“Leave No One Behind”
Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
June 7, 2020
These are anxious and unsettling times in our country. In recent days, our country has been ripped from coast to coast by protests and violence.
This discontentment is due in part to the arrest and death of forty-six year old George Floyd in Minneapolis. It is the way he died that has captured the attention of the entire country and many around the world.
He suffocated under the knee of one of the arresting officers in spite of telling everyone looking on that he could not breathe. It appears no attempts were made to prevent him from suffocating.
Like many of you, I have watched videos of the final minutes of Mr. Floyd’s life, listened to interviews about the incident and read countless articles by people who are trying to make sense of all this. I have also observed the protests that have swept through many of our largest cities.
Once again, smoke is rising out of these cities, reminiscent of the scenes we saw in the 60’s when opposition to the Vietnam War and the treatment of minorities drove masses of people to the streets. I never wanted the country I love to be torn apart like it was then. I vividly remember wondering if America was going to pull out of that free fall and have the opportunity to address our social ills.
It appears we are traveling down this road again. The abuse of power and mistreatment of people have driven people back to the streets.
I am heartbroken and disturbed for several reasons.
I weep for Mr. Floyd’s family, the citizens of Minneapolis who are at the center of this unrest and my African American friends who live in fear of being treated like George Floyd.
I grieve with the peaceful protestors whose message for change has been overshadowed in some places by people intent on using violence and sowing seeds of hatred and the business owners whose properties have been pillaged, looted or destroyed.
I pray for civic and political leaders who are responsible for charting a way forward that leads to justice and peace and law enforcement officers who risk their own safety to maintain law and order in these difficult times, including my own son, Jason, who is a Marine Veteran and in his twentieth year serving with the Kentucky State Police.
There are no winners in this conflict. No one will be unscathed, untouched and unaffected by the outcome.
Our future is at stake. The country we’ll raise our children and grandchildren in is on the line. The world we’ll hand them when we are gone hangs in the balance.
We must chart a new way forward that will make future generations grateful and proud. This is our problem to solve. It is our time to step up and to take responsibility for laying the groundwork that leads to a new and better way to live.
With God’s help, I believe we can do it. I am confident God wants this even more than we do.
The One who sent his Son to teach us how to live in peace by pursuing justice for all is eager to help everyone who shares this dream. This is why, first and foremost, we must put into practice everything Jesus taught and modeled.
We cannot cherry pick the parts of Jesus’ message we like and ignore the sections that call for sacrifices. It is all or nothing.
Surely, history has taught us this.
So where do we begin? Where do we go from here? How can we heal painful wounds, gain the trust of people who feel betrayed and give hope to people living in fear and despair?
I certainly do not know everything that needs to be done for us to get to where we need to be as a society. I do have an idea where this process begins, and I want to share it with you.
As followers of Jesus, we must adopt the overriding theme of his mission. This theme provided the foundation upon which Jesus built his ministry. Everything Jesus believed, taught and modeled was shaped by it.
What was that theme? No one was to be left behind.
Everywhere Jesus went he sought out the least, the last and the lonely. He deliberately looked for the marginalized and ostracized. He migrated toward those who were suffering at the hands of either indifferent leaders or corrupt ones.
He called these overlooked and forgotten people by name. He talked to them and listened to their stories. He looked them in the eye and touched them. He restored their value, worth, self-esteem and health.
He became their advocate and spoke truth to power on their behalf by demanding equality, justice and respect for all. When necessary, Jesus exposed corrupt leaders for being more concerned about their own welfare than the wellbeing of the people who needed their attention.
He demanded they be honest, trustworthy, reliable, dependable, unselfish, compassionate and humble. He implored them to listen to the pleas for help they were ignoring, to discover the plight behind those pleas and to make changes that would lead to a new and better future for them and their neighbors.
In other words, Jesus made hope visible everywhere he went. No one was left out. No one was left behind.
Let me give you a few examples.
Mark 10:46-52 describes an encounter Jesus had with a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus. Everyone tried to silence Bartimaeus as he shouted for Jesus’ attention the day Jesus passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem.
Jesus refused to ignore Bartimaeus and called for people to help him to his feet. To the dismay of everyone, Jesus interrupted his teaching and journey to heal Bartimaeus.
What message did Jesus send the large crowd of Passover pilgrims surrounding him? The task of his disciples was to hear the pleas for help others ignore or try to silence. Followers of Jesus call the forgotten to the front of the line so their stories can be heard and their needs addressed.
Luke 7:36-50 tells of the time Jesus was invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon. While dining with several other religious leaders in Simon’s home, a woman of ill-repute entered the courtyard and anointed Jesus’ feet.
Evidently, it was not the first time she and Jesus had been together. It appears she came to Simon’s house to express her love for the one who had been kind to her, offered her forgiveness and showed her a better way forward.
In spite of her sincere and pure motives, she created a disturbance that angered Simon and his other guests. They used this moment to humiliate her and to discredit Jesus.
Jesus, on the other hand, very tenderly received her demonstration of love and gratitude and boldly protected her from the rude and angry words the Pharisees directed toward her and him.
