THE UNTOUCHABLES SERMON SERIES
DECEMBER 6, 1998
Six pounds. Six pounds. You wouldn’t think this weight would cause so many problems in our culture. Yet, six pounds causes strife and suffering and murder and all sorts of mayhem. I am not talking about six pounds of ammunition or explosives; I am talking about six pounds worth of flesh. That is the average weight of our skin. It is staggering when you contemplate the whole issue of racism, because six pounds of flesh has caused, is causing and will cause so many, many problems across our planet.
I am talking about racism this morning. I am beginning a brand new series entitled THE UNTOUCHABLES. A friend of mine who goes to this church suggested this series and the title for me. He said, “Ed, why don’t you talk about topics that a lot of people are afraid to mess with, afraid to contemplate, afraid to deal with?” And I thought about it and prayed about it and sure enough, he was right. There is one thing about being a Christ follower. Christians do not skirt issues. We deal with the raw realities of everyday life. And there is one thing that our church will never, ever do and that is back down from the real deal. We are going to teach and preach this book, the Bible, in an uncompromising, undiluted fashion. We are going to do it with love, with life change in mind. But we are going to talk about the untouchables. Today it is racism. Next week, homosexuality. The final weekend, abortion. Light, insignificant topics.
Racism is harboring negative feelings toward a certain group or groups of people due to their ethnic background. Racism is coming to general conclusions about a bunch of people with just a little bit of negative and prejudicial information. It is taking a few people’s behavior and putting it on the shoulders of a lot of people. Racism is real, prevalent, sad and a grievous sin that breaks the heart of God.
Isn’t it so easy just to look and label, just to stick a tag on someone before you engage him or her in meaningful conversation? It is so tempting to do so. Several years ago I walked into a clothing store in Seoul, Korea. I met the proprietor of the establishment who was very rigid and rude to both me and a missionary who was with me. When we walked out of this little store I could have said, “You know, all Koreans are rigid and rude.” I could have generalized. I could have broad brushed. I could have taken this little negative experience with this man and put it on the backs of all Koreans. But that is not the case. The Koreans were open, warm, engaging and inviting to us. But what I just described to you is the breeding ground of bigotry. It is the rational and the reason that a lot of us use for racism.
Christ’s half-brother, James, writes in James 2:1, “My brothers, as believers, don’t show favoritism.” Romans 2:11 says, “For God does not show favoritism.” I think for some of us in this place and maybe for many of us, if our true thoughts and feelings were known about people of color, if they were made public, it would thoroughly embarrass and humiliate us. Some of us here tell those racial jokes in break rooms across the metroplex in hushed tones. We say to ourselves that it is just a joke, that we don’t really mean anything by it. We mean it just for a laugh. Who are you trying to fool? Every time we make fun or belittle or diminish or put down someone with a different skin color, someone from a different background, someone who speaks a different language, someone who has a different texture of hair, we are making a mockery of the creative genius of God.
I ask you, where does racism originate? How can we trace the fault lines of this grievous sin? Where do they end up? Where do they go? Where do they stop? The fault lines of racism go all the way back our family of origin. It pains me to say it, however, moms and dads wield so much power and so much influence. They have the opportunity to turn innocent children into racists or relationalists. That is how much power they carry. So if you grew up in a home where your parents were always putting down other people, were always using racial slurs, telling racial jokes, using broad-brush generalizations, there is a great chance that you are a card-carrying racist. Conversely, if you grew up in a home where you parents showed you the diversity of different backgrounds, if they showed you the uniqueness of God’s creation, if they built bridges of relationship to others outside their skin color, background and language, then there is a great chanee that you see people in a color-blind fashion.
I want to share a story with you that is going to use some tough language, but I want to share it because it illustrates how God used my parents in this arena. As many of you know, my father is a pastor. When I was in the fifth grade, he took the senior pastor position at a very large and very traditional church in the Deep South. We had been at the church for maybe four or five weeks and we were asked by the wealthiest member of the church to come over to his mansion for dinner. I remember understanding, even at a young age, that some people with money would try to influence others, including pastors, for their own agenda. This situation was unique for me because I had never been to a mansion before. This deal was like something from Gone with the Wind. There were butlers and maids and servants running back and forth. When we sat down at their long table covered with a white linen tablecloth, the hostess used a little buzzer under the table to call for the help. My Mom had given us a little lecture beforehand about our manners and we were trying to be on our best behavior.
The family was talking about their home in Palm Beach and about the millions and millions of dollars that they had. Out of nowhere, in the middle of the conversation, this multi-millionaire racist turned to my father and said, “Dr. Young, what are you going to do when a bunch of niggers try to join the church?” My father locked eyes with this powerful man. Let me mention something about my father. When he locks eyes with you, you better back up. His voice was kind of shaky and he said, “Sir, I will tell you what I am going to do. I will love them and treat them like every single other person that Christ died for.” Whoa. This man was not used to hearing that. He was a man of means, a man of influence, a man of power, a man full of the poison of prejudice. The meal ended right after that and we left. But that interchange spoke volumes to me. It showed me that my parents saw people in a color-blind way. It showed me that people mattered to God no matter what the situation. It showed me not to worry about six pounds of flesh. Little did I realize it, but after that time, for the next fifteen years of my life I would spend more time with African-Americans than Caucasians. Why? Because I was heavily involved in sports, junior high sports, high school sports, college sports. I did not worry about the six pounds of flesh. Why? Because of the example of my parents.
