• Steve Le Page

Racial equality (2)

The following are notes from a sermon shared on Fathers' Day 2020, 21st June, as part of our series 'Rooted to Thrive'. Whilst not primarily a Fathers' Day focused preach the Father heart of God flows through it. The recording of the service can be found here

Happy Father’s Day one and all.

If you’re a father may you be blessed today.

If you have a good father, thank God for them and bless them.

If you have lost your father, may you know the Father heart of God reaching out to you today.

And if you have never known what it is to have a loving father, then know this, that the Father heart embrace of God is reaching out to you today and he wants you to know what it is to come into his arms and know his loving embrace and support and care.

Last week we started to think about being rooted to thrive with racial equality.

God’s Father-heart sits right at the centre of this.

Right back to Abraham, he called Abraham to be the father of many nations – not the ruler of many nations – not the bringer into being of many nations – but the father of many nations – because there is something about fathering which is at the heart of who God is.

Genesis 17:1-7

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’

3 Abram fell face down, and God said to him, 4 ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: you will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram;[which means ‘exalted father’] your name will be Abraham,[which means ‘father of many’] for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.’

God’s Father heart has always been for all nations – last week we touched on some of the many scriptures in Isaiah that speak of God’s heart for all peoples, and therefore, when we see a people being oppressed it is right that we stand with them, because that is God’s heart.

Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 61

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

Jesus read that scripture at the start of his ministry in Luke 4 and said, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. And Jesus ministered to the oppressed people of his time – to those that others looked down on – a Samaritan woman who had lived an immoral life – and he brought life and acceptance to her.

We as the Body of Christ on earth now are to continue his ministry of bringing good news of hope, of peace, of joy to oppressed people – and at this time God has chosen to reveal through the tragic killing of George Floyd, something of the extent of the racial prejudice that the black community have lived with and are still living with.

We as the Body of Christ need to stand with them and say #blacklivesmatter! Not a political organisation to support, but a moral reality to call for and to minister into so that the broken-hearted can be ministered to, those living under oppression can have freedom proclaimed to them; those grieving, mourning and in despair have hope, life and joy breathed into them by the Spirit of God

On the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit was first poured out, Peter quoted the Prophet Joel: (Acts 2:17)

God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people’

And on that Day of Pentecost, there were people from all across the known world of that time – from Rome in the West, over towards Persia in the East and down into North Africa via the Middle East – people with African, Middle Eastern, skin – European white faces potentially in the minority, going by the listing of peoples gathered!

The New Testament church was a multi-ethnic, multi-racial affair.

In the church in Antioch (Acts 13) the leadership was made up of Jewish background people, Greeks, Royalty and black Africans – the interesting thing is that in scripture, the black leaders don’t come at the end of the list as a politically correct add on – they are second and third in the list – first Barnabas, then Simeon, called Niger – a black African, followed by Lucius of Cyrene in Libya, another African, with perhaps a slightly lighter shade of skin colour than Simeon.

Of course, Simeon and Lucius weren’t the first black Africans to become followers of Jesus.

Philip, in Acts 8, was sent on a special mission, out on to a desert road to meet a Black African, who was the Ethiopian Chancellor of the Exchequer.

God has a high priority on reaching black people – sending a Jewish background man out to bring the gospel to this man – no you in your small corner and I in mine – reaching across racial and cultural divides with the one Gospel for all people.

Miles McPherson at the Men’s Excel conference last year addressed this whole area by talking about whether people were in the ‘In crowd’ or the ‘Out crowd’. We need to take down the walls of separation – invite people in, and cross over and join.

Now, it’s natural that we share life with those whom we have shared interests, backgrounds and so on, but at the heart of the Christian message is a call for us all to go beyond.

When Jesus gave the Great Commission at the end of Matthew 28, he said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’- the word ‘nations’ is the word ‘ethnos’ – go and make disciples of every ethnic group – and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.

When Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:8 he said:

‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

It’s significant that Jesus doesn’t only refer to their immediate context; not only to a global and regional context, but also to the context of the people group who were most looked down on and treated negatively in the cultural setting of that time. You will go to these people and be my witnesses to them.

