Sermon – August 2nd 2015
10th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)
By Roland Legge
King David is so human! He is like all of us flawed, imperfect and at times violent. Last week we heard about the horrible things he did in raping Bathsheba and having her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed. Now enters the prophet Nathan who tells David a story:
“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.
12:2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds;
12:3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.
12:4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” (2 Samuel 12:1-4)
David is enraged by the abuse of the rich man over the poor man.
Nathan is quick to pronounce to David that he is the rich man in this story. Can you imagine being in the shoes of David? I don’t think this would have been easy for David to hear. Many would have rejected what Nathan said and yet David is able to see himself. David seeks forgiveness from God for his abominations.
All of us can relate to David. We all have done something that we later regret. Right here in the United Church of Canada we have had to acknowledge our sin in how we treated our aboriginal sisters and brothers through the residential school system that destroyed the lives of many. We seek forgiveness for how we have excluded those who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and trans-sexual and two spirited people. We seek forgiveness for how we excluded women. We seek forgiveness for how we looked down upon those who were divorced.
Forgiveness is never an easy process whether it was for David or us. In 1986 the United Church of Canada apologized to the First Nations of Canada for our participation in the Residential School program along with other denominations and the Federal Government. We have yet to have been forgiven as the First Nations representatives reminded us that this was a process. They needed to see us following through on our promises of funding, healing programs and education. We are still in the midst of the reconciliation.
Forgiveness begins to happen in many ways. Forgiveness rarely happens quickly. It is an intentional process to help people to reconcile with others and groups so they can begin see the humanity and vulnerability in each other. To at least come to the point that the destructive event will no longer negatively affect your life and relationships.
For those who have committed the sinful behavior they need to show that they are remorseful and do everything they can to ensure it will never happen again, just like David.
We need to forget the saying: “to forgive and forget Instead of trying to forget we need to move ahead in life fully aware of what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from happening to ourselves again and anyone else.
When there has been violence, those involved may never be able to be friends or participate in the life of their family because of the brutality of the act. There is no shame in not being able to renew the relationship you had before the act happened. The most important thing to do is to be able to get to the point where the hurt, shame and anger will not negatively influence current and future relationships. Here is one story of two people who were able to build and new healthy relