Sermon Illustrations on Racial Reconciliation


The Journey of Reconciliation is Grounded in the Practice of Lament

The first language of the church in a deeply broken world is not strategy, but prayer. The journey of reconciliation is grounded in a call to see and encounter the rupture of this world so truthfully that we are literally slowed down. We are called to a space where any explanation or action is too easy, too fast, too shallow—a space where the right response can only be a desperate cry directed to God.

We are called to learn the anguished cry of lament. Lament is the cry of Martin Luther King Jr. from his kitchen table in Montgomery after hearing yet another death threat: “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. . . . But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. . . . I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

… Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are. We are enjoined to learn to see and feel what the psalmists see and feel and to join our prayers with theirs. The journey of reconciliation is grounded in the practice of lament.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

One Potential Pitfall in Reconciliation Movements

Reconciliation. Let’s be honest. Reconciliation has become a trendy topic of conversation . . . which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. People are talking about it and that’s good. There are gatherings, teachings, sermons, classes and entire conferences around the subject of reconciliation.

But, if we’re not careful, it is quite possible and tempting to be more in love with the idea of reconciliation than to actually engage in the actual work of reconciliation—the arduous, painful and messy marathon work of reconciliation. That’s the pivotal question we must ask: Are we more in love with the idea of following Jesus than actually following Jesus—including to and through some difficult areas?

Taken from Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil (c) 2020 by Brenda Salter McNeil. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Racial Reconciliation Not Needed?

In a recent Barna survey, only 56 percent of evangelicals agree that people of color are often placed at a social disadvantage, lower than the national average of 67 percent. At the same time, 95 percent of evangelicals think the church plays a critical role in racial reconciliation—higher than the national average of 73 percent. Taken together, these findings reveal that those who believe they are most equipped to help with reconciliation actually don’t think it is needed as much as other Americans do.

Taken from The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma Copyright (c) 2017 by Ken Wytsma Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

What Exactly Is Racial Reconciliation?

What exactly is racial reconciliation? If you asked ten different people, it’s likely you’d get ten different answers! At a gathering I attended of national multiethnic leaders—pastors, professors, diversity practitioners and leaders of multicultural ministries and denominations—the answer to this question proved quite confusing. For some, reconciliation meant bringing together a multiethnic group of people who are from similar socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.

For others, it meant the pursuit of racial and ethnic diversity but did not include the participation of women in leadership. Still others operated from a model of social empowerment, and for them reconciliation meant that Christians are called to address the discrimination and racism faced by black and Hispanic people in our society. During the two-day gathering of this elite group, some of whom had written books on the topic of diversity, leaders shared their most poignant beliefs regarding racial reconciliation and best practices for building it. What was most interesting to me, however, was the lack of agreement among the leaders gathered about the term reconciliation.

There was no single definition or understanding of what reconciliation actually entails. Do you see the problem? While many of us care about reconciliation and feel called to pursue it as part of our discipleship, there is no clear understanding of what it means to do so! Even among the leading diversity voices of the day there are vastly different beliefs about what it means to pursue reconciliation. Sure, most of us believe that reconciliation means the ending of hostility in order to bring people together, but we still differ, sometimes wildly, in how we believe God calls us to address and engage it.

Taken from Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil (c) 2020 by Brenda Salter McNeil. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Years ago, Rodney King was brutally and tragically beaten by Los Angeles police officers. The city exploded in riots for six days after three of the four police officers, each of whom were white, were acquitted in a jury trial. Famously, King called for an end to the violence in a 1992 interview. “Can’t we all just get along?” he asked.

These words are inscribed on his tombstone. It is a question that continues to dog humanity as our fragmentation continues to remain on display. But it’s not a question the triune God has ever needed to ask of himself. In our search for peace and unity, what is our example? What is our aim? How will we actually know when peace has been achieved?

Taken from The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best by Irwyn L. Ince Jr Copyright (c) 2021by Irwyn L. Ince Jr. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Nelson Mandela and a Presidency of Reconciliation

What does true forgiveness and reconciliation look like? The world was given such an image the day Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President of South Africa. What was so significant was not just that a person of color was becoming the head of a state with years of segregation and mistreatment of its black citizens, but it was also Mandela’s gracious inclusion of his former adversaries that was so inspiring.

When Mandela arrived, he was accompanied by his eldest daughter, as well as the South African security forces. But that was not all. The police and the correctional services (the same people in charge of his 27 years in prison) walked alongside his car, saluted him and escorted him to his inauguration. It was a powerful moment for many reasons, but most of all provided a reminder that just a few years ago, Mandela had been considered by the South African state as a public enemy, a terrorist to be arrested and exiled to a remote prison.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Living In Peace and Forgiveness with our Neighbors

Sometimes, the Christian faith can be confounding to the outside world. Enemies can become friends, even to the point of caring for and protecting each other. In this short story from the small African country of Burundi, one leader, a university professor, brings two tribes together in a practical way. 

Our friend Emmanuel Ndikumana is a Hutu married to a Tutsi in Burundi. As a leader at the university in Bujumbura, he constantly finds himself caught between the Burundi military, dominated by Tutsi, and the predominantly Hutu rebel groups who are fighting the government. But he knows that small things make a difference in the everyday lives of people, so he has formed groups of Hutu and Tutsi students who travel together.

When they come to a military checkpoint, the Tutsi students talk with the soldiers. When they come to a rebel roadblock, Hutu student leaders do the talking while the rest of the students carry on with their own conversations. This way, they are able to confuse both the military and rebel fighters. The Christian vision of hope never disconnects the question of whether we can reconcile the nations from whether we can live in peace and forgiveness with those nearest to us—in our homes, at work, in worship and even on the road.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Practicing Corporate Repentance

In his insightful work, Beyond Racial Gridlock, George Yancey provides a multi-faceted picture of both the brokenness of American race-relations, as well as a response couched in the gospel. In this excerpt, Yancey describes his wife’s decisions to practice corporate repentance, which leads to a beautiful encounter of respect and reconciliation.

My wife, Sherelyn, is a white woman who has developed an attitude of corporate repentance. The attitude has served her well as she has developed interracial friendships and has participated in racial healing. For example, we were attending a Native American festival, and she went to the food stand to get something to eat. Behind the booth was a Native American man who was a war veteran.

After striking up a conversation, she told him of a time she attended a Nez Perce powwow where she saw a warrior dance in honor of the United States flag. The sight brought tears to her eyes because she knows enough of Indian history to know how much damage has been done under the banner of the Stars and Stripes. Yet the Nez Perce nation and that veteran at the festival had risked their lives for the country that had mistreated them. They had not even been thanked for such service. The heart of this American Indian was clearly touched. He told her, “Well, someone has thanked us now.”

Taken from Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility by George Yancey Copyright (c) 2006 by George Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Tell Them About the Dream, Martin!

Most of us in the United States know the famous “I have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the 1963 March on Washington. On a sweltering, humid day in the nation’s capital, some 250,000 people came to hear King speak on the cause of civil rights and the fight for equality and justice for African Americans. What most of us don’t know is that that the “dream” part of the speech almost never happened, in fact, should not have happened. It was not a part of the prepared remarks for that day, but inspiration came in the form of a gospel singer named Mahalia Jackson.

As King inched towards the climax of his speech, he seemed to hesitate, perhaps unsure of whether his prepared remarks were as inspiring as he had hoped. At that moment, the great civil rights leader heard a voice behind him. “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” Mahalia Jackson shouted. At that point, Clarence Jones, one of Dr. King’s advisors leaned over to the person next to him and said, “These people out there, they don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church.”

The rest, as we now know, is history. Dr. King had been testing out this “dream” section of his speech at previous events, and when he took Mahalia Jackson’s advice, he put into words the longings of a generation to experience equality and justice for all. He described the power of the gospel to create reconciliation where there had previously been hostility and tension.

