17th Sunday after Pentecost – (Proper 21) LSB #’s 594, 543, 919
Text – Philippians 2:2-4
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord & of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
WHOM SHALL I LOVE & WHOM SHALL I FEAR?
Every time I read the story of the Good Samaritan, new revelations come to mind through the Holy Spirit, helping me to see different scenarios in life. As I prepared to write this sermon in light of the series “Heart Issues are Hard Issues,” it occurred to me that what happened in that story happens every day here in these United States.
Please understand, I am speaking in generalities; what I am about to say does not apply to each & every person. And yet, to question our integrity is part of the process of repentance.
There are two infections that White Americans tend to suffer from. The 1st one is invisibility. They simply cannot or will not see Black America. They can go an entire lifetime – by choice or by circumstance – while having no significant contact with a person of color. The reverse is virtually impossible.
The 2nd infection is immunity – the inherent knowledge that they can do whatever they want because of the freedoms our constitution allows & because they are the majority. This has led many to see themselves as dominant & superior to the minority, at times to the point of not considering them human. The theory of evolution has been used to promote this thinking.
Because of those two infections, White Americans have beaten & bloodied Black Americans, leaving them half-dead by the side of the road, & then passed by on the other side without caring to see or to offer aid. Those infections have become a conditioned response, borne of years of misunderstanding, fed by political & economic agendas & sociological fears. They continue to grow & fester due to lack of real interest in engaging one another with open hearts & minds. As children of God, we cannot allow politics or any other agenda to define what humanity means because humanity has already been defined by God.
Conversely, Black Americans are suffering from “whipped dog syndrome,” which has put many of them in “fight or flight” mode. By flight I mean that many have given up hope of changing or overcoming their circumstances, regardless of political leadership. The temptation is to remain segregated for protection, for trust & for prosperity.
By the word fight I mean that some have chosen to struggle for their rights, survival, freedoms & continued existence. Particularly during the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. these “fights” took form in the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest peacefully.
But when that right is denied, taken away or repelled by physical attacks through the powers that be, is it any wonder all hell breaks loose? Is there any wonder that the frustration of never being heard or cared about will at times lead to riots? The irony is that the victims are usually attributed the blame. All of that tends to be invisible to White Americans.
If we can understand these things about ourselves, maybe then we can build bridges over the black-white divide while learning to love as Christ loves in spite of our differences.
Living in suspicion, fear & hatred of one another is obviously not what God intended for His created image. Philippians chapter 2 clearly shows us that God wants ALL His people to be united in Christ, not divided by Satan. The sermon text can be summed up by the 2nd greatest commandment – love your neighbor as yourself.
And who is my neighbor? Everyone who is not me. Who is your neighbor? Everyone who is not you. We are to love everyone who is not ourselves as we love ourselves & that is the very thing we find hardest to do. Why? The essence of sin is to be turned in upon ourselves & thus away from God & away from anything else He created. So we’ve passed, & continue to pass, judgment on each other for the way we look, walk, speak, think, even for the clothes we wear, just to name a few. Through this we consider some people as not worthy of our love.
We hold ourselves up as the “ideal” of what a person should be, & if you aren’t just like us, you are less important, or even insignificant. Therefore, we don’t have to love you. This has caused people to treat others any way they wanted to, regardless of how evil it may have been. But love is not optional. It is the only way of life. All other ways are death.
Arrogance, hatred, entitlement, impatience, self-reliance, self-gratification, selfishness & self-importance are the tools & devices the devil uses against us, to separate us, to tempt us to hate each other & to draw us away from our faith in, & our love for, Jesus. Those are the same tools & devices Satan used against Cain, tempting him to kill his brother Abel.
In searching for the antidote we need to consider this question: Whom do we love & whom do we fear? Let me share with you a couple of stories:
1. On my vicarage, in a northern suburb of Saint Louis, I was asked by my supervising pastor to walk the neighborhood & invite the people to church. The congregation I was serving was primarily White, but the neighborhood was primarily Black.
This sounded like a great outreach opportunity, especially for the blending of cultures in God’s house. However, the reality did not match the opportunity. Every person I talked to said they had tried to attend the church previously, but were ushered out with the words, “You’ll be happier at the church down the street.”
2. Last month, I met a man outside a store in Ann Arbor. While we waited our turn for service, we struck up a conversation, which quickly turned to Christianity. Although he was White & I am Black, we found a lot of commonality. Again, this sounded like a great outreach opportunity. I invited him to my church, but again, the reality did not match the opportunity. Even though I shared with him that Shadow of the Cross is a cross-cultural church, he declined the invitation. His reason – he was told recently by a Black pastor that White people are not allowed in Black churches in order to maintain their identities as Black churches.
Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as a Black church nor a White church. There is only the Christian church, to which everyone is welcome. We cannot continue allowing the devil to deceive us into believing otherwise. There is no room for “separate but equal” within the Church of Christ; not if we are to be united in Christ.
Jesus died for us all, equally, on the cross of Calvary, where He demonstrated His love equally, to all sinners. “Whom shall we love & whom shall we fear?” The Bible says at Matthew 22:37–39, “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind. This is the great & 1st commandment. And a 2nd is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
It also tells us at Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul & body in hell.” God clearly tells us to love Him above all things & to love everyone else 2nd only to Himself. He tells us to fear Him alone. Nothing & no one else can destroy both soul & body.
Knowing this, followers of Christ should examine themselves asking, “Whom DO we love & whom DO we fear?” Sadly, the answer to whom do we love is often those who are just like us. And the answer to whom do we fear is everyone who is not just like us.
I suggest that those who do not love Christ, may not know or understand Him as well as they think. I also suggest that those who do not love people different from themselves, do not know or understand, nor have they taken time to get to know, people different from themselves. The heart of Paul’s message to the Philippians is stated in verses 2–4: “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord & of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
If we are to have true unity within the Church, we have to truly believe this: that which unites us is infinitely greater than that which divides us; meaning the love of Jesus Christ for all of His creation. God died in Jesus for every human being, Black & White, rich & poor, etc.
If we are going to have peace, love & understanding between the races, the 1st thing we have to grasp is “it’s not about me.” It is about the Savior. In response to that love, we help our brothers & sisters with whom we share the earth. Feelings of superiority & inferiority are Satan’s way of keeping us separated, infuriated & uneducated about any cultural differences.
Just as conceit breeds entitlement, jealousy breeds contempt. Satan would like nothing more than to keep the races at each other’s throats. As long as we are at each other’s throats, there’s no chance for reconciliation & little chance for the light of God’s love to shine.
But our Lord has not forsaken us. He’s given His Word to study & contemplate. He hears our prayers. He grants us forgiveness. He gives His Holy Spirit for comfort, strength & direction. God has given us the ability to withstand temptation. He’s given us the ability to say no to sin.
James 4:6–7 says, “…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, & he will flee from you.” Do not be afraid, but trust God’s promises & His providence. The truth is many of us aren’t even trying to resist.
Some people enjoy the chaos of racism. Some of us don’t want the unity Christ desires for everyone in His church. Some of us have hardened our hearts so much that we may not love even ourselves. 1 John 3:15 warns us, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, & you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”
We thank God, however, that there are many people of all races who are tired of the nonsense & racial injustice; who are willing to lay down their lives, if necessary, like Jesus did, for the betterment of society, the uplifting of the church, the upholding of justice, the encouragement of relationships between all peoples, & for the common good.
God has brought together many who know & love Him to teach, preach, pray & give praise. We come from all races & all walks of life to share the Good News of our resurrected Lord with everyone we come into contact with. We teach that everyone we come into contact with is our neighbor.
The fruits of faith in Jesus are the good works we do to create unity within the church & among the people. We do not glorify ourselves but thank God for creating a burning desire in us to serve. Together, we will serve until His will is fulfilled. I pray that we will be the instruments by which this is accomplished & that we do not grow weary of the work God has called us to do.
God will restore perfect unity to His church when He raises us from the dead. I encourage you to remain faithfully committed to serving the Lord in whatever capacity He has prepared in advance for you. Don’t lose hope when it appears that evil is winning. Remember, Jesus has already conquered sin, death & Satan. Do not be deceived by the devil’s tricks.
Through the power of God’s Word we can learn to build bridges over the Black-White divide, & these are some of the ways we can work toward that goal:
• Treat all people with respect.
• Talk to people who are different & learn to see the society through their experiences.
• Seek to become a prayer partner with someone whose life is very different from yours.
• Visit a congregation that is culturally different or more racially diverse than your own.
• Listen & learn.
This evil age is passing away. Disunity is passing away. Hatred & selfishness will give way to love & unselfishness. Christ will return to make all things new again.
For those given the wisdom, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to separate truth from rhetoric, we can see that all the vileness of the present is the dying gasp of evil. These times are the birth pains of the coming era; the ushering in of the new heaven & the new earth.
If any soldier of the cross who’s been called & enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is asked the question “Whom shall I love?” the answer will be universal – the Lord God, & my neighbor. If any soldier of the cross who’s been called & enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is asked the question “Whom shall I fear?” the answer will be universal – the Lord God alone. Amen.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul! When I was sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul. Amen. LSB 543:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet