Faithlife Sermons

Becoming Diverse

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Introduction:

Throughout this sermon series, we have tackled some very important things that make us great team members of God’s church. Today we turn our attention to the church as a whole and who it is made up of. Now, I know that this topic is filled with landmines and missed tackles. Some might say, “Pastor James, you’re white, you can’t talk on the topic of race. You just don’t understand.”
And I’ll admit that there are certain aspects of this discussion that I don’t understand. However, I can speak on this topic for one reason that trumps all the reasons I can’t. The Bible speaks on this issue. So for today, I will endeavor as best I can to let God’s word speak to us this morning.
Please turn in your Bible’s to .
Now, just like in the church, race and sports have a sorted history. In many cases we take for granted that sports is a place where people are judged by talent and not the color of their skin. But it wasn’t always like that.
In 1946, The Rams became the first team to sign 2 black players.
For us Americans it’s often a humbling experience as we realize that we aren’t always the best at everything.
A beautiful picture happens every time someone wins a Gold Medal and they play that winner’s national anthem.
At the same time that we celebrate the commonality of the human race, we find a place to celebrate the unique identity of the individual.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier to play for the Dodgers.
The NBA wasn’t integrated until 1950 when Nat Clifton signed with the New York Nicks.
For a few short weeks every few years, our eyes are opened to the bigger picture and our world gets a little smaller. We get to see the human race on full display.
Prior to the integration of the leagues, there were separate leagues for black players. And these players were showing their incredible athletic ability to the point that the NFL, NBA and MLB teams could no longer deny that integration would make their teams better.
And few people can probably dispute that it has made each of the sports better too.
Sports is a great uniter in that people around the world watch the Olympics. Movies like Remember the Titans and Glory Road illustrate that power that sports has to unite entire communities around sports. That for a few short hours as we gather under the lights on a friday night or around the TV to watch our favorite teams our races and our ethnicities dissolve into Silver and Black, Black and Orange, Green and Yellow, Yellow and Blue.
It’s just sad that sports was able to succeed where the church has failed. Because sports are fleeting and once your perceived usefulness is done, then you are out. This is not so with the Kingdom of God. We are useful until God calls us home. There is a place for us until we die.
But does the kingdom of God have the power to unite Russia and the USA, Pakistan and India, Dodgers and Giants fans. Does the kingdom of God have the power to heal the racial wounds of our past?
I’m glad you asked because the answer is of course yes. And it is the only thing with that power. A no we don’t have to shed our distinctions, culture, race or even language.
Some are quick to quote
Galatians 3:28 ESV
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
and say, we need not celebrate our distinctions but rather only our unity in Christ. If we want to truly be united let us just identify as Christians.
Not only do I think the answer is yes, but it is the ONLY thing with the power to heal!!!!
Yet we neglect passages like
Rev 7:9-109
Revelation 7:9–10 ESV
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
In our culture we have 2 problems that we must face head on.
Finding your identity in race and not Jesus.
When we find our identity more in the color of our skin or the language that we speak, or our culture, or the neighborhood that we live in, that is a problem.
I have more in common with a hispanic/black/asian Christian that I ever will with a unbelieving white.
And if you are hispanic/black/asian, you have more in common with me than you do with an unbelieving member of your race.
Problem number 2 is...
2. Finding your identity in your Citizenship of a country and not the kingdom of God.
Finding your identity in your Citizenship of a country and not the kingdom of God.
At the onset, yes, America was settled as an experiment of a Christian nation. The earliest settlers traversed the Atlantic in the name of religious freedom.
But how could a Christian nation have tolerated slavery? How could a Christian nation have tolerated segregation?
How is it that the Bible belt which is known for its conservative Christian values also harbor some of the deepest roots of racism?
The OT prophets speak of a day when the nations will be judged. And believe me the USA will be judged along with them.
In 2003, I was a teacher’s aid in a german high school as part of my study abroad program. Every day for 6 months I walked to this school. And I quickly learned that I could cut off a few minutes of my walk by cutting through the ruins of an old roman outpost.
Now the Roman empire was the largest and most powerful empire our world has ever known. It was the greatest threat to early Christians. They burned our Christian fathers at the stake and fed them to lions. They did everything in their power to destroy this movement. 2000 years later, I cut through their ruins while the Kingdom of God continues to grow. (I think you are trying to make an analogy here, but I don’t get it. Work on this last sentence to pull it out)
I am an american through and through, and I love the red,white and the sound of our national anthem played when our ahtletes win Gold. But I do not deny the racial injustices of our past and I know that the USA will forever bow at the feet of King Jesus. (What do you mean that the USA will forever bow at the feet of King Jesus? What does this have to do with our racial injustices of the past? Also, I would say that they are also the racial injustices of today. Not just the past)
At the end of the day, the Kingdom of God should hold our unrivaled allegiance.
Transition to the text:
Now, lest we think that the racial divide is only a problem in america, we have to remember that this has always been a problem. But Jesus came to break down the barriers of race and create something new that all would be welcome in the kingdom of God regardless of tongue, tribe and nation.
Now you should be holding open your Bible to
The early church was largely Jewish. In spite of Jesus’ teaching and the events of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit came on the disciples to preach the Gospel in the languages of the nations, they still drifted back towards Jewishness (segregation). Even though Jesus was clear that the gospel was for everyone, Jewish people still held onto the Torah as the truth and everyone who did not abide by it was inferior and even blasphemous. 9 chapters later, it takes an unsettling dream for Peter to finally start preaching the gospel to the “others.”
Luke tells us what happens afterward:
Acts 11:1–18 ESV
1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Let me make an observation here before I move on. The Holy Spirit came powerfully on Cornelius and his household. There was no denying it. These people were accepted and saved by the same faith and same grace as that of the Apostles. Yet when Peter comes back and tells the disciples, there was no celebrating. They were upset that Peter would enter into the household of an uncircumcised person. That was simply not done.
Racism is nothing new. We must always fight it. Never tolerate it. Still we aren’t told what happened the following Sunday when Cornelius and his family showed up to church. My guess is that there were whispers in the corners.
I hope for many of us it is unimaginable that anyone might not be welcome in church on Sunday morning.
But, let us remember that Less than 50 years ago, there were churches in this country that people of color (are we specifically talking about African Americans here? People with brown and black skin? If so, go ahead and name it. Don’t call people minorities. People are more than a number) weren’t allowed to attend....even in Southern Baptist Churches.

