Homily: February 8, 2015
5 EPIPHANY, YEAR B; Rev. Vant Washington
Almost every Tuesday from 1958 up to 1963, I, along with other members of my family, would jockey for a position in the living room, behind our individual "T.V. Trays" to watch another episode of the "Naked City"
At 8 years old I wasn't all that able to understand the storylines. I wasn’t mature enough to comprehend the human conflicts that lay at the center of each episode. For me, it was simply family time. A new kind of family time brought on by the invention of television, but family time nonetheless.
I hope I’m not the only one here old enough to remember that weekly television show. It had the feel of a documentary. The was always plenty of black and white footage of New York City where the dramas of individual lives played out.
I would eat my dinner like a good lad, but what I was really waiting for was, in my opinion, the best part of the show, when the narrator would intone the iconic line....THERES ARE 8 MILLION STORIES IN THE NAKED CITY. THIS HAS BEEN ONE OF THEM!
I sometimes think it would help modern readers of the Bible if there was a little audio chip inserted in the Bible that would alert the faithful that what they just read was one of the 8 million stories contained in scripture. Sometimes the stories in the Bible are told so sparingly we miss the drama. There is no black and white footage to set the scene. We have to depend on our imagination to fill in the blanks and reveal the meaning.
Now that I think of it, I just hit on a potentially very profitable idea. You they’ve got those greeting cards with audio chips that play happy birthday or make a rude noise when the recipient opens the card. After this sermon I think I’ll rush home and fill out a patent application.
“There are 8 million stories in the Bible, this has been one of them!” I like it.
Now I just read one of the amazing stories from Jesus’ ministry proclaimed by Mark. There wasn’t an audio chip to alert us to pay attention, but it is important not to rush past that story as just another miracle performed during his travels with his disciples.
The circumstances are familiar. Once again, Jesus is constantly being called on to use his powers to perform miracles. Everyone wants something from Him. For once, Jesus seems to have had enough. He is asking to be left alone. He is, as we would say today, asking for some space. There were times in the gospels, where Jesus becomes overwhelmed with heavy
burdens and of fatigue. He leaves his Disciples and goes off to pray, meditate, regenerate but, most of all seek direction from God.
The Bibles documents the stories of great healing powers of great multitude of illnesses of the crippled, the blind, demon possessed individuals.
Today I would like to speak about one of the most horrendous demons out there. It is one that all of us have encountered, one so powerful it can cut us off from our sense of God’s presence, distort our relationships with others, rob us of sleep and make us agitated during our waking hours.
A mild name for that demon is resentment. A stronger name is enmity. The simplest and most accurate name is hate. Pure, unadulterated hate.
Do not delude yourself into thinking you have never been possessed by this demon. Everyone has such feelings toward a family member who disappointed, a bully who taunted, even a whole nation of people who wronged their ancestors. As a Black man descended from people who endured more than 300 years of bondage, it would be natural, even expected, for me to embrace the demon of hatred toward those who wronged my ancestors, my family, even my children. Why should I and others like me embrace the demon?
Now that embrace might not lead to any dramatic acts of revenge. It might lead me to refuse to shake someone’s hand of move to other side of street when I see them coming. But both of us would know that there is nothing kind or loving in heart.
What would Jesus say about such a demon. We all know the answer. It is Stated plainly in the prayer He taught us. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. It sounds so simple but the demon inside us compels us to resist. How can we someone or something that has taken all or part of our desires, happiness, hopes, and dreams. To forgive seems a desecration. That we should entertain the thought that forgives could ever be a form of desecration tells us what a powerful demon we are dealing with. Jesus tells us that forgiveness is a sacred act. The demon tells us that to forgive is the opposite—something that offends what is sacred.
To forgive someone, or something is never easy. The pain is often deep. The Bitter feelings very real. We often times hear and say that it is "normal" to have such feelings. Those feeling are normal. They help our body our soul take in the fact that something has been taken away from us. The feelings are not the problem is that we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking we can dispense with those feeling by getting even. We drink from the cup of revenge and pass
on the cup of forgiveness. We drink the devil’s brew and forget that the communion chalice is filled with the spirit of forgiveness.
We may sing hymns that celebrate forgiveness on Sunday, but the rest of the week we revel in songs of sustained resentment. How many movies and popular lyrics, in the Blues or Country Western, dwell on the hurt and pain we inflict on each other. There are more than one “Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Songs.”
B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” is just one example. Somebody somewhere is writing another even as we meet here today.
But even in those popular expressions of the human condition you sometimes hear a call to healing and reconciliation.
That call part of God's attempt to make you and me and all of us whole through His Grace. We must learn to forgive if we ever expect to be free from the harm others had done to us.
Now don’t get me wrong. God does not want us to suffer brutality and injustice in silence. God calls on all of us to stand up for truth and justice. God just doesn’t want brutality and injustice to cut us off from the love of our fellow creatures and the love of our creator.
One of the ultimate acts of forgiveness I have experienced was during my my spiritual journey to seek deaconate status. I and the others seeking the same, were sequestered for a weekend at St. Jane's House 1403 Emerson Ave. North Minneapolis. That is sometimes call the "FROM DEATH TO LIFE" house. It is a place where those who have been hurt retreat of heal the wounds of conflict and renew their spiritual life.
I witnessed that weekend an encounter between two women who both lost their son. One son had been murdered by the other. The murderer was sent away for life. The mother of the slain son poured out her sorrow. So did the mother of the murderer. Their tears flowed but so did the spirit of forgiveness. The mother who lost her son forgave the boy who had taken her son’s life. The two mothers ended up comforting each other. They acknowledged how much each
had lost. They both seemed to be letting go, putting down their burdens and turning their lives over to God. They resolved to journey together and visit the surviving son on the next visitation day.
I watched as a demon left the room that day. The demon left because two hearts had become free by letting go of what was binding them. TO LIFE”.
There is a well written poem, written by an unknown author called “LETTING GO” I encourage you read this poem (I have copies, will hand them out after this service). I particularly like the following lines from the poem.
“To let go” is not to care for…but to care about”.
“To let go” is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future”.
“To let go” is to fear less and love more”.
I have known many individuals who somehow failed to find forgiveness in their hearts. They became sick in mind and body. Their lives became joyless. The poison ate away at their soul. As the saying goes, resentment is a poison you drink yourself in the expectation that the other guy will grow sick and die.
In like manner, I’ve also witnessed individuals who placed the faith in God, sought to forgive and recovered mentally and physically.
God’s Grace, steadfast faith and prayer releases us from the clutches of hatred and bitterness.
Jesus demonstrated God’s power of healing over and over, until he was exhausted and had to seek refuge. Consider how much we burden him when refuse to let go of our hatred and enmity. God who sent his beloved son, Jesus to teach us and receive Grace. Why do we refuse the lesson. Why do we ignore this gift. A part of that gift is freedom to love. Freedom through forgiveness.
Why do we forget Jesus’ dying words—Father forgive them.
Time does not always heal; time without forgiveness does not heal. There must be an intentional effort to let go. That effort may take time. It certainly will depend on God’s grace. But when it happens you will feel a lightness that you thought was not possible. Forgiveness may even become a habit. When others hurt you in the hope of adding to your burdens they will be amazed to see that you do not pick up the weight they would force upon you.
“FORGIVE US OUR SINS, AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST US”
Let us begin that process of healing.
As Father Theo, announced at the beginning of the service, we all are going to participate in a Baptism today. Let us remember that with Baptism comes the power of forgiveness. What an awesome power that is.
May the words….