April 21-22 2018
Pastor Joe Wittwer
He is Our Peace
#2—You and the Other
Introduction and offering
I said a couple weeks ago that there are two wings on the gospel plane: a spiritual wing and a social wing. We were made to love God and to love people. We are spiritual and social creatures. Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to each other. But many of us are more comfortable with the spiritual than the social.
- People have told me, “I could be a good Christian if you put me on a deserted island with just my Bible. Just me and God.” God yes, people no. By the way, it’s not true—you wouldn’t be a good Christian alone; you’d be a spiritual pygmy. We need each other.
- All of us want God to forgive us, but many of us are unwilling to forgive someone else. “I’ll never forgive that person.” God yes, people no.
- Lots of people like Jesus, but dislike Christians or hate the church. God yes, people no.
But that one-winged plane won’t fly. The gospel plane has two wings: love God and love people. Be reconciled to God and be reconciled to each other. Two weeks ago, we talked about You and God, the spiritual wing. Here comes the other wing, the social wing: You and the Other.
Originally I was doing a talk on three things: racial reconciliation, political reconciliation and reconciling with enemies. But as I wrote, I realized that I had too much to say on race, and I’ll have to circle back later on the others. So our big idea is:
Jesus reconciles us to God and to each other. Jesus broke down the dividing wall between races. We are ambassadors of His peace, building bridges not walls.
I have a deep conviction that Jesus cares about our racial divide and died to heal it. And because of that, we Jesus-followers ought to be taking the lead on racial reconciliation. I also think that race is a very difficult thing to talk about. The subject fills people with confusion, guilt, shame, and anger. It’s deeply personal and profoundly emotional. So I’m going to ask you to listen to your pastor who loves you and wants the best for you, with an open heart and mind. Jesus cares about this and so should we because this is a gospel issue. And that’s where we’ll start.
- Understand the gospel of reconciliation.
Let’s start at the very beginning. In the beginning, God created human beings in His own image.
Genesis 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Every human being, every man and woman, boy and girl, is made in the image of God and has great value. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what language you speak, what nation you’re from, your ethnicity or tribe. We are all made in God’s image. This means that black lives matter, and white lives matter, and Asian lives matter, and Native lives matter—every life matters because we are all made in God’s image. God’s image is wrapped in all kinds of colors and packages! Tell the person next to you: “You remind me of our Father.” This is where our story starts: every human being is made in God’s image and matters.
And here is where our story ends. The apostle John had this vision of 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.
John piled up the words—every nation, tribe, people and language—to emphasize that we’ll all be there together worshipping God.
In between that beautiful beginning and glorious ending, human beings rebelled against God and began hating each other. We divided for all kinds of reasons and one of them was race, or ethnicity or skin color. Jesus came to bring us back to God and to back to each other. He came to heal our broken relationships vertically and horizontally.
Ephesians 2 is one of the classic reconciliation passages. In the first half of Ephesians 2, Paul tells how God has reconciled us to Himself in Christ. “For by grace you are saved through faith.” That’s the first wing of the plane: spiritual reconciliation. Then beginning in verse 11, he shifts to the second wing: social reconciliation.
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.
The divide between Jew and Gentile in Paul’s day was as deep as anything in history. Jewish men began their days thanking God that they weren’t born a Gentile dog. And Gentiles hated and persecuted the Jews. But Jesus came to bring both together in one new community. Paul reminds the Gentiles that they were separate, excluded, foreigners, far from God—outsiders in every sense—the racial Other. But now in Christ, you who were far away have been brought near.
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.
Look at what Jesus has done!
- Jesus is our peace.
- Jesus made the two groups one.
- Jesus destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between us.
- Jesus created one new humanity out of the two.
- Jesus reconciled both of us to God.
- Jesus put to death our hostility.
- Jesus gives us both access to God.
Jesus is our peace!
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household…
This is the ultimate racial equality! We are all fellow citizens in God’s kingdom. We are all members of God’s household, God’s family. This is what Jesus has done: reconciled us to God and each other. This is the gospel of reconciliation.
And this means that we must be leading the way in racial reconciliation. If you are following Jesus, this is where He leads. Racial reconciliation is a gospel issue—it’s about following Jesus. He is our peace.
But why is this such a lasting problem, and why is it so hard to talk about?
- Understand the spiritual and systemic history of racism.
Simply put, this is a spiritual battle.
Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Paul says that we’re not just struggling with human beings, but with spiritual forces of evil. When you read the history of race in our nation, there are acts of hatred and lies that are so evil, so horrible, there must be demonic forces behind them. There is a spiritual force of evil behind racial discrimination and hatred. The devil would love to keep us hating each other, suspicious of each other, divided from each other—and I don’t think he is one bit happy that we’re talking about it, that we’re taking and stand and saying, “Not today devil! Not here! Not with us!” Please understand that this is a spiritual battle, and be prepared.
And we also need to understand the systemic history of racism.
I’ve been on this journey of racial learning for quite awhile, and I’ve read a ton, and spent a lot of time listening to people of color. I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned. It’s been hard for me to learn it—painful and uncomfortable—so I don’t expect it to be easy for you. I’ve had to sit in the discomfort and process—I’m still processing my discomfort. I’m humbly asking you to do that with me: Sit with the discomfort and process it. Don’t leave or check out because you’re uncomfortable. Sit with the discomfort and process it.
And this is why we’re going to talk about this uncomfortable stuff: because if we want to be part of the solution to our racial problems, we need to be able to talk about it with others without getting offended. This is why race is so hard to talk about. Are you willing? Are you ready?
Racism is rooted deeply in American history—hundreds of years of enslaving blacks and the forced removal and genocide of Native Americans, and ongoing oppression and discrimination. It’s an ugly, heart-breaking history—one we’d rather ignore.
ILL: My neighbor recently returned my copy of the Black Lens, the local black newspaper; it had been mistakenly delivered to him. I told him why I subscribe—to educate myself—and that I’d just returned from the Civil Rights pilgrimage. He responded, “We can’t look back; we need to look forward. There is a reason the rear view mirror is small and the windshield is big.” This is a very white thing to say—we don’t like looking back at this ugly history.
But let me suggest a different metaphor. When you go to doctor, does he just start prescribing first thing? No. He starts with your history. How long have you felt this way? When did it start? What brings it on? The doc will spend most of his time diagnosing—looking back—so that he make the right prescription going forward.
We can’t get stuck in the past, but if we don’t understand it, we won’t be able to move forward together. We need to understand our history.
This long painful history has resulted in systemic racism—racial inequity that is built into the system. The system was built by white people for white people. Our Constitution starts, “We the people”—but those words did not include blacks or native Americans. Only white males could vote. Black slaves were not considered fully human—they had no rights under the law. But slave owners were allowed to count each slave as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of representation in Congress, to increase the slaveowners political power. The 3/5 clause stood as law until it was repealed by the 14th Amendment in 1868. The system was created by white people for white people. Is that changing? Yes. Is there a ways to go? Yes.
ILL: The news this week about the two black men arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks illustrates both how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. While they were waiting for a friend, one of them used the bathroom. They were told it was for paying customers only and were asked to leave. When they refused to leave because they were still waiting for their friend, the police were called and the two men were quietly handcuffed, without resistance. Witnesses said that they never raised their voices, and were not creating a disturbance; they were simply sitting and waiting for a friend. Their friend, a white man, Andrew Yaffe, arrived during the arrest and was outraged. They were taken into custody for 8 hours, and then were released when no charges could be filed because no crime had been committed. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologized to the men personally and publicly said, “What happened to these two gentlemen was wrong.” He also listened to their stories, and when he discovered they were interested in careers in real estate, he offered Starbucks’ resources and expertise to help them.
Some will say, “That wasn’t about race; they broke the rules and were asked to leave.” Well, Starbucks disagrees with you. On May 29 all Starbucks stores across the country will be closed for racial-bias education. And I’ve waited at Starbucks for friends, and used the bathroom while I wait, and I’ve never been asked to leave. Have you?
Have we come a long ways? Yes! Not that long ago, those men would have been arrested and no one would have said a thing. Today, it created a national uproar, and resulted in change. That’s progress.
Do we have a ways to go? The fact that they could be humiliated, arrested, and detained for doing nothing wrong—we still have work to do.
I know people who believe that since we elected a black president, we are now living in a post-racial society—we have achieved racial equity. Friends, not yet Have we made progress? Of course. Let’s celebrate the progress—we’ve come a long, long ways. And do we have a ways to go? Absolutely! Let’s not forget that and let’s keep working for racial reconciliation and justice. Here is just one example: the economic disparity between races.
In 2016, white families had a median net worth of $171,000, compared with $17,600 for blacks and $20,700 for Hispanics. (Median net worth for white families is 10 times higher than black families and 8 times higher than Hispanic families.) What causes this? It’s complex: Among the many factors that contribute to disparities in net worth are home ownership rates, retirement savings, student debt, the number of single parent families, inheritances, and levels of education. It’s complex—but consider this: Even among families headed by someone with a college degree, median net worth for white families is $397,100 compared with well below $100,000 for black and Hispanic families.
Same education, different result.
Why the disparity? The system is biased. The system favors white people. The system favors white people in many subtle or not so subtle ways. This is sometimes called “white privilege.” How many of you dislike that term? Me too. Does it makes you angry, or uncomfortable? Me too. I was in a meeting last week where that term was directed at me—I didn’t like it. Why? Because we take it personally. We feel like it implies that I haven’t had to work hard, that I’ve just been handed things, as though the only reason I have what I have is because I’m white. Of course, that’s not true. My success is not only because I’m white. I’ve worked hard for everything I have—so have you. We take it personally, but that’s not what white privilege means. It’s not about you as a person, but about the system. (Stay with me, because if you want to bring about racial reconciliation, you have to stay in the conversation and not take this personally. I’m trying to equip you for the work of reconciliation.)
“White privilege” refers to the many social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race. And most of us, myself included, are blind to these advantages. It’s like the air we breathe—we don’t think about it, we just breathe it. Do you get up in the morning and think about how you’re going to fit into a white-dominant culture? I never do. But people of color do—every day. Pastor Keith told me last weekend that he’s constantly doing cultural translation in his head: how will this sound or look to a white person? And it’s exhausting. I’ve never had to do that. I’m a member of the dominant race—that’s white privilege. Do I want you to feel guilty and ashamed? No. I’m not trying to make you feel bad; I’m trying to simply make you aware.
Daniel Hill, in his excellent book, White Awake, defines white privilege simply as “the ability to walk away.” When the journey to racial justice becomes difficult or scary or confusing or painful, we have a privilege that people of color do not: we can simply walk away and go back to “normal” if we choose. Do you want to hear a fun story?
ILL: Last week I was in Chicago with three other Spokane pastors—we were there for meetings about church planting. On the last day, we had some time before our plane left, so we met Daniel Hill in his neighborhood for coffee. We had a lively discussion for a couple hours about race and culture and his work as a pastor in a very diverse Chicago neighborhood.
When we were done, we caught an Uber to the airport. Our driver was a lovely black lady named Jaywana. As I climbed in I said, “Jaywana, thanks for picking us up!” She said, “I like how you said my name.” I wondered if I said it wrong, and asked her, but she smiled and said I got it right. I realized that most of her riders probably never call her by name. Well, y’all know what I do in these situations: I asked her to tell me her story. I ask people to tell me their story and look for where God intersects it—often at the point of their pain. So I asked: How long she’d been doing Uber; how did she like it, and what did she like about it. We talked about that, and then I asked if she was married and had kids. She said, “I got 5 kids; these two are in heaven,” and pointed to two pictures taped by the mirror—a little girl and a young man. She explained that her 2 year-old daughter was beaten to death by a family acquaintance 10 years ago. And then in September, she got a call from the police that her 21 year-old son had died while in custody. She still doesn’t know what happened. (I’m giving you the condensed version.) By now, she’s crying…we’re all crying. We told her that she wasn’t alone, that we were crying with her, and God was crying too—that He wants better for her. I asked if she went to church—she did. Did she have good support there? She did. We’re pointing her to Jesus, telling her that God wants better for her.