What was Jesus’ point? This shunned and shamed woman was as important to Jesus that night as all the powerful people around that table. As long as he was there, she was welcomed in that place and had nothing to fear.
In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus was again passing through Jericho when he spotted Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, sitting in a sycamore tree. It appears Zacchaeus was as beloved in Jericho as Ebenezer Scrooge was in London or Mr. Potter in Bedford Falls.
Jesus stopped and called Zacchaeus by name. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
Zacchaeus’ life and standing in the community were radically changed that afternoon because Jesus refused to ignore him as most people tended to do. Jesus gave Zacchaeus an opportunity to change his values, priorities, mindset and business practices, which he did.
In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus is approached by ten lepers who pleaded for pity. They lived a miserable existence in caves on the outskirts of town, separated from family and friends.
No one dared go near them or speak to them. They lived in complete isolation, left to die by inches.
That is until Jesus passed by. He stopped. He listened to their story. He observed their living conditions and granted their request for healing.
This made it possible for these ten men to go back home to be reunited with their families. It gave them an opportunity to dream new dreams and to make plans for a better future.
Luke 15 describes three parables Jesus told: the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. What did they have in common? Something or someone was lost and out of place, which was unacceptable to the owner or the father. All three were eventually found or returned home due to the efforts and prayers of those who missed them, leading to great celebrations. None was left behind, an indication of how Jesus felt about everyone he met.
How do these three parables speak to me? If I was the only person in this world lost in a dangerous and scary world, God would still have sent Jesus to earth to find me and to bring me home. This is how much God loves me.
It is not just me, though. God loves you this much. God loves your neighbors this much, even the ones you don’t know or are different from you.
What do these stories and many others I could have cited have in common? No one was to be left behind. No one was unimportant, inferior or disposable. All the characters in these stories were God’s beloved.
This was why Jesus worked hard to tear down barriers erected between people, whatever the reason. His passion was building bridges of goodwill, understanding, reconciliation and hope that brought people together.
Isn’t this what our passion should be, too? Absolutely.
Anything less will only lead to more cynicism, hatred, chaos and destruction. It will leave many people behind and our country in turmoil.
None of us wants this. None of us has to settle for this, and we won’t if we adopt the theme of Jesus’ ministry, that no one is to be left behind.
This morning, I leave you with several challenges.
First of all, don’t say or do anything to make a bad situation worse through inflammatory rhetoric, condescending remarks or destructive behavior. As a follower of Jesus, your opinion is not needed now as much as his wise counsel. As ambassadors for Christ, make sure your words and actions reflect his heart, mind, nature and dreams as we move forward.
Secondly, begin the process of bringing people from all walks of life together. Create or join a discussion on who is left behind in our society. Discover where the gaps are in education, economic opportunity, health care, housing, the judicial system, prison reform and rehab from addictions.
Put down your defenses. Listen with an open mind and heart. Insist on facts and data. Inject names, faces and stories into the discussion.
Identify the first steps that can be taken to become an agent of change here in Lexington, in Frankfort and in Washington. Make a commitment to remain diligent until changes begin to occur.
Thirdly, reach out to people who are different from you and invite them to be a part of your circle of friends. Widen that circle to include people who don’t look like you or share your perspective on life.
Get to know their names. Listen to their stories, their hopes and their dreams. Discover what you have in common and learn from one another’s experiences.
Put a name, a face and a story with every issue you discuss or decision you make. Connect your ideas to someone’s story. I assure you it will change the way you think, believe and feel.
A little over ten years ago, I visited the Holy Land with a group of ministers from all over the country. There were twenty-two of us on this pilgrimage, including two seminary professors from the McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.
It was a study group. We spent a considerable amount of time in dialogue over sites we visited, the interpretation of scripture and life lessons we gleaned from being in that setting and listening to one another.
To this day, these men and women mean much to me. We developed a bond that I cherish.
The entire group spent three days together about two months before we left on our trip so we could get to know one another and discuss the purpose of this mission. Details and expectations were meticulously explained so everyone would be on the same page the moment we arrived in the Holy Land.
Everyone was to meet in the Atlanta airport the night we were flying to Israel. One by one people arrived from connecting flights throughout the country.
When the African American men arrived, I was struck by how well they were dressed. They looked like they were going to church on Easter. They had suits on and everything about them looked first class.
This was in contrast to those of us who were not African-American. We were dressed very casually. As a matter of fact, we chose comfortable clothes and shoes that had seen plenty of wear and tear for the long flight ahead.
I said nothing to the men dressed in suits about their attire. I complimented them while wondering why they were dressed to the nines.
Days later the subject of their airplane clothes came up. They were asked why they wore suits.
They looked at one another and smiled. Then they looked at us and said, “You have never been a black man walking through an airport or getting on and off a plane. Even with our best clothes on, we are looked upon with suspicion. You don’t want to know how the authorities and other passengers feel about us when we are dressed like you did.”
This was one of the best lessons I learned from that trip.