The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
How amazingly powerful was the video that some saw this week of the survivors and family from the horrific tragedy that came upon the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston SC. Family members telling the one who brought about this great loss of life, who spoke words of hatred before he killed 9 people at church for Bible study and prayer. Family members who told this young man (a Lutheran by the way!) they forgive him for what he did.
Much like the Amish people who forgave the man who killed their children at the schoolhouse in Pennsylvania a few years ago. We forgive you.
And America stands shocked! How can forgiveness be a part of their make up? How can they forgive the one who brought such pain and loss? How can they share God’s love and pray that God’s Spirit will bring redemption to this man? What gives?
Jesus tells us to forgive. And so they forgive.
Forgiveness is not often easy. And sometimes takes time. But it is a part of the very fabric of those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. We are forgiven, and we are called to forgive.
Make no mistake. Forgiveness does not negate the pain, the emptiness and yes, perhaps the anger that comes from such a senseless act of killing people simply because they are of a different ethnicity.
Forgiveness does not tell us to turn a blind eye to the systemic condition that brought about this act of violence. Racism – hating someone simply because they are different, in color, speech or culture.
How does this come about? Who teaches us to hate those who are different? God does not give it to us. We are not born with this fear, distrust and disdain for those who differ from us. Little Carter, whom we baptize this day does not have it in his makeup. We learn it. How? From whom?
Parents? School? Companions? The Media? Society itself? – Perhaps a bit of each of these.
We hear this day the disciples, tossed about in the storm, calling out for the Master – who is in the boat with them: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?
One can almost hear our sisters and brothers here in the USA who experience injustice and violence upon them because of their ethnicity crying out: God, do you not care that we perish?
One can almost hear our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world, who experience torture and loss of life especially because of their Christian faith crying out: God, do you not care that we are perishing?
We read of Job, a good and honest and faithful man, calling out to God and questioning why he is experiencing the great calamities in his life?
We call out to God: Why? Why is this happening? What did we do?
We cry out for the storms of life to be calmed. We desperately need to hear the Voice who spoke over creation itself say to our present situation:
Peace! Be Still!
How can we stop this violence? How can we stop this hatred? How can we stop this racism and fear and enmity toward those who are different from us? Left to ourselves we will continue to spiral down into darkness and hatred. Left to ourselves we will make a greater mess of things. Left to ourselves, there is only death.
We need something from beyond our sinful selves. We need SOMEONE who calls us to the better part of ourselves. We need SOMEONE who understands violence and hatred and enmity – because he experienced it himself.
We need a Savior! We need Jesus!
I do not know what was in the minds of Pastor Clementa Pinckney and Pastor Daniel Simmons and their flock as they were being killed on that fateful night this week. I do not know what prayer they whispered as their lives were taken away.
But I know who was with them in that instant! It is the One who is with us even now. It is the One who will show us the way out of this mess we have created for ourselves.
It is the Son of the Living God, Jesus our Lord and Savior who will bring us out from the darkness into his marvelous light – a place of joy and peace and harmony and love.
Not just in the sweet by and by, but even now, in this life, in this day.
If we can begin to focus on Jesus Christ, to meditate upon his presence with us;
If we can hear the words of St. Paul that: You are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it;
If we can begin to realize that each person on this earth is called to be a manifestation of God – if we can see the face of Christ upon each sister and brother;
If we can realize that every person born on this earth is a creature, a fellow traveler with us, a child of the Creator God who loves them because he created them – even if they don’t acknowledge our Creator’s existence!;
If we can, in our own community- be intentional to seek out those who are different from us and walk with them and get to know them;
If we can let the Spirit of the Living God, the One who raised Jesus from the dead, have space in our hearts and minds, we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds – as the apostle says.
And then, perhaps in little ways, we can seek change. We can experience the change that God is bringing about in me, in you, in us corporately.
We can begin to see that place of joy and peace and harmony and love.
When I was a camp counselor, there was a song that was a favorite of many of us.
Part of it went this way:
Have you seen Jesus, my Lord?
He’s here in plain view.
Take a look, open your eyes
He’ll show it to you.
Have you ever stood in the family?
With the Lord, there in your midst?
Seen the face of Christ on each other?
Then I say,
YOU’VE SEEN JESUS MY LORD!