What AM I Doing About Racism?
John 4:24 God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.
Background text: John 4:1-42
If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times, as many of us have. How accustomed we are to appreciating the story of Jesus’ encounter with ‘the woman at the well’. We’ve all too often become jaded about how the obvious aspects of this story unfold. Yes. We are astonished at how Jesus places himself in diverse places to speak to issues we are uncomfortable with. However, in all the years of hearing this story preached and taught, it was only until recently that the illuminating power of God’s spirit revealed some things in this passage that I’d never realized before.
Learned theologians have made the point of making known the historical/cultural significance of public male to female interaction. Some have highlighted the historical significance underlying the separation in the Samaritan/Jewish relationship (estranged relatives: cf. Ezra 9-10). There have even been great deliberations as it relates to the role of women and authority. Yet nowhere in all of the reading of this event recorded by John, who would have had an intimate knowledge of the circumstances surrounding such a socially significant event, do we find where Jesus is identified as having addressed any of the above mentioned aspects during this encounter. Surprisingly, nowhere in the totality of New Testament canon is there any mention of or any allusion to the issues that would have been of profound importance to a people that had staked their very identity on divine justifiable separatism. They were separated, set apart by God for his possession.
Jesus, known for using the ‘sword of His mouth’ (cf. Rev. 2:16), as a means of reminding the Jews who they were and validating who He was, did not even seize this opportunity to allude to Deuteronomy 10:17, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe” (HCSB), (emphasis added). There were a number of opportunities for Jesus to address any of a number of social issues, specifically and directly in this single pericope.
In one passage of scripture Jesus could have specifically dealt with the issue of bigotry, prejudice, sexism, social caste and segregation. Did Jesus miss an opportunity in the writing of the gospels, the detailing of His life and ministry, to address issues that were apparent in his time and that we would surely be faced with in our day and age? Or did He? When Jesus did speak it was to an issue of great social and moral impact for our day, the specific individual sin of immoral behavior, (ref. John 4:16-18). So why is it that, with the aforementioned sins so apparent, did Jesus not directly address these issues?
In all reality, as only the all-knowing God can do, each of the aforementioned issues and a host of other sins were addressed with Jesus’ ultimate conclusive response to the woman with whom he spoke. Beginning in the twenty first verse of chapter four, Jesus makes clear that the superficial has no place in the presence of God. Where we are, who we are and what we are is of no importance to God but that we are wholly available to His service. Our personalities, our inheritances, our nationalities, our status, our race, our gender are all unacceptable offerings before God.
Jesus makes clear that you must first know who you are worshiping, (v. 22). You must know God for yourself. That knowledge must devalue anything and everything that we know outside of who He is. That’s how Jesus could make the declaration that ‘if any man would follow after me, let him first deny himself’, (Matt. 16:24). There was no need on the part of Jesus to address anything but the issue of sin. To address any of the myriad onion-skinned issues of bigotry, racism, prejudice, social injustice of any kind would have been nothing more than a prolonged discourse on the results or manifestations of sin of the heart. Racism is not a race issue, racism is a sin issue. Jesus addressed all of those issues with the two great commandments, (Matt. 22:36-40). This point was further reinforced in 1 John 4:20 “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
No one can come into the presence of God in a spirit of worship with the specter of unforgiveness in their heart. Therefore when Jesus resolves the totality of the encounter in verse twenty four of chapter four, it is to the issue of sin. The rationale of man will not absolve us of our responsibility to love everyone as God has so graciously loved us.
Mission Emphasis: “What Am I Doing About Racism?”
The intent of this initiative is not to illicit a bulwark of committees, programs, photo-ops, or any other type of institutional based action. The intent is not even to create debates or discussion groups. There should be no need for great publishing initiatives or efforts to spur the media into a frenzied News cycle for a transient season.
The motivation and intent behind this simple, pointed question is to cause the individual reading the question to stop looking outward for the answer. The intent is not to spur a conversation in secular society. The impetus of this action is for everyone who names the name of Christ to prayerfully weigh in their heart their attitude regarding racism in view of the one true God and ensure the two are harmoniously reconciled.
The only action required on the part of church leadership is to make conspicuous the image in their edifice. There is no need to prepare an ‘emphasis week’ or a series of sermons, etc.
The poster will consist of three elements: scriptural context, a depiction of a ‘divided’ cross and “the question.”
The only effort required of the pastor or leadership will be to have resolved in their own heart the question for themselves. The scripture reference (John 4), provides comprehensive foundational context to the issue of concern but is in no way biblically exclusive or exhaustive and can be further expounded on from other scriptural references as God gives revelation, e.g. Acts 10, et al. The main intent is for leadership to be prepared to answer the questions of those who come individually, (in secret), to seek guidance for their own personal struggles. Great initiatives and campaigns are like parades, they’re loud, short-lived and no more memorable than the last one. This effort is to be that quiet, nagging question that no one can answer for you but God. Like a grain of sand behind the eye-lid, imperceptible to all but you, yet having the destructive force to ultimately destroy our sight in the same way Jesus alluded to in John 9:39-41, the replacing of physical/temporal sight with spiritual/eternal sight.
Lord God our Father, we bow before the glow of your perfect righteousness as we surrender for examination our own hearts and minds and submit them all to the conformity of your will. Expose in our hearts any subtlety of racism or preference of any kind respecting the station of all mankind. Draw our total focus unto you dear Father that your slightest inclination is our celebration to perform. Help us all lend our hearts to see all men as precious in the sight of God and are therefore ripe unto salvation. Our hands to your service in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Rev. Charles Young
Associate Pastor, SBCI
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