Real Christians Love Equally

Charles Drew (1904-1950) was a brilliant medical doctor. His discovery of blood plasma resulted in saving thousands of lives in World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War. At Pearl Harbor, for example, 96% of those who received plasma survived. Dr. Drew’s accomplishment did not go unnoticed. At the conclusion of World War II, he was named director of the National Blood Bank Program and devoted himself to teaching doctors at Howard University Medical School. That is what makes the rest of the story so cruel. On April 1, 1950, while driving some young doctors to a conference, Dr. Drew was involved in an automobile accident in Burlington, N.C. He was rushed to a hospital, where his life could have been saved by plasma. But Dr. Drew was denied admission to the hospital because his skin was black. He died at the age of 45 on the way to another hospital 26 miles away. I find that story to be very upsetting. I hope you find that story upsetting because God does too. That takes us to our scripture reading for today.

We find ourselves in the second chapter of the Epistle of James, the first thirteen verses. The topic James is addressing is favoritism. Webster defines favoritism as, the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another. Its synonyms include inequality, unfairness, discrimination, positive discrimination, and reverse discrimination. In the text it is the rich who are given favorable treatment. The rich have always received favorable treatment. That is why any American citizen can get a Corina virus vaccine for free. That is why less than 1% of Haitians have been vaccinated. The rich have always received favorable treatment. James is telling his scattered congregation favoritism will not be tolerated because God does not tolerate favoritism. It is as true today as it was in James’s time. The problem is our churches practice favoritism on a regular basis. Can I be honest with you?

I am innocent in many ways, so maybe I have missed it. I have never had a new individual, or a group join the church who felt entitled. It is my experience it is the established church membership who feel entitled. You can call it reverse-favoritism. Some long-term members feel entitle because they have quatres’ rights. They have seen preachers come and go. They have seen other members come and go. They have endured it all, so they feel entitled. They are the true members because of longevity. Could I be talking to you? Some talented members feel entitle. They have a special gift to offer the church and they believe the church cannot exist without them. You find it in various corners of the church. At first, we say we could not have done it without you and at some point, they begin to believe it. Could I be talking to you? Some generous church members feel entitled. I am not talking about money. They are generous with their time, so they believe they deserve to get what they want. Could I be talking to you? Many spend more time in this church building than me. I work from home because I get nothing done here. It is my experience newcomers are not the problem. They problem of favoritism comes from the established congregation. However, that does not mean the scripture does not speak to us. Favoritism is a danger to any church. The most effective churches are united. The least effective churches are divided. Do you think we are a united church, or do you think we are a divided church? James 2:1 says, My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”

The Covenant Life Church in Tampa, Florida is co-pastored by two men, Justin Perry and Drew Tucker. They planted the church in 2015 and have been extremely successful. It is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination. They write a regular blog. One of their blogs is called Reasons Why God Hates Favoritism. These are the reasons:

  1. Favoritism is inconsistent with God’s character. God loves everyone. God loves the rich and the poor. God loves the educated and the uneducated. God loves both men and women. God loves everyone regardless of race. God loves liberals and conservative. God loves Americans and Non-Americans. God loves everyone equally, so God hates favoritism. Favoritism is inconsistent with God’s character.
  • God hates favoritism because God alone is the judge. When we practice favoritism, we become the judge and most of our judgements are based on superficial appearance. Our judgements are based on ignorance, not wisdom. God hates favoritism because God alone is the judge.
  • Favoritism damages the church’s witness. The secular world loves to tell ugly church stories. They love to tell those stories because they want to tell the world we are not insincere. The secular world wants the church to fail. People are must more comfortable telling critical church stories than they are affirming church stories. Favoritism damages the church’s witness.

James 2:9 says it clearly, favoritism is a sin. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” How much sinning have you done within the life of this church? When you look at someone else do you see how different they are from you, or do you see what you have in common? God sees what we have in common. Humans see how we are different and fair too often evaluate that person based on ignorance.

