Thursday, December 17, 2015

He Rules the World with Truth and Grace

It’s not often that a news article brings me to tears, but recently I read one that did.  It’s by David Von Drehle of Time magazine, titled, “How Do You Forgive a Murder?”  It’s about the people who were victims of the shooting at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina last summer, and their families.  We all remember that event, we all remember the hateful racial views of the shooter, and we all remember how the survivors and families bravely forgave him.  But this story told me who those people really were.  It helped me see how difficult it was to forgive, and how their faith made it possible.  Felicia Sanders was in that room when the shooting started.  She was with her adult son and her little granddaughter.  The son, Tywanza, was a guy who Von Drehle says was so joyous and ambitious, “if life was a multiple choice test, his answer was all of the above.”  As he watched this stranger coldly mow down innocent people who had welcomed him into their small Bible study, Tywanza bravely approached him and said, “You don’t have to do this.”  The shooter said, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go,” and shot Tywanza at close range.  Felicia Sanders saw her son die, as she crouched on the floor with her granddaughter.  She is certain that the only reason the two of them are alive today is that they both were so completely covered in the blood of her son, they looked dead.   Sanders forgave the shooter because she felt she had no choice.  If she didn’t, she was afraid the hate that shooter felt would invade her own soul.  She asked the FBI for the Bible her son carried that night. They said it was unrecoverable.  She said she wanted it anyway.  So the FBI’s high-tech lab in Quantico cleaned the Bible as carefully as possible, page by page.  This is how the article ends: “She has it now.  The pages are pink with blood that can never wash away.  But she can still make out the words.”  
We all want to believe that these were the actions of a mentally ill person, and that’s that.  But that same hatred is alive in all of us.  Every one of us, if we’re honest, would admit there is some group of people we take pleasure in looking down on.  Maybe it’s not a particular race, but people who look, think speak, dress or act differently than us in some way.  Prejudice happens when you take something about yourself that you find valuable, that gives you identity, and then look down on people who are different.  You take that difference and give it moral weight.  To give just one example: As a parent, I tend to look down on people who make different parenting choices than I do.  When I see a child running loose in a restaurant or yelling loudly, I think to myself, “We would never have let our kids do that when they were little.  We would have taken them outside.  Those must be really thoughtless parents.”  Do you see what I did there?  I made a moral judgment about someone without knowing anything about them.  I did it because it made me feel good; I am a better parent and a more thoughtful guy.  We all do this.  It just depends on what’s important to your identity.  People who are in great shape look down on people who eat bacon cheeseburgers and never exercise.  People who are hard workers look down on people who sleep late and don’t take care of their lawns.  People who are highly educated look down on people who use poor grammar.  But what if that group you look down on suddenly in some way becomes a threat to your way of life?  Then that smugness becomes hatred. Under the right circumstances, it can become violent: It's a guy shooting into a car full of teenagers because their music was too loud.  It's a tribe in Rwanda committing genocide on their own neighbors.  That prejudice is alive in all of us, ticking like a time bomb, dividing us from one another. So what is the ultimate answer?  Surely it isn’t religion, right?  After all, doesn’t religion divide us?  Throughout this Christmas season, we’ve been in a series called Far as the Curse is Found.  We’ve been talking about what God intends to do through Jesus in this messed-up world.  We’ve seen how Jesus will be a King who gives us the kind of leadership we’ve always needed.  We’ve seen how He will redeem the planet, the same way He has redeemed each of our individual souls.  But here in verse 10, we see something else Jesus will do: He will unite humanity.  How?  Come and get some good news, just in time for Christmas.  

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