Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
March 21, 2021 Worship Sermon - "The Christ of All Races"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
One Easter morning, a number of years ago, in my former congregation, my colleague, Pastor Kari Hart, was leading the children’s sermon. Since it was Easter, there were quite a few children present, some of whom were not regular attenders of the church. Kari was talking with the kids about the meaning of Easter and how Jesus was raised from the tomb. One of the kids raised his hand and asked her, “Was Jesus black or white?” The child’s mother, who was sitting with him, pushed his hand down and shushed him. This was their first time visiting the church and, as she was leaving at the end of the service, she apologized to me for her son’s question. I guess she thought the question was inappropriate or embarrassing; but actually, I thought it was a really good question… one that forces us to wrestle with the very meaning of the resurrection. I wasn’t leading the children’s sermon that Sunday and I don’t know how I would have answered if I were put on the spot. But I’ve had many years to think about the question, “Was Jesus black or white?” and I think I can say with some confidence that the answer is both. Jesus is both black and white and every shade of brown.
The Gospel of John tells us clearly that Jesus is God in human flesh. Two thousand years ago, that human flesh was embodied in one man of Middle-Eastern descent whom we call Jesus of Nazareth. But the miracle of Easter, the miracle that we are preparing to celebrate in two weeks, is that this one man, who was crucified and raised from death, is now embodied in the human flesh of people all over the world, people of every race and ethnicity. When we Christians talk about the resurrected body of Christ, this is what we are talking about. Look at all the faces of the people who are gathered here for worship. That is what the resurrected body of Christ looks like: it’s black and white and every shade of brown.
In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus gives us a glimpse of this resurrected body. This episode takes place in the week before Jesus was crucified. Some Greeks come to Philip and ask to see Jesus. From the perspective of most of the people in Jerusalem at that time, these Greeks would have been the ethnic outsiders. They were not descendants of Abraham, so they had no place among the people of God. But Jesus realizes that the whole concept of the people of God is about to expand exponentially. He realizes that his death and resurrection - which he calls his being lifted up - is going to have cosmic ramifications. When Jesus is lifted up, when he is crucified and raised from the dead, he will draw all people to himself. As Paul puts it, no longer will there be Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth, like that single grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died, is now multiplying and bearing much fruit. Jesus is now alive and active in millions of people around the world. What it means to be the body of Christ is no longer bound by any individual or by any particular ethnicity. Christ is drawing all people to himself.
The good news is that this includes you. Christ is drawing you to himself. God is becoming flesh in you. The perhaps not so good news is that this includes other people besides you, some of whom you may not like. Somehow, we are all going to have to learn to be a part of the body of Christ together… we are all going to have to learn to love each other. If Christ is drawing all people to himself, we really don’t have any choice but to love each other, or to make ourselves miserable with hate.
This week, our nation’s struggle around the issue of race erupted once again as a young man murdered six women of Asian descent. We don’t know the degree to which racism motivated the young man, but in the context of an increase in anti-Asian violence over the past year, his rampage has sparked a new reckoning with the challenges we face as a multi-cultural society. Racism is not unique to the United States. Every nation and every society is affected by ethnic bias. We tend to feel most comfortable with people who are like us. The United States, though, has its own particular history of racism and this has manifested itself in a lot of pain and a lot violence and a lot of injustice through the centuries.
The good news is that Christ is drawing all people to himself, and here in the United States - because we are a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society - we can get some practice in preparing to be a part of the multi-ethnic body of Christ. And if you live in Upper Darby, you have an even greater advantage. You can get a lot of practice in preparing to be a part of the multi-ethnic body of Christ. When I was doing my internship in rural Upstate New York, the most ethnic diversity we experienced was between people of Dutch descent and people of German descent. How wonderful to be here in Upper Darby, where our neighbors come from all over the world. Here in Upper Darby, we have the chance to work together to figure out what it means to be a part of the multi-ethnic body of Christ. We have a chance to work together to come up with a new culture that encompasses all of us.
To get a sense of what I am talking about, think about jazz. Jazz is a musical form that has been embraced and copied by people all over the world. Without jazz, there would be no rock and roll, no hip-hop, no k-pop, no afro-pop. Jazz did not originate in the culturally homogenous farmlands of Upstate New York. Jazz originated in New Orleans, where people of African descent, and French descent, and Haitian descent, and Spanish descent, and river-boaters from the American prairie all came together and influenced each other. Out of that rich, cultural gumbo came musical forms that have enabled humanity to communicate emotions and ideas in ways that had not been possible previously. Out of that rich, cultural gumbo came a music that has transformed life and culture everywhere.
Here in Upper Darby, we have our own rich, cultural gumbo. A couple of years ago, I was driving past a shop on Market Street just east of 69th Street. The shop caters to our South Asian neighbors and colorful silk gowns were displayed in the window. Above the gowns, there was a sign that read, “Get your Ramadan supplies here.” Then, in the door to this same shop was another sign that read, “Jesus saves.” I looked at those two signs in the windows of one shop and I thought, “Upper Darby is the coolest place on earth!”
The body of Christ is a rich, cultural gumbo. Christ has been lifted up and is drawing all people to himself. Who can imagine what new creativity is being born in him? Who can imagine what life is growing out of that seed that fell into the earth and is now bearing delicious new fruit