Today, think about your verbiage, think about your stories, think about your body language when you deal with people of color. What are you showing your children? How are you marking them? How are you influencing them? Are you teaching them to be card-carrying racists or relationalists? It is up to you. But definitely, the fault lines of racism can be traced back to our family of origin.
But not only can they be traced back to our family of origin, they can also be traced to the currents of our culture. Think about our culture, because if our parents don’t turn us into racists, our culture will try. When you are about ten or eleven years of age, something begins to happen. You begin to feel the current of the culture. It begins to pull you and it is powerful. And slowly you are out to sea. The currents of the culture say that you have got to be a part of the in- crowd. And to be a part of the in crowd you have got to belittle, diminish, broad-brush, generalize those who are outside the crowd so you can be in the in-crowd. And you end up doing things and saying things and having attitudes that you normally wouldn’t have because you want to be a part of the in-crowd, you want to be a critical cog in the clique. This happens at about ten or eleven. But it also happens when we are twenty-five and thirty-five and forty-five and sixty-five. It happens, doesn’t it? It is so sad.
I saw this lived out the summer before my freshman year in college. I got together a group of students in my church and we went around the sprawling city of Houston putting on backyard Bible clubs for little children. These kids were four, five, six and seven years of age. We would go to these apartment complexes and use their club houses and do puppet shows, give Bible lessons, let them do art work. We had an absolute blast doing it. And I remember noticing at the ripe old age of 18 how these children, Asian children, Hispanic children, African-American children, white children held hands, hugged each other and had a wonderful time. I remember thinking how great it was to have children who were colorblind, not worried about six pounds of flesh. But I intuitively knew that after awhile they would come into contact with the currents of the culture and that would pull at them. Then racism, the six pounds of flesh deal, would cause them not to want to hold hands any more, not to interact any more, not to want to hug anymore because they would want to be a part of the in-crowd. So if parents don’t do the job, our culture will do the job.
And to show you that racism is nothing new, think about Jesus. Christ one day, with his disciples, was trying to expedite a trip. He and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and to get there they had to go through a neighboring nation. They asked permission and they were refused. Their passports were rejected. The disciples freaked out. They played the race card. “Jesus, those despised Samaritans, can you believe they are refusing us. Jesus, nuke them, waste them, throw down fire and brimstone, obliterate them.” You know what Jesus said, and I am paraphrasing, “Guys, put the race card back in the deck. Everyone matters to me. I love everyone. I’m colorblind. I don’t worry about six pounds of flesh.” And the disciples learned a lot that day. Racism was vogue. It was hip. It was cool. It was edgy even back in Biblical times.
Isn’t it so interesting how we label and typecast? I will show you what I am talking about. I will give you a test right now. This is a typecasting test. We won’t make you write down anything nor will we grade your papers. Here is the first question. Name the nationality of the leaders of organized crime in our country. I can’t hear you. Don’t be afraid. What? Come on. Italians. Now wait a minute, are you telling me that all Italians are a part of organized crime? Is that what you are saying? See how it works?
I have got another one for you. Name the skin color of the best athletes in the NFL. Black. Does that mean that all African-Americans are great athletes. And sometimes do we think of the African-American with just their athletic prowess? Here is another one. Name the most predominate culture that is into landscaping in our country? And you are telling me that all Hispanic people are landscapers? Is that what you are saying?
Name the skin color of the race that has no rhythm and no vertical jump. Well, hey, before you clap, I blow that one totally out of the water because I can dunk the ball right now and I can play the drums. So do you say that all whites can’t jump and have no rhythm? You see how we label and typecast?
The fault lines of racism can be traced back to the family of origin and back to the currents of our culture. But the fault lines can be traced elsewhere also. And it is something that all of us have in common, sin. At the end of the day, racism is caused by the sinister downward, southward pull in your life and mine called sin. Six pounds of skin. Take the k out and you have got six pounds of sin. There is no conventional way to get the dirt of racism off of you. Once it gets on you there is no natural way to get it off. But there is a way. It is a supernatural way. It is a God thing. And Jesus talked about it. Listen to this verse. Luke 10:27. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” You see, to Christ, skin color was just a pigment of His imagination. Love your neighbor as yourself. And later on He was asked what He meant by neighbor. Do you know how he answered that one? With a story. He was always telling stories and illustrations and parables. Here is what He said.
