Jesus is Knocking: The Imperfect Sermon on Race we Want to Hear
I am not a preacher. I am a regular guy, helping raise a mixed-race teenager.
Over the past week, we’ve gone through the gauntlet of emotions, from anger, fear, hopelessness and back to hopefulness, and then back and forth again and again. We’ve experienced first-hand overt and implicit racism in the community, at our schools and even during the teenager’s lone experience with the police.
We’ve also experienced the shut-downs and the gaslighting from family, supposed friends and public officials when we’ve attempted to share our concerns and lived experiences.
This week, we’ve listened to our teenager once again share her experiences. We’ve watched her become fired up, inspired, engaged. We’ve provided educational resources and insight where needed, but have stepped back and let her explore and express herself. Most importantly, we’ve listened.
We’ve also had talks with some of our white family that have had mixed results. While some have been fully supportive, others have responded with the usual shutdowns, minimizations and gaslighting. Those are all too real. However, we recognize that much of it comes from a place of ignorance, not necessarily hatred. Some of it does come from hate, but we still give everyone the benefit of the doubt until they show that ugly side.
Other white family members have been silent. Perhaps they just don’t know what to say, and that’s fine. Maybe they don’t want to poke a hornet’s nest, that’s fine too. Emotions are heavy right now. We’re here when they want to listen and offer support, but our energy is focused on our teenager.
I haven’t been to church for something other than a funeral in several years.
I last attended a United Methodist Church for about four months, and while I never really connected with the parishioners, I did appreciate the messages of outreach, understanding, forgiveness, grace and mercy. Ultimately, I moved away, and am currently without a church.
I’m just going to be brutally honest on this: the Southern Baptist church I grew up in never did anything to inspire me. Looking back, it was the epitome of middle-of-the-road, lukewarm coffee, unseasoned chicken with white bread Christianity. No sermon ever made anyone too uncomfortable. The overarching theme seemed to be a positive-thinking, introspective message that isn’t too hot, and isn’t too cold.
Some reading this are going to be offended by that characterization, but others will likely recognize that as familiar.
But like I said, I’m not a preacher. I didn’t go to preacher school, I don’t have to deal with the internal politics of holding a church together in a community that regularly gives the Republican party 65% of the vote. But if I could wave a magic wand, and have preachers like that suddenly “warm up” from their lukewarmness, here’s what I’d want them to say this Sunday. Because most of their flock needs to hear it.
Sermon: Jesus is Knocking, But Are you Listening?
The Book of Revelation, Chapter 3:
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.
Everyone loves a good food analogy. Most of us can agree, you don’t serve your ice cream anything but frozen, and you don’t serve your hot chocolate anything but hot. Once they become lukewarm, you stop consuming them. Or perhaps you picked up a cup of hot chocolate of coffee that you expected to be hot, and it was lukewarm instead. You cringe, you might spit it out.
This lighthearted introduction is where the fun ends. This sermon is going to address a topic that will make many of you uncomfortable, and that is the point.
How many of us in our spiritual journeys have become lukewarm?
How many of us are so lukewarm that we refuse to address the troubled topic of racism, head on? How many of us look at something causing real pain in our societies and communities, and know we should get involved, but don’t want to be seen as stepping out of line? How many take great pains to stay neutral, or worse, actively minimize the subject or even participate in the oppression?
How many preachers and churches pick and choose their message based on the perceived political leanings of their congregations? How many fear of disrupting the status quo and losing tithes?
Continuing from Revelation, Chapter 3:
Because you say “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked, I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
How many have become too comfortable with their riches, their wealth, their position in society?
How many with such resources, power and influence turn a blind eye to the suffering of their brothers and sisters of color? Worse, how many use these resources to minimize or participate in oppression?
All the money, power and influence in the world is worthless in the eyes of God if gained from and/or used in the wrong ways.
Gold refined in fire; this is the process of heating gold over a fire and removing the impurities as they rise to the top. Gold refined in this process is considered the most pure, and also the most dangerous way to refine.
If you want purity, it comes with considerable risk. God commands us to overcome these risks in the name of purity. Risks, such as disrupting the “old boys” club, inviting more people to compete fairly and on a level playing field. Risks, such as alienating and separating from those who refuse to acknowledge their wretchedness, their nakedness. Risks, like calling out racism to your family, friends and colleagues.
To declare yourself a follower of Christ and at the same time look away and maintain a status quo that harms people because of the color of their skin is a failure to acknowledge your own spiritual wretchedness, poverty and nakedness.
To refuse to listen to the lived experiences of people who do not look like you and experience life in our society in a different way is a failure to acknowledge your own spiritual wretchedness, poverty and nakedness.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent.
Renewed zeal and ongoing repentance is part of the spiritual journey.
We do not zealously repent once, and then live a comfortable life of wealth, health and happiness. Rather, we maintain our spirituality and our relationship with Christ by keeping up our zeal, by continuing to acknowledge our shortcomings and repent when needed.
We use the minds God has given us to learn, to grow. We use our eyes to see what is going on around us, and our mouths to speak up. We hear the cries of our brothers and sisters and we listen, we offer a hand. We repent for our role in their suffering, and commit to fixing the problems and maintaining progress.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to him and dine with him and he with Me.
Would any of you recognize a knock on the door from Jesus, a brown-skinned, Palestinian Jew?
How many times have our brothers and sisters of color knocked on our door, seeking our help? How many times have we ignored the knocks, or worse, shouted them down and pushed them away?
How many heard the knocking in 1968, opened the door and then decided the work was over, that there would be no more knocking.
How many have heard the knocking of a colleague or peer or color when they attempted to tell you their lived experience? When they told you about themselves or others close to them being profiled or abused by authority figures? When they told you about racism they’ve experienced in the workplace, in school, while driving, while walking, while jogging, while eating ice cream, while babysitting, while playing with a toy in a park? While doing everyday tasks that we all take for granted?
How many slammed the door shut by attempting to minimize or deny what they experienced?
How many heard the knocking of the families of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Abrey, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and countless others in our recent memory?
How many heard the knocking on the door when football players silently took a knee to protest their lived experiences with police brutality and racial profiling?
How many pushed them away by minimizing or denying their experiences as black men in America, and called them spoiled rich athletes? How many pushed them away by nodding their heads in agreement when they were called sons of bitches by the President of the United States?
How many told them to “just shut up and play football,” and “I pay your salary,” as if they had some sort of ownership over their bodies and minds?
Who has heard the knocking, ignored it, or slammed the door and then asked why the knocking is now louder?
To him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
What will you do to overcome your biases and prejudices, both overt and implicit?
The first step is to shut up and listen for that knock. The second step is to open the door, open your heart, open your ears and open your mind.
Don’t spite the knocker for knocking, do not turn them away. Instead, invite them in and listen to their lived experiences. When you earn the trust of someone of color and they open up to you, do not question with skepticism, do not minimize, do not deny.
The final step is to ask or learn how you can use your position in society to help. And then listen. Listen. Listen. Help, help, help.
Jesus comes to us in many forms. God provides us answers in many forms. Both can come from unexpected vessels.