The second turn of events came from the decision to go to church with a friend to a night service. As I said in Part 1, I made the necessary choice to sleep in yesterday, missing my chance to attend my regular morning service. I’d never been to a night service before, but as you’ll see from later words that you will read in this post, sometimes change, however temporary, can have terrific results.
The original plan was to go at 7, but the discovery of a Flight of the Conchords concert by my friend to be here on campus at 8 rendered that plan moot. I was conflicted, wondering just how Jesus may feel about the idea of skipping church for sleep on one account and then skipping for the pursuit of musical hilarity on another all in the same day. A simpler solution than my guilt came to fruition. My friend offered we go to the 5, o’clock service instead so we could do both awesome things, effectively proving that sometimes and only sometimes it is okay to have your cake and eat it too… As long as one of those cakes involves the Lord it would appear.
We arrive at the Austin Stone and low and behold the pastor reveals we are in for a special sermon in light of the events of last week. I’m sure at this point you aren’t a stranger to the tragedy that has struck recently. Race relations in this country are a sticky subject, but the root of the problem runs deeper than the color of anyone’s skin. The fear and the hatred that drives black men to be shot dead in the street or police officers of the law to be gunned down in cold blood while defending citizens are great foes to be overcome, but greater still than fear and hatred is the apathy felt by far too many. So our pastor strove to dive into how we tackle and defeat apathy as a church. It is hard work, but it is work that needs to be done in order to save this country from itself. The job only gets completed from us working together. The message of the sermon can be summed up in three words: Love, Forgiveness, and Unity.
Let’s start with love. It has been and always will be the great commandment. First, to love God with “all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and second to “love thy neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36-40. We know that God first loved us and so the natural progression of things is that we love Him back and then love each other as fellow bearers of His image. When an image is erased, no matter the color of the skin on that face, is a terrible loss for the entirety of mankind. It should be felt as grievously as if you lost a loved one in your own family, because they are a loved one a part of your family. When you love your neighbor as yourself, you do not belittle their plight when they feel disadvantaged. You come to their aid, because if the situation were reversed you would want to receive their help. When you love your neighbor as yourself, you don’t dismiss others’ opinions on a matter as stupid without hearing them out, because if the situations were reversed you would want to be listened to attentively and know your voice is being heard. When you love your neighbor as yourself, you do not hold a grudge when someone has wronged you. You forgive them immediately, because if the situations were reversed and you knew you had made a mistake, however serious, you would want the chance for redemption.
Forgiveness is something everyone stumbles with, but it is something everyone is capable of. Something to remember is how beautiful a gift it is in the first place: that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. From the off, there was nothing we had to do to earn God’s love. He just loved us anyway. And He established the marker that there was nothing we had to do in order to earn His forgiveness. When His only begotten Son died on the cross all those years ago, God was saying to us clearly that He forgives us anyway. Every murderer, every prostitute, every occasional jaywalker. Despite the weight of the wrong we are forgiven through Christ. What does that mean for us? We must forgive others because Christ rests in all. He died for all. He lives for all. He forgives all, and so it is our God given duty to do the same. Forgiveness does not come with a prerequisite for the offender to feel guilty. It begins with the offended. Because the forgiveness teaches a lesson that goes far beyond guilt, remorse, or shame. Forgiveness is at its core an extension of love- unconditional love that is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrong.
I emphasize the last two aspects of love because they are a bit more pertinent with regards to the unrest and tension surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Although not everyone on the outside of it feels this way, there are those who view the movement as an excuse for black people to play the victim card. They see the police brutality against black people dilemma as a problem that isn’t as big as the media make it out to be, and a problem certainly not as big as black on black crime. And although not everyone on the inside of it feels this way, there are those who view the movement as an excuse to distrust the very people who are set up by the government to protect us. They see police brutality against black people and feel that they aren’t safe anymore and all cops are bad. I’ll address both sides of the aisle and say that while that may be true for some, that is not true for all. Over-generalizations and stereotypes get us nowhere as a people. And more than anything else, bury the impulse to respond with hate. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. And darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. I personally feel that the love and light of Jesus is the power through which all else will come to reconciliation. For officers who kill innocents, no matter the circumstances, either they’ll meet the justice of Man or of God. Where they escape one they cannot escape the other, but remember that even they are worthy of forgiveness. The real Spider-man once said “with great power comes great responsibility,” and so we have a responsibility to fight for the three prongs of the sermon from yesterday: Love, Forgiveness, and Unity.
The unity bit I didn’t really touch on because I feel it is kind of self explanatory. We share this earth together. The only way to save it is to look after one another and defend each other with the only weapon worth fighting: Love. Cheers.
For Anton Sterling, Philando Castile, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa