Sunday I had to call an audible. We set aside our scheduled sermon series to address the events of the previous week. It’s my hope that we will be challenged, encouraged, and motivated to let God search our hearts teaching us to truly love one another.
Like many of you I have spent the last several days watching the news, following events on social media, and having family conversations about what it all means. Like you I’m frustrated, I’m conflicted, I’m confused, I’m sad, I’m angry, and if I’m not careful I could get overwhelmed. I want to do something, but I don’t know what to do. I want to say something, but I don’t know what to say. But we are your pastors, and this is Sunday, and it’s our job to say something. It would be a travesty for us to make a little statement, say a little prayer, and move with business as usual. That may work today for some churches, but we are a multicultural church in a multicultural city so that won’t work for us. So I am going to share a few words and then our pastors are going to lead us in a special prayer time. Thankfully we serve a multicultural God who is not confused, conflicted, or overwhelmed.
Let me start by saying “WE HAVE A PROBLEM.” If that isn’t obvious to you by now I don’t think you are thinking clearly or you are simply oblivious and don’t watch the news at all. You can pick apart the incidents one by one and try to explain how each individual incident is more complex than it may appear on viral videos. But the sheer volume of incidents tells us for certain that we have a problem in this country regarding the safety of African-American citizens in their dealings with law enforcement. My friend Russell Moore says ” That’s especially true when one considers the history of a country in which African-Americans have lived with trauma from the very beginning, the initial trauma being the kidnapping and forced enslavement of an entire people with no standing whatsoever before the law. For the black community, these present situations often reverberate with a history of state-sanctioned violence, in a way that many white Americans—including white evangelicals—often don’t understand.” When the black moms and dads in our church are afraid to send their teenagers out in a vehicle because of what could happen to them should they get pulled over by a police officer we have a problem. When the parents of African-American and Caribbean and bi-racial children in our church have to respond to facebook videos with even sterner versions of “the talk” (special instructions about how to “over-respond” to police officers so you don’t get shot…..a talk that white parents don’t even have to think about) we have a problem. When our brown-skinned brothers and sisters are uncomfortable and even resentful coming to Family Church because they are afraid that they will be regarded with suspicion or pity or apathy by their own fellow-believers here then we have a problem. They don’t want pity and they don’t want sympathy. They especially don’t need instructions about how to correctly interact with police officers or critiques of the victims of police violence. They want solidarity and they want justice and they want it to stop and they want a future where their children can experience and expect justice before the law in our country and they want to know that there church has their back. Well as your pastor let me tell you that we do have your back, and on behalf of your pastors I want you to know that we stand today in solidarity with you.
Now we all have our own take on what is going on. But whatever our perspective…WE HAVE TO CARE! It’s not enough to exonerate ourselves by personally declaring “I am not a racist.” I have spent time in the past couple of days calling black leaders in our church to check on them and to listen to them and learn from them and to grieve with them. So let me tell you that our black brothers and sisters in our church are experiencing a crisis and a conflict that tears them apart emotionally and psychologically and spiritually. Our society is tearing itself apart before our eyes. We are personally responsible to treat every human being with dignity and respect because they are created in the image of God. But we are also corporately responsible to address structures that perpetrate, facilitate, or ignore injustice. Protests matter, conversations matter, votes matter, jobs matter, schools matter, families matter, and money matters. In the Bible God was especially harsh in his description of religious people who continued to participate in religious rituals and festivals and worship services without a serious concern for the injustice in their society. In the book of Amos God excoriates apathetic believers saying: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies….take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:21-24. The Bible tells us to “weep with those who weep.” Well Black and bi-racial families in our church are weeping right now. The families of police officers are weeping right now. We cannot allow ourselves to grow numb and we cannot allow ourselves be silent. We certainly can’t retreat into the familiar grind of work, errands, sports news, church, and family vacation and act as if nothing is going on. We have to weep and we have to care. Because God is calling for justice to roll down.
