Guilty or not guilty? I am not talking about Officer Stockley here. You can read the verdict online, (I encourage you to do so) word for word, look at the evidence and draw your own conclusion. I am talking about us. I am talking about what happens when we don’t heed the admonition from the book of Sirach and from today’s gospel. I am speaking of what happens when we lose the words forgiveness and mercy from our individual and corporate vocabulary. And what happens when justice and due process and rule of law seems out of reach as well.
- Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. –Are you Guilty or Not Guilty?
- Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? – Guilty or not guilty?
- “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? 7 times? No, I say 77 times.” Really? – Guilty or not guilty of holding yourself to that standard?
When I am honest and look in the mirror, I see a face capable of nourishing anger, of holding on to it tight. I have done so. When I am honest and look at the TV, I am fearful of the years of pent of anger that finds a flash point, rightly or wrongly, in another verdict of “not guilty”. When I look in the mirror of social media, I read such a painfully divided city.
But here is what my faith tells me in the midst of all that. Here is what these providential readings invite me to know.
- I must find forgiveness in my heart to offer to all who protest ‘less than peacefully’ – and to pray for the emergence of leadership that continues to find a way to advocate non-violently for a just society.
- I must find forgiveness in my heart to offer to all the Jason Stockley’s on the front lines of protecting the cities. They are put into such terrible place by all the violence and drug dealers and guns and are then are called to make split second life or death decisions. Because of that terrible place of a split second choice, we, as a city, are in a terrible place.
- I must find forgiveness for my own lack of creativity and paralysis in responding to the sin of racism where I experience it.
Archbishop Carlson wrote this: if the region wants peace and justice, “we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness. While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division. We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us. … We must work together for a better, stronger, safer community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our neighbor as another self.” Do we see our neighbor as another self?
Guilty or not guilty. They are uncomfortable words to struggle with. And uncomfortable realities to live with. But unless we hold forgiveness as a treasured thing, we are left with a world of anger and wrath. And we see just how quickly they become hateful things. Let me leave you with a story of one way we might move forward.
One of my Rectors in Seminary told a story on about a friend and his relationship with his father. The son, in his youthful arrogance, did a very hurtful thing against his father – there were words exchanged – and the two did not speak, did not have contact for many long years. The son got married – the father was not invited. The son moved out of town and 15 years of silence ensued.
After having children of his own, as his kids turned the age he was when ‘the incident’ happened, the son began to realize what it was like for his father – and had a change of heart. So he sat down and wrote his father a very long letter – detailing as much as he could remember his own thoughts, feelings and decisions during that time. With the last line came his plea – could you find it in your heart to forgive me? With great fear in his heart – he dropped the letter in the mailbox.
As soon as his father received the letter – he called – they met and reconciled – and became close. Nothing was ever said about the letter or the incident again. And from being completely estranged, they became closest of friends. Yet the son always wondered about the change….
Years passed, and the father died peacefully in his sleep. As they were going through his effects, the son came to a box simply entitled “TREASURED THINGS” – Inside was an assortment of items – a purple heart medal from the war, a rock from the grand canyon, a program from their wedding ceremony, some letters. On one of them, the son recognized his own handwriting – it was the letter he had sent asking forgiveness so many years ago. He reread the letter, and when he turned the last page for the final sentences – he understood why the change in the relationship had been so dramatic and transforming. There, across the entire back page, in big red letters, was one word: “Forgiven.” His father held as a treasured thing the word ‘forgiven’ in relationship to his son.
Guilty or Not Guilty. It is so easy to hold wrath and anger as treasured things. And we see what happens in our society when we do. Let us pray for the grace to hold mercy and forgiveness as treasured things instead…