“Then Peter….said: ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Jesus said to him: ‘ I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'” Matthew 18:21, 22
” A new commandment I give to you that you love one another; as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34, 35
Full disclosure: the I did not make up this title but it comes from a song by the same name written by Peter Scholtes.
Jesus is preparing His disciples for a time that he is not physically with them. He is preparing them for a time when they will be going forward, into the world, in His Name. Jesus knows that the world will have considerable doubt about these men. Even those who might be inclined to believe in Jesus will want to know that these men come with the authentic message of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus lays it out simply. Jesus tells them: “if you love Me then keep my commandments”. You see the hearers were not going to just decide to follow Jesus based on what they heard from these men, but what they saw also.
What did Jesus want the people to see in His disciples. Jesus wanted people to see love. Jesus wanted the people to see the disciples loving and serving each other; but not just each other. Jesus wanted the disciples to be showing His love to the world. How would that love be shown? The love of Jesus Christ would be shown through loving forgiveness, not just once but as often as necessary.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church is not a stranger to hatred. The church has been burnt down and seen its members threatened and even beaten before. Yet the church was and is seen as a beacon of openness and sanctuary of hope. Throughout their history, when they could have lashed out in hatred, given up and moved to a place where they would feel more safe, they instead, forgave and stayed put to continue to show forth Christ’s love.
On the evening of Wednesday June 17th, hatred came to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. A blind hatred much the same as that hurled against the Savior, Himself, as He hung on that tree. Nine beautiful saints died that night. What’s a Christian to do? The world would want a hate spewed, violence filled, catastrophic response. What’s a Christian to do who wants to show that He or She is a disciple of Christ?
Disciples came to Emanuel AME church, that Wednesday night and have been coming ever since. The disciples came not with weapons in their hands, not with chants of “burn it down!”not with menacing in their souls. The disciples came with love, with song, with tears and prayers. The young man so filled with evil hatred, who perpetrated this horrific crime was caught. He was brought in front of a magistrate and families of the slain victims were in the courtroom. The judge allowed them to speak. Those who spoke could have cried out for vengeance, for lynching, for eternal damnation of this boy’s soul. Instead, most spoke of pain, the awful pain this young man had inflicted and then they forgave him.
Other disciples in the community of Charleston SC could have taken to the street with malevolent anger in their hearts wanting to strike out in frustration and to destroy. Was their anger and confusion; sure, yet expressed not in violence but in somber reflection of how this type of hate still exists. There was sorrow and grieving yet also in the midst of this despair there was also love and unbelievably, at least to the world, hope.
Other disciples in other cities and towns across the nation and even across the world could have struck out in anger hoping to divide and devastate. Yes people did come together, and they marched. But they didn’t march to the chants of violence, flanked on their sides by rows of police officers in riot gear, with the sting and choking smell of tear gas in the air. No, they marched to the sweet sounds of hymns being sung, walking hand in hand, all races, all genders and even various faiths.
How do we know that these were disciples of Christ; by their love. Jesus Christ is calling to each of us, whether touched by this tragedy or some other attack against us. Do not look to gouge out the eye in return, don’t look to knock out the tooth, instead; follow Jesus Christ. Follow Jesus Christ in forgiving they that come against you. Follow Jesus Christ in loving others; yes to be sure your fellow disciples, your fellow travelers on the road with and to Christ. Yet Jesus asks more of us. Jesus Christ asks us to follow His example of, when He was hanging on the cross, innocent yet so hated, wronged by those He so wanted to help. Jesus Christ forgave them. Jesus Christ forgave His tormentors. Jesus Christ showed He loved His enemies. That is a very, very difficult thing to do. In fact I don’t believe it is possible unless Jesus Christ resides in our hearts. However, I do believe with Jesus Christ it is possible to do. Just look at the Christians of Emanuel AME Church, look at the Christians of Charleston SC, look at the Christian response across the nation to this terrible act. With the love they are showing, I know that they are Christians.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we so thank You Father, that You sent Your Son Jesus Christ to us to show us the true meaning of love and how to live it. Help us to be like Christ and show to the world the power of true love and the healing power of forgiveness. Be with those grieving families and members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, comforting them as You have promised to do. Let the world see the power of this kind of love and know that it comes not from us as good human beings, but comes freely for all, just as they are, from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen