“It’s one thing to get to the point where you can freely and authentically love people of other ethnic groups and feel a natural, joyful, free affinity and fellowship with them. And it’s another thing to get to the point where you seek to advance that cause and draw others into it — and stay at it.”
The cause I wish to advance today is to love our neighbor as ourselves so that when our black brothers and sisters ache, our first impulse is to treat them with the wide berth of understanding and patience that we give ourselves. And to show mercy because the wisdom that is from above is full of mercy.
Jesus, please take anything that I’ve said, Lord, that is unhelpful and set it aside. Instead, use your Word and your servant to draw people to you, that we would love our neighbor as ourselves. I ask in your holy name, Amen.