Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 6, 2016

2016.03.06 “Roll Down, Justice: A Lenten Biblical Reflection – Session 4: I Choose Love” – Luke 23: 33 – 38

Central United Methodist Church
Roll Down, Justice: A Lenten Biblical Reflection
Session 4: I Choose Love
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 23: 33 – 38
March 6th, 2016

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Note: This sermon series is adapted from the study, “Roll Down, Justice: A Lenten Biblical Reflection,” developed by the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church, written by Faye Wilson and featuring the music and reflections of life-long Methodist and musician Mark A. Miller. http://gcorr.org/resources/roll-down-justice While I drew upon the suggestions of the study guide for each session, my reflections are my own. Before reading my reflection, please watch the video of Mark Miller’s reflection and music. – Pastor Haley

Session 4: I Choose Love

In the midst of pain, I choose love
In the midst of war, I choose peace
When my world falls down, I will rise
In the midst of pain, I choose love.
– By Lindy Thompson

Luke 23: 33 – 38 (The New Revised Standard Version)

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

 

Note: For this session, Session 4, “I Choose Love,” we watched Mark Miller’s spoken reflection in the video (here), and then watched his musical reflection after my comments below. I commend readers to do so as well. – Pastor Haley

 

It was one of the saddest and most disturbing mass murders of last year: On June 18, 2015, a 21 year old man named Dylann Roof entered a prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., one of the oldest African American churches in the country. After being received and welcomed by those who were present – including the Pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, also a State Senator – Roof sat with them for an hour, then began to argue, then arose and pulled a 45 handgun out of his bag, and shot them one by one. “You are raping our women and taking over our country,” Mr. Roof said to the victims, all of them black, before killing them, witnesses told the police.

It was disturbing at the time and remains so now. In our 24/7 news cycle, where we move from one mass shooting to another, with each incident making us more numb than the one before, it is disturbing to go back and relive this terrible tragedy and remember the outrage of it, the tremendous and senseless loss of life, and the void that it left in nine families, in that church and community.

The shooter, Dylann Roof, now awaits trial on 13 State counts and 33 Federal counts, and likely faces the death penalty.

How do we feel about that? Isn’t it only justice, after the nine lives he took out of the world? It is easy to hate him, as we learn more and think about what happened, can’t we feel the hate rising up? Until we stop to think that the hatred rising up in our hearts, is another form of the misguided hatred that filled his heart, which led him to kill 9 innocent people. I doubt anyone here can say with certainty where we stand on the death penalty, because there are crimes that are so heinous – like those involving children – that life in prison does not seem proportionate. I’m not saying it’s right; I’m only saying that in reality our hatred for those who commit such heinous acts goes deep.

And yet we know – deep down – that hatred of any kind for any one always takes a toll, perpetuating the cycle of violence and poisoning our own heart and personality. As the saying goes, “If you going to hate someone, you better dig two graves: one for yourself and one for the person you hate.”

In the days that followed, if there was anyone who showed us the way, it was the families of the victims, the congregation of Mother Emanuel Church, and that community, united by the tragedy. At the hearing on the Friday following, one after another looked into the expressionless face of the young man charged with making them motherless, snuffing out the life of a promising son, taking away a loving wife for good, bringing a grandmother’s life to a horrific end, and answered him with forgiveness:

“You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, her voice rising in anguish. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” (“In Charleston, Raw Emotion at Hearing for Suspect in Church Shooting,” The New York Times, by Nikita Stewart and Richard Perez-Pena, June 19, 2015)

The congregation of Mother Emanuel showed us the way forward as well. Just four days after that pile of bloody bodies in the basement, including that of their pastor, Mother Emanuel opened their doors for worship, to everybody: the Governor of S.C., Nikki Haley, other state and town officials, and all mourners of the tragedy, black and white, rich and poor.

This terrible act of violence is just one example of the horrific things that can happen in life, without warning, without meaning, sometimes without justice. When such things happen, we have a choice: we can react instinctively with anger and hate, or we can – with choice and deliberation – react with love. And by love I do not meant a feeling of affection, as we often think of love, but with forgiveness and a desire for the ultimate well-being even of those who have wronged us.

Can we do that? Honestly, I don’t know. In my own uncertainty, I cannot presume to ask it of you, as if to say, “Buck up, and get over it.” There are many circumstances I can think of that I would struggle with, such as the abuse or murder of a child, or a family member, or acts of mass murder, like this one. There are also things that happen to us in life that are not deadly but deeply humiliating and wounding, such as being discriminated against, being fired or laid off, being lied to or criticized, or being treated rudely, especially in front of others. Things like these, too, can fill us with anger and resentment and even hatred. Whether we acknowledge it or not, there is a lot of resentment and bitterness and perhaps even hatred here in church, this morning, sitting in these pews, resident in our own hearts. Who has not had bad things happen to them?

But here’s the thing: when such things happen in life, we have choices, even though we may not be immediately aware of them. We may not have choices in WHAT happens, but we have choices in how we react and how we respond to what happens. We can choose hate, or we can choose love, as Mark Miller has reminded us today. While choosing love over hate may not be the human way, it is the Christian way, as we seek to follow the teaching and example of Jesus, who taught us:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5: 43-45)

Never are we reminded of Jesus’ way more clearly than during Lent, when we remember how even during his own suffering and injustice Jesus consistently chose love over hate, even during his suffering on the cross.

I am not saying it is easy; I am saying that every day we have a choice in determining how will the events of that day affect us. It is therefore a spiritual challenge for all of us who want to live a life faithful to the call of Jesus, to rise up every day and say: “Today – in this moment – through my pain, through my fear, through my rage – I choose love.” As Dr. King put it, “May we solemnly realize that we shall never be true sons [and daughters] of our heavenly Father until we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” (From Strength to Love (Harper & Row, 1963, reprinted by Beacon Press in A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings, 2012).

Please return to the video (here) and watch and listen to Mark Miller’s musical reflection, “I Choose Love.”

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