According to this article, I pastor a church that is “racist as hell:”
“If your pastor, priest, or leadership is silent about the events taking place in Charlottesville, VA, you attend a white supremacist church. Simple. If your church does not spend a significant amount of time this weekend denouncing, condemning, and speaking out against the actions of the white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville, VA in the strongest possible terms, your church is racist as hell.”
Today we opened with the hymn “Church of God, Elect and Glorious.” It’s a hymn that praises each person of the Trinity for how they rescued fallen sinners. It’s got a glorious, soaring melody. The congregation struggled through it, since it was the first time we’d ever sung it.
Then, I opened worship with the Invocation. This ancient part of worship reminds us whom we are there to worship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a reminder of our baptisms, when the Holy Spirit created faith in many of our hearts. Even when I baptize adults, I refer the baptism as the “day you got your adoption papers from God.” The invocation also calls God to be present in this place as we worship him.
The next thing we did: as a congregation, together, we confessed our sins to God. And as soon as that was done, I announced forgiveness. Jesus was punished in our place, and our sins were taken away!
It’s kind of funny… but there were no current events at all yet in our worship service.
Do you get the idea of how racist we are? I mean, really, confessing our own sins, admitting how we have committed evil in thought, word, and deed, and then praising God for his forgiveness? That must be a really racist thing, right? Especially since we make ourselves equal to every other human being on earth by admitting we all are sinners and we all need Jesus. [Please, please note my sarcasm!]
You know what terribly racist thing we did next? We sang a song praising God for his acts of salvation on our behalf. On the behalf of every human on this planet.
And then we prayed some more. And then we heard three sections from the Bible all based around a theme. Today, we heard lessons based around the theme “Chosen.” As in, before the foundation o f the world, God chose us. We spoke a Psalm together, and sang another hymn. And then we had a sermon.
Today I didn’t preach about racism. I didn’t mention it at all. It didn’t make an appearance in the sermon. Instead, I preached about how God has chosen us… because he loves us. Not because there’s anything lovable in ourselves. He didn’t pick us because we’re cute. I talked about how comforting that is. If God chose me because of something in me, well, I could lose that thing, and then lose God’s love. If he loved me for some skills I have, I can lose those skills, or someone else might be better. If he loved me because of my good attitude, and then life gets bad and I have a bad attitude, I lose God’s love. But since he loves me… because he loves me… wow! I can’t lose that love! And then God proves that love by dying for me while I was yet a sinner! By breaking into history to unite me with his Word, creating faith in my heart, and placing me in a congregation!
In other words… the sermon was about what Jesus does for us, and today happened to focus on his choosing us. It was about Jesus.
Nope. Not about racism.
I guess I’m racist.
After the sermon, we recited the Nicene Creed, a summary of what we believe and teach as a congregation. Can you believe this ancient creed didn’t mention what happened yesterday in Charlottesville? Geez. Ancient Christians are incredibly unaccommodating.
We praised God by gathering an offering. I didn’t talk at all about racism.
And then we got to “the Prayer of the Church.” And I mentioned that we were having two special prayers. First, we’d be praying for children. In this area, many public schools start Wednesday. Two of our members are leaving this week to begin their freshman year of college. We prayed for our members. (Man. I can’t believe how racist that is!)
And then we prayed for Charlottesville. I explained that Jesus came to die for the sins of the whole world. Everyone. And anyone who taught otherwise was wrong. I explained that if Jesus came to die for just one race, it would have been the Jews. It’s good for us that Jesus died for everyone! We prayed in repentance, as we asked God to forgive us if we harbored any thoughts of hate. We prayed for those hurt. We prayed for healing.
And then we all joined in the Lord’s Prayer. And then we went into the Communion Rite. We celebrated unity with Jesus as he gave us his body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine. (No mention of current events there, either.) We prayed more. We received the ancient Aaronic blessing that God provided over three thousand years ago. We sang a final hymn.
Did you notice something about our worship?
It wasn’t about current events. It wasn’t about what happened today. It focused on Jesus. Yes, I applied Jesus to our lives today, giving comfort. I preached Law and Gospel. Absolutely! And yes, we prayed about how sin has affected us this week.
The Church is about Jesus. If that is not the focus of your worship, you are not at a Christian Church.
And this is what frankly pisses me off about the linked article: It takes an event of today and says that it should be the focus. It says that what happened yesterday is more important than an eternal proclamation.
In other words, the author says that the Church needs to stop being about Jesus and be about something else. That isn’t “being relevant.” That’s kicking Christ out of church. It’s keeping God’s people from hearing his Word. It’s saying that there’s something more important than eternity, and that thing is today.
Did tragedy strike yesterday? It did. Is racism sin? It is. Period. I denounce it. I have no problem doing so. Hate of any kind is wrong; we are called to love our neighbor. But you know what’s way more important than me loving my neighbor?
Jesus loving sinners like us.
I am a sinner saved by Jesus. And so are you, no matter what race you are. I want to bring you Law and Gospel. I want to show you your sin, no matter who you are. White guy who’s racist? Black man who uses violence? We’re the same. We’re sinners.
And Jesus loves us anyway. He chose to become our brother. He was a race. He was Jewish. And when he died, he knew what your sins were, no matter what they were. Racism? Pride? Lust? Envy? All of your sins, no matter how dark, no matter how shameful, no matter how much you try to pass them off as “normal,” Jesus died for them all. See the cross? That is the ultimate equalizer.
We are all the same before the God who died for us.
So yes. The events of yesterday may well change our nation, and they may well change our nation for the worse. I’m going to pray about that, as I did this morning in worship. But the focus of worship in a Christian Church… is Christ. If a minister saw the events of yesterday and decided to use those to talk about how Jesus died for all people, and showed racism as a sin? As long as it was an encouragement for the congregation to repent and turn to Jesus, I wouldn’t fight that – as long as the focus was Jesus.
Me? We kept the focus on what I had planned on. We focused on Jesus dying for sinners like us.
And if that makes me racist?
Well, I guess I have one more sin to take to the foot of the cross. One more reason to praise Jesus. One more sin to fight against in my life.
But really, while I have many sins… centering worship on Jesus is not one of them.