KiNDRED | The Work of Reform | George Hinman
This week's sermon study guide is pulled from the UPC 2017 Lent Study: "KiNDRED - The Multi-ethnic Family of God"
THE WORK OF REFORM | TURN
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
“What should the church’s response be to a world being torn apart by prejudice, hatred and fear? We believe it is imperative that the Christian church regain its integrity to address injustice.” Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson,
The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change, page 22
Oh Lord, we approach You with humble hearts. We are a part of a culture, and our culture needs Your healing hand. Please help us to turn toward You, toward Your purposes, and become one with Your compassion. Amen.
REFLECT: Discuss last week’s personal challenge.
WATCH: Kindred Video - https://vimeo.com/204617587
READ: Jonah 3:1-10
Last week we learned that Jonah—cast helplessly into the depths of the sea—cried out to the very God he had endeavored to ignore. God heard Jonah and saved him, causing Jonah to promise to fulfill his vow to the Lord. Now open to the Lord’s leading, Jonah receives a second word to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s message.
This time Jonah obeys, and the results are extraordinary. On the very first day, as Jonah proclaims God’s message that Nineveh is wicked and about to be destroyed, the people of this huge city of commercial and cultural importance immediately stop and listen to him. But they do more than listen, they are convicted by his message and decide to fast, putting on sackcloth as a sign of mourning for their sin. An ancient symbol of repentance, sackcloth is made of coarse black goat’s hair and is very uncomfortable against the skin, providing a constant reminder that the desired result of its wearing is more than skin deep.
With such extreme measures taken by its people, it is not surprising that news of this soon reaches the king, who rises from his throne, removes his royal robes, puts on sackcloth, and sits in ashes and dust. Perhaps spurred on by his people’s conviction that Jonah spoke the truth, the King of Nineveh’s call for complete and immediate action is astonishing. He decrees, along with his nobles, that not even the livestock should eat or drink and that the animals should be covered in sackcloth, as well.
So seriously do these authorities take God’s word, they shut down the city and command that “everyone call urgently on God...[and] give up their evil ways and violence” (1:8). What a picture this presents! Every person in the city “from the greatest to the least” all dressed in the same black sackcloth of mourning, all bowing before the Lord as they sought His mercy.
How the Lord must have rejoiced to see their humble repentance, whereby this ancient enemy of Israel, the Ninevites, become a spiritual example for us all. In Matthew 12:9, Jesus declares that the repentant Ninevites will judge those in His generation who did not repent.
The Ninevites’ humble and united repentance and their willingness to turn from evil and violence has much to teach us in our present-day circumstances when it often appears difficult—or even impossible— to bridge the dividing walls of hostility. Because, despite the progress we have made—despite a civil rights movement that led to anti-discrimination legislation and despite ongoing, in-depth media focus and the passionate, dedicated advocacy of countless individuals and groups, racial and ethnic discrimination is still a sad and deeply embedded reality in America. And this discrimination does not stop at the Church’s door.
The Word clearly tells us that God loves all peoples, yet nearly all American churches remain segregated by race and ethnicity. The result is that most Christians don’t have relationships with diverse people within their own churches. Thus, they often don’t experience the richness that such diversity has to offer. Even if, as individuals and churches, we yearn to bridge these barriers, Nineveh illustrates how the roots of evil and violence are not just personal but also corporate realities.
It is clear that healing this racial and ethnic divide requires not only an individual response, but a corporate response, as well. We may feel helpless to face this reality as individuals, but when we corporately seek to repent of our roles in this division, we will be encouraged and strengthened by standing with the brothers and sisters in our own church as we reach out to our sisters and brothers of other ethnicities.
So how, exactly, might this repentance take form? Again, Nineveh leads by its example: Acknowledging corporate evil requires a corporate understanding, followed by a corporate resolve, culminating in a corporate repentance. This may include something like us following the Ninevites’ example, stripping down to the essentials so we can more clearly see the humility we are called to bring to this task.
There is no doubt that repentance and reconciliation are difficult and challenging work, but when we engage in it, we are acting as God desires. Through the prophet Isaiah, God makes His heart of justice known: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).
When we seek to follow God’s call into this kind of sacrificial fast, facing social and racial injustice head on, we help erase the hypocrisy that has marred our witness to the world. As churches choose this fast, as they open their doors in welcome to all, as they reach out to other churches and join together to loose the chains of injustice, the Lord has promised a great blessing: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here I am” (Isaiah 58:8-9).
Our light “breaks forth” as we act in ways that reflect God’s light—Jesus—the light of the world. He is the One to whom we look to guide us as we pursue healing the divisions in our city and in our nation, and to the ends of the earth.
DISCUSS Choose from some of the questions below:
1. What are some things we need to leave behind in order to achieve multi-ethnic reconciliation?
2. What are some ways followers of Jesus can exert a positive influence on our city in the area of racial and ethnic justice? What things are within your own circle of influence?
3. In what ways are racial and ethnic reconciliation a spiritual task? In what ways are they a societal task? In what ways are the two connected?
4. How might our response to racial inequities be any different if we worshipped with people of other ethnicities? Have you ever had an experience participating in worship with people of other ethnicities? What impact did that have on you?
TURN... Identify one concrete step you can take this week to turn from your usual behavior and turn toward a behavior that contributes to racial and ethnic justice in our city. For example, read a book or online resource addressing inequality (perhaps choosing from the list in the back of this guide), participate with an organization seeking racial justice, attend a community meeting addressing racial or ethnic inequality, consider changing your purchasing or giving habits to benefit others of a different ethnicity, speak out against bias or inequality.
Gracious God: Show us how to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our brothers and sisters of all ethnicities. Enlarge our understanding of the ways that other people are impacted by our decisions. As we consider the personal challenge this week, help us to identify opportunities where we can learn and make a difference. Amen.