Sermon: A Forgetful People (Luke 3:7-18)

Ever walked into a room and forgot why you where there?  Have no fear, it’s not you that’s the problem, it’s actually the doorway you’re entering through. Some psychologists at the University of Notre Dame have discovered that going through a doorway triggers what is known as an event boundary.  This event boundary separates one set of thoughts and memories from the next.  So when your walking through a door your brain files away old information to prepare for the new information.  Your brain resets itself to process new information.  So, if you walk into a room and forget why you are there, have no fear, it’s the doorway that is making you do it.
The reason I bring this up because but I think this highlights an even more important point; we are a forgetful people. We forget how good we have it, how fortunate we are to live in the town we do, to have the careers we have, to be able to be retired and not have to work anymore.  We forget the comfort in which we live and it takes a tragic event to jar us out of our forgetfulness.  I was confronted with this harsh reality when I heard about a shooting that took the lives of 27 people in Newtown, Connecticut, 20 of which were children.  Then I remember.  I find myself grateful once again for the life that I have and that this time the act of violence wasn’t toward me and my loved ones.  We are indeed a forgetful people.
We need to be reminded again and again why we are here, and who’s we are, and how to be in the world.  But this is nothing new, it has happened before, and it will happen again.  We forget and then remember in what is almost an endless cycle.  It’s as if our default position is amnesia.
We heard in today’s gospel reading John the Baptist s with words calling people to account for their lives. John the Baptist comes and tells people to take a good hard look at their complacency.  He says to them, “Don’t presume to say that we have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise children to Abraham.”  The people claimed that they a special relationship God through natural birth.  But then they had forgotten what that meant.  At another place Jesus picks up this same issue and says, “If Abraham were your father you would be doing what Abraham did”  But they weren’t doing what Abraham did, they had forgotten.
People started to ask John the Baptist, What shall we do then?  How do we remember?  How is it that we live out who god has called us to be?  Repent and be baptized. See a long time ago the people of Israel had undergone a baptism.  They went through the waters of the Jordan as slaves of Egypt and came out free.  John was calling them to do the same.  Go into the waters as slaves of complacency and forgetfulness and come out again ready to be involved what God was doing in the world. John was telling the people who were coming out to be baptized by him.  The people who were already wanting something new.  This baptism was repenting of there sins and living into the new reality of God’s coming reign.
But they asked him what shall we do?  He tell tells them.  If you have two coats give one away.  If you have food give half of that away.  He tells tax collectors not to steal from the people and soldiers to be satisfied with their pay and not extort money from the people they were supposed to be protecting.  He tells them to do what they already knew was the right thing to be doing.  John was telling them to bear the fruit that was already being produced inside of them.  They needed to be reminded how to be in the world after they had undertaken this new baptism, this new exodus from their former slavery.
I have heard all over the news these last few days, “What shall we do?” How shall we live after this tragedy?” And naturally it turns to politics.   Stricter Gun Control Laws? Less strict laws? Armed police in every school? There are no easy political answers.  How are we to be a people together after such a tragedy has taken place?  We are jarred from our complacency and realize that we need some answers we need to remember who we are.  And it’s hard to do after a tragedy.
But there was also someone in the news this week that did not forget who she is.  The very day that the shooting happened in Connecticut, a Woman in Virginia by the name of Stacey Jackson was having a memorial service at Oakwood Baptist Church for her son Jerry Brown. Jerry and his friend Josh Brent play for the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry was killed in a car accident and it is suspected that his team mate Joshua is to blame for the accident. He drove drunk with Jerry in the car that ended up upside down on the freeway and it cost Jerry his life.  Stacey Jackson had an amazing response to Josh Brent, she insisted that they ride to the funeral together, she wanted them to mourn together.  She told one news organization, “I just told him keep his head up, we’re praying for him. And I still love him; he can call me at 4:00 in the morning; he can call me at 12:00 crying. I don’t care. Because Jerry loved him like a brother.”  Even though Josh may go to jail, Stacey is standing by his side.  She has forgiven him and has brought him closer into her family.
At a time of tragedy she has taken a different road.  She is not shouting for vengeance and stricter DUI laws and the evils of Alcohol.  She is doing what she knows.  She is being a mother.  She is forgiving.  She is loving. Even loving the man who took her sons life.         Not long ago there was another school shooting in Pennsylvania.  On October 3, 2006 a man named Charles Roberts, age 32, took a small Amish schoolhouse hostage in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He had walked in there with guns and rope, intending to do very bad things to the students.  After he tied them up, the oldest girl student knew what was coming and told Roberts, “shoot me first.” Her sister said, “Shoot me second.”  They had hoped to buy time for the other students.   Roberts killed 10 people that day not including himself.
And when I had first heard about this shooting my blood began to boil at the injustice, the pain, and the suffering that this man had caused. But this community had a different response.  One woman was going around to the students and was telling them, “We must not think evil of this man.”  In the moment of pain and suffering she was training them in Christ.  Another man said telling people, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he is standing before God.”  I saw a news report that asked a man in the community how he felt about Roberts. He said with tears in his eyes, “I have already forgiven him in my heart.” But it didn’t end there either.  This community didn’t just forgive this man, they sought reconciliation with Roberts widow, parents, and in-laws. Maria Roberts the widow was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral. The Amish, who are not accustomed to taking donations, helped set up a fund for the Widow and diverted some of the donations they received to her.
Some thought they were foolish to forgive. Others had a different explanation. One author wrote, “that the Amish willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but rather constitutes a first step toward a future that is more hopeful.”  Jesus said to his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Yes, we need to remember how to forgive. We need to practice forgiving and loving and learning what it means to be a Spirit filled people. So that, like this community, who underwent a tragedy more profound than words can describe their forgiveness is etched into their own bodies as the nails in Christ hand and feet- and the world took notice. In 2006 there were news programs, magazine articles, documentaries done on the Amish community because of the way they followed Jesus.
What if after this tragedy in Connecticut we also talked about forgiveness?  What if we talked about faith and hope and love?  What if we talked about holding those people with mental illnesses, those people who are on the outskirts of our society, those who are unloved, even closer?
I believe in hope.  I believe in a day when sin will be no more, when all injustices will be made just.  I believe in a day when there will be no sorrow and every tear will be wiped away from our eyes.  There will be a day when the reign of God will encompass all of the earth. and the lion shall lie down with lamb and peace, true peace, will be known.  I am filled with expectation this advent season that Jesus will return one day and make all things right again.  Amen.

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