History tells that Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962) was one of the primary architects of the Holocaust. When he was tried for his war crimes at Nuremburg, Yehiel Dinur (1909-2001), who had survived Auschwitz, faced Eichmann for the first time since leaving the concentration camp. When he saw Eichmann, Dinur sobbed and fainted.

Years later, Mike Wallace (1918-2012) of 60 Minutes asked Dinur what happened: Was he overcome by hatred or fear or horrid memories? Dinur’s answer is stunning. He said he suddenly realized that Eichmann was not some God-like authority in a military uniform who sent thousands to their deaths. He was just an ordinary man. And then, said Dinur, “I was afraid about myself… I saw that I can do this. I am exactly like he.” Do you get the point? We are more like others than we care to admit.

Several weeks ago, Kathryn and I were in Washington DC. I love visiting Washington because it is full of energy. This trip was no different. We arrived just hours after a ten-inch snowstorm fell. The capitol was beautiful, but it was partially closed. The various museums were closed or opened late to compensate for the snow. When we arrived at the National Art Gallery, it was closed. We had to wait about an hour until it opened. It really was not an issue. We found a Starbucks for a cup of coffee. Everyone there was in a festive mood. They found the snow fun. The man in front of us in line was obviously homeless. There is no shortage of homeless in Washington DC. He wore an old coat with a Washington Redskins towel around his waist. His feet and legs were bare except for a pair of flip-flops. Did you hear what I said? His feet and legs were bare except for a pair of flip-flops. There was ten inches of snow on the ground. When he went to buy his coffee, he was $1.12 short. He debated with the barista for a few minutes, but then he surrendered and walked off to the side empty handed. When I walked up to buy my coffee, I offered to buy the bare footed man a cup. The barista responded, “It is nice of you, but he will be fine. He is a regular. His name is Jake and I bought him a cup earlier. He has money. He just doesn’t want to spend it.” I thought about Jake the rest of the day. I was frustrated with him because no one should be homeless in America. If you cannot make it in the United States of America, then you cannot make it anywhere. I thought about going back to Jake and tell him to get a job. Every business is looking for workers.

I thought about Jake the rest of that day and I thought about Jake when I went to bed that night. Jake and I were both customers at Starbucks, but we were living in two different worlds. Jake was homeless and barefooted on a cold snowy day. I was employed and warm. I will be the first to admit it. I have a good life. I was born into a stable Christian home. My parents made sure I got a good education. I found a job that did not just pay the bills but filled me with passion. My success in life was easy because all I needed to do was take advantage of the opportunity laid in front of me. I did not know Jake’s story. Perhaps, he made countless mistakes. Perhaps, he missed his opportunity. Perhaps, he had no opportunities. Then it hit me. What if I would have born into Jake’s life? I may have been standing at a Starbuck’s in Washington DC on a snowy day wearing flip-flops with a Pittsburgh Steeler towel around my waste. (No, it would not be that bad. I would wear a Cleveland Brown towel.) From my warm bed I discovered was not much different from Jake. I was not much different from a homeless man in Washington DC, and either are you. However, this is the point.

We are all the same. Your longevity does not matter. Your natural gifts do not matter. Your generosity does not matter. In the life of the church, the only thing that matters is your spiritual state. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. God’s expectation. It has been said: Entitlement is a delusion built on self-centeredness and laziness. How self-centered are you? How lazy are you? How entitled are you?

Leading with Love

Several weeks ago, I was called by a local funeral home to officiate at a service for someone who was unchurch. I do those services not just for the money. I have met many people through the years in their time of need. Many consider me their pastor, but they have never entered this church building. It is not that the unchurched do not believe. It is that they do not believe in the institutional church. They believe there is a lack of love and a surplus of arrogance within the church. In other words, they do not want to be judged by church members. (That is a dangerous game because the faith was never meant to be lived out in isolation.) That was the story of this couple.

