November 6, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#2—The Gospel of Gracism
Introduction and offering:
I’m a grandpa again! My daughter Amy and her husband Zac, and their sons Zealand and Stejer, welcomed baby Coza into the world Thursday night! She’s a beauty—and already a gifted child! Thanks for all of you who prayed for Amy and this miracle baby!
Zealand and Stejer are sweet, smart, amazing boys. A few weeks ago, I took the boys out for doughnuts and hot chocolate before school—their teachers love me! As we talked about school, they told me about a couple incidents. One boy said to Zealand, “Your skin is brown. You don’t belong here. You should go back to Africa.” While these kinds of experiences are the rare exception, not the norm, they are still pretty hurtful to a little boy who is already keenly aware that he is different. The principal at the boys’ school has talked with the individual involved, and promised to provide some education for the whole student body.
Racism is personal for me. I want my boys to grow up where, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “they will be not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I want our community and our country to be safe for them, and to provide them the same opportunities that white children have.
Now, some of you are reacting inside, thinking, “Well they do have the same opportunities as white children.” Yes…and no. Years ago, when a friend told me that I benefited from white privilege and was blind to it, I resentfully disagreed. Now, I’ve come to see that my friend was right. I don’t think that I’m a racist, but I’ve learned that there’s a lot I just don’t know. I don’t know what it’s like to black in America, black in Spokane. I don’t know how it feels to be a black person stopped by a police officer. I am white and have grown up in overwhelmingly white communities. I don’t know what I don’t know.
But I want to learn—and I hope you do too. I’ve been reading lots of books and articles on black history and the black experience in America. I subscribe to the Black Lens, the local black newspaper. I am intentional about making black friends, and asking them to tell me their stories, and teach me. It’s been quite an education.
Did you know that black men comprise 6% of our population, but almost 41% of the prison population? Last week, Laina and I watched 13th, a Netflix documentary on the Thirteenth Amendment, slavery, and the mass incarceration of black men. You may not agree with everything in it, but lots of our black neighbors are watching it, and if you want to understand their anger about our criminal justice system, you should watch it. It’s educational, and it will give you some back story for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Racial injustice comes in many sizes and shapes, large and small, but all of them hurtful. David Anderson, the author of Gracism, took an internship at Willow Creek Community Church. Willow Creek is located in an affluent white suburb of Chicago. Anderson, who is black, was coming from two years of urban pastoral ministry in a poor black neighborhood. He was going from one extreme to the other. On his way to work on his first day at Willow, he was pulled over in his rusted Honda Civic. With his hands in clear view, he gave the officer his license and registration. While the officer went back to his car to check him out, neighbors drove by and gawked as David sat in embarrassment. After the officer returned his license, David asked, “Sir, can you tell me why you pulled me over?” The officer replied, “You fit the description of someone we are looking for.” No ticket, but David was late to his first day of work.
Bad luck, he thought. But when he drove off campus to get lunch and was pulled over again by a different officer, was checked out, and given the same answer—“You fit the description of someone we’re looking for”—he knew it was more than just bad luck. My black friends have told me that they have a name for it: DWB—driving while black.
Unfortunately, on his way back from lunch, David was stopped a third time by yet another officer, and given the same explanation. He was late to work for the second time that day. And then to top it all off, on the way home, he was stopped a fourth time by another officer with the same explanation. Three officers were male, one was female, all were white. David was never ticketed, or treated harshly. But, he asks, “Can you imagine the frustration, the anger and even the self-questioning that were unearthed inside me.” DWB.
Friends, racial tensions are on the rise in our country. We can take sides and build walls; or we can be gracists and build bridges. We’re going to be gracists. Let me define terms for you again:
Racism: speaking, acting or thinking negatively about someone else solely based on that person’s color, class or culture.
Gracism: the positive extension of favor on other humans based on color, class or culture.
From Gracism: The Art of Inclusion, by David A. Anderson
Today, I want to talk with you about the gospel of gracism. I’m laying the theological foundation, showing why Jesus is the answer for our racially torn world. Next week, we’re going to talk about how to be a gracist, and we’ll hear from some of our black brothers and sisters.
