Friends of a Different Color

Series: Preacher: Date: March 18, 2018 Scripture Reference: Revelation 7:9

As most of you know, I grew up in Dover, Delaware. One unique thing about my home town—other than it being the capital of the first state—is the large population of Amish people who live near there. Of course, the unique thing about the Amish people is the fact that they choose to live in the 19th century.

  • Instead of cars, they ride in horse-drawn buggies.
  • They wear very plain clothing just like people wore a couple hundred years ago.
  • They farm using plows that are pulled by horses or oxen.
  • They heat their homes with wood-burning stoves and fireplaces.
  • They do their laundry by hand—and hang it outside to dry.
  • They have no phones or electricity. For light at night they use oil lanterns and candles.

I remember a few years back we were getting a quilt made for Ashley and we were directed to an elderly Amish woman who was renowned for her quilting. We drove out to the Amish area outside Dover to meet with her. She agreed to do the job but warned us that it would take her a while because it was winter—and that meant daylight was limited—which meant time to see well enough to sew was limited. We said that was okay—we weren’t in a hurry—but asked how we would know when the quilt was done. She said when it was ready to pick up she’d write us a letter—no e-mail, no text message, no phone call—an actual letter.

I mean, these people live very simple—very counter-cultural lives. I mention all this because like Amish—as Christians WE are called to live different from our culture.  As Paul puts it we are not to “conform to the patterns of this world.”  (Romans 12:2) We are to be different—so different that we stand out “…like STARS shining in the darkness.” (Philippians 1)

Now how is that supposed to look?  Are we supposed to follow the example of the Amish—but go further back in time and wear clothes like Jesus did? Are we to give up our cars and get donkeys to ride?  Are we to carefully adopt the exact customs of the people who lived in Palestine during the first century?  Is that what the Paul is talking about? No—of course not.

What he means is that we are to become like Jesus—we are to live and love in ways that please Him—and the more we do that the more counter-cultural we will be—the more we will stand out in this fallen and falling world. One specific way we are to reflect Jesus—one way we are to stand out—is seen in the kind of people who are to make up our church—the BODY of Christ.

And if you’re wondering what that means, God has used the Apostle John to show us in his description of the church when it finally arrives in Heaven. I’m talking about Revelation 7:9 where John says,

“I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb.”

John saw Heaven filled with not with one race—but with all races—reflective of the message of that children’s song that says, “Red and yellow black and white they are ALL precious in His sight.”

In Ephesians 2:15 Paul says that Jesus came to break down cultural barriers like the ones that separated the Jews and the Gentiles—to: “…make the two into one NEW man, thus establishing peace and might reconcile them both into one body to God through the cross.”

And—to really understand what he’s saying here we need to take a close look at that word, “new.” You see, in Greek there are two predominant words for “new:” “neos” and “kinos.”

“Neos” refers to something that is new as it relates to TIME.  If we spoke Greek we’d use “neos” to refer to the latest version of the Ford Expedition or the latest model of the MacBook Pro or the newest model of the Keurig. But here in Ephesians, Paul doesn’t use the word “neos.”

No, he uses the word “kinos,” which speaks of something new as it relates to KIND, a totally new invention.  Let me put it this way. While “neos” may be the latest Ford Expedition, “kinos” is the Model-T, the first car ever invented.  While “neos” may be the latest Keurig to come off the assembly line, “kinos” is the first coffee pot ever invented. So—when Paul says Christ died to create one new man, this coming together of Jew and Gentile, it’s the idea of “kinos,” the idea of invention.  In other words, Christ died to create something the world had never seen. Jews and Gentiles, and other people groups who have been opposed to each other—coming together, doing life with one another, sharing meals together, serving and worshipping Jesus together. A church family then—should reflect this NEW paradigm. It should look like Heaven.  It shouldn’t be made up of ONE race—but of all people groups LIVING CLOSE—working side-by-side to share the love of God.

I’m thankful for the fact that as I’ve looked out at this congregation for the past 28 years—I’ve seen it become more like John’s picture of Heaven. We’ve become more and more diverse and that’s a WONDERFUL thing.

Well, how does that happen?  What do we need to do—even at Redland—to continue to grow to be like the bride of Christ in Heaven that John describes?  How do we break down the barriers that keep us from LIVING CLOSE—experiencing the deep kinds of friendships we’ve been talking about for the past couple months—deep friendships with believers whose skin is a different color from ours—people who have suffered because of the sin of racism?

And let me just stop to remind you that breaking down the racial barriers that separate us IS following Christ’s example. Jesus was always challenging culture in this way. Remember when, He ignored the “racial norm” for a Jew and went through Samaria? The ordinary Jew hated the Samaritan because he was a compromising hybrid of Jew and Gentile. Samaritans were always considered inferior and bad. But Jesus smashed right through that wall and shared His love with an entire village of Samaritans—beginning with a woman—and doing that was breaking down another barrier. Jesus also told the story about a GOOD Samaritan—so decent that he compassionately stopped to help a dying man that two deeply religious Jews had mercilessly ignored. Jesus told Nicodemus that “God so loved THE WHOLE WORLD that He sent His only Son.” He commissioned us to make disciples of “ALL NATIONS.” Jesus did indeed confront racism because His love is not limited to one people group. And you and I must follow His example. This means that we may have to step out of our normal everyday existence and do the work necessary for healthy, Christlike, relationships between races to happen. Well, once again I ask, how do we do that? What do we need to do to enjoy healthy Christian connections with people whose skin is a different color than ours—people who have experienced the painful effects of cultural barriers.

(1) First, we must acknowledge the PRESENT.

We need to admit that, in spite of all the progress we have made here in the good ‘ole U.S. of A.—racism is still a problem.

I have a friend who told me he thinks it’s time to stop acknowledging racial issues. He said he feels ten years was enough—that it’s time to put all that behind us. Well, I love my friend but I disagree with him.  It’s naïve to think that the sinful effects of hundreds of years of slavery and prejudice could go away in a decade. It’s wrong to set a time limit when it comes to healing from this kind of thing.

Events like the shootings in Charleston S.C. and the violent protests in Charlottesville, are proof of that. But here’s some more stats to underscore the sad fact that racial problems are alive and well.

  • According to 2011 census data, the net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household.

The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid.

  • To give it a number—the black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.
  • A black child born today in the United States has a life expectancy five years shorter than that of a white child.
  • Black students are significantly less likely to attend schools offering advanced math and science courses than white students.

They are three times as likely to be suspended and expelled, setting them up for educational failure.

  • One study found that African-American children on welfare heard only 29 percent as many words in their first few years as children of professional parents.

Those kids never catch up, partly because they’re more likely to attend broken schools.

  • One in 87 working-aged white men, 1 in 36 Hispanic men; and 1 in 12 African American men are currently in jail or prison.
  • One in 9 African American children has a parent who is incarcerated.

NOTE: These stats are from an article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof entitled: “When Whites Just Don’t Get It.” It appeared August 12, 2014.

I could quote stats all day—because the fact is—racism is still a problem and to break down the barriers that prevent us from LIVING CLOSE—prevent us from enjoying healthy connections—we have to admit that. I mean, you can’t fix a something that’s broken if you can’t admit it needs fixing. This admission is necessary for us to LIVE CLOSE.

Here’s something else we must do.

(2) Acknowledge the PAST.

It means a great deal to those in our church who have endured the pain racism causes if we remember and admit the problems of the past. And I’m not just talking about 150 years ago when African Americans were enslaved with literal chains—I’m talking about the events within our life-time where they were — and still are—enslaved by the systemic thinking that leads people to treat them as less than beings created in the image of God.

A few months ago I was shopping in a Thrift Shop with Sue and I found a DVD of an old Bob Hope comedy.  I’m always looking for movies to watch while I jog on my treadmill so I bought it. I thought, “A Bob Hope comedy would help me keep my mind off the tedium of treadmill running.” But as I watched it I became ashamed.  You see, in the movie, Bob Hope’s butler or man-Friday, was an African American. And he was pictured as a superstitious, idiotic person.  I stopped watching and threw the DVD away.

