It’s amazing how death will rob some people of vital core values and simple compassion for another human being. Having been raised by a man of tremendous “Pedigree” and ethics, I am very proud and thankful for his determination to em-plant honor and values within the woven fabric of my being and my siblings. It has been a month since his great sleep, but I am still trying to put pieces together from the painful ordeals that took place on this day of blessing for Johnny Pratt, but a tragedy for me. To see the behavior of my sibling really enhanced the death of my dad. Watching my brother have no honor in his conduct towards me and his Great God, who blessed him with a great Father was almost as horrible as watching my team of white brothers wearing a trident and American flag on their shoulders just like me, took the same oath and served with honor until one night while deployed they looked at me and said, now nigger who will protect you now?
My brother called me three days after my fathers passing, he wouldn’t even allow me to eulogize my father, nor would he. Our dad was a great man who instilled determination and education into our lives. He talked about being black in America and what’s expected of us during family dinners. As he would retire to the family den with us following close behind to have current events and synergizing talks he would always start with the pledge of allegiance and then state without fail that “honor” can be taken to eternity. He would remind us that no matter where we go in life that our conduct against racism will help those who hate and that it would allow them to see what a patriot of black culture looks like. My dad always spoke about having faith and trusting the only “Truth” there is and that is the Good News of the gospel.
Good news invades the dark spaces. Good news invades the bad spaces and sheds light where there isn’t any at all. This is the nature of the gospel. It’s what it does. On a thousand different topics, what the gospel does is invade brokenness, mistrust, anger, unforgiveness, hate, fracturing of relationships, and it enters into that brokenness and reconciles.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded the little nation of Kuwait. Saudi Arabia, knowing it would be next on Saddam’s hit list, called Washington and asked for help. Regardless of your political persuasion, you would have to agree on that occasion, then President Bush was at his best. Because President Bush picked up the phone and he called England and Canada and Spain and France, Italy, Turkey and numbers of other countries around the world and built the famous Coalition.
Men and women from different backgrounds, races, classes, cultures and personalities all gathered in the Gulf with one singularly focused agenda—to draw a line in the sand. To serve notice on this madman that not only could he not take more territory, he would have to relinquish the territory he had already taken. The Coalition was to serve notice on him that his days of rule in the Gulf were over.
Now there is another mad person in history and he’s called the devil. He’s come on territory that he has not created and does not own. He has brought with him death and disease and destruction. But God has responded by building his own coalition, made up of black people and white people and red people and yellow people; made up of tall people and short people; made up of people from various classes and backgrounds, to draw a line in the sand. To serve notice on this mad one that not only can he not take over more territory, he must relinquish the territory he already has. That coalition is called the church.
Our soldiers showed up with new, high-tech weaponry. Now, when Saddam looked across and saw five hundred thousand men and women with all this high-tech weaponry, you know his momma ain’t raised no dummy. He said, “I need a Plan B.” That’s when he launched scud attacks on Israel. His strategy was to draw Israel into the war in order to split the Coalition, believing that if he could draw Israel into the war his Arab brothers would not fight against another Arab brother alongside their archenemy, Israel. So he launched scud attacks to split the Coalition. Of course that’s when the heroes of the war showed up—Patriot Missiles. They were electronically released from their silos and met the scuds in heavenly places. And because the Coalition held, the war ended in just a few days.
You see, when you are in a war you don’t care about the color or class or culture of the man fighting next to you, as long as he is shooting in the same direction you are. If you know
Jesus Christ, you are in a war. This army that we are a part of is made up of people who are different from you, different from me. We may have all come over here on different ships but we are in the same boat now.
Modeling multi-ethnic community
The problem we face is that 11:00 on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. The problem that we face is that the people of God are not holding the standard of God high enough. That society can see that God has created one body with a lot of different looking faces. Unless we are willing to transcend, unless we are willing to rise above the efforts and intimidations of the enemy to allow history, background, culture, class and all the other human idiosyncrasies to divide the common call of Christ, then we will never see the impact of the church in reclaiming the culture.
Make no mistake about it—it won’t come because of your political affiliation. For God doesn’t ride the back of donkeys or elephants. The solutions to our problems won’t be delivered on Air Force One. It reminds me of a story of Joshua when he was in battle array, ready to go to war, inJoshua chapter 5. He came across this man who was getting ready to go into battle himself. He was a huge guy. He was captain of a large army. Joshua looked at him and said “Whose side are you on? Before I go to war I need to know whose side you are on, because if you are on their side then we are going to lose. If you are on our side then we have help to win, so whose side are you on?”
The man looked at him and said “Obviously you are thoroughly confused. I am neither on your side, nor am I on their side. I’m captain of the Lord’s Army. I did not come to take sides. I came to take over.”
That’s God’s agenda. He did not come to distinguish between Baptists and Methodist and Episcopalians and Pentecostals. He came to take over. He came to set a whole new agenda that all of his armed forces must operate under. It’s amazing how when we come to a gathering like this, we can be one in the name of Christ. But when we leave, we go back into our own uniqueness, not understanding that there is only one army here. Not understanding that God has called a coalition to operate in his unified way. Because, brothers and sisters, the test of the power in this room is not measured inside this room.
Whether you are black or white, Hispanic or Asian, Baptist or Methodist … whether you have an outgoing personality or an ingrown personality, there’s only one color that matters. That’s the color red, the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
Identifying the rot of racism
Peter was a man who had to come face to face with this problem. This problem of diversity. This problem of difference. This problem of unity. Peter was a staunch Jew. He was a super Jew. He was proud to be Jewish. Committed to being Jewish and was faithfully Jewish. One day while having devotions on the top of his roof, God gave him a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with all manner of food on it. Peter said, “Not so Lord. Not so. I can’t eat that unclean food, the food that the Gentiles eat.”
God then gave him a lesson of a lifetime. “Don’t call unclean what I call clean. Don’t use your past standards to govern your present actions. This is a new ballgame now. I’ve created a new entity called the church.” He was then sent down to the home of Cornelius, where he introduced Gentiles to the new reality of a King. This cross-cultural experience made such a great impact that he even went over to dine with the Gentiles on their side of town.
That dinner event is recorded for us in Galatians 2. Finally, he had the chance to eat Gentile “soul” food. So he crosses the railroad tracks and goes dining at the “Soul Shack” where the Gentiles were living. He’d always wanted to taste pig feet and hog moths and chittlin’s. He always wanted to know what fat back and pork chops and ham tasted like. There he had his opportunity, ordained by God.
And so we find him dining with the Gentiles. Finding out he could have fellowship with people who are different than he was. Finding out what all the hoopla was all about regarding their background, their history, their worldview, and their diet. What he was finding out was all the good cooking he had been missing in all of his years as a Jew. That’s what he found out.
And so in Galatians 2, we find him dining with the Gentiles, enjoying a glorious, sumptuous, marvelous, magnanimous meal. In fact, he had even brought some of his Jewish friends with him and they were all seated and dining together. But a problem occurred in verse 12. It says, “For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they came he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof fearing the party of the circumcision.”
Peter, the Super Jew, was there dining with his new brothers and sisters in Christ, the Gentiles. All was fine until some of his homies from the hood showed up. Some of the boys from the hood showed up. Some of his Jewish friends sent by James, who are castigating him for what he was doing. “How dare you, Peter, our leader!” “How dare you! Don’t you know we don’t do that in this neighborhood? Don’t you know that in this neighborhood we don’t fraternize. I know we are all one in Christ and all that, but that’s theology. Let’s get practical. In this neighborhood we don’t do that. How could you Peter?”
And Peter was afraid of the circumcision, the text says—he was afraid of what his other brothers in Christ thought. What the rest of the family of God felt. He disregarded the truth of the Word of God told to him in Acts chapter 10. And it says that he withdrew himself. Now you have to understand this is no small withdrawal. This is Peter really withdrawing.
Whenever you see the list of disciples in the New Testament, Peter’s name is always first. Because he was the leader of the disciples. So when he withdrew, it says in verse 13, that the rest of the “Jews joined him in his hypocrisy.” With the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. Peter is the leader. We all know that a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.
When he fails as a leader to lead centered on the Bible, his congregation follows. The great tragedy of our day is that our pulpits have failed to deal with the issue of diversity, so our pews don’t know what to do about the issues of diversity. Because the church has not come to grips with this issue, the people of God have failed to be inclusionary when it comes to the oneness of the body.
And he withdrew; the rest of the Jews went with him. It’s interesting that the text says, “Even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” Not my boy Barnie. I mean anybody but Barnabas. You see, Barnabas was raised in Cyprus. Cyprus, of course, is a Gentile colony. So he was raised with Gentiles, went to school with Gentiles, played ball with Gentiles. That’s how bad racism is. It can take a good man and make him bad.
Calling sin what it is
Barnabas, the encourager, is now one of the ones to withdraw because of the pressure, the power, the potency of failed Christianity. Led by Peter, influenced by his own race. He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for one thing. Paul wanted some pork chops too. The text in verse 11 says that Paul showed up and when “Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” He says in verse 14, “And when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of them, ‘If you being a Jew, live like the Gentiles, and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews.'” He says, “You’ve got inconsistent Christianity.”
Now, notice his response. How did he deal with racism, classism, culturalism, whatever the dividing issue is in the neighborhood where you live, the area where you minister? How did he deal with it? Did he have a workshop on race relations? Did he have a seminar on unity?
No. The text says, “When I saw him I opposed him to his face. I opposed him personally. I opposed him publicly. I opposed him biblically.” You see, we have failed to treat this issue as a sin. We called it a cultural orientation. We called it a historical backdrop. We have given it names of heritage in history, but we have not called it is, what Paul called it, “sin.