The Lord said, “Go out. Stand on the mountain in front of me. I am going to pass by.” As the Lord approached, a very powerful wind tore the mountains apart. It broke up the rocks. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire came. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. And after the fire there was only a gentle whisper.
Today, I wish to explore the need for creating space in which one can explore their faith. By faith I mean that ongoing struggle to share and participate in the search to find meaning and purpose in a fragmented life. Faith, I believe, provides us both with the platform and the tools to maneuver through the challenges of life and yet proclaim God’s active presence within us. In other words, how can we claim God’s presence in the midst of all things which seek to declare either its’s absence or powerlessness.
My friends this is the space in which the prophet Elijah found himself after fleeing from the wrath of Queen Jezebel. How dare he in the name of God stand up to the oppressor? How dare he declare that God is greater than any oppressive force? In fear of death, he fled to the hills and considered many ways to escape even that of suicide. My friends, if one is to combine this story with that of Jesus and the mentally ill man in the gospel story (Luke 8:26-39) there is much that reflects the ongoing struggles within our urban communities as we seek to find ways to maneuver through systematic oppression.
This week during the commemoration of Juneteenth, I attended a viewing of the movie ‘Emanuel’ on the fourth anniversary of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This movie focused upon the act of forgiveness by some of the family members of those who died at the hands of a racist perpetrator. Many members of these families and parishioners of Emanuel immediately forgave the killer. “How can one forgive so quickly?”, was the main question being asked by this film. How can one forgive even when the killer is yet to acknowledge the pain and brokenness caused by his own actions? Can I forgive even when there is no remorse shown by the one who has destroyed lives? The response of the victims was simply, “they forgave because of their unwavering faith in a Jesus, who forgives unconditionally”.
The narrator centered the conversation around the centrality of forgiveness in our Christian faith. Christianity, he declares is the only religion in which the central figure is tortured and killed and yet offers forgiveness rather than condemnation or revenge.
My friends, what Elijah and all the prophets discovered, experienced and declared was not just the miraculous power of God but the greatness of God. God cannot be limited to human space, time or a human agenda; even to human feelings. Because, in spite what humans declare or believe, God has never supported or never invested in any work of oppression of humanity or any part of His creation. It is just the very opposite. Whether it is a broken spirited prophet, a nation of people or a mentally ill individual, God who sustains the universe is able to enter into the human spirit as we struggle allowing us to declare freedom.
Jesus’ forgiveness is the gift and the tool through which one can maneuver ways to find freedom. Freedom begins by first freeing one’s soul thereby creating the space within which one can freely seek out life’s other needs and desires. Forgiveness for Jesus was not a comforting device but a platform upon which one can now launch into fulfilling our God-given destiny. The divine mystery of forgiveness is that it is both the goal and the tool to achieve the prize. Each of the biblical passages used today ends with a command “to go”!
As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the “exact representation of God” (Hebrews 1:1-3), Jesus “only does what (He) sees God doing, because whatever God does, the Son also does,” (John 5:19), and “if we want to know what the Father is like, we just need to look at Jesus” (John 14). Jesus is constantly offering forgiveness as a pathway to freedom. Because once you are free from the chains of hatred, then your act of revenge takes a different shape and form. “This means that blacks are free to do what they have to in order to affirm their humanity”. (James Cone) Our ancestors arrivals on plantations were forced to utilize all available tools in order to negotiate space within which they could hold their fragmented lives together. This remains a necessary skill in order to maneuver through every aspect of our lives including our church.
My act of forgiveness means I am not trapped in a cycle of pain and hatred, and I have the ability and strength to maneuver beyond the boundaries and limitations set by the sins and aggressions of others. The prophetic call which God challenged Elijah to recover and act in His name is the same call the faithful are continually challenged to do. The prophetic work of declaring forgiveness gives us freedom even in the midst of pain and brokenness is the way for healing and restoration.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” ― James Baldwin Forgiveness brings us face to face with the pain and brokenness of oppression and our own personal shortcomings and weaknesses in order to reveal a pathway forward. Now go and tell others how much God has done for you!