In the middle of all this—it was a 40 minute ride to the airport—her phone rang. It was her best friend. We told her to answer it—we were stopped in traffic. Her best friend greets her and then yells, “I got an f’n job! I got an f’n job!” Jaywana tells her that she has clients in the car—three pastors in fact! Her friend says, “Let me see.” So Jaywana puts her on FaceTime and we all wave, and she shouts, “I got a mother-f’n job! I got a mother f’n job!” All three of throw up our hands and celebrate with her! “You got a…job!” After she hung up, Jaywana said that her friend had a baby 8 months ago, and life has been hard, and this job was a big deal. We celebrated with Jaywana and her friend. God is good—all the time!
We asked Jaywana about her other children. It was a sad story about gangs and drugs and poverty. Jaywana lives in the projects in the Southside of Chicago. She told us about the gangs that run her neighborhood, about the gunshots all hours of the day and night, that she didn’t want to go home because she didn’t feel safe. The night before she had parked a block away and snuck in the back of her house because of gunshots out front. It was a hair-curling story. She’s crying the whole time—like any momma of any color, she wants the best for her kids. And we were overcome by her story. As we neared the airport, we asked if we could pray for her. I asked her to keep her eyes open, since she was driving, and I would pray. I kept my eyes open too. I prayed a Jesus prayer for her—we prayed over her whole story.
And—just keeping it real—after I prayed, as we were pulling up to the airport, Jaywana looked at the youngest pastor in our group and said, “You’re cute, honey! I’d go to your church!”
God did something in that car. Jesus did something in Jaywana—you could feel it and see it. And He did something in us—giving us deep compassion for this dear woman with a beat-down story. One of our guys said as Jaywana pulled away, “Wow! That was a crash course on race in one afternoon: from Daniel Hill to Jaywana.”
Here’s the deal: when it was over, I walked away back to my normal life while Jaywana drove back to Southside Chicago and a life most of us can’t imagine. That’s white privilege—the ability to walk away.
We live in a racialized society, and I want to change that—because of Jesus. It’s a gospel issue. He is our peace, who has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. Jesus reconciles us to God and to each other, including the racial other: black, white, Native, Hispanic, Asian—whatever. Would you commit with me to being a reconciler?
- Engage in the struggle.
So what can you do? Here are four things you can do to be an ambassador of reconciliation.
Pray. It’s a spiritual battle and the first thing we need to do is pray. Pray for our civic leaders—national, state, local—to pass just laws, to continue to change the system so that it is equitable for all. Pray for me and other Christian leaders as we work to bring people together in our community. Pray for all the Jesus-followers in our town to be reconcilers—to lead the way. Pray for white people and people of color—pray for our hearts to change and that we can all overcome our implicit bias. Pray for justice. Pray for peace. Pray, pray, pray!
Learn. Educate yourself. You can do this in two ways: research and relationships.
Do some research. I’ve recommended one book: White Awake, by Daniel Hill—a great book written by a white guy for white folks. We will post a list of other resources I’ve read and recommend that will help you understand our history, and hear the deep feelings of people of color. We will also recommend some video resources. It is so valuable to learn a different perspective. Disciples are learners—educate yourself.
That’s research and here’s relationships.
Love. One of the best ways to learn is to simply have friends of color. Ask to hear their stories. Be brave enough to have honest conversations about race, about what life is like for them on a daily basis. We say this all the time: move toward the other. When we walk in a room, we naturally look for who is like us, and we move toward them. That just keeps us in our bubbles. Move toward the other. When you love a person of color, it will change your perspective on race.
Partner. Partner with people of color for justice. They often feel like they are all alone in the struggle. All our learning and loving must be applied to change the system, to make it better for everyone. We must partner for justice. The same woman who told me last week that I have white privilege said, with pleading in her eyes and voice, “We want white people to stand with us for racial equity and justice. So often people of color feel like they are standing alone. Will you stand with us?” My answer as a follower of Jesus is yes. What is yours?