March 27, 2022 ~ Fourth Sunday in Lent ~ ROLL DOWN JUSTICE
Rev. Beckie Sweet
“I Choose Love: Communities of Forgiveness.” … Every Christian knows that forgiveness is basic to our faith. Every time we say The Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive our trespasses or debts or sins just as we forgive those who have hurt us by their trespasses or debts or sins. In that prayer we say from memory so often, it all sounds so simple. But anyone who has been deeply wronged, and anyone who feels the burden of guilt for committing a wrong, knows that forgiveness is usually complicated, it is hard work, it is a process ~ sometimes a long process.
The lyrics to the song the Chancel Choir shared with us were written by Lindy Thompson in response to the 2015 shooting of nine African Americans by a white supremacist named Dylann Roof. You remember the news story. Dylann Roof entered Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a Bible Study was underway. Those present invited this stranger to join them, which he did. But after a while, he pulled out a semi-automatic handgun and started shooting, killing nine. Dylann Roof was caught right away, and at his pre-trial hearing a few days later, Nadine Collier told Roof that she forgave him for killing her mother, Ethel Lantz.
Nadine knew it was the right thing to do, but she was clear. She told Roof he had taken something, someone very precious from her, but she added, “If God forgives you, I forgive you.” A year later, her grief was still heavy. Collier told a reporter for the Washington Post that she misses the sound of her mother’s voice, the smile on her face as she greeted worshipers as an usher at Emmanuel AME Church, the spring in her step when she led the procession for Communion. Nadine said that she learned in the bond hearing that forgiveness isn’t weak. It’s not resignation or a duty done begrudgingly. And it is not easy. Nadine stated, “Forgiveness is power. It means you can fight everything and anything head on.” And she does that by choosing love!
Jesus, according to our gospel writers, consistently chooses love. Those closest to Jesus often met him with a lack of understanding. Some of the religious leaders showed hatred toward Jesus. The Roman authorities were confused and unwilling to take-on the influencers of their day. It would have been much easier for Jesus to appease the religious leaders by agreeing with the Pharisees. It would have been much easier for Jesus to acquiesce with the demands of the Roman-backed authorities seeking obedience to their violent form of justice. It would have been much easier for Jesus to save his own life!!
The disciples turned away and went into hiding. But Jesus chose LOVE. The crowds which had shouted “Hosanna!” were insighted to instead shout, “Crucify him!” And yet, Jesus chose LOVE. When dying on the cross, in the midst of scoffing and mocking, and even the taunts of another one being executed, Jesus chose LOVE, seeking divine forgiveness for humanity’s hatred, violence, brokenness and wrath. Jesus chose LOVE.
Rev. Anthony Thompson’s wife, Myrna, also died that day at Emmanuel AME Church. When Anthony saw Myrna last she had just finished preparing to lead the Bible Study. He said that as she left their home, she seemed to glow, as if everything were right in the world. Anthony also attended Roof’s pre-trial hearing. He said that he didn’t intend to go, but then he felt something propelling him to attend. While there, he felt God urging him to forgive Roof, too. “God put it in my head,” he said. “It was like God was speaking through me.”
Later Rev. Thompson said he felt a sense of peace and realized that forgiving the murder was not for Roof, but for himself. He said, “That [forgiveness] was for my kids and me, so we could have peace.”
How can anyone forgive a seemingly unforgivable sin? If we truly follow Jesus, we must forgive even those who virtually hang us on a cross! But we who are fully human sometimes stumble as we attempt to be like the one who is also fully divine. How many times have we each harbored a grudge over a matter so comparatively small? We cannot accomplish forgiveness on our own. We need God, and we need community. We need to choose LOVE each and every day! Each day we must choose between letting the difficult things about life create resentment in us, or allowing the work of forgiveness to make way for LOVE. Jesus chose LOVE. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Like Jesus, we need to practice forgiving those who betray us and persecute us. We need to forgive those who don’t have a clue how much they have hurt us, or who never come close to meeting our expectations for compassionate and kind living. That does not mean that we allow systems of injustice to perpetuate in the name of forgiveness. We still need to seek positive changes in those systems, and justice for the victim.
Extending forgiveness allows victims and loved ones to choose healing, peace, and abundant life. There’s nothing more remarkable in this world than two people creating a new relationship out of their brokenness, a relationship based on free-flowing LOVE and forgiveness. God has called us into community to build relationships with God and with one another. The Community of Faith is our chosen Family.
In the midst of pain, I choose love.
In the midst of pain, sorrow falling down like rain,
I await the sun again, I choose love.
I choose love.