While obeying stay at home orders, Pastor John Steward of Mount of Olives Church in Mission Viejo, California addresses some of the recent events in our culture including the horrific death of George Floyd and racism. He gives us a message of hope during this time spent at home. This message continues his message series entitles “Words of Hope”.
In the midst of all that’s been happening it seems like the astronauts might have had the best idea by leaving the planet for a while. Just when we thought things were getting better, coming out of the quarantine a little bit in the pandemic, we turn our televisions and we watch an African American man being suffocated to death by a Minneapolis Police Officer. The scene is horrific, inexcusable. And then we see scenes of rioting all around the nation and looting. Police officers being killed. Let me just say that racism is evil. Racism is always evil, and has no place in our country, and no place in the world. Race is evil. And the riots, and the looting, and killing of police officers is wrong, and it actually is hijacked the moment from what is so very important to focus on and that is the racism takes place all too often in our nation, overt and subtle. And so we must examine the fact that there have been great social change and social movement that is taken place peaceful and non-violently. I think of the great work of Martin Luther King in our own lifetime, who led the thousands and thousands of people marching on the nation’s capital in another cities, having sit-ins and protesting and the end result was the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The nonviolent peaceful protest in resistance brought about some of the most sweeping change our nation has ever seen. The 1964 Civil Rights Act meant that you can no longer be discriminated against because of the color of your skin in a restaurant, or public facility, your unemployment or in housing. And then in 1965 the of the Voting Rights Act took place to ensure that every American, no matter what their ethnic background is, has the right to vote. So much has happened because of peaceful resistance in the great leadership of Martin Luther King. And Martin Luther King was greatly in influenced by Mahatma Gandhi in India who lead a peaceful resistance against British rule over his country. He had something he called Truth Force and Love Force which said that you should always seek truth and you should always seek love and when someone has asked you to do something you know is wrong you must resist, but you must do so peacefully. Much change took place and the people of India with liberated as a nation from British rule. Think of it, an entire nation set free and liberated because of peaceful resistance and protest.
Martin Luther King Mahatma Gandhi influenced by our Lord Jesus Christ who said, love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself. No one would do these things to anyone else if they loved their neighbor as they loved themselves. Jesus said turn the other cheek. Jesus said in The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapter 5, he says, blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God. Much can be changed in our world to peaceful resistance and protest and activism and justice being pursued.
This is a time it, seems to me, of self-examination, a time where we need to look at our own life to see what we have done or haven’t done, how we have contributed or haven’t contributed to making our society more just. I’m thinking about maybe the jokes we told, maybe they’ve had a racial undertow, maybe they’ve had a a racist understanding, and when we told them, all we’ve heard them, and we laughed, in the subtle way we have contributed to some elements of racism. And at the same time we have actually diminished ourselves. When we tell a racist joke, or make a racial comment, or call somebody a name, even under our breath, it diminishes us. Or are we taking a racist act, it diminishes us, and it damages other people.
I remember many years ago, in I former congregation, I had a young black singer coming sing. I’ve seen them on television and their testimony was fabulous and they were so talented and gifted, and I asked him to sing at our church, in a former congregation, and they did. And one Sunday a person came up to me and said, you know that black singer we’ve had a couple of times, maybe we can pull that back a little bit. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t believe what this person just said to me, and you know what I said to them. You know what I said? I said nothing. To be honest, I didn’t know what to say. But I said nothing. And I’ve been ashamed of that ever since. Because even in the moment I knew this was a teaching moment and I had missed the moment. What I should have done was to say wait a minute, that’s not who we are here, we love all people, no matter the color of their skin. We love all people here. They have been created in the image of God just like you are and you should be ashamed of yourself. That’s what I should have said. But I was silent.
How many times have we been silent? How many times when someone is told that joke, or we’ve seen that action, and we were silent. it’s time for us to speak up in the name of Jesus Christ and his love for all people. We need to speak up. And then perhaps one of the things that we can do in this period of self-examination, is to find someone we know, a person of color and ask them, what’s it been like for you, have you experienced racism, and what was it like? And then to have a teachable heart and to simply sit and listen and learn and to be changed. There’s a lot we can do by self-examination to stop and look at ourselves.
And there’s more lessons to be learned in this time. I’ve been thinking about how we use our power. Everybody has some level of power in their life. You may not think you have power, but you have some level of power in your life. If you’re a corporate executive you got hundreds, maybe thousands of people who are under you. How do you treat them? How do you use your power? Do you use it the crush them, do you use it to manipulate them? Or do you use it as a servant. Or maybe you’re an elected official. Maybe you’re a government official. Maybe you’re a judge or police officer. How do you use your power? Do you use it to control people, for your own pride and ego. Do you use it because you’ve got some vision of what things should be, even though maybe even though the law doesn’t agree with you. How do you use your power? Jesus calls on us to be servants as we use our power. But maybe you are a parent or a teacher. How do you use the power you have with these little ones that you are called to care for? Do you use it to have it your way or the highway, to have strength and power over them, or do you have a humble heart, wanting to serve them, and equip them, and love them with grace and mercy? What about a pastor? Does a pastor misuse his power, wanting greater prestige? How do we use our power? Even if you’re in elementary school, you have power. If you’re a student in an elementary school, you need to stop and ask, how do I use my power with my peers? Do I use my power to love them and support them or to bully them? How do I use my power?