When I got the call, I was told the deceased was fifty-eight years old. That fact alone grabbed my attention. That is too young to die in our modern world. However, there was more to her story, then her age. When I got to the funeral home, I talked to the deceased’s sister. I had met her in the past at a similar occasion. She gave me a hug and told me the story. Her sister was fifty-eight years old. Her husband was eighty. There was a twenty-two-year age gap. I tried not to act surprised, but the sister said, “She had to marry an older more patient man because she was bipolar.” Her sister’s first husband walked out because he could not handle the instability. She said her eighty-year-old brother-in-law was good to her sister. He was patient and kind. He made sure she took all her medications. He made sure she made all her doctor’s appointments. He offered her a stable home and, most important, he made her happy. She was the happiest when it was just the two of them. I processed that information for several hours.

About fifteen minutes before the service, the deceased’s husband came up to me. He wanted a few minutes. We went off to a side room and he told me about his wife. She liked a good garage sale. She liked to play keno. She loved family activities and she made up excuses to get everyone together. Then, he reached deep into his heart and pulled out those painful words, “I am an alcoholic.” However, he had not had a drink in twenty years. She was the one who got him to stop drinking. She was the one who got him to go to meetings. She was the one who made him accountable and gave him respectability. He stopped drinking to help her. I processed that information for the next few minutes. Can I be honest with you? I am still processing the information.

I thought about how critical everyone must have been when they got together. There was a surplus of issues. There was the age issue. There was the mental health issue. There was the drinking issue. There was an abundance of issues, but they loved each other. Their marriage enhanced and improved both of their lives. They led with love. It is the story of Ruth. Two broken people trying to survive in this harsh world, desperate for love. Can I ask you a question? How broken are you? Occasionally our lives break, and we desperately need love. That takes us to this morning’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves today in the Old Testament Book of Ruth. (Ruth 1:6-18) Tradition tells us Ruth was written by Samuel. However, that authorship has been questioned. It is named after the main character. Ruth and Esther are the only two books in the Bible named after women. The events of Ruth occurred during the time of the judges, between 1000-1400 BC. That period is not remembered in a positive light. It was a time of both moral and spiritual decline, as well has national disunity. However, it was a time of political peace between Israel and Moab. Ruth reminds us of the power of love. That is what we find in our scripture reading for today.

We find ourselves today in the first chapter of Ruth. In the opening verses of that chapter, we find the old familiar theme, life is hard. A famine had come to the land, and many were forced to relocate to survive. One of those individuals leaving was a man named Elimelek. His name means “My God is King.” He is married to a woman named Naomi. They had two sons. The family relocated from Bethlehem in Canaan to Moab to survive. In time, their two sons grew up and married two Moabite women. (You know what they say about Moabite women!) Their wives’ names are Opah and Ruth. The future looks bright until the unthinkable happens. Elimelek and his two sons die. Unable to own property in their society, the three widows are forced to find a way to survive. There is no other way to say it. Life is hard.

If you use your sanctified imagination, you can see the three widows standing there. Each one had to decide for themself. The famine had eased, so Naomi had decided to return home. Her decision made logical sense. I have never met a person who did not want to go home when life was hard. Her home was Bethlehem. The problem is her young daughters-in-laws. Their home was Moab. The hardship of each death had forged a bond between the three, but time always moves forward. The women are crying, because they are desperate, and their futures were uncertain. The women are crying because the women will never be together again. The mother-in-law looks at her daughters-in-laws and encourages them to stay in Moab. It is their home, and they are still young. There is still time to start over and find a new husband. That is not Naomi’s story. She sees herself as old, unattractive, and barren. I do not want to sound critical of Opah, but she decides to stay in Moab. It was the logical thing to do, and no one has ever criticized her. However, her departure only emphasizes Ruth’s loyalty. Verse sixteen is one for the ages. Ruth says to mother-in-law, Naomi, “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  It is an incredible piece of scripture. She stayed not just because she was loyal or faithful. She decided to stay because she loved her mother-in-law. She was led by love. Never underestimate the power of love. It is safe to say Ruth made the right choice because she would become the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus. You do not need to be a Biblical scholar to know the truth.