I’ve seen similar things in other movies of the 40’s and 50’s. I’m thinking of the Disney movie, Dumbo where the crows are obviously meant to represent African Americans. Their uneducated speech and mannerisms—and the fact that the head crow is named “JIM” — get it, JIM CROW?  Well, I wouldn’t show that to my grandkids. We did Peter Pan with them—but during the Indian scene where the American Indians say “UG” and “HOW” —and sing a song entitled, “What Makes a Red Man Red?” I cringed. As we see things like this—we need to ADMIT the problems of the past—problems that encouraged—fostered—racial stereotypes many years after the emancipation proclamation.

I’m reading a book by Melba Pattillo Beals entitled, I will Not Fear.  Ms Beals’ name may be familiar to you because she was chosen as one of the “Little Rock Nine” in 1957 to integrate Central High School. Reading her story has been painful—but important. Of course, I don’t have time to share all of it—but let me tell you about her birth. In December of 1941 Melba’s mother was VERY pregnant. She was 5’ 4” and weighed 93 pounds.  It was estimated that Melba was going to be well over nine pounds—and her grandmother, whose name was India was afraid that Melba’s tiny mother would not be able to deliver the baby on her own. So, Grandmother India made several long trips—on foot—downtown to the Missouri Pacific Hospital to ask permission for her daughter to be admitted to the maternity ward. Every time she was turned down. You see, black women were not allowed in the all-white hospital—except to work cleaning floors. Well, Grandmother India would not give up so she made one final trip. This time she by-passed the clerk she had previously talked to and went directly to the office of the hospital supervisor. The supervisor was upset that she came into his office and told her no. He said, “You know very well that Negras aren’t coddled here.” She asked again—and again—and finally the supervisor reluctantly agreed—but he angrily told her that Melba’s mom would not be allowed on the regular maternity ward. She would be “admitted” to a storage room in a basement. She could stay there but only if she gave birth within a week. After that the storage room would be needed again for “important” things like toilet paper and mops and the like.

Then the supervisor sternly cautioned, “Don’t get any ideas about inviting your relatives and friends to celebrate the birth. Only you, the father, and the mother can come—and only through the back door. And another thing. No one must know you are here. Plus, there will be no birth certificate saying the baby was born here. I don’t want a parade of Negras marching in here stinking up the place.” Melba was born on December 7, 1941 after a long and prolonged labor—30 hours. The night of her birth, no doubt because of those 30 hours of trauma, Melba’s little head began to swell so much that the stretched skin began to break open and bleed. This opened the door for infection and she became feverish—it spiked to 105.   The doctor had left instructions that Melba’s head should be washed every two hours with Epsom salts to prevent this but the nurse had refused to administer the treatment—-thinking a black baby was not worth it.

Doesn’t that make you angry? It should! We need to admit this kind of thing happened in our nation—in fact we need to confess this kind of sin. I’m not saying that those who weren’t alive in the 40’s and 50’s—or those who were but didn’t participate—should confess something we didn’t do. But I am saying we should confess—acknowledge—that this kind of thing happened.

And—this kind of confession has Biblical precedent.

In Nehemiah 1:6-7 it says: “God, let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer Your servant is praying before You day and night for Your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites—have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees, and laws You gave Your servant Moses.”

Then in Daniel 9:5-6 we read: “We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.”

In both of these cases the writer confesses the sins committed by prior generations. This confession of the sins of others is hard for us as Americans to understand because we have such an individualistic culture. We have a hard time admitting the sins we DO commit—and much more the ones we didn’t—but people in the Bible did. I think the reason God put this in His Word is because He knows that sins from the past often continue to impact the present until the process of repentance is begun. Both Daniel and Nehemiah knew that Israel was suffering because of past sins.

Today, in our society, we are suffering the consequences of sins that were committed in the past. And I think then that it is incumbent on us to recognize the CURRENT impact of the sin of our ancestors and acknowledge it. Admitting the past to people of color in the present—helps healing to begin. It helps connections to strengthen. It helps relationships to become REAL.

Here’s a third thing we must do.

(3) Acknowledge the PAIN.

We need to understand that people we know—right here in this church—HAVE hurt and STILL hurt from the sinful actions of racism. And the best way to do that—is to ask to hear their stories.

