Monday, July 27, 2015

A Very Uncommon Act of Love, Thoughts on Forgiveness

Forgive them for they know not what they do.  Luke 23:24

We are called as Disciples of Christ to live a hopeful vision of present and future things, to seek to live an authentic life grounded in Christ and community.    In this light there was a desire to focus today’s message on affirmation, love and the implications of communion.  Mindful of a deeper longing within to address this time we live in I found that I should not bypass a particular terror that engulfs so much of life in our time.    We live in a world of complications, complexities, challenges and oppressions which characterize more and more of life in America.   Thus, as people of faith, we are called to critically reflect on the issues of our day which emerge as symptoms of the world we live in.   We reflect on the many lives lost at the hands of violent racism, police brutality, bigotry, privilege, increasing inequality, poverty, and polarization, considered by some people who embrace white supremacist ideology, to be a matter of tradition.  We remember the recent death of a Black woman stopped for a minor traffic violation in Prairie View, Texas who allegedly committed suicide in a Waller County jail cell by hanging herself.  I receive her tragic death as one more act of terror inflicted on a diverse population of people who are living in states of righteous anger and fear as hope, long defined by productions of white supremacy and black subordination, historically mediated through law enforcement, wane, shift and fall like tectonic plates resulting in seismic shifts in the midst of the California sun.   This became evident as I and my mother watched and then discussed the removal of the confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capital and ensuing protests which occurred. 

They said, “I Forgive You”
A Very Uncommon Act

 In the midst of the echoes of a civil war one hundred and fifty years passed but not forgotten we are called to do the joyful work of ascertaining hope in the midst of a time which unsettles so many people.   Reflecting on hope I am mindful that hope is not the exclusive purview of the naive or the optimist but a calling of faith, courage, and a love that is unyielding.   Hope is exemplified in action as the spirit within calls forth a glimpse of the arc of justice.  This becomes clear as we watch the family members of nine beautiful people massacred at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina by a man filled with hate do what might be called an uncommon act of love.  They said, “I forgive you.”  Surely Jesus is the author of forgiveness as it is written in Luke 23:24, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”, in the midst of his own slow and painful crucifixion.   Listening to the many reports from around the country I find that forgiveness, boldly standing with grace and mercy in the face of hatred, compelled a nation of people and their president to give homage to its presence.    That said, their statement of forgiveness has also been controversial, as some people, not considered religious, have said that the relatives showed weakness by forgiving the shooter[1] and some call for a type of moratorium on forgiveness, in regard to black people forgiving white racist.[2]  Yet because it is this type of uncommon act of love that has the potential to contribute, even in controversy, to a mediation of the ills of our present time I believe each of us should, if feasible, sit in silent meditation regarding forgiveness, so that we might come to some understanding of such an uncommon act of love.

The Fool says in their heart I have no need of God
God cannot speak to the issues of humanity

  Living in a society of materialism, rationality and a gradual marginalization of God and Church in common life and space, a critique of love should be undertaken.  I have come to belief that love, the kind of love defined by the life and ministry of Jesus, the one who taught us how to love, has been sequestered and a form of love, now considered common, constructed by various corporate institutions has been given its former holy and sacred space.  Of course this has occurred over time as the purveyors of capital and its politics sought to enslave the heart, its religion and western clerics for matters of greed and profit, for me an extension of the plantation narrative.  Now I must be careful not to become too philosophical, abstract or theological about love, a certainly not cynical,  since I do want to communicate with you today, yet love the love I encounter in Ephesians 3:14-21 is abstract, uncommon and sacrificial.   Yet it is this abstract, uncommon and sacrificial act of love that breathes life into our souls and empowers us towards forgiveness, considered as part of a spiritual medical regimen needed to heal a sick and bewildered nation and its people yearning for some type of solace.