Big Idea: Pursue diversity in God’s Church

Can we just assume for the sake of argument that diversity was always God’s plan. That in God’s sovereignty, he has chosen men and women of all races to be on His team! We could trace God’s redemptive plan throughout the Bible and show how God always planned for racial harmony in His kingdom. Jesus talked about and demonstrated the inclusion of non Jews in the kingdom of God.
Yet 2000 years later, we continue to struggle with the issue of race and Sunday morning continues to be one of the most segregated hours in america.

1. We must fight the drift towards segregation.

Explanation: The early church had to really fight the drift towards just being Jewish. The inclusion of non-jews in the early church was a huge deal. deals with this subject. In , Paul confronts Peter about his drift back towards segregation (which is baffling after what happened
Illustration:
Application: In our culture we have 2 problems that we must face head on.
In our culture we have 2 problems that we must face head on.
The first problem is...
Finding your identity in race and not Jesus.
When we find our identity more in the color of our skin or the language that we speak, or our culture, or the neighborhood that we live in, that is a problem.
I have more in common with a hispanic/black/asian Christian that I ever will with a unbelieving white.
And if you are hispanic/black/asian, you have more in common with me than you do with an unbelieving member of your race.
Problem number 2 is...
2. Finding your identity in your Citizenship of a country and not the kingdom of God.
At the onset, yes, America was settled as an experiment of a Christian nation. The earliest settlers traversed the Atlantic in the name of religious freedom.
But how could a Christian nation have tolerated slavery? How could a Christian nation have tolerated segregation?
How is it that the Bible belt which is known for its conservative Christian values also harbor some of the deepest roots of racism?
The OT prophets speak of a day when the nations will be judged. And believe me the USA will be judged along with them.
In 2003, I was a teacher’s aid in a german high school as part of my study abroad program. Every day for 6 months I walked to this school. And I quickly learned that I could cut off a few minutes of my walk by cutting through the ruins of an old roman outpost.
Now the Roman empire was the largest and most powerful empire our world has ever known. It was the greatest threat to early Christians. They burned our Christian fathers at the stake and fed them to lions. They did everything in their power to destroy this movement. 2000 years later, I cut through their ruins while the Kingdom of God continues to grow. (I think you are trying to make an analogy here, but I don’t get it. Work on this last sentence to pull it out)
I am an american through and through, and I love the red,white and the sound of our national anthem played when our ahtletes win Gold. But I do not deny the racial injustices of our past and I know that the USA will forever bow at the feet of King Jesus. (What do you mean that the USA will forever bow at the feet of King Jesus? What does this have to do with our racial injustices of the past? Also, I would say that they are also the racial injustices of today. Not just the past)
At the end of the day, the Kingdom of God should hold our unrivaled allegiance regardless of our tongue, tribe or nation, but that doesn’t mean we give us those distinctions.

