Real Faith in the Real World

Proper 22C’19

6 October 2019

Hab 1.1-4, 2.1-4; II Tim.1.1-14

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord… Amen.  - From II Timothy 1.1-14

Every now and again events in the news and the scripture readings from a given Sunday happen to coincide. The reading from the prophet Habakkuk, written almost three thousand years ago sounds like it could have been written today: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So, the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.” [1]

A violent tragedy occurred this past week in Texas. A white, Dallas police officer, named Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment, on the wrong floor of her apartment building and saw 26-year-old African-American, Botham Jean sitting on the couch eating ice cream and she drew her gun and fatally shot him. The officer said in her testimony that she had mistook a neighbor’s apartment for her own and thought an intruder had broken in to her apartment. Ms. Guyger was sentenced Wednesday to a decade in prison in a stunning courtroom scene that included the dead man’s younger brother Brandt Jean who addressed her directly from the witness stand. I hardly ever wish we had a big screen in our church, but I wish I did today so that I could show the jaw dropping court room scene. So, I’ll do the next best thing and read a transcript:

After the judge reads the guilty verdict sentencing her to ten years in prison, Botham Jean’s younger brother, Brandt Jean says: “If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you…and I know if you go to God and ask him he will forgive you…And I don’t think anyone could say it, again I’m speaking for myself, not even on behalf of my family, but I love you, just like anyone else. I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you, and I wasn’t ever going to say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that is exactly what Botham would want…the best would be to give your life to Christ…(He looks at the judge and asks) “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please (there is a brief silence, and with a lump in his throat and looking at the judge asks again) Please?” The Judge said: “Yes.” The little brother of the victim and the killer embrace in front of the judge, and in a little over a minute they embrace four times and whisper to each other. As they both return to their seats the judge said, “Thank you very much…Thank you!”[2]

Let’s pause just for a minute to let these mental images and powerful words settle in. You owe it to yourself to go home later today and “google” this scene and watch it!

After I saw it, I thought, ‘There is Sunday’s sermon!’ I immediately posted it to my Facebook page and forwarded it to friends and family.  It’s ‘Love-in-action’ message is hard to improve upon! In just about three minutes time a young man gave witness to the gratuitous and scandalous Grace of God – that relentlessly pursues us all in spite of all that we have ever done wrong, including our worst failures. As the song by Irish rock band U2 says: “Love is bigger than anything in its way.”

How many times have we come upon situations like this one and said to ourselves something like, ‘I know what the Bible says but in times like this forgiveness is just not realistic.’ This courtroom scene shows us that God’s unconditional love is not only a reality, but that it really can be practiced by ordinary human beings. Brandt Jean shows us that anyone who chooses to open up their heart to this ‘God-kind-of-love’ can share it and begin to change the world one life at a time.

The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, 
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. 
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, 
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. 
Through violence you may murder the hater, 
but you do not murder hate. 
In fact, violence merely increases hate. 
So it goes. 
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. 
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
[3]

About now you might be saying to yourself: “Father Carey, this all sounds wonderful but it’s just too hard for me.”  I would agree “you or I” can’t live this way on our own, in our own strength. Habakkuk points the way: “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” Only faith in a God whose “Love is bigger than anything in its way” can make the actions of a Brandt Jean possible. Stories like his reminds me of a quote by the writer GK Chesterton: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

What would happen if we all decided to try it?

 

 

 



[1] Habakkuk 1.1-4 NRSV

[2] To view the scene, Google “Courtroom scene with Amber Guyger, Botham Jean’s killer.” 

[3] https://www.drmartinlutherkingjr.com/mlkquotes.htm

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