One last thing: I’m casting these talks in black and white because that’s where the tension has been most obvious lately. But racism isn’t limited to just to blacks and whites. Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, our Slavic immigrants, Syrian refugees—the list goes on—any one who is different can be the object of racism. So while I’m speaking in black and white, we’re wanting to see healing and change everywhere. Love everyone always!
- In his life, Jesus fought the bad news of racism.
Jesus lived in a world that was deeply divided by racism and a host of other divisions. Jesus’ disciples were not immune; they grew up in a very exclusive culture. The Jews believed themselves to be God’s chosen people. And this was true—God had chosen them. Why? Had God chosen them to the exclusion of everyone else? Or had God chosen them to include everyone else? God’s call to Abram is clear:
Genesis 12:2–3 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God chose Abram and his descendants so that all peoples on earth would be blessed! God’s call wasn’t exclusive, but inclusive. Unfortunately many of the Jewish people lost sight of this and became exclusive. “We four, no more. We’re in, you’re out.”
By the way, it’s the same with God’s choice of you—it’s inclusive. God didn’t choose you so that you could sit back and congratulate yourself, and let the rest of the world go to hell. He chose you to include others, to bless others. Don’t be a constipated Christian—don’t get exclusive and let the blessing stop with you. God called you and blessed you to be inclusive, to pass the blessing on to others. Gracists are includers, not excluders.
So Jesus and His disciples grew up in a deeply divided and very exclusive world. The Jews were in; everyone else was out. Good Jews were to have nothing to do with Gentiles. They couldn’t eat together or go to each other’s homes; they couldn’t intermarry; they viewed each other with mutual contempt. Jews called Gentiles “dogs” and each morning, a Jewish man prayed, “Thank you God that you have not made me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” Remember that—we’ll come back to it. This is the world that Jesus and His disciples lived in. So it’s no surprise when we see people in the gospels being racist and exclusive—but Jesus bucked this trend at every turn!
In Mark 9, the disciples come to Jesus and are upset. Someone was driving out demons in Jesus’ name, and the disciples told him to stop because “he wasn’t one of us.” He wasn’t part of their group. Jesus told them not to stop him, and that anyone who wasn’t against them was for them. Jesus was inclusive. So often, His followers weren’t. Do we have a problem with this today? That person is not “one of us;” he goes to a different church; she’s part of a different group. This is tribalism or denominationalism: you are not one of us. It is just another form of exclusion, of “us-them thinking.” Denominations are just groups of people who have all agreed to be wrong about the same things. Gracists rise above denominationalism or tribalism—we refuse to reject people because “they aren’t one of us.” Instead, we show grace or favor to those who are different. Here’s one of my favorite pieces of verse.
“He drew a circle that shut me out—
Rebel, heretic, thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win—
We drew a circle that took him in.”
Gracists draw circles of inclusion, not exclusion. Turn to your neighbor and say, “You’re one of us.”
In Luke 15, Jesus is criticized by the religious leaders because he is hanging out with sinners. Tribalism says, “you are not one of us.” Moralism says, “You are not as good as us.” Jesus faced this constantly, so in Luke 18, Jesus told a story about two men who went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Pharisees were the religious elite, the rule-keepers, the most pious people of their day. Tax collectors were just the opposite: they were traitors who teamed up with the Roman oppressors to cheat their own people. They were hated and rejected. The religious man prayed, “God I thank you that I’m not like other people—sinners—or like this tax collector here.” But the tax collector just prayed, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The attitude of the Pharisee was moralism—you are not as good as us. It’s just another form of exclusive us/them thinking. Gracists realize that we’re all in the same boat; we’re all sinners saved by God’s grace. When it comes to sin, there is no us/them; there is only us. When it comes to needing grace, there is no us/them; there is only us. Turn to your neighbor and say, “We’re in this together.”
The next story in Luke 18 is about parents bringing their kids to Jesus so he could bless them. In that time and culture, children were not valued, so the disciples shooed them away. Jesus rebuked his disciples and welcomed the children. He gave his time and attention to the very people his disciples deemed unworthy. This is ageism: you are not the same age as us. It values or devalues people based on their age. It still happens all the time: young and old distrust and dismiss each other. We hang with people like us, our age, and avoid those who are different. It’s just another exclusive form of us/them thinking that gracists resist. Gracists are inclusive; we offer favor to those who are different, younger or older.