We must go to a brother or sister who has endured tough times because of the color of their skin and humble ask them to tell us what happened and how it made them feel. We need to learn how it has affected their lives. This sharing helps break down barriers and form close bonds. It helps us feel empathy—the kind of empathy that heals relational wounds. We must be willing to go to these wounded brothers and sisters and say, “I don’t deny your pain. I don’t deny that you have been treated unjustly. Help me to understand how you feel.” Remember, as fellow Christians, we are part of a body made up of many different body parts and as it says in 1st Corinthians 12:26, “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it:” We need to hear the stories of our brothers and sisters so we can suffer with them.

This week I read about an aspiring rapper and producer Spencer Sleyon, an African-American 22-year-old from Harlem—who was taken aback when his opponent on the mobile app Words with Friends played “phat” on her turn.  His surprise was warranted, given that “phat” is 90s hip-hop slang, and his opponent was an 81-year-old white woman named Rosalind Guttman. He shares, “From day one I knew I was playing an old white woman.” Nevertheless, he persisted. Over the summer of 2016, Sleyon and Guttman played more than 300 games of Words With Friends together.  A chance meeting turned into a familiar rivalry, and eventually, into a friendship. Though their pairing was initiated through a love of words, their real life encounter was facilitated through a practitioner of THE Word.  While Sleyon told his friend Hannah Butler about his budding friendship with Guttman, Hannah’s mom Amy Butler, pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, overheard.  Butler said, “I found it such a compelling story.” Inspired, Rev. Butler began scheming to orchestrate a meeting. After asking Sleyon to put her in touch with Guttman online—Rev. Butler traveled with Sleyon down to Florida to meet his Words with Friends friend face-to-face. The three of them met in the lobby of a Palm Beach hotel, chatting like old friends. Mrs. Guttman heard Sleyon’s stories.  She shared some of her own. They developed a friendship where pain was acknowledged and healing took place. Butler said, “We’re living in a country divided by fear of the other, and people are longing for ways to connect, This story has two unlikely people becoming friends. It’s very beautiful and hopeful.”

This leads to one last—absolutely essential step.

(4) We must acknowledge the PRICE God paid to forgive us all.

The cross helps us to see how God values people.

This week I did a GOOGLE search for the most expensive things ever purchased. Here’s what I found.

  • The feather of a Hula bird—no extinct—sold for $10,000.
  • A magnetic bed that can support 2,000 pounds and floats two feet above the ground sold for $1.6!
  • A crystal piano used for the Beijing Olympic Games, and it was purchased at auction by a private bidder for a record $3.22 million U.S. dollars!
  • This photo entitled, Rhein II. It was taken by German visual artist Andreas Gursky in 1999.

In 2011, a print was auctioned for a staggering $4.3 million, making it the most expensive photograph ever sold.

  • This gold-plated Bugatti Veyron was made specially for a Middle-Eastern billionaire for $10 million.
  • The domain name “” sold for $16 million
  • This yacht, The History Supreme is made from solid gold and platinum. It also contains statues made out of real dinosaur bones.

It was bought by an anonymous Malaysian businessman for $4.5 billion.

The principle here is the more something costs—the more it is worth. Well, God set the worth of every single human being at the price of the life of His only Son.  Nothing has ever been—or ever will be—bought for a higher price. On the cross, God showed how immeasurably valuable all people are. The perspective of the cross shows us that it is sinful to discriminate—because to be a Christian is to assign infinite worth to each individual.

We remind ourselves of this fact whenever we share communion. WE come in UNION to this table—come as equals because the ground is level at the cross. When we come to this table we remember the value God sets on people—ALL people.

As we do we invite all Christians to join us—even if you are not a member of this church. After all, if you are His, this is Yours.  Before we remember Jesus’ sacrifice let us first follow the guidance of 1st Corinthians 10:27 where it says we must, “examine ourselves” before we eat of the bread and drink of the cup. Let’s bow our heads and admit our sin to God—our need for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. This would be a good time for us to ask ourselves if we prejudge others because of their skin color—a time to ask God to help us see if we esteem ourselves better than others—if there are steps we need to take to strengthen our connections with others.


And all God’s people said, “AMEN!”


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