By Rev. Laurie Williams, Co-Pastor
Scripture: Col. 2:6-7, 16-19; Gal. 3:24-29
We may not often think this way, but we live in a world of isms: humanism says, “Isn’t humanity wonderful!”; materialism says, “Isn’t money wonderful!”; relativism says, “If it’s wonderful for you, that’s wonderful and that’s the end of it!”; sexism says, “Isn’t it wonderful we are the superior gender”; racism says, “Isn’t it wonderful that we, of a particular skin color are superior to people of other skin colors. There are many more ‘isms’, of course and some are good such as baptism (although that is based on a verb not a noun). // I will say to you now, “beware of ‘sleepyism’ or ‘glazed-over-ism’ for those may be setting in already! On the whole, ‘isms’ are not a good thing, for one reason or another.
Well… you likely know the story. On Wednesday, June 17 around 9:05pm (am?) a police station in Charleston, SC received an urgent message of a shooting taking place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When they arrived, 10 people had been shot and only one survived. It was a Bible Study group of 12 people who had welcomed a white-skinned young man into their fellowship, who sat with them for an hour. It appears that Dylann Roof, the now accused defendant, had come for nefarious reasons. With him was his gun and he shot 10 people with whom he had studied the Bible. These people were very nice to and welcomed him and he said that fact almost made him change his mind however, his mind had become so warped by racism and hatred for people of other skin colors and by very racist groups (and yes, the things they say and do are racist), that he went through with his plan and then fled the scene. Yes, it was racism and hatred that took the lives of those dedicated Christian people.
We have a Bible Study group in this congregation. We meet most Monday evenings from the end of Sept or beginning of October through April. At times, we also have 12 people gathered to read scripture, discuss topics, pray together, eat snacks and enjoy one another’s company. Think about what it would be like to have that happen here. Perhaps those thoughts would help you to understand the horror, sadness, disbelief and grief of the Emmanuel AME Church situation.
Well then, some might say that we shouldn’t invite the stranger in among us, in that case, but then hopefully we would remember that Jesus commands us to care for the stranger and welcome them. Well then, some might say, ‘I’m not racist so I would never condone such a thing’ but then hopefully we would remember that we have been guilty of some sort of racism or certainly other ‘isms’, if we are truly honest with ourselves. Have you passed along racist emails or posts on Face or jokes about groups of other ethnic origins, to name a few? Have you laughed at a racist or sexist joke or comment by a friend or family member, even if a little uncomfortably? Have you ever said something racist, again or some other ‘ism-type’ comment yourself in your life? Have you ever failed to even try to understand what many people of color go through in this nation? Have you ever said something like a presidential candidate recently said about most people of one ethnic group bringing trouble to this country- a massive generalization? Likely, you could honestly say “yes” to one or more of these questions.
Being in a community that is made up of 98.31% of white people (and I checked that on the Internet so even if it isn’t quite accurate, it is close), it may be easy for us to ignore or willfully forget the problems people of other skin colors have in this country far too often. That is human nature to want to ignore those things which don’t impact us however, it is not a good thing for a Christian to ignore them. How can we help others if we don’t know who needs our help, support, voice and vote? People of God, many ‘isms’ are an affront to the mercy of Christ on the cross. They are counter-Christ! Jesus commands that we love one another, even our enemies. Far too many ‘isms’ lead to a break with that command.
I read an interesting on-line article by I Gordon in which he states, “In the last message from Colossians we saw that the true message is Jesus plus nothing. The author of Colossians speaks to how all believers are ‘complete in him’. That is the believer’s true starting position. The believer has been identified completely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and has been forgiven all sins. Good news! You might also remember”, he says, “why (he) needed to stress these truths to those at Colossae and that was because they were being hammered by all sorts of false doctrines that essentially made the message Jesus plus something.”
Gordon means that we tend to, at least to some degree, follow Jesus and capitalism, Jesus and worldly power, Jesus and wealth, Jesus and peer pressure, Jesus and the Internet, Jesus and Facebook blogs, and so on. However, Colossians teaches us that it is Jesus alone who completes us, as Christians– period! The letter to the church in Colossae, in our verses as well as others in the book, teaches that we are not to judge, or allow others to judge us or to fall into self-degradation ourselves, and we are not to think too highly of ourselves or forget to carefully follow the head of the Body of Christ, Jesus himself. When we fall into judgment of others or think to highly of ourselves or forget to follow Jesus Christ racism and other isms are likely to follow. Even though we may not get a gun and shoot people at a Bible Study or anywhere, our thoughts, words and blogs may do terrible harm too. That concern needs to be before us in our daily living. Turn away from judging (Jesus said this too), turn away from thinking too highly of yourself, turn away from allowing other people belittle you, and do remember to follow Jesus every day. As we turn away from those things, we know that Jesus’ command to love everyone will lead us away from the many harmful isms we exist or are surrounded by daily.
Our Colossians passage, and a few other scripture passages, is one of the colossal passages in the New Testament on Christian freedom. The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ For Christians, isms are a form of slavery for they drag us away from the God we know in Jesus Christ. We ought to check our facts and carefully evaluate the outside influences upon us for ‘isms’ are very much alive in our community, nation and world through dishonesty, a lack of humility and love, the willingness to hate that influences us away from God and Jesus to a different construct for living. Hatred can become so ingrained in our lives, way of thinking, and comments/blogs we read that it smoothers Jesus’ words of love.
It is Jesus alone who is to save and lead us, and we must strive not to let anything else get in the way of that truth.
Being a day past from this nation’s celebration of independence, I will remind you that freedom in Christ is often very different from the way we think of freedom in this country. Freedom in Christ means that we are free to love everyone even if we don’t like them or know them or they commit harm, to live gently and kindly, to show compassion to those in need, to exist in wholeness and in peace within and without, as much as we can control that ‘without’ part, and to know that our sins are forgiven so we may forgive ourselves and others freely too. And Christian freedom means we can spread Jesus’ good news with joy and in humble consideration for ‘the other’ to whom we spread Jesus’ great, gracious and abundant good news.
In Galatians passage Rodger read to you- there is no slave or free, male or female, or other differences we may have- for in Christ we have most graciously been given freedom from the constraints of this world. The behavior we learn in our passages for this morning, and elsewhere in scripture, we also take out into a hurting, too often hate-filled world to people know, encounter or need to pray for, whether they are believers or not. To love them doesn’t mean to condone believe or follow what s/he says and does– come on, we know that.
Yes, this way of thinking, believing, and living is a different teaching from a worldly, human teaching for not only are we called to respond to other Christians the way Galatians and Colossians teach us but to greatly expand our thinking to a considerably bigger picture of God. By that thought, we know that this positive, loving behavior, unlike the “isms” of the world, is what God wants us to follow in Jesus Christ, always. My friends, loved ones, we can follow these teachings because the Holy Spirit dwells within all of us and too, we have each other to support us in living well into Christ as the head of the church. Christians simply don’t do many ‘isms’. Amen.