Perhaps no story has more exclusion and division in it than the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus is traveling through Samaria and stops for a noon break near a well. While his disciples go to the nearest village for food, a woman comes to draw water. Jesus asks her for a drink, and she responds:
John 4:9 “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Samaritans were of mixed blood: part Jewish, part Gentile. They were racial half-breeds, and the animosity between these Jews and Samaritans ran centuries deep. This is racism: you are not the same race as us. And Jesus experiences it as he simply asks for a drink of water. Later, Jesus’ disciples return with lunch.
John 4:27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
It turns out that Jesus, the ultimate Gracist, was breaking two social taboos: racism and sexism. Men didn’t engage unfamiliar women in public conversation. Women weren’t considered conversational equals—it was believed that they had little or nothing to offer. Remember that Jewish prayer: “Thank you God that you have not made me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” This is sexism: you are not the same gender as us. Jesus ignored both race and gender and engaged this Samaritan woman in a redemptive conversation, one that changed her life and the lives of many of her friends and neighbors.
Tribalism: not one of us.
Moralism: not as good as us.
Ageism: not the same age as us.
Racism: not the same race as us.
Sexism: not the same gender as us.
Jesus faced and challenged each of these. Rather than allowing the divisions of his day to dictate his behavior, Jesus ignored them and offered grace and favor to those who were different. In his life, Jesus modeled gracism: offering favor to those who are different—different race, color, culture, age, gender or tribe. And in His death, Jesus extended grace to all of us—a grace that we receive and pass on. Turn to your neighbor and say, “I’m glad you’re different!”
- In his death, Jesus brought the good news of gracism.
Perhaps no chapter in the Bible better presents the gospel of gracism than Ephesians 2. The first half of this chapter tells what Jesus did to reconcile us to God; the second half tells what He did to reconcile us to each other. First, here is how he reconciled us to God.
Ephesians 2:4–10 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
You were dead in your sin, but God made you alive with Jesus! If you are dead you can’t save yourself. You can’t make yourself alive again. Only God can do that, and it’s a free gift. Dead people can’t do anything to earn it. It’s all grace—it’s all God’s undeserved favor. This is the gospel: that God shows favor to people who are completely unlike Him. He is holy; we are sinners. He is God; we are not. Yet He comes to us, seeks us out, and showers us with favor and grace. God is the first Gracist.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
This is grace upon grace, for He not only promises to show grace now, but forever! In the coming ages—forever, He will be showing us the incomparable riches of His grace. Favor upon favor, kindness upon kindness—incomparable riches of grace…forever!
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
You are saved by grace, not your own works. You can’t earn it; you don’t deserve it; it is a gift of grace, pure and simple. God gives us what we don’t deserve and what we could never earn. He shows favor to those who are different from Him—to sinners like us. This is Gracism: the positive extension of favor to those who are different than you.
First we are reconciled to God by grace. In the second half of the chapter, we are reconciled to each other by the same grace. The gracism that God shows us, we are to show others. The gospel has a social as well as spiritual dimension: it affects our relationships with each other as much as our relationship with God. We have received God’s grace so we can pass it on. We are to be gracists like God, and this is clear in the second half of the chapter.
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Paul is going to address the deepest racial division of his day: between Jew and Gentile. He begins by reminding his Gentile audience in the Ephesian church that they were separated, excluded, foreigners, without hope and without God. You were far away, but now you have been brought near by the blood of Christ. He goes on:
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Jesus is our peace. Jesus, by His death and resurrection, has destroyed the barrier between the races, and has made the two groups one, one new humanity. Jesus has reconciled both of them to God and through Him we both have access to the Father. Jesus has bridged the unbridgeable chasm. Jesus has not only brought us to God, but back to each other. And Paul has chosen the deepest racial divide he knew to illustrate the power of God’s gracism. If God’s grace can bring Jew and Gentile together, He can bring black and white together, Latino and Asian together—all of us into one new humanity. In the words of the children’s song, “Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” We’re those children. Because of Jesus, there is only one race—the human race, one new humanity in Christ.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
We are no longer foreigners and strangers to each other; we are fellow citizens and members of God’s family. We are brothers and sisters. Together—red and yellow, black and white—we are God’s dwelling place.