Love is one of the great themes in the Bible. We should not be surprised because First John 4:8 says, “God is love.” Jesus, the incarnation of God, said love is the most important commandment. Jesus said, we are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30) Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Mark 12:31) Jesus said, love is the trademark of the Christian faith. (John 13:34b-35) Jesus said, love is full of mercy. (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus said, love is absolute perfection. (John 15:9-17) Jesus said, we must love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48) Jesus said, love unites us with God. (John 14:15-21) The Apostle Paul (5-67) in First Corinthians 13:8 says, “love never fails.” Love is not just found in the story of Ruth. It is one of the great themes in the Bible. However, it is not just found in the Bible.

Psychologists tells us love plays a major role in our society. Here are their reasons they say love is important:

  1. Love connects us to other people
  2. Love helps us understand ourselves
  3. Love motivates us
  4. Love reforms us
  5. Love is the greatest feeling
  6. Love offers us hope for the future

Love is important! Please do not misunderstand me. Love is not just accepting the person as they are. Love wants what is best for someone else in the long run. True love is honest and brave. Sometimes you must tell a loved one they are foolish or wrong. Have you ever been honest with a loved one?

During the 17th century Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was an English general and statesmen. He once sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell. However, the bell did not sound. The soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the belfry and clung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched, and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!” It is not just true of ancient lovers. It is our story as well. Love has saved our lives. Take an inventory of your life to this point. Who helped you more? The person who loved and sacrificed for you or the person who criticized and reprimanded you? The answer is obvious.

Her name was Norma Marcum. Through the years, I have told you about her. She was a parishioner of mine in Kentucky, yet she was more. She led with love. I never question her love for me. She was important to me when I felt alone. I remember the day she saved my life. I was driving home from school overwhelmed by life. I was in debt. I was behind in my studies. There was only sickness at home. I was tired and hungry and felt completely defeated. I drove to Mrs. Marcum’s house to tell her I had decided to quit school. When I walked in her back door, she knew something was wrong. She listened to my tale of woo as she smoked another cigarette. (In Kentucky, at that time, you were required to consume tobacco in some form. They consider tobacco consumption a sign of a real American. It was their cash crop.) When I had finished talking, she simply shook her head and took another hit on her cigarette. She got up, made me a sandwich, and poured me a cup of coffee. She sat across the table from me and looked in my eyes. She stretched out her hands and held mine. She said, “I do not know how to help you, but listen to what I am about to say. Russ, someday you are going to be a great man. Go home and get some sleep. Tomorrow, get up and try again.” Then, she smiled and gave me a hug. I did as she requested. I do not tell you that story because I think I am a great man, you know better. I tell you that story to say Mrs. Marcus saved my life because she loved me. Love is powerful! Can I ask you two questions? How many times has loved saved you?

How many times have come to church broken? The Christian faith is all about love. We love because God loved us first. Jesus led with love, and we benefitted. We do not just come to church to see friends. We come to church to be reminded of God’s great love for us. Do you remember what David said in the thirty-sixth Psalm? “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!” Never forget! God loves you!

So Close, Yet So Far

When I was in high school, football was a big deal. I never played on the team, but I was a fan. That was a good thing because I consider my high school years to be the zenith of high school football in my hometown. The players on those teams became local celebrities. It was common to see a Division One recruiter sitting in the stands on any given Friday night.

