The Church You’ve Always Longed For: Loving People We’Ve Been Taught To Hate
February 16, 1997 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | Romans 15:5-13
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
That’s the opening line of a poem written by Robert Frost. In the poem, Frost is speaking of the stone fence which separates his land from that of his neighbor. That wall bothers Frost, especially since there is no real need for it. One of the men raises pine trees, the other has an apple orchard—and there would seem to be no danger that the pine trees would cross over to eat the fruit from the apple trees. But what really bothers Frost about that wall is that it creates a distance, an estrangement between Frost and his neighbor. Robert Frost knows that there is something deep within the human spirit which fights against those things which separate people from each other. So there comes Robert Frost’s great ringing cry: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down!”
You know it’s true. I know it’s true. There is something deep in the heart of every human being that just does not love a wall. Tragic, isn’t it, that we still keep building walls to separate us from one another—physical walls, ideological walls, social walls, worst of all, racial walls. Yes, tragic indeed that we keep building walls to wall in that which appeals to us and to wall out that which does not appeal to us. But you know it’s true. I know it’s true. When we build walls to separate people from one another, we are in direct violation of God’s will and God’s purpose for His people. I don’t know if God could be any clearer than He was when He inspired Paul to write in Romans 15:7: “Christ accepted you, so you should accept each other, and thus bring glory to God.”
Today then, my question to us is: Are we an accepting church? Are we a place where people feel welcome, regardless of race, language, cultural heritage, or ethnic background? Or do we telegraph prejudice subtly or overtly? Do we build invisible walls or invisible ceilings, even unintentionally? Now I don’t know if it’s God’s will for us as a congregation to be comprised of every ethnic group in this city. I dream of the day when we shall do that—and we are on the way toward it—but it is God’s decision, not ours. It is the Spirit of God who brings people into this family and I pray that the Spirit will continue to bring to us people who represent the full spectrum of God’s creative genius. So it is God who brings people to us—but the question is: do we accept them? Do we love them? Do we embrace them? Do we treat them as God treats them? Do we open our doors and extend our arms to them? Do we give to them the same grace we have been given? Let me say to you as honestly as I know how, that there is no greater travesty than prejudice in God’s house.
Let me express it in these terms. The 1990 census revealed that one in four Americans is a minority. By the year 2000, that will increase to one in three. Sometime in the first two decades of the next century, those of us who are Caucasian will comprise less than half of this nation’s population. Minority status. Therefore, if this church is going to survive and thrive, we need to echo Robert Frost’s great cry: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”
God’s love it is that wants that wall down.
The Word of God is written so clearly that it cannot be missed. The Bible declares that God shows no partiality when it comes to people. This Book says that Jesus Christ dwells in the heart of every believer. This Book declares that the New Testament church had no social or racial barriers. This Book affirms that Jesus Christ has broken down every wall of separation. This Book describes the multitudes worshiping before God’s heavenly throne as being of every kindred, tribe, race and nation. Heaven will not be segregated! That’s the testimony of God’s Word.
I know there are those who try to twist and manipulate the Word of God to justify their own prejudice. For example, I remember talking to a man who told me that his negative feelings toward black people were based on the Bible. He said that because blacks descended from Ham, one of Noah’s sons, God cursed them and condemned them to be slaves forever. I invited him to look with me at that story in Genesis. This is what we discovered. One day Noah got drunk and fell into a stupor. His son, Ham, saw him in this despicable condition and then proceeded to tell his brothers what he had seen, apparently in a disrespectful manner. Later on, Noah realized that Ham had shamed him, and so, in anger, he pronounced a curse upon one of Ham’s sons, Canaan, saying that Canaan would be a slave to his brothers forever. Some people have justified their own prejudice by saying that blacks are descended from Canaan and, therefore, are cursed. Let me show you just how ludicrous that is. In the first place, the Bible makes it quite plain that God didn’t pronounce that curse, Noah did—and Noah was drunk when he said it, and nowhere in the Bible is Noah praised or blessed for saying it, and nowhere is it noted that God supported him in what he said and did. Furthermore, the Bible makes it quite plain that it was Cush, another son of Ham, not Canaan, from whom the Africans are descended. And so this cockamamie theory of a curse upon those of African descent is absolutely false and without foundation in the Bible.
I heard the story of a man telling about a dream he had. In the dream he finds himself standing outside the gates of hell. He yells inside: “Are there any whites in there?” Back came the answer: “Yes.” “Are there any blacks in there?” The answer, “Yes.” “Are there any Asians or Hispanics in there?” Once again the answer, “Yes.” Then in the dream he finds himself standing outside the pearly gates of heaven. He calls out to the inside: “Are there any whites in there?” The answer came back: “No.” “Any blacks in there?” The answer comes back: “No.” “Any Asians or Hispanics in there?” “No.” “Well, then who is in there?” he cries. Back comes the answer: “Only the children of God.” You see, under the light of God there is no color. We all say that there is nothing that God can’t see and there is nothing that God can’t do. But I’ve found something God can’t see—He can’t see the difference between people based on the color of their skin. And I’ve found something He can’t do—He can’t treat people differently because of their ethnic background. Those things are out of the realm of the possible for God, because everyone is His child—and He loves all His children just the same. And if God loves all His children just the same, so must we.
And Christ’s desire it is that wants the wall down.
Jesus’ whole ministry was built, not around the Ten Commandments, but around the “twin commandments”, that we are to love God with everything we have, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. But we need to remember that when Jesus says “Love your neighbor”, He is not referring to the person who lives right next door to you. No, your neighbor is the person you’ve been taught to hate. You see, as soon as Jesus said that, someone asked him: “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus answered by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. The hero of the story was the Samaritan—the person who was taught to hate the Jews and the person whom the Jews hated in return. So Jesus is saying, “Loving your neighbor means loving the person you’ve been taught to hate.” In fact, Jesus then spent His whole life loving people others have been taught to hate. Remember that it was Simon of Cyrene, a black man, who helped Jesus shoulder the awful burden of the cross. Remember that it was a Roman centurion, a Gentile, a foreigner, who looked up at Jesus on the cross and said: “Truly, this is the Son of God.” The ground is level at the foot of the cross. We all stand equal before the Lamb of God. The truth is, Jesus Christ breaks down walls. He has, and He can—and He calls us to do the same. Yes, when it comes to breaking down the walls that separate us from each other, because Jesus can, we can.
Yes, we can.
I’ll be through in a few minutes, but may I please call three or four witnesses who will confirm what I am trying to share.
Let’s call Samson.
“Samson, where are you going?”
“I’m on my way up to fight a thousand Philistines.”
“Samson, what kind of weapon do you have?”
“I have just this bone, the jawbone of a donkey.”
“Well, Samson, you can’t fight anybody with that.”
Samson says, “Yes, I can”—and with the power of God he overcame a thousand!
Let’s call Moses.
“Moses, what are you going to do?”
“The Lord called me to deliver His people from slavery.”
“Well, Moses, what are you carrying?”
“Just this rod”
“Moses, what are you going to do with that rod?”
“I’m going to stretch it out over the Red Sea and part the water and make dry land and I’m going to touch the rock and make water flow out of the rock so that the people won’t die of thirst.”
“Moses, you can’t do that with a rod.”
And Moses said, “Yes, I can” and with that rod and God together, he delivered God’s people out of slavery.
Let’s call Shadrach, Meeshach and Abednego.
“What’s going to happen to the three of you now?”
“Oh, we’re going into the fiery furnace, but the Lord’s going to deliver us.”
“You can’t be delivered out of a fiery furnace.”
And what did they say?
They said: “Yes, we can.” And when the king looked into the furnace, he saw the three of them walking around, unhurt. There was a fourth person in the fire and He looked like the Son of God.
Let’s call Jesus.
The disciples said: “Lord, Lazarus is sick.”
He’s not sick enough.
“Lord, he’s dead now.”
Not dead enough.
“Lord, he’s been dead for four days; by now he’s stinking.”
“Ah, just right.”
“Lord, you can’t do anything about a dead man.”
Jesus said: “Yes, I can”, and He called out, “Lazarus, come forth”—and the dead man came out!
Yes, let’s call Jesus.
“Jesus, what are you going to do? “
“I’m going to be crucified; I’m going to die for the sins of the world and on the third day I’m going to rise again.”
“Jesus, you can’t do that.”
And Jesus said, “Yes, I can”—and on the third day morning, He grabbed death by the collar and shook death until death turned Him loose, and He cried: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me…I am He that was dead but now I am alive, alive forevermore!”
Today, I’m here enlisting recruits for the “Can-do” army of the Lord—and our motto will be “Yes, we can.” The world around us will tell us that we can’t do this or we can’t do that, but we will answer, “Yes, we can. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!”
The world will say: “Look at your city. There’s so much distress, so much hurt, so much trouble, so much crime, so much perversion, so much addiction, so much division. You can’t do anything about that.”
Yes, we can!
The world will say: “You can’t convince people that the tint of their skin or the tilt of their soul doesn’t matter in the eyes of God or in the eyes of God’s people—you can’t do it.”
Yes, we can!
The world will say: “You can’t stop people from being bigots and racists and you can’t teach people to love those they’ve been taught to hate—you just can’t do it.”
Yes, we can!
The world will say: “You can’t tear down the walls that divide people from each other and you can’t make this church a haven of peace and love and justice and hope—you just can’t do that.”
Yes, we can!
The Church of my God can make a difference—Yes, we can…Yes, we can… Yes, we can. And by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Yes, we shall!