While we call for justice, we also know that WE NEED THE POLICE. The social order that has held our nation together is fraying and disintegrating. The violence and terror against police officers in Dallas shows us another dimension to the problem that we have. Police officers and law enforcement personnel are here to serve and protect. The vast majority of them are faithful and ethical and brave. We have many brothers and sisters in law enforcement that are members of our church. Our hearts go out to them because we know that when they see the horrific scenes from Dallas they wonder if they will could be next. It hurts when they are targeted by protesters and it’s scary when they are targeted by terrorists. Police officers need to hear that we need them and we want them in our communities and we are all grateful for their service. Black moms and dads need them too. The job of a police officer is dangerous and stressful enough and it is shameful and evil and despicable that anyone would target police officers with acts of terror and murder. So while we call for justice in cases of police brutality, police racism, and police murder, we know that those cases are perpetrated by a tiny percentage of the law enforcement community. And so we have to stand with and honor our men and women in blue. If we don’t our society will descend further into chaos.
WHAT WE NEED AND WHAT WE WANT IS PEACE AND LOVE. BUT WE WILL HAVE NEITHER UNLESS WE HAVE JUSTICE AS WELL. In the Old Testament Cain murdered his brother Abel and then tried to ignore the problem by saying that he was no “brother-keeper.” But God said that Abel’s blood “cried out from the ground.” Abel’s blood was crying for justice and Cain was not allowed to avoid God’s consequences. Hundreds of years laters the prophet Isaiah wrote of God’s anger over nations that institutionalize injustice: “Woe to those who….deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless” (Isaiah 10:2). God brought judgement upon Israel and other nations for systematized injustice then and we have every reason to expect God will bring justice on nations who do the same now. God knows that the authentic peace we were made for flows from genuine love but is always accompanied by righteousness and justice. That’s why Jesus connected commandment-keeping with God-loving and neighbor-keeping. We long to experience the peace of Eden and to share love for our brothers and sisters but the sin in ourselves and in our society cries out for justice and justice has to be served. Of course believers in Jesus know that justice ultimately will be served. Because every person will one day face God and we will all stand before the Throne of His Judgement and we will give an account of the deeds we have done. It is there that the motives of our hearts will be exposed. And the God who has the only set of truly honest scales will weigh out our actions and inactions, our opportunities seized and opportunities lost, our words and our thoughts including the secret things we wish would stay hidden. So regardless of what the American justice system says there is a justice system to come that will be swift and sure completely, flawlessly righteous. We will not have love and peace unless we also have Justice.
Ultimately we as Christians are convinced that JESUS IS THE ONLY REAL SOLUTION to what is going on in our hearts, our families, and our communities. The prophet Isaiah wrote about what Jesus would do. He said “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…..to comfort all who mourn…..that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations” (Isaiah 61:1-4). Christ is our only hope for ruins of our society and cities to be rebuilt. Only Jesus offers hope for new generations to live in an environment of love and righteousness. Because only Jesus died on the cross and received the justice of God for our sins in his body on our behalf. The peace of God was on Him and the love of God flowed from Him but at the cross the justice of God rolled down on Him. But He was raised from the dead and His unique resurrection is convincing evidence that only Jesus can bring transform a human heart, and only a collection of transformed hearts can transform a community from a war-zone to a peace-zone. Only Jesus offers the true trifecta of love, peace, and justice. And so our task is to live out his love, peace, and justice in such a powerful way that people are persuaded to turn from their sins and trust in Him for their salvation and transformation.
At Family Church WE ARE A MULTICULTURAL CHURCH. We have different backgrounds, different experiences and different perspectives. But we are united together as brothers and sisters in Jesus and part of that unity means respecting each other, loving each other, learning from each other, struggling with each other, weeping with each other, and praying with each other. As events in the news continue to unfold we need to remember that our gospel is great but our gospel addressed real issues. Racial injustice is a gospel issue for us. Respect for civil government authority is a gospel issue for us. Our gospel compels us to be compassionate and active but our gospel compels us to be confident because we actually do believe that Jesus triumphs in the end. No matter what happens in the coming days we believe that the is a Great Day coming when Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes and bring his justice to bear on the whole earth. Until then we will think gospel thoughts and speak gospel words and take gospel action. Because the love of God must prevail in us. The peace of God must dwell in us. And the justice of God must roll down through us.
I love you and I am honored to be your pastor. The campus pastors are going to take over now so across all of our campuses let’s commit to one another and let’s pray together this morning as the church in here, but then we have to go live out God’s love, peace, and justice as the church out there. Let’s pray.