Black History Month Speech 1997

Posted: December 27, 2010 in Black History Month, Church History
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“The Black Presence In The Bible”

INSPIRATIONAL

Administration for Children and Families
Region VI – Dallas
Black History Month Celebration
February 27, 1997
THEME: “Black History: Yesterday and Today”


Someone here told me that preaching is an African­-American tradition, and that I should preach for my “Inspirational.”

My style is more “teaching” than “preaching”, but you may get a little preaching, too. I’ll try to be nice. And hopefully I won’t say anything that gets me in trouble!


I got a degree in history a long time ago, so let me share a little history.

African­-American history.

My history.

Your history.

My common history with African­-Americans goes back a long ways.

You see, in Genesis 12:10 we read that “There was a famine in the land, and Abram (that was his name before God changed it to Abraham) went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.”

That’s my ancestor ­ – I’m Jewish, in case you didn’t know ­ – taking a trip to Egypt.

Well, Pharaoh took a liking to Abram’s wife Sarai (that was her name before it was changed to Sarah). He didn’t know she was Abram’s wife, and that caused all kinds of problems for him—but that’s another story!

Anyway, Abram got a bunch of servants out of the deal and that’s probably where the Egyptian woman Hagar comes in. You know, Hagar ­ who became the mother of Ishmael. So now three of us—Jews, Africans and Arabs—have got their histories combined. But that, too, is another story.

Anyway, Abram leaves Egypt, goes home and has a son, Isaac.

Then Isaac has a son, Jacob.

Then Jacob has a bunch of sons (and a daughter).

In Genesis 37 we read that one of those sons, Joseph, decides to take a trip to Egypt (well, he didn’t actually decide—his brothers decided for him!). So he spends a little time there and pretty soon he’s second­-in­-command to Pharaoh.

So now it’s famine time again.

Jacob, Joseph’s father, hears that there’s grain in Egypt, so he sends his sons there to get some food. Eventually Joseph brings his whole family to Egypt—70 or 75 persons in all.

This time they stay for a real long time. They even help Pharaoh build a couple cities. After a while, they leave with a guy named Moses. It says that when they left (Exodus 12:37­-38), that, along with about 600,000 men, they left Egypt with “a mixed multitude.” I assume there were some Egyptians in that group, as well as people from other African nations. Maybe they were impressed with the way the God of the Hebrews had humbled the “gods” of the Egyptians—I mean, everyone likes a winner. Maybe they’d even joined themselves to the Jews before they’d left Egypt. All I know is that it appears that they ALL stood together at Mount Sinai when God spoke to them and confirmed His covenant with them as His People. So when I talk about African­-Americans, I may be talking about “my people.” Maybe my ancestors came from that “mixed multitude.” Maybe “African-American” History Month is “my” history month.

We even learn in Numbers 12:1 that Moses had a Cushite wife. Now, Cush is in the upper Nile region south of Egypt, in what is now called “The Sudan.” In other words, Africa. It was also called “Ethiopia” (not to be confused with present­-day Ethiopia).

Zephaniah the Prophet is identified as the son of Cushi (Zephaniah 1:1), so he may have been a Cushite, too.

The histories of Israel and Africa are intertwined.


Now we come to the New Testament. (You may wonder: “What’s a Jew doing reading the New Testament?” Well, good grief, Jews wrote nearly the whole thing!) Anyway, we read in Matthew’s Gospel that as Jesus the Messiah was being led to be crucified, the soldiers forced a man named “Simon,” a Κυρηναιος (Kurênaios—a “Cyrenian”) ­ to carry His cross. “Cyrene” is present­-day Libya—Africa. Mark’s Gospel tells us that this Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. This may be the “Rufus” that Paul mentions in the closing to his letter to the Romans where he says: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16:13). So maybe even Paul had an African woman he called “Mama.”

We may be meeting this Simon again in the book of Acts. Acts 13:1 refers to a group of prophets and teachers, which included Barnabas and Saul (who a few verses later we learn is the one also known as “Paul”). Among these prophets and teachers is a certain “Simeon, called Niger” (which means “Black”). “Simeon” may be another name for “Simon” because in the Greek text of 2 Peter, the author calls himself Συμεων Πετρος (Sumeon Petros) rather than Σιμων (Simôn – as in “Simon Peter”). And right after this “Simeon” is a certain Λουκιος (Loukios), also a Κυρηναιος (Kurênaios), a “Cyrenian.”

A couple chapters before this, in Acts 11:19, after a persecution had scattered the church, it says that the ones who had been scattered went to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch and shared the message that Jesus was the Messiah ­ but only “with Jews.” But “some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.” Then it says: “And the Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” In fact, this news was so great that when the all­-Jewish Jerusalem church heard about this, they sent Barnabas to check it out. He got so excited by what he saw that he went and got Saul/Paul and brought him to Antioch and they both stayed there for a whole year teaching the new Christians—”great numbers” it says. So it looks like some Cyrenians, who knew that Jesus was too good to keep just for the Jews, decided to share the good news with a bunch of Gentiles—and the rest, as they say, is history. African­-American history. Jewish history. Gentile history.

Philip was another one of those who had been scattered by the persecution. In Acts chapter 8 it says that an angel of the Lord told him to go on a certain road ­ and there he meets an “Ethiopian eunuch” in charge of the treasury of Κανδακη (Kandakê), the Queen of Ethiopia. Well, Philip shares Jesus with him, and after he leaves, it says that the eunuch “went on his way rejoicing.” Do you know why? Well, it says that when Philip came upon him he was reading from the prophet Isaiah, so he must have known Moses’ writings, too ­ – which said that a eunuch could not present offerings before the Lord (Leviticus 21:20ff.) or even enter the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:1). But just a couple chapters (or “windings of the scroll”) after the passage he was reading is the promise through Isaiah that one day God would accept the offerings of eunuchs (check it out—Isaiah 56). So when he heard the good news from Philip about how in the Messiah Jesus this promise had been fulfilled—well, no wonder he rejoiced! Just imagine how many people he told about the Lord when he got home!

From the very beginning of the Gospel there was a Black presence in the church—indeed, Africans were instrumental in getting the Good News spread.

So your history is my history ­ is our history.


This celebration is called “Black History: Yesterday and Today.” But where is it going? Where will it end up? What about “Black History: Tomorrow”?

The Scripture says that God created mankind in His image, and that “God made from one [man] every nation of men” (Acts 17:26).

But even though we are all “from one,” we don’t yet see us all “as one.” In fact, division, rather than unity, has more often marked our relationship with one another. Wasn’t it Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that “11:00 a.m. Sunday Morning is the most segregated hour in America”? And the Jewish prophet Isaiah’s prophesy that God’s house “will be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7) is still a dream for many.

I know the African-Americans in the audience have no illusions that having a bunch of non­African­-American co­workers attend a Black History Month celebration means that race relations are on their way to being harmonious. And I hope that we non­-African­-Americans don’t feel that just because we’re here we’ve done our part in repairing the breach that still so often divides us. Senator Bill Bradley said, “When it comes to racial healing, you have to engage a person of a different race yourself, and that’s why I always say, ‘When’s the last time you talked about race with a person of a different race?’ And if the answer is never, you’re really a part of the problem.”

Well, this is supposed to be an “Inspirational,” not an “Instigational,” so I’ll leave you with his words and move on.

But I believe there is hope, and I believe that the Spirit of God is stirring me, the church, indeed all peoples, to come together as one ­ because in the Spirit we are one. And if that’s true in the Spirit, it’s going to manifest in the natural ­ if we let it, and if we remove the hindrances we’ve put up.

John received a series of visions he left us in the book of Revelation. In chapter 7 he records that he saw men of every nation and tribe and people and tongue gathered together before God’s throne—all of them purchased for God by the Lamb of God with His blood—all of them made a Kingdom and priests to God (Revelation 5:9­-10).

That vision inspires me. May this celebration today inspire us also with the same vision as we share and learn about our history.

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  1. […] Black History Month Speech 1997 […]

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