Jesus is the end of racism, and the beginning of gracism. God has shown favor to those different from Him, and calls us to do the same.
Remember that prayer that Jewish men used to pray? “Thank you God that you have not made me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” Paul probably prayed that prayer, but not after he met Jesus. Because of Jesus he wrote:
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Let’s read that last verse together again.
28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
I wonder if Paul had that prayer in mind? Instead of “God I thank you that I’m not a Gentile, a slave or a woman,” Paul says, “God I thank you that in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female; all those distinctions cease to matter.” In Jesus, we are one. Race, class and gender all become secondary to Jesus. It’s not that they cease to exist. My wife is female, always will be and I’m glad! It’s not that we cease to be white or black, cease to be rich or poor, cease to be male or female. One black friend said, “Don’t tell me you’re color blind, that you don’t see my color. I’m black; if you don’t see my color, you don’t see me.” We don’t cease being white or black; it’s just that those things no longer keep us apart. We reach across those divides, and we show favor to those who are different from us, just as God did for us in Christ.
This is the gospel of gracism: God’s grace not only makes us acceptable to Him, but to each other. God’s grace not only heals our relationship with Him, but our relationships with each other. God’s grace not only bridges the divide between us and Him, but between “us and them”. Now it’s just us.
Friends, Christians should be leading the way in racial reconciliation—in reconciliation on every level—because God led the way in reconciling us to Himself. If you are uncomfortable with people who are different—different race, different age or gender, different politics, different tribes—well, it’s time to roll up you sleeves and get to work as a gracist. You might as well get comfortable with different people now, or you’re going to be really uncomfortable in heaven!
Revelation 7:9 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.
Heaven is going to be a blast. There won’t be white churches and black churches and Latino churches and Korean churches in heaven. The church is Jesus’ bride and Jesus is coming back for a bride, not a harem! We’ll all be together in one big colorful family, so let’s get started now!
How do we do that?
- In our lives, Jesus calls us to gracism.
This last point is really just a teaser for next Sunday.
In his book, Gracism: The Art of Inclusion, Dr. David Anderson uses the text from 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, which uses the human body as a metaphor for the church. We are one body and each of us is a part; we’re all different from each other, but still one body. There is unity in diversity, because behind all the differences there is one God who made us, one Jesus who saved us, one Spirit who gifts and energizes us. He begins:
1 Corinthians 12:12–13 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Although the larger context is about our different spiritual gifts, Anderson points out that Paul injects race and class differences: “whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free.” Anderson contends that Paul meant for us to read what follows through a racial and class lens. So, for example:
1 Corinthians 12:15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.
Read through that racial or class lens, if a Gentile says, “Because I’m not a Jew, I don’t belong to the body,” he still would still belong. Or if a black person says, “Because I’m not white,” or a woman says, “Because I’m not a man,” that doesn’t make them any less a part of the body. Next example:
1 Corinthians 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
Read through that racial or class lens, a Jew can’t say to a Gentile, “I don’t need you!” A free man can’t say to a slave, “I don’t need you.” A white man can’t say to a black, “I don’t need you.” A man can’t say to a woman, “I don’t need you.” We all need each other. Our differences—our different gifts, races, colors, cultures, and classes—make us better! Paul goes on:
1 Corinthians 12:22–26 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
So how do we treat someone we think is “less honorable”? We treat them with special honor! How do we treat someone who is “unpresentable”? We treat them with special modesty. God gives greater honor to those who lack it. He does this so that we would have equal concern for each other. This is gracism: actively offering favor to those who lack it, those who are different, those on the margins. Rather than pulling away from those who are different, we move toward them. Rather than withholding favor, we offer it.
How do we do that? Next Sunday, I’m going to share a couple very simple and practical ideas on how to be a gracist. I hope you’ll come and bring friends who need to hear this. We need to end racism and usher in gracism—it starts with us.