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“With Liberty & Justice for All”

Week One: Unity in Diversity

In my 15 years as a full-time pastor, I think I can safely say that this is the most difficult season I’ve experienced so far.

It started with COVID-19 and mandatory social isolation and distancing in Mid-March which continues three months later. No longer were we gathering for worship, discipleship, fellowship, and other ministries. Our elderly (being the most vulnerable) had virtually no interaction with other humans (even children) for their protection. But that has left them lonelier and even depressed than ever.

Our children’s school year was cut short and suddenly moms, dads, and other guardians became educators (or at least truant officers for online school). High school and college seniors had the most bizarre graduation celebrations in perhaps generations!

Workers were sent home and businesses closed up with the hope of opening again soon. But for some small businesses, soon never came. Some of the 44 million unemployed don’t have a job to go back to. Our government poured trillions into our economy and we’re STILL in a crisis.

Then, when it seemed safe to open the country again in phases, new spikes in COVID-19 cases have caused many leaders and citizens alike to question that decision. The number of IN-PERSON attendees have borne that out as they have dropped from week to week.

Meet or don’t meet? Masks or no masks? Stay open or close up again? These are the questions and debates that have quite frankly become quite heated and contentious. Reasonable people can disagree, but it seems that some on either side of the issue would rather WIN the argument than disagree in love.

Then, in the midst of this viral pandemic, unacceptable and unnecessary deaths of Black men and women—coupled with what many believe was a delay in justice for these persons—has led to a new outcry of injustice on behalf of African Americans and other people of color which has reached a fever pitch.

Peaceful protests by those supporting Black Lives Matter (including our own daughter in DC) escalate at times into violent protests, looting, burning, and defacing private and public buildings as well as statues and monuments.

The voices of those exercising their God-given right to speak out against injustice too often get drowned out by white and black inciters of lawlessness, as well as political talking heads pointing out the chaos without engaging in the pain underlying it.

The continuing headlines and viral videos have sparked a very common cycle of deep pain and outrage met by denial and bitter debate. And that vicious cycle churns not just on the larger social media platforms, but inside church circles.

Add to these two national crises the emotions surrounding the debate about changing the state flag—one that prayerfully will end soon—and I find myself truly in unchartered waters when it comes to preaching, leading, and pastoring this church.

Before I dive into part one of a three-part series I’m calling, “With Liberty and Justice for All,” let me address those among us who may be questioning the authority or license by which I plan to preach on the issues of racial reconciliation and equal justice under the law.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to make a biblical case that racial reconciliation and unity is not only good for society but is biblically right and a moral imperative. Let me give you an example related to another moral imperative that strongly intersects with society. What if, when I preach a pro-life message (as I did in January), you were to come to me and say, “Preacher, we would prefer that you stick with the Gospel of Jesus Christ instead of preaching on societal and political hot potato topics like abortion.”

And yet, the killing of 3,000 innocent human beings every day in America is profoundly a sin issue. The Gospel is pro-life…from the womb to the tomb. Likewise, the issue of racism and injustice against people because of their ethnicity is profoundly a Gospel issue which SHOULD be discussed in the church and which, sadly, I have failed to properly and effectively lead. To my African American friends, let me say that I’m sorry for willingly or unwillingly turning a blind eye to the struggle of racial injustices that still exist.

I hope, over the coming weeks, our willingness to have honest, open and sensitive conversations will lead to deeper understanding and love between members of predominantly black and white churches in our community. Let me be clear: This is NOT about beating up on one people group or another inside our outside the church. It is NOT about trying to fix the world out there. That is NOT our task. It’s NOT even about trying to correct my sister or brother in matters related to race. It’s about the Holy Spirit doing a new work in ME and a new work in YOU as we are ALL open to His power and presence in our lives.

With that said, let me begin talking about this series, “With Liberty and Justice for All.” There are three key words we will consider: Liberty, Justice, and All. I want to take the last word first: ALL.

To do that, let’s turn to the book of Psalms, chapter 133. In this short 3-verse song, I believe God is revealing the importance and imperative of unity of the church while celebrating our diversity. Let me pause to say a word of gratitude for the reflections of David Platt and Mike Kelsey of McLean Bible Church in their May 18th message which you can watch on YouTube.

Before we read God’s Word, let me invite us to pause and open our hearts to what God would have us learn and apply from His Word. [PAUSE] Psalm 133. A song of ascents. Of David. 1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Here are two significant truths about unity in diversity.

1. Unity in diversity is something that God requires and that we (the church) desire.
Psalm 133 was a song of ascents. That means it would be sung as the various tribes of Israel would be making their way up Mount Zion, Jerusalem, to celebrate some feast or festival. So from different directions, these tribes—Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Asher, Simeon, Benjamin, etc.—were singing in unity as they made their way up to the city. Every tribe had its strengths…its own way of doing things…its own inheritance or heritage. But as they come together as one people of God, it is a beautiful picture of unity in diversity!

Unity like this is GOOD and PLEASANT. Good in that it is something God REQUIRES of his people; and it is PLEASANT in that this unity in diversity is something we DESIRE. Or, we could say that unity in diversity, being that it is required, is something we OUGHT to pursue (He calls us to do so) and it is pleasant, meaning we WANT to pursue unity in diversity.

Now, this biblical idea of needing to and wanting to pursue unity in diversity is seemingly much easier to affirm as an ideal, and much more difficult to see realized in Byhalia Methodist Church and—I dare say—in practically every other congregation in our region. Indeed, Martin Luther King Jr. has been credited with this famous quote: “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Quite honestly—50 years later—the fact that we can still make that statement leads me to conclude that you and I are not going to be able to identify and correct this problem in the next 10 minutes. But I challenge us to spend significant time with others over the coming weeks and months trying. [SPEAK ABOUT MEETING AT SHILOH AND ST. MATTHEW]

First truth: Unity in the diversity is something God requires and what we desire. Let’s look at another truth.

2. Unity in Diversity starts with the Gospel in each of our lives; then springs from the Gospel into all of life.
What do we mean when we say unity in diversity starts with the Gospel in our lives. Here’s a synopsis. Sin entered the world through Adam. We were separated from God because of our sin. In the fullness of time, God created a special people through the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The 12 tribes of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt 400 years before their emancipation by Yahweh through their leader, Moses. Through him, the Law and the sacrificial system of atonement was given, whereby the priest would sacrifice animals for the sins of the Israelites. In this way, the people were reconciled to Yahweh, until they came and offered another sacrifice for their sins.

Let’s look at Psalm 133 again. David goes on to describe how pleasant this unity in diversity is when he says it’s like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.

In my house, I’m known as the “Stain Master.” If Cassie spills spaghetti sauce on her blouse, I’m your guy! If Hannah Rose splatters grease on her shorts while frying bacon, “Stain Master” Dad to the rescue! So, when I read about oil running down Aaron’s beard and onto his robe, all I can think about is, “How much Dawn detergent and baking soda am I going to need for THAT stain?”

But seriously, this image of oil running down the head, beard, and robe of Aaron is taken from Exodus 30, where he and his sons, the priests of the Israel, were anointed before performing the sacrifices. The priest wore the sacred robe and ephod, which had twelve stones on the breastplate, one for each tribe. Picture the anointing oil running down over that breastplate or righteousness…

Now, the Old Testament priest is but a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ as our Great High Priest who, rather than offer other sacrifices for the sins of the people of Israel, became the One True and Final Sacrifice for the sins of all the world! He gave his life on the cross, was buried, and on the third day was raised from the dead to overcome sin and death.

This means that, no matter our ethnicity, our social status, our intellectual abilities or even our sinful past, ALL who trust Jesus as their Savior and Lord can be reconciled to God, be made right with God, be forgiven of every sin, and be given the promise of Everlasting Life! This reconciled man or woman is now in unity with God through the blood of Jesus. THIS is the Gospel truth for EACH of us.

But is also is the Gospel for ALL of us since God is not a respecter of persons. Liberty (freedom from sin and death) and Justice (made right with God…justified with God…reconciled to God) FOR ALL!!! How pleasant it is that His diverse people—from every nation, tribe, and tongue—dwell in unity under the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

After unity in diversity starting with the Gospel in each of our diverse lives, it then springs into all of life. Let’s look at verse 3 where David gives another illustration: It’s as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion! For there the Lord bestows blessing, even life evermore.

A quick internet search reveals that Mt. Hermon is 9,232 feet above sea level, while Mount Zion (Jerusalem) is just over 2,500 feet. The image here is God’s blessing flowing all over the land where God’s people are dwelling in unity. For there the Lord bestows blessing, even life evermore. What is “THERE” referring to? Is he referring to the place, Zion? Or is he referring to the people of God dwelling in unity? Maybe it’s both.

Not only was there blessing with God’s people came together in worship, offering sacrifices in the Temple, but there was blessing throughout the land as the people experienced unity under the Law of Moses. They were blessed to be a blessing.

Of course, we see over and over again instances where God’s people failed to keep covenant with Yahweh. They were not unified in worshiping only Yahweh. They trusted in their own resources, strength, and kings rather than God. They did not act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God, as Micah 6:8 commands.

But Psalm 133 is the ideal…it is the goal…to be in unity under God’s reign and rule even as they were as the land they were living. And isn’t that true for us? Isn’t this the goal we should aspire to?

Ephesians 4:3-6 puts it this way, 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

I could say more but my time is gone. I could talk about Revelation 7 and image around the throne room of God where every nation, tribe, people, and language were singing with one voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” But I’ll leave it there.

I’ve tried to lay the groundwork of this series, “With Liberty and Justice for All,” by talking about the importance of unity in diversity. We’ve seen that it is both good (required) and pleasant (desired) for ALL God’s people to dwell in unity. We’ve also seen that unity in diversity begins in every believer when we are reconciled to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but then it springs forth into all of life forever more.

Next week we will talk more about what it means to be liberated from all that holds us captive as we celebrate our nation’s independence. I hope you will join us. Let’s pray.