Perhaps nothing characterized the life of Jesus more than his pursuit of people whose lives and lifestyles did not look like his. If we fail to listen to people who don’t experience the world the way we do, we will never bear their burden.
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Hi everybody. Thanks for joining us. Today we’ve hit pause on our regular format in light of the tragic events that have engulfed our nation. As you may remember, one of the most perplexing narratives from the life of Jesus was his late arrival to the village of Bethany after hearing about Lazarus’ death. John tells us that when he arrived he asked to be taken to the Lazarus’ tomb. A cave. When he got there, he paused. And he wept. He stood in the pain of those around him before providing a solution. Bystanders remarked: “See how he loved him!” In some ways, that’s what this moment is for us. The moment to pause in the pain. The pain of the black community. The pain of the families directly impacted. George Floyd’s family. Ahmaud Arbery’s family. Breonna Taylor’s family. The families whose lives have been upended by the looting. This is the moment to pause in the pain of our nation. To connect the current losses to the current of racism that has plagued our nation. To feel it. And before we offer our solutions… to weep with those who weep. Mourn with those who mourn. That’s where empathy is born. And on occasion, that’s where solutions are discovered. I’ve heard folks talk about how sad all of this makes them feel. But sad is how we feel when something happens that doesn’t necessarily affect us personally. Something far away. Somebody else. I hope we can all agree this is bigger than sadness. This affects all of us and consequently all of us have a role to play. I know some folks are uncomfortable with folks like me leveraging the words of Dr. King. But he said so much so well. The reason this has to become personal for us is: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” To move past what we’re experiencing as a nation with nothing more than a bad case of “sad” is to miss the significance of the moment. It’s to miss the opportunity of the moment. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” This is true now more than ever, because what happens in South Georgia is seen by people in North Dakota… And what happened in Minneapolis was witnessed by people all over the world. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (NOTE: Letter from Birmingham City Jail, April 16, 1963) There’s no “them.” There’s just “us.” So, “sad” isn’t enough. And I don’t have to tell my black brothers and sisters that. You aren’t sad. You’re mad. You’re scared. You’re scared because you didn’t see a 46-year-old stranger with a knee on his neck. You saw you. Your father. Your brother. I have two African American friends who recently became fathers for the first time. They saw their sons. They saw the death of progress. The death of hope. The death of maybe my kids will grow up in a different America. A better America. And if that doesn’t affect me… If that doesn’t make me more than a little sad, I’m a hypocrite to even call them my friends. Now, this topic is a minefield for me. For us. And that’s not the case for every pastor or every church. If we leaned far right or far left, you would be the choir. I would be preaching to the choir, to a chorus of “Amens” and applause. But we’re not that kind of church. I’ve been to my share of far-right leaning churches and churches that lean far left. It’s easier for those pastors. Everybody pretty much agrees on everything and everybody else is going to hell. Right. That’s not who you are. That’s not who we are. Besides, the truth is rarely found in the extremes. You know that. It’s found where the circles overlap in the middle. The messy middle. Dr. King told us that as well. He modeled that. He died in part because of that. The messy, messy middle is where brutal, uncomfortable facts come together. It’s also where problems can be solved. But the middle is uncomfortable. It’s so much easier to retreat to the echo-chamber of extremes where everybody agrees, but nothing is ever accomplished. In the messy middle, we’re confronted with uncomfortable facts. And… Facts aren’t fair. …But Facts don’t care. White people fear black men. That’s not fair. But it’s true. What makes this even more unfair is that in the vast majority of cases our fear of black men is in no way connected to personal experience. And if that wasn’t unfair enough, study after study has shown …fear of black men doesn’t spring primarily from racism. It’s deeper than that. That’s not fair to black or white people. Most black men have experienced what some refer to as the “fearful gaze” of white men and women. On the other side of the equation: The majority of African Americans in our country don’t trust the criminal justice system. You fear the police. That’s not fair. But facts don’t care. It’s not fair to police officers with spotless records who risk their lives every day for people they don’t even know. For people who in some instances don’t even like ’em. I was journalism major in college…during the murdered and missing children chapter of our city’s history. Some of you remember that. As part of an assignment, I had an opportunity to ride along with a black city of Atlanta police officer on the 11pm – 7am shift. I was scared pretty much the entire night. Not of him. We went from one domestic violence case to another all night. I saw firsthand the challenge of playing by the rules when confronting people who don’t know the rules. So, white people fear black men. The majority of black people don’t trust the police. Most police handle themselves professionally. And then there’s this: Whereas our fear of black men is rarely if ever connected to personal experience… if you’re African American, your mistrust of the criminal justice system is connected to personal experience. Us white folks fear what might happen. You fear what has happened. And as bad and as unfair as all that is, that’s not even the worst of it. The really bad news is statistics, data, information, sermons, and protests won’t ever change any of those cultural realities. Telling the black community how many times the criminal justice system has worked in their favor… That does nothing to assuage your mistrust, does it? Underscoring how quickly a police officer was fired and arrested doesn’t address your fear. For the same reason reminding white folks how many more times they’ve been hurt by, ripped off by, deceived by, white people than black people won’t erase our fear of black men. If you’re afraid of flying, you get this. Data, statistics, lectures. None of that helps, does it? Being told that statistically you’re safer in the air that you are on 285… that doesn’t erase your fear of flying. Facts rarely replace fear. … Facts don’t build trust. The only thing that has the potential to replace deep-seated fear and distrust is: Experience We can’t talk our way or law our way out of this mess. We can’t pie chart or bar chart our way forward. We have to experience our way forward. My friend and journalist, John Blake, recently wrote an article entitled: There’s one epidemic we may never find a vaccine for: fear of black men in public spaces That’s just the title. In it he says: “I believe another way to fight fear of black men is through exposure. Or, experience. Until more white people actually live among and befriend black people, that fear will persist. (NOTE: https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/26/us/fear-black-menblake/ index.html) The white people who have all but silenced their fear of black men are the white people who have befriended black men or have been befriended by black men and families. Sure enough, in communities where police departments create opportunities for people to interact with and come to see police officers as Fathers. Mothers. Neighbors… trust is built. Fear is diminished. Watching the police and national guard lock arms with protesters this week was powerful, wasn’t it? It was their way of saying, we agree that a grave injustice was done. We failed to police ourselves. We have more in common than not. What breaks your heart has broken ours. We are more than sad. Your anger is justified. Your voice is heard. So…here’s the question I want us to wrestle with. Here’s the question I want you to wrestle with… and not just today. Every day. If experience is the way forward, As it relates to the variables you control… How do people who don’t look like you experience you? Not, what do you think about people who don’t look like you. Not how do you feel about people who don’t look like you. Not what do you believe about people who don’t look like you. Again, when it comes to the variables you have control over, How do people who don’t look like you experience you? More to the point of today’s message: How should people who don’t look like you experience you? Now, if you’re not a Jesus follower, that’s as far as I can take you. But that’s a lot to chew on. Because you have some control over how people who don’t look like you experience you. If you are a Jesus follower, there’s more. Because Jesus told us how people who don’t look like us should experience us. And it’s not new. We talk about this all the time. This is core to who we are, what we teach, and how we want to be experienced individually and corporately. As Jesus followers, we are accountable to the The Law of Christ. Not the 10 commandments. Or what most Christians refer to as the 10 commandments. You can keep all 10 of the 10 commandments all day and be the chief among racists. If you don’t believe me? Ask the Apostle Paul who kept the law perfectly, while despising Gentiles and torturing Christians. And then he met Jesus. And everything changed. Paul went from a violence-leveraging law-keeping Pharisee to a “The-greatest-of-these-is-love” Jesus follower in a day. Because he, better than anyone, understood the stark contrast between what had come before and the Kingdom Jesus came to introduce. Jesus, who on his final pre-crucifixion night replaced all 10 commandments with one commandment. A better commandment. A new commandment. He reduced all of life to one trans-generationally relevant, unchangeable command that has the potential to change everything, in spite of how things change. “A new commandment I give you.” He said. “Love one another.” Of course, that wasn’t new. But he wasn’t through. “As I have loved you… He defines it for us: “so you must love one another.” This was a new command. Not a new suggestion. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (as I have loved you). NOTE: John 13:34–35 (NIV) So, how should people who don’t look like you experience you? Like that. Then Paul comes along and elaborates on the one-another part. You want to know what it looks like to love one another the way Christ loved you, he says. Here’s a good place to begin: Carry one other’s burdens… That’s what Christ did for you. That’s what the Jesus brand of love looks like. When you do that… When I do that… Paul tells us, in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. NOTE: Galatians 6:2 When we choose to carry someone’s burden… what divides us diminishes. What unites us surfaces. Because when you help me carry my burden, you’ll have better understanding of where I sit and consequently why I stand where I do. And I’ll gain a better understanding of you as well. Carry someone’s burden and you’ll fear less. Understand more. Mistrust less. Trust more. When the concerns of others concern you, and you act, you are fulfilling the law of Christ. When the law of Christ informs our collective conscience… our national conscience, we will find common ground even when we don’t share common culture or experience. And you’ll know you’re getting this right when white culture and black culture become secondary to the one-another culture introduced by Jesus. When a slice of my culture gets in the way of loving and valuing another human being, that slice of culture must be temporarily, or perhaps permanently, retired. Otherwise, I’ll be content with “sad”. Otherwise, I’ll never step over the line to carry your burden. So let’s get awkwardly practical. What does the Jesus brand of love look like in our current context? How should it shape how people who don’t look like us experience us? Two things. First, and this certainly isn’t original with me, it’s not enough not to be a racist. Non-racist is not the goal. Being non-racist does nothing to address racism. Practically speaking, it amounts to indifference toward racism. If you’re a Jesus follower, You must be anti-racism. Like you are anti child-abuse. You wouldn’t walk by someone abusing a child and think to yourself, I’m not child abuser and do or say nothing. We must be anti-racism, like we are anti-bullying. Anti-voter fraud. Anti whatever it is that gets you worked up. As a parent, I wasn’t content to simply be a non-liar. I was anti-lie. I didn’t put up with it in my children. I wasn’t content with being non-disrespectful to Sandra. I was anti-disrespect. There was zero tolerance for disrespecting Sandra in our household. When you are anti-something, you address it when you see it. You speak up when you hear it. To carry someone’s burden is to get up under the weight of someone’s burden. When we decide to carry the burden of those who have been discriminated against for any reason, we won’t be silent, because it’s our burden. But…I gotta tell you, speaking from personal experience… White, brown or black… When you shift from non-racist to anti-racist… you may discover something disturbing about yourself. You may discover a racist in the mirror. You may discover subtle versions of racism that have been hiding, even masquerading as virtues, buried in the recesses of your heart. Racism you were completely unaware of until you decided to say something. Correct something. Apologize for something. For some of us…when it comes to our hearts…racism will never be rooted out until we are willing to speak out. Honestly… there’s probably a little racism in all of us. Perhaps it will never be completely erased from our hearts. But it must certainly be erased from how people experience us. Second thing: Proximity is not friendship. Knowing the names of people who don’t look like you is not the same as having a friend who doesn’t look like you. This is part of the solution. Author James Clear writes: “Facts don’t change our minds. Friendship does.” (NOTE: https://jamesclear.com/why-facts-dont-change-minds) As I’ve urged you to do in the past, pursue relationships, friendships, with people who don’t look like you. Engage in their reality. Perhaps nothing characterized the life of Jesus more than his intentional pursuit of people whose lives and lifestyles did not look like his. He gets a lot of press for being a friend to the poor and downtrodden. But that’s not the whole story. The men he invited to be his closest companions were from a variety of social contexts. His circle of friendship included the rich, the working class, religious leaders, tax collectors, scribes, women, and ultimately, Pharisees. In the same conversation where he announced his new command, he looks around the room at his collection of day laborers, a zealot, a tax gatherer, and a traitor and says: “I have called you friends…” Imagine the Savior of the world. Your Lord. Master. Calling you friend. He is nothing like you. But he likes you. Then he said this: You did not choose me, but I chose you. NOTE: John 15:15-16 (NIV) That’s how he loved. That’s how Jesus followers love. Not from a distance. Not in our hearts. With our hands and feet. With invitations. With time. With meals. If we don’t know people… if we fail to listen to people… who don’t experience the world the way we do, we will never bear their burden. We will not fulfill the law of Christ. We will be content with “sad.” We will be content with “mad.” We may wear the label Christian. But we dare not call ourselves Jesus followers. That’s why I’m constantly urging you to be a student first. Save your criticism for later. The reason you don’t understand how white people could… why black people always… is because you don’t understand. That’s on you. That’s on me. That’s on us. That must end. As long as we’re content with proximity rather than friendship: We will discount everything that doesn’t fit perfectly into our own flawed worldview. So, when it comes to the variable you control… How do people who don’t look like you experience you? Will you, regardless of the color of your skin, decide not to be content with merely being non-racist? Will you decide to make the shift to anti-racism? Anti-discrimination? Will you stop with the “Oh, but I love everybody” and go love somebody who doesn’t look like you? Who doesn’t experience the world the way you do? In other words, will you follow Jesus? He was so clear. “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Tax collectors do that? And if only greet your own people, everybody does that. Even idol worshippers do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. NOTE: Matthew 5:43–48 What? Perfect? Yeah. Jesus said our love for God is demonstrated and authenticated by how we treat other people, not God. He’s fine. But not just other people. People who are not like us. Who may not even like us. I’ve told you before…and I’m sure this is not very reassuring coming from me, I’m don’t always know what to believe. My views on a variety of topics have morphed, evolved, or completely changed through the years. One of the humbling things about being a preacher is that my views on just about everything are documented somewhere on a hard drive. Every preacher I know wishes they could go back and re-preach, un-preach, or delete some old messages. We meant well. But then life happened. Kids happened. Tragedy struck. We grew. We matured. We saw the world differently. God didn’t change. We changed. But those old sermons live on forever somewhere. I certainly hope my views and beliefs have matured. I hope they more accurately reflect the reality of our Father’s world. But there’s no finish line. My worldview is a work in progress. So is yours. We believe what we believe, but our beliefs are limited by what we know, see, and experience. But… but while our knowledge and understanding are in flux, one thing is not. There is one thing that transcends our limited knowledge, insight, and experience: Love. Love fills the gaps. It reduces the friction created by our limited insight, knowledge, and judgment-inhibiting experiences. There’s so much I don’t know. There are things I’ll never understand. But my ignorance does not impede my ability to put others first. That has nothing to do with intellect. It has everything to with my will. So while I’m not always sure what to believe, I almost always know what love requires of me. So do you. You are somebody’s experience. How do people who don’t look like you experience you? How should they? Jesus made that uncomfortably clear. And from the pages of the Gospels, he turns, looks over his shoulder at me. You. He looks at the you that looks nothing like you and says, “Follow me. Follow me. And I’ll show you what love requires of you.” And if we will accept that invitation, perhaps in time we will all lose our fear of flying. Perhaps we will silence our irrational fear of black men. Perhaps we will see men and women. Fathers and mothers. Instead of just uniforms and badges… Perhaps in the chaos of blue lights and sirens, we will see somebody’s son. Somebody’s little girl. Perhaps someday, it will finally dawn on all of us that “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” because we are all made in the image of God. And we are all part of the human race. Thanks for tuning in.