And in the same way he would say to us, ‘Get out of your ‘In crowd’ and go to those in your ‘Out crowd’!

For high caste Indians, it might mean going to the Dalit people.

If we have examined our hearts and found that we carry inherent racial prejudice against black people, or Asian people, or any other group, perhaps we should positively seek to step into the ‘Out group’ or invite into our ‘In group’.

Let us not let race or culture divide us.

Let us let the love of Christ cause us to love one another as Jesus has loved us – being prepared to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Let us be prepared to sacrifice, to overcome, that the Gospel might be shared with all ethnos, all ethnic groups – and all brought into the love of the Father.

Ultimately, it is the Gospel that transforms lives as the Spirit works within our lives and applies his words to our lives.

There is a little book in the New Testament called Philemon.

It’s a short letter, less than a side in length.

It’s a letter from the Apostle Paul, in prison for his faith, to Philemon, a church leader – with a particular focus on welcoming the return of a run-away slave, Onesimus, who has now come to faith in Jesus.

He is encouraged to welcome him back not as a slave, but as a dear brother. Onesimus is believed to have gone on to take the role of Apostle/Bishop of the church in Ephesus after Timothy.

During the week, Glenn Rogers, from Hope Church, Edinburgh, sent me a video clip demonstrating the power of reconciliation in the midst of racial and cultural tension. It’s taken from the CBS show, ‘On the Road’ with Steve Hartman.

Powerful imagery. That is what we desire. God has given to us a ministry of reconciliation. The Apostle Paul lived it out, seeking to bring people into reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another – supremely seen in his bringing together of a runaway slave with his owner, who is now to receive him as his brother, no longer as a slave.

A rectifying of relationships.

We want to see that in our world today on all fronts, but particularly at the moment, what has come to the fore – I believe by God’s working in all things for the good of those he has called according to his purpose, through the tragic killing of George Floyd, is an awareness of the need to work for racial equality, bringing black and white and every other colour together – because that is what the Father heart of God is about!

Right through the Old Testament God speaks of how he wants to draw all peoples into his family. As we come into the New Testament, Jesus speaks into this, not only in the Great Commission and the promise of the Spirit, but as he turns the tables over in the Temple Courts and says, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations!’

The Holy Spirit is poured out at a time when there are people from all over the known world present in Jerusalem.

And when the early church comes together it is made up of that cosmopolitan mix of people from different races and differing socio-economic statuses. All joined together as one body – a little reflection of God’s Kingdom coming on earth, as it is in heaven.

Revelation 7:9-12

9 After this 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 before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’

11 All the angels were standing round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying:

‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’

We want to see a little glimpse of heaven here and now.

We live in a time when God has brought together people from many nations, from many ethnic backgrounds, from many racial backgrounds – no longer separated by geographical boundaries, and I believe he has done that to aid the speed of the gospel going to all nations to every ethnos, to every ethnic group – and he gives us the privilege of stepping into it!

We have 3 values as a church:

- Enjoying the Presence of God – that has to be our first priority and fits with the Greatest Commandment, to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength

- Enjoying the Presence of One Another – there is a richness when we come together as one body with diversity of race and culture – when we step out of our ‘In group’ and cross to the ‘Out group’ which we are suspicious of, or prejudiced against, or just know nothing of – or when we invite those in the ‘Out group’ to come ‘In’. Let’s do this. Think about groups of people around the life of the church that you know nothing of and cross-over or invite them over - when you are able physically, or otherwise digitally, or via the phone.

- Enjoying taking the Presence into the Community – taking the Presence of God, the Holy Spirit, taking the Word of God and the Power of God out to see God’s Kingdom coming. Cross the barriers wherever they may be.

We come back to our Father in Heaven, who wants to draw all people to himself through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. To our Father who wants to embrace us with his father-heart love and say welcome home my son or daughter – know love and acceptance from me whatever you have experienced in life. And then he wants to put us in the family of his church, made up with people from every ethnic group under the sun, united as one body in Christ. When he does that, then we can truly thrive as we have the richness that all our varied backgrounds carry, coming together in the Kingdom of God, here and now – a glimmer of the glorious future ahead in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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