“One day a Jewish man was beaten up and left on the shoulder of the road, dying. A Jewish temple priest walked by. He saw the situation, looked at his sundial watch and said he didn’t have time. Then a Jewish temple assistant walked by and saw the whole deal too. But he felt he had to cruise since he ran the weekend service. Then a half-breed, a Samaritan, a despised one walked by. Let me tell you why the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other, why they played the race card over and over again. In 586 BC, the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and they took back with them the best and the brightest to their country. Well, they left some in Jerusalem. While the best and the brightest were in the foreign country, those who remained married people from other cultures. Seventy years later the Jews returned and they call the people who had intermarried, half-breeds, no accounts. They were not pure Jews. So Jesus was saying that a despised, half-breed Samaritan was walking along. He saw the Jew half dead, bleeding to death on the shoulder of the road. Did he walk by? Did he look the other way? Oh, no. He picked the person up, put him on the back of his donkey, checked him into a hotel, put down his American Express card and said that he would cover the whole deal.
Who is my neighbor? Jesus said that it was everyone. We have never locked eyes with someone who does not matter to God. We have never made eye contact with someone Christ has not died for. We never, ever have. Jesus said these words in Matthew 28:19. “Go and make disciples of all nations….” In the original language it was ethos, meaning all races. That means the gospel should transcend all geographical, socio-economical and gender lines. Isn’t that exciting? Isn’t that dynamic? Isn’t that mind blowing that we serve a God of diversity? Aren’t you glad that everyone doesn’t look like you? Aren’t you glad that everyone doesn’t have the same pigmentation as you, the same texture of hair as you, the same accent as you? Aren’t you glad? I am.
Question. Do you have a hint of hurt in your heart? Question. Do you have just a little bit of bigotry down there? Question. Do you have a piece of prejudice? Do you? You might not be a card-carrying racist but you might have a little animosity, a little frosty feelings, a little problem with someone from a different background. If you do, and I believe many do, I want to challenge you to do some things. First, I want to challenge you to be honest. I want you to be honest. I want you to call racism what it is, a grievous sin before God and man. Won’t you do that? I am challenging you to own it, admit it and confess it, not hide it, harbor it and rationalize it. I want you to tell the truth before God because God already knows how you feel. God already knows the attitudes that you have. God sees the inner workings of your life. God knows. Won’t you come clean? Won’t you be honest with God?
Psalm 26:2 says and I pray these are your words to God, “Test me, Oh Lord, examine my heart and my mind.” We need a heart transformation. We need a life change. As I said earlier, the dirt of discrimination does not come off in a natural or conventional way. It has got to be a supernatural thing. It has got to be a God thing.
Thomas Terrance, III, became a racist in 1963 when National Guard troops came to his high school and forced integration. He lived in Mobile, AL. And Terrance stood behind the police line and threw out those racial slurs. Months later he became infatuated and enamored with the writings of Adolph Hitler. Then he joined the Ku Klux Klan and became one of the most feared terrorists. In 1968, Terrance was arrested by FBI agents because he and an accomplice were on their way with 39 sticks of dynamite and machineguns to assassinate a civil rights leader. A gun battle ensued. Terrance’s friend was killed. Terrance was wounded and then sentenced to 30 years in prison. Where is he today? He is still in the south. He has graduated from college and seminary and he pastors a multi-racial church where both black and white congregants love and adore him and applaud him. What, I ask you, happened to Thomas Terrance, III? Did he come in contact with a glassy-eyed guru? Did he get into New Age thinking? Did he just have a philosophical experience? Oh, no. I will tell you what happened to him. He explained it best and I quote, “I got on my knees right there in my cell and asked Jesus Christ to forgive me for what I had done. I felt a tremendous sense of relief, like a thousand pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. The next day I had a totally new set of desires, to pray, to read the Bible and to live for Christ.”
A heart transformation took place. A life change took place. A God thing took place. And that is the only thing, ladies and gentlemen, that will cure and change our bigotry and prejudice and racism. That is the only thing that will keep us from worrying about six pounds of flesh. That is why our church, the Fellowship Church, is so white hot about evangelism. That is why we are so into the gospel, because only the Lord, only salvation, can truly change the hearts of men and women. Once you have a heart transformation, once you are honest before God, then and only then will the walls of racism be obliterated. That’s it. Be honest. Do what Thomas Terrance, III did. God will change your life. He will change your view. He will change your perspective about colored people; black, red, yellow, white. They are all precious in God’s eyes.
The second thing that I want you to do, be intentional. The walls of racism aren’t going to come down, the fault lines aren’t going to be corrected by Christ followers standing there with their arms crossed. We have got to uncross our arms, reach out and become intentional about it and built relationships in the church, relationships at the school, relationships at the office with people who are different than we are. We have to do this.
When Christ died on the cross for your sins and mine, He reconciled man and God. He did the work. His redemptive work affords us the opportunity to know God personally and we know God personally through Christ. Jesus gave us the ministry of reconciliation. And He tells us that since we have been reconciled with God that we have to do whatever it takes to reconcile with others. II Corinthians 5:18. “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Well if you are a Christian and have the ministry of reconciliation, don’t just cross your arms, reach out. Get intentional and build bridges of meaning, bridges of power, bridges of love.
So, how about it? The decision is up to you. Isn’t it about time that you are honest? Isn’t it about time that you become intentional? Isn’t it about time that you quit worrying about six pounds of flesh?