It was during my Sophomore year, the best player on the team was a boy by the name of Tyrone. He had all the skills needed for success. He was big, strong, fast, and quick. He drew a great deal of attention from college scouts. I will never forget the day he signed his National Letter of Intent. The local media was present for the announcement. He made that major announcement from the school’s library. (I believe, it was the first time he had journeyed into it.) Tyrone signed his National Letter of Intent and told the world he was going to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. The whole community was so proud. One of our own was going to the great northwest to play major college football. Once he signed his name, the recruiter from Washington State gave him a Washington State team jersey, a Washington State baseball cap and a football with Washington State painted on it with the team colors, crimson and grey. Tyrone put on his jersey and baseball cap. He grabbed his football, and everyone cheered. The next day, he came to school showing off his new Washington State gear. As he walked down the hall, everyone congratulated him. When he passed by me, I was standing near a teacher by the name of Dick James. Mr. James yelled out to Tyrone, “So Tyrone, you are going to Washington State!” Tyrone grimed and broke into a Heisman Trophy pose. He yelled back, “Yes, sir, Mr. James. I going to be right there with the president.” The noisy hallway grew quiet. Tyrone was so close, yet so far away.

I will confess, I have told you that story in the past several times. I repeated that story today for three reasons. First, I like telling that story. It is fun. Second, people have asked me to retell the story. They like it. Third, the story makes a point. It is easy to be so close, yet so far away. That is what we find the in the scripture reading for today.

We find ourselves today in the second chapter of John. According to the text, it was almost time for the annual Passover. The law dictated everyone within a certain radius must attend the Passover in Jerusalem, but no legislation was needed. Everyone wanted to go to Jerusalem. It was a time to reconnect with family and friends. However, it was also time to pay their taxes at the temple. Jesus goes to the temple and cannot believe his eyes. There were people selling livestock and small birds. There were money changers. Do not miss the next line. They are not there to raise money for the local food bank. They are not there to raise money to pay off some temple debt. They are not there to raise money for the next youth mission trip. They are there for personal profit. So, to speak, they were selling salvation. The animals and birds were sold to be sacrificed. The foreign currency had to be changed into an acceptable currency. Everything was done at a tremendous profit. In the name of God, they were exploiting people. The money made the temple leaders blind to God and the needs of their own people. It is still true today. Money is the greatest obstacle to our spiritual development. It is more than Jesus can handle. In a moment of rage, Jesus scatters the animals and birds. Jesus upends the tables of the money changers. Jesus reminds the people the temple was a place of prayer, not profit. Each one of those temple leaders played the part of Tyrone. They were so close, yet so far away.

I hope that is not our story. We do not want to play the part of Tyrone, so close, yet so far away. It is one of the great challenges facing the church today. We can fill our calendars with important church work and forget why we exist. We exist to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Preparing for worship is time consuming and important, but it is more than just entertainment. Sending our young to church camps and mission trips is important, but those activities are more than wholesome activities. Fundraising is important because we can keep our church financially stable and helps the needy, but money will not save your soul. May we never forget, we are in the disciple making business. So, to keep you from being like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away, I challenge you to do three things today.

First, I challenge you to reaffirm your personal commitment to Jesus Christ! This is a fair question. How did you come to know Jesus Christ? Everyone’s story is different. Everyone’s story is important. There are no bad stories. It does not matter how you came to know Jesus. It only matters that you know Jesus personally. Your parents can not do it for you. Your grandparents can not do it for you. Your preacher can not do it for you. God wants to have a personal relationship with you. Do you want to have a personal relationship with Him?

When Michelangelo was a young boy, he went to a master sculptor, asking to be a student. As they talked about the commitment needed to be a great artist, the master sculptor said, “Michelangelo, it will take your entire life.” Michelangelo responded, “What else is life for?” It is not just true of art. It is true of discipleship. It will take your whole life, but what else matters. Anything less is to be like Tyrone, so close yet so far away.

Second, I challenge you to reaffirm your commitment to the Holy Habits! What are the Holy Habits? The list differs with every group. According to the Living Church, these are the five holy habits: worship, prayer, meditation, Bible study, and service. Others include communion and generosity. How much time do you spend practicing the holy habits? Your answer is very revealing.