For those who profess Christ forgiveness emerges out of their heart as they intimately engage in the hope found in the everlasting God.  God and the things of God are the anchor and the inspiration of their life.  Their life and their hope rest secure as they walk humbly with their God as written in Micah 6:8.  Recent discourses on identity inclusive of the political, economic, racial, gender, sexual and scientific rhetoric remind me that walking humbly with our God, in a blessed state of forgiveness is not so popular in a world of materialism which looks within itself for hope believing that the ability to overcome the deeper more substantial ills of society rests in the latest technological trinket inclusive of weapons of personal, communal and mass distraction, or illicit drugs will somehow fill a void or sooth the pain within.  Indeed this is a fool’s errand.  The fool says there is no God.   In this sense they believe that God, if there is a God, bears no consequence and in this sense has no bearing regarding issues of a population of people in severe emotional, mental and spiritual pain, in need of real and sustainable sustenance, considered by some as a yearning for a year of Jubilee, and a time of blessed forgiveness.  This is a challenge for the fool as they see forgiveness as an admission of weakness and a denial of certain profit.  Yet for those in love with God forgiveness is life and this more abundantly.  Psalm 14:1-7 has a lot to say about the fool.  It reads


1 The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.

2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
3 They have all turned aside,

They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,

No, not one.
4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge******

Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call on the Lord?

5 There they are in great fear,
For God is with the generation of the righteous.

6 You shame the counsel of the poor,
But the Lord is his refuge.

7 Oh that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord brings back the captivity of His people,
Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.

Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, considered the voice of God by many in the Catholic Church, and received as a breath of fresh air by some in the Christian religious community beyond the Catholic Church, recently released a papal encyclical or a papal letter on the climate crisis and the economic system that has led to our present environmental crisis.  He has also been speaking out regarding issues of forgiveness, this in regard to the participation of the Church in the brutal colonization of South America.  He has been roundly criticized, even taken to task regarding his comments particularly on the economy and the global climate crisis by many in his own Church and by secular authority.   Pope Francis blames climate change on apathy, political shortsightedness and a pursuit of profits.  He calls climate change one of the principal challenges facing humanity today.    His encyclical intimated that our present state of affairs is a crisis of the soul, making more evident an economic system morally bankrupt.  Of course his encyclical incurred the rhetorical wrath of the capitalist, environmental skeptics, conservatives, less progressive voices and right wing political pundits and candidates running for president.  I remember listening to National Public Radio and hearing a staunch capitalist cry in frustration about the Pope, and the Church seeking to address the issues that impact the poor, the homeless and those of a lesser state.   The response reminded me that God, at least in the mind of the capitalist, has no voice.  Fools have no use for God as capitalism is the great savior and protector of humanity.   Surely we live in foolish and even dangerous times indeed.

                                                Times that Try the Soul of Humanity 

In a sermon given at Detroit's Second Baptist Church (28 February 1954) Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made the following statement, “The great problem facing modern man is that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man's soul. We haven't learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we've made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we've failed to make of it a brotherhood.”   Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 28 February 1954

 The words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are timeless.  They remain as relevant today as they were back in 1954.  His words present a particular truth that is difficult to deny in the face of a nation where banks are privileged and untouchable at the expense of its people, and where Wall Street has more bearing and credibility that the person on the street or the earth herself.   In light of these sobering realities we should gladly desire to gain spiritual strength, to strengthen the human soul and thus begin to know and to comprehend the fullness of God in Jesus Christ.  This is a journey within straining towards the inner sanctum of divine-human interaction.  It is a desire of head and heart, to know the fullness of God and to experience the breadth, width, height and depth of a love which releases forgiveness for ourselves and others.  

Healing, reconciliation and a life affirming perspective begin with forgiveness.  I suspect that the ills of society and even the Church itself, as an inhabitant of the material world, cannot be solved without forgiveness within and without.  It is clear to me that the material world which demands an allegiance of desire at the expense of the soul is seemingly incapable of forgiveness since forgiveness emerges from spiritual strength, and this from a love unknown by the material world.  Love, borne of spiritual strength, for Jesus and my trust in God, at times affirmed by people who do uncommon acts of this unknown love, compel me to be hopeful that one day this would not be the case.   
Uncommon Acts of love such as forgiveness remind me that a Day of Jubilee is approaching. A time of spiritual awakening where forgiveness will comfort and heal the soul of humanity and the earth.  Each of us should prepare for this day as it will surely arrive. 

 Let us open our bibles to Ephesians 3:14-21 and read together. 

Prayer for Spiritual Strength

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.