I love this little insight into one of the most important moments in American history, not because it lessens King’s impact and genius, but rather, enlarges it. It also speaks to the genius and boldness of Mahalia Jackson, willing, in one of the biggest moments of her life and Dr. King’s, to speak up with a great idea. How wonderful for King not to scoff or ignore her, but to  listen, pause and realize that she was right, that now it was time to tell them about the dream.

Stuart Strachan Jr. source material https://www.vox.com/2016/1/18/10785882/martin-luther-king-dream-mahalia-jackson and other articles

The Unmaking of the Ungodly

In this excerpt from a sermon preached at Trinity Church, Boston, the Episcopalian Priest Fleming Rutledge describes the amazing  work of Will Campbell:

The last time I was here, your rector Sam Lloyd and I talked a lot about the incomparable Southern activist, folklorist, and theologian Will Campbell. Will’s extraordinary New Testament radicality enabled him to maintain relationships with black victims of the KKK and at the same time with the KKK murderers. Literally. Brothers and sisters, that’s not “inclusion.” That’s the resurrection of the dead. Indeed that is exactly what Paul says toward the end of Romans 11:

For if [God’s temporary judgment upon unbelievers] means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?… So do not become proud, but stand in awe.

All his life, Will Campbell has said, over and over, that it is God’s intention, not just to “accept” the ungodly, but to unmake the ungodly, that is you and me, in a way that we could never do ourselves, by giving life to the dead and calling into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4:17). What are these things that do not exist? (Romans 4:17). What are these things that do not exist? They are people who are righteous as he is righteous. That is the promised future of God.

At the 1998 trial of KKK Grand Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, Will Campbell went back and forth between Bowers and the family of a man he killed, civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer. When asked by reporters how he could do this, Will growled, “Because I’m a God-damned Christian.”

Fleming Rutledge, Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Sermons from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.

Race Issues Over Coffee

One day while drinking coffee, laughing, and sharing stories with one of my best friends, who is white, an unexpected question about race came up. It just popped up out of nowhere as we were talking about the possibility of taking a fun trip on a cruise together. My friend asked, “Why do we have a group called Black Lives Matter that is expanding so rapidly in our nation? I believe that it’s a group that is being used to spread hate and division.

We don’t need a group like that.” Before I could answer, she went on to explain that she also now feels that because she is white, people from different racial groups who used to talk with her at her job are now ignoring her. With a trembling voice and tears, she said that everybody in life has seen injustices—not just a certain group of people.

She also admitted to me that she is tired of seeing images on television of people marching and protesting, and that the playing field in America is now equal, so she doesn’t understand why people can’t just move on from the past. After all, she explained, none of the younger generation of white people in society today were a part of discrimination in the past. She said she was sorry about the pain that people have experienced but that she had nothing to do with placing signs on bathroom doors that read “colored” or “white.”

Her voice reached a place of pain that I had never heard as she proclaimed that she now feels like she is the victim of reverse discrimination in society. She ended her remarks by saying, “You know me. I am not a racist. I just have a lot of heart pain. I’m tired and confused.” My best friend is a committed believer and has one of the tenderest hearts toward people that I have ever seen.

We have known each other for over twenty years, and I fondly refer to her as a blue-eyed soul queen, a name I gave her when I found out that she has spent years of living and building friendships within the black community. Whether it has been hanging out at traditional black soul food restaurants, swaying and clapping to the beat of gospel music, or just hanging with diverse groups of people, she has adopted so much of black culture and has always honored other cultural groups.

I therefore listened to her in a bit of shock. Her words made me realize that historical and generational issues of injustice and discrimination in our society seem to appear and reappear in conversations at the most inopportune times—such as when we are enjoying life at a coffee shop drinking a latte with our best friend.

Taken from The Colors of Culture: The Beauty of Diverse Friendships by Melinda Joy Mingo Copyright (c) 2020 by Melinda Joy Mingo. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


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