There is an old preaching story about a man who bought a parrot at his local pet store. The man was excited about hearing the bird talk, but the bird never said a word. The man returned to the pet store and told the owner about his untalkative parrot. The owner of the store said the bird did not talk because the bird did not have a mirror in the cage. He said, some birds like to preen as they talk, so he bought a mirror for the cage. Still, the bird did not talk, so the man returned to the store. The owner said, you need to buy a ladder. Some birds like to exercise while they talk. Still, the bird did not talk. Next, the owner suggested the man buy a swing for the cage, so the man bought a swing. Some birds like to amuse themselves as they talk. The next day, the owner of the parrot returned to the pet store and announced the bird had died. Shocked, the owner of the pet store asked, “Did the bird ever talk?” The owner responded the bird only spoke once. Seconds before he died the parrot said, “Doesn’t that pet store sell any food?” If you do not practice the holy habits, then you are going to died spiritually. If you do not practice the holy habits, then you are going to be like Tyrone, close, yet far away.

Third, and Finally, I challenge you to reaffirm your commitment to love as a way of life! There is nothing easy about being a disciple of Jesus Christ. From the moment you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you must find a new way, every day, to thank God for saving your soul. The only way to thank God is by helping other people in the spirit of love. You are not just helping others. You are helping yourself. That is the magic of the Christian faith. Several years ago, Duke University released a study. They reported the most fulfilled people are those who live for a bigger cause. There is no bigger cause than God.

In the tenth chapter of Mark is the story of the rich, young ruler. You remember his story. He had it all. He was rich so he could buy anything his heart desired. He was young so his health was intact. If you have your health, then you have it all. He was a ruler, so he had influence in his community. He had everything, but he did not. The only thing he lacked with spiritual peace. According to the story, the rich, young ruler sought out Jesus to find that peace. He asked the question, we have all asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him if he had murdered anyone, been sexually faithful, offered false testimony, and honored his father and mother.” His heart must have jumped when he answered correctly. His heart must have dropped when Jesus told him he lacked only one thing, sell his possessions, and give the money to the poor. He could not do it. The rich, young ruler walked away broken hearted because he was like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away.

Judas Iscariot is the most notorious traitor his history. For three years, he traveled with Jesus. He heard the lessons. He saw the miracles. He felt the presence of the Master. He was trusted and respected by his peers. He was their treasurer. He should have known better, but he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. I do not know why. Perhaps, he tried to force Jesus’s hand, thinking he would fight back, but he did not fight back. Instead, Jesus goes to the cross and Judas hangs himself. It would have been better for him if he would have never had been born. Judas Iscariot was like Tyrone, so close, yet far away.

Pontius Pilot should have known better. He was the Roman Governor in that corner of the world. Jesus stood before him, as well as the common criminal Barabbas. Pilot has the power to saved Jesus’s life, but surrendered to public opinion. Instead of releasing the innocent Jesus. Pilot releases the guilty Barabbas. Pontius Pilot should have known better. He was like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away. This is the question you must answer?

Are you like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away? I hope not. I challenge you today to reaffirm your personal commitment to Jesus Christ! I challenge you today to reaffirm to the holy habits! I challenge you today to reaffirm your commitment to love as a way of life. Years ago, Jesus went to the temple and was shocked by their behavior. What would Jesus say to us? Do not be like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away.

Give Up Enemies!

