June 21st, 2015
Text: 1 Peter 5:5-11
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
It has been said that Karl Barth once said that you should preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, it is advice that I almost always reject, but something happened this week. Something I think that needs to be talked about, something that needs to be seen in the light of the gospel of Christ. Because even though it was an attack on a specific race of people it was also an attack on the body of Christ, it was an attack on our brothers and sisters, in fact on the very institution that we are a part of — the Christian church. For even though this was a horrible act of racism and it was intended to divide Americans, white from black, suffering within the church acts to unite the church, it ought not be a cause for us to turn on our brothers and sisters though the devil may tempt us to do so, but instead be united with them, mourn with them, cry with them —— and forgive with them.
Over the passed few years, even since I was ordained there have been horrible acts of violences against many different groups of people who didn’t deserve it. Against movie goers and children, against marathon runners and college students, but for whatever reason this one touched me in a way these other horrible acts haven’t, it may have been because he hated these people for their race, and was willing to kill, hoping to divide neighbor against neighbor, but I think it was because, despite the fact that this attack was a racially motivated attack, he attacked the body of Christ, and even though I have never met the martyrs of Charleston, they are my brothers and sisters, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I know this is a hard thing to talk about, and I have not known the pain and fear of racism. From all conversations I have had and all evidence that I have seen it seems it is a very real problem in America, which is heartbreaking and the church should be involved in the conversation to bring reconciliation and healing, I do not wish to negate these facts, but this is not what we are talking about today. I simply want to acknowledge this and make it clear that it is not my attempt to pretend these problems do not exist before we talk about what happened next in Charleston, South Carolina, because what happened next was the most Christian response I have seen in any of these painful situation it was beautiful and it was sad.
As we know the shooter was arrested not longer after and this past Friday had a bond hearing. At this time the victims’ families were able to confront him. What happened defied the logic of the secularist and the media, and though it was surprising, it shouldn’t have surprised us. One by one, with profound pain in their voice and tears in their eyes they all told this young, lost man, that they forgave him.
Felecia Sanders, who lost her son said: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms, you have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know, every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.” She asked for God’s mercy to be upon a man who hates her simply because she’s black, who killed her son, who by all accounts was an excellent man. The world could not process this.
Others spoke with similar words of forgiveness. The one that caught me the most was an Anglican priest Anthony Thompson, whose wife was at the Bible study and said a similar thing to the young man: “You know I forgive you, my family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who maters most Christ.
The media was baffled by these words, the talking heads didn’t know how to respond to them, and so they were quiet and then they went on with their normal post horror dialogue, about gun violence, racism and America. One headline read “Victims Families Confront Shooter (pause) Forgive Him.” The title using dashes to imply a pause, a surprise by their action and to this world the action is surprising. Yet they did the right thing, the hard thing, the Christian thing. This does not mean that the young man should go free, or not suffer to societal consequences to the actions — but in their hearts, the victims families have decided to struggle out forgiveness towards him, as should we when someone injures us.
This may all seem like a random ramble, as though I’m talking about current events and not much else, yet it has everything to do with these lessons. Let us first start with the gospel for a minute. We see the Pharisees and scribes wondering why Jesus is allowing the lowest of the low to come on to him, why he is spending time teaching and being with the sinners. Yet he responds that these are the people he was sent to, he uses parables to illustrate what a joyful moment it is when the sinner repents. This is a joy that we are invited to share in. The grace that extends through Christ, given not only to us, is enough to forgive the prostitutes, the criminals and even the murders.
What the families of the victims in Charleston did was profoundly hard, and must have been one of the most painful things they have ever done. Yet they acted as an example to us, if they can forgive someone through such pain and loss certainly we can too. Yet the world would tell us that we don’t have to, or can wait, can demand that justice be dealt out first. The worldl response is not the biblical response. We must forgive all who trespass against us. It will be hard and it will be painful, but this is the Christian response to hatred directed at us, forgiveness.
This is in part what the epistle lesson is about. St. Peter exhorts us to be humble and submit to one another. This submitting is referring to the Christian community. We must not allow ourselves to be tempted into ruling over one another with pride. But humility applies to all our interactions. Taking the humble road is the tougher road to take. Yet, the scriptures call us to do it time and time again. For humility allows us to grow in Christ to grow in grace. It is painful and hard to have the humility to forgive those who have hurt us so deeply and to not have to always be in the center light.