Jesus calls on us to use our power as a servant. He said he came, not to be served but to serve and he gave his life as a ransom for many. Our whole understanding of power needs to be understood and lived out to the lens of being a servant like the Lord Jesus was.
We are meant to be advocates. We are meant to be advocate for those who are oppressed and those who are suffering, and suffering under racism. Listen to these words from Proverbs chapter 31:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and the needy.
and then in Romans 12 verses 9 to 10 we read:
Love must be sincere. hate what is evil;.
cling to what is good.
be devoted to one another in love.
honor one another above yourselves.
So as a part of this self-examination, we need to stop and ask the question, What is the role of the church in all of this? You know for many years I’ve said that when you take God out of the culture, you end up with terrible results. And in many ways we have done that for decades, been taking God slowly out of the culture in the public square. But the church is not only in the west, declined in attendance, it’s declined moral influence. There’s other places in the world where the church is thriving, like in Africa, but in North America, and many parts of the West, the church has been declining in attendance and an influence. And when that happens, the church isn’t able to speak into the culture as it should. But that needs to change, and it can change, but it must change with us.
We must reinvest in our church and its vitality. There was a time when people came to church three to four Sundays in a month, now it’s one or two Sundays in a month. There was a time when businesses closed on Sunday, is the Lord’s day, but now they’re open. And people find themselves on the soccer field, or at the beach and not in church where their children, and they themselves, are are growing spiritually and developing that moral compass that we need for days like this.
We need to invigorate the church once again, and be more committed than ever to its mission and that’s cause. Jesus said, you are the salt of the earth. What did He mean by that? You are the salt of the earth. He meant that salt in his day was a preserving agent and we as the church are meant to be that preserving agent in the world, where we preserve the values and the morals and the ethics that God lays forth in His Word. Jesus said, you are the light of the world. We are to be vessels of His light bringing His light into the darkness of things like racism and injustice. We are meant to be the light of the world. Jesus said, go and make disciples of all nations. So instead of being keepers of the museum, we need to be agents who are going out into the world making disciples. Not just pastors, but everyone who is listening to my voice right now. We all need to be engaged and reaching others for Christ. He said that you and let me, go and make disciples of all nations. He told those fishermen who are his disciples, I will make you fishers of men.
Now is the time. What would happen in our country of every Christian every believing Christian where to invite somebody to church, and bring somebody into faith, and bring them into a relationship with Jesus, where he is alive and living in their heart. There would be revival in the land, and so much of what we’ve been talking about in these days would be changed. Because what needs to be changed is people’s hearts. The Living God needs to reign in their heart, instead of all the other things that the world offers. The Living God needs to reign with His grace, love and mercy in every person’s heart. You and I are meant to be change agents. You know it’s been said, there are three kinds of people in the world. there are those who watch things happen. There are those who make things happen and there are those who wonder what happened. To often the church has been the people who watch things happen, or wondered what happened. Maybe you’ve been that kind of person. Maybe you just sent a pew potato. It’s time to take action. It’s time to reach out to others with grace and love and justice. It’s time to do the work of an evangelist as the scriptures teach us.
You know, if you were to take two pianos in a room, and if you were to strike the note of one piano, it would sound in the other piano, the same note. There’s a name for this, sympathetic resonance. I asked our choir director, Doctor Jeff Bonner, about this. And he said sometimes with his choirs he will sometimes have a little fun and have sing a note very strongly, acapella, without accompaniment, without piano, and then cut them off, and then listen to that note being played on the piano without anybody touching a key. You see that sound travels even to the piano, and I’d like to suggest the church is just like that. We need to sing a song so loud, proclaim a message so loud, that it has resonance in the culture, and it changes hearts, and it changes minds, and it brings the love of God into people’s lives, and a moral compass, so that we eradicate injustice in our time. So this is a time when we need to change and where we need to be a change agent, and we need to bring Christ into the lives of others and to work for justice and mercy in our land. Lets pray together.
Lord, be with us in this time, be with our nation, be with the world, Lord be with the family of George Floyd. Give them your comfort, give them your grace. And Lord, bring about a justice in our land and then our time, and reinvigorate the church, and cause us as individual believers to see our responsibility of being able to be change agents and bring in the gospel into hearts of others so their hearts will be changed. Do a new work in us Lord, we pray in Jesus, name. Amen. Let’s keep praying. Let’s keep doing self-examination. Let’s keep working towards bringing the gospel to others, and as we do, we bring justice and mercy the bear.