We are in the first chapter of John. It is early in Jesus’ ministry; he is still collecting his disciples. In the story prior to our reading, Jesus welcomed Andrew and his brother, Peter. The next day, Jesus invited Philip to be one of the folds. In verse 44 we are told the original three disciples, Andrew, Peter and Philip, were from the town of Bethsaida, a town on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. Philip told Nathanael about Jesus. At first, he is not impressed. As a matter of fact, he was quite cynical. The source of his doubts came from Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth. He assumed Jesus was like everyone else in Nazareth: a second-class citizen. Everyone at that time knew the truth about the citizens of Nazareth; they were a little less intelligent and less attractive than the average person. Rooted in this first-century prejudice, Nathanael says, “Nazareth! What good can come from there?”  It wasn’t until he met Jesus that his mind was changed. You know the truth. We have no problem understanding verse 46, because our society is filled with prejudiced behavior. Have you noticed our society is filled with racial tension? That tension is rooted in our prejudices. This is not an isolated case. Our prejudices have been damaging the church for a long time.

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-148) wrote that during his student days, he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus, he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So, one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church so he could talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with “his own people”. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus, but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior. That is an ugly story, but this is the truth. Every church struggles with their own prejudices. We are no exception.

Several weeks ago, our country celebrated Martin Luther King Day; a day to remember the life and spirit of the Civil Rights activist. It is a national holiday, and it has become my custom to give a little history on each one. Several years ago, I asked the congregation, “How long have we been celebrating Martin Luther King Day?” Do you remember what happened? One of the saints here yelled out, “Too long!” Some of our white faces giggled at that comment, and I was uncomfortable. Those two words, and our response to those two words, did more damage than we will ever know. Several days later, I found an opened letter on my desk. It was written by a woman who was visiting us that day. She told me she was relocating from the south and was looking for a church home. She was upset that in church of all places, someone would yell out such a thing. She was shocked that some thought “too long” was funny. She was appalled I didn’t reprimand the congregation. She may be right. It is safe to say, she will not be back. I wonder, how many Christian people she will tell about her time with us? Every church struggles with prejudices.

When I was in college, I took several sociology classes. One of the things we looked at were our prejudices. I remember, clearly, three things about our prejudices. This is what I remember: 1.) Everyone is prejudiced. 2.) Our prejudices are learned. 3.) Our prejudices reveal our fears. I don’t pretend to be an expert on prejudiced behavior. However, I will admit it is one of my great challenges in my discipleship. I live in a white world and have very little interaction with non-white people. Everyone I know is just like me, socially, economically and politically. I struggle relating to how others live and how others think. It would be easy to ignore this topic, but I won’t do it. We are disciples of Jesus Christ and the Master expects more from us. We are supposed to be a little more like Jesus every day. Jesus loved unconditionally. Let’s look at those three statements.

Everyone is Prejudiced

This is sociological fact number one: everyone is prejudiced. There is not a single person in this world that escapes. Sociologists says the reason we are all prejudiced is the numbers. Did you know, the United States Census Bureau estimates the world’s population is more than 7.8 billion? It’s impossible to know everyone. How many people do you know? In 2013, the New York Times reported that the average American knows about 600 people. That figure seems high to me. Do you think you know 600 people? Why are those numbers important? They reveal to us why everyone is prejudiced.

Sociologists tell us everyone is prejudiced because there are so many people we do not know. With so many unknown people, we gather in groups together to gain some sense of control. It is impossible to know every individual; it’s much easier to know the stereotypes of various groups. Look at the text with me. Nathanael did not know Jesus personally, but he did have some preconceived opinions about Nazarenes. The stereotype broke down once he met Jesus. Just admit it, you are prejudiced! You will always hold a certain amount of prejudice, because it’s impossible to know everyone. Our prejudices fool us into believing that we have some control.

Our Prejudices are Learned

This is sociological fact number two: our prejudices are learned. Last Saturday morning, I had a private baptism. I enjoyed the baptism because I officiated at the baby’s parent’s wedding several years ago. It is nice when I can maintain a relationship with a couple beyond the wedding. Baptisms are important for two reasons. The first reason is spiritual. We deal with the original sin, inherited from Adam and Eve. The second reason is practical. The parents are promising that they will raise the child within the Christian faith. That promise is important because no one has a greater influence on the baby than their parents. If the parents make that promise with a sincere heart, then it will be life altering for the child. If the promise is made lightly, then it will have very little influence on the baby. The greatest role model in a child’s life is the child’s parents. Have you ever stopped to consider how much you learned from your parents?