Not only are we to be humble before our fellow man, we are to be humble before God. Which intellectually seems like it should be easier than humbling ourselves before our fellow man, certainly it must be easier to be humble before the one who created us, who formed us, but it has been my experience this is the harder thing. It is our hubris that makes us want to be our own gods, that makes us want to make up the rules as we go along. It is our hubris that makes us ignore the will of God and follow our own heart, our own desires that we know full well are contrary to that which God has commanded. So, it takes humility to strive to do this, it takes humility to recognize our sinful condition and the need to follow God.
It takes humility to realize that our reward isn’t in the here and now, but in God’s own timing. So too, we cast our cares on God, we don’t seek our own solutions, though we work hard, and seek solutions to problems, we trust that God will work out even the most impossible of situations and God will use them to His glory. And likewise we bring all our cares, small and big, our fears about making ends meet, our anger at our neighbor, our worries, and our joys and lay them at his feet. We bring them to the creator of all and He listens and as hard as this last part might be to wait for, in His timing he gives us the solution. For the our creator, the God of the world cares for each and every one of us. Not as the preachers of the prosperity gospels say we are cared for, but as a father cares for his children, with kindness and direction, with discipline and love.
But we are exhorted to be sober and vigilant in our lives for the devil seeks to destroy us. I have always appreciated the phrasing here, “be sober and be vigilant for your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking who me may devour.” Our walk in Christ will not be with out trouble and the devil wants our destruction, wants to devour us. In our postmodern context in America, we so often like to diminish the fact that there are angels and demons at work, and we forget about this. Yet this is a very real threat. The devil whispers in our ear that it’s okay to eat too much, or too much to drink, just this once. Tells us we don’t have to forgive those who have harmed us, he deteriorates our moral fiber and our life in Christ and sometimes in such a subtle way we don’t even notice it.
It is without a doubt that the devil did his work in Charleston earlier this week and it is likely that he tried to make the families feel as though they didn’t have to forgive the man, yet they understood this simple truth, that the devil wanted them to not only lose their loved ones, but for their souls to die as well. So we must be always on guard for these temptations and always submitting to the word of God, and not to the little teases that tell us we know better than God. For these thoughts do not come from our intelligence or moral compass, but from the devil who desires to devour us, to destroy us.
St. Peter reminds us that the consequences of this destruction are seen in the world, and we can certainly see the hand of the devil and the after affects of sin in the world around us. We see it in little things, as drug culture and drunkenness become more and more celebrated and sexual immorality is the acceptable norm. We see it in our media and we see the most disastrous effects of it when we look at how we treat the sanctity of life. We scramble for answers when horror hits our homes, like that of Charleston or any number of other violent out bursts over the past few years, but we know the answer, it is the brokenness and sinfulness of man.
It is the fact that we as a culture have traded in God for any golden calf that catches our eyes, and instead of seeking God and following his commandments to be kind, loving, and peaceful we celebrate violence, arrogance and pride, because the worldly mantra of “whatever makes you happy” has become the norm. Yet this mantra has its consequences and though the world doesn’t see the consequences right away, we can see in these men that commit such horrifying acts of violence the eyes of one who has stumbled so far from grace. It is with a heavy heart that we have no doubt that they have embraced the evilness of the devil. Their actions and their lives can be described as nothing more than deranged evilness and until we start to recognize this as the problem, it will only get worse.
In contrast to this wickedness St. Peter paints of a picture of the Christian life, a life in the God of all grace, this is the God who came to earth and died for us, came to earth and died for the worst of the sinners. There was a 16th century Englishman named John Bradford, who upon seeing a harden criminal being dragged off to jail said “there, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” This is the same for us, and we ought not hold ourselves too high, because who knows where we would be if it was not for this grace.
Our lives are being made perfect in this grace, not immediately, but through the long slow process of sanctification, of repenting of our sins, of our evils, and he is strengthening us and giving us peace. He is calling us through the pain, confusion and turmoil of this earthly life and into the peace that only he can give.
St. Peter ends with the statement “To Him be glory and dominion forever.” And here we remember the Westminster Catechism and the famed opening question: “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” It is here that we begin and here that we end. Even though life will be difficult and provide us with challenges, no mater what those challenges are we are invited to live in Christ. To follow him seeking to glorify Him in all that we do. This is the Christian calling in the valleys and on the peaks of life, to live our life out with the saying: “To God be the glory, now and forever,” in our hearts and in our minds no mater what may come next. Amen.