2. We must celebrate uniqueness of the individual.

Explanation: There was a huge discussion that went on in the early church about whether or not people had to become Jewish in order to become a follower of Jesus. Early Christians were almost entirely jewish. This really came down to circumcision. Let’s face it, as a baptist church, since we don’t recognize infant baptism, for many who would want to join the church, baptism is a huge obstacle to inclusion in our North Hills family. Could you imagine if we required circumcision?
Illustration: The Olympics are a beautiful time where every tongue tribe and nation come together to compete against the world’s best. And while it is a competition that often degenerates into whose country is better than whose, it’s an amazing picture of the diversity of our world.
For us Americans it’s often a humbling experience as we realize that we aren’t always the best at everything.
A beautiful picture happens every time someone wins a Gold Medal and they play that winner’s national anthem.
At the same time that we celebrate the commonality of the human race, we find a place to celebrate the unique identity of the individual.
For a few short weeks every few years, our eyes are opened to the bigger picture and our world gets a little smaller. We get to see the human race on full display.
Application: A lot of us say, we don’t see color. We’re colorblind. That all sounds good, but when we say that to someone, what they hear is, you don’t see me or the adversity that I’ve faced. And you don’t acknowledge past grievances or even your own present prejudices. What Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamt about was a world where all were welcome at the table regardless of the color of their skin.
The truth is people of color have never asked anyone to be color blind. They have asked that we see their color and celebrate it. (I do not know how or if it fits… but there needs to be some intentional heartfelt celebrating of those with brown and black skin, as oppression has taken it’s toll on a whole group of people who have been told they have no value. But our value comes from God. We have no right to impose or take away value from another person, that is not our job.)
Just because we claim to not see race or color, doesn’t eliminate it.

3. We must remind ourselves that the Gospel is for everyone.

Explanation: Throughout the Bible, there is a constant theme that God will bless the nations through Jewish people. Everything pointed toward Jesus who would come and make a way for the nations to be blessed. Yet the Jewish people saw themselves as superior because of God’s unique relationship with them.
One of reasons Jesus was so controversial was because he spoke with Samaritans. He flipped tables and drove out merchants who set up in the court of the gentiles. Why is that a big deal? Because the court of the gentiles was where the gentiles were allowed to worship, but the early Jews set up a marketplace there. That must have been a great hindrance to those trying to worship. (Also that whole resurrection thing was unsettling.)
Peter and the early church ran smack into the truth that the Gospel included people from every tongue tribe and nation and allowed to maintain their individual cultural identity without compromising their Christian identity. Essentially Peter wasn’t less than his Jewishness but he was more than his Jewishness. Cornelius wasn’t less than his Italianness, but he was more than his Italianness.
Jesus died for the whole world.
Illustration: Sports has always been the great equalizer. Sports were integrated long before the country. Sports opened doors that said, you will be judged based on your ability to play rather than the color of your skin. Sports are for everyone.
We are better together. Our diversity proclaims the the Kingdom of God.
Application: What do I want people to do?
Admit - We need to acknowledge our own prejudices.
Confess - Repent of our present and past racism.
Commit - to making a better world. Commit to befriending people from a different cultural and ethnic background. My guess is that you have relationships with family, friends or coworkers from a different race. What would it take to sit down and listen to their stories? Ask them about racism that they have experienced. Have a gracious curiosity of someone else’s story.
This is Vallejo. The North Hills family is more than Sunday. Many people are shocked at the diversity of our student body. A great place to start is right here at North Hills.
Some of the best advice that I got from a friend is “Don’t write someone’s experience off just because you don’t understand it.
If the cross was meant for all nations, then each of us has a part to play in taking the gospel to the nations. and for us, the nations are here.

Reflection: What part will you play making North Hills a place for all nations?

Let’s pray.
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