Parents are not just biological parents; parents are role models. So, whatever you want your child to be or do, then you must be or do it. If you want your child to be hard working, then you must be hard working. If you want your child to be kind and compassionate, then you must be kind and compassionate. If you want your child to vote, then you must vote. If you want your child to drink milk, then you must drink milk. If you want your child to be a Christian, then you must be a Christian. Being a good role model in life is so important. Our children can learn so many good things from us. The problem is, sometimes they learn negative things from us, like our negative prejudices. If you want your child to not be a prejudiced person, then you must not be a prejudiced person. Nathanael did not enter this world instinctively knowing there was something wrong with the citizens of Nazareth. It was something he learned along the way. It may or may not have been his parents. Regardless, our prejudices are learned. Would you like our world to be a better place? Then answer this question: What prejudices are you passing on to the next generation?

Our Prejudices Reveal Our Fears

This is sociological fact number three: our prejudices reveal our fears. Sociologists say the group you dislike the most, frightens you the most. I know that is true because I have seen it countless times. I have lived it. Years ago, I was out at the mall with Vlad. It was Vlad’s first trip to America. You know Vlad, he was the first Russian orphan we brought to America to get prosthetic legs. He lost his legs in a Moscow rail yard jumping trains. Vlad was in his wheelchair; I sat on a bench watching people pass. Everyone looked at Vlad because they noticed his stumps. Everyone looked, but only one talked to us. The only one who talked to him was young black man, wearing a baseball cap that hung to the side. He had one gold tooth in his mouth and a gold bracelet around his neck. His oversized leather coat promoted his favorite NFL team, the Oakland Raiders. His old jeans were faded and riding low. When he started walking our way, I tried to ignore him, but it was impossible. When he started talking, his dictation was poor; I could hardly make out his words. I will admit it, I was intimidated. I thought he was going to ask me for money, so I grew defensive. I couldn’t believe what he was saying. He didn’t ask me for money. Instead, he wanted to know about Vlad. He wanted to know what doctor was helping him. I could not have been more surprised. He pulled out a business card and handed it to me. He said, “This is my doctor; he is the best.” Then, he pulled up the legs of his faded jeans and exposed his prosthetic legs. As he walked away, he said, “If you need any help, call me, my number is on the back of the card.” I have never been more ashamed of myself. I had to admit it, I am a prejudiced person. That is one of the things we have in common.

Years ago, I was sitting at Hospice House next to a man who was near the end. The disease was winning. When I arrived, I was surprised to find him alone. I was shocked that his mind was so clear. He was one of the finest men I had ever known. I knew his end was near, so I gave him ample time. We talked about many things, his family, his work, his childhood. As he laid in that bed and reviewed his life, he told me things that he had held secret for years. He told me about visiting his grandparents as a boy. Out of the blue he said, “Russ, did you know my grandparents were members of the Ku Klux Klan?” I said, “Seriously?” He said, “Yes! The group would meet at their house because they owned several acres. I remember everyone was nice to me, but I had to leave once the ceremony started.” He added, “They stored their hoods and robes in my grandparent’s basement. There was a safe in that basement which held the group’s treasury and a list of all the names of all the members.” He was being so honest, I had to ask him the next question, “Did you ever join?” He said, “No!” I said, “Why not?” He said, “I was too young; I was just a boy.” I said, “No, later. Why didn’t you join when you became an adult?” He ended by saying, “Russ, by then, we all knew better.” Can I ask you this question?

Do you know better, or are you holding tight to your prejudices? You may think you are making that other group look bad, but in truth, you are only damaging yourself. How foolish have you made yourself look lately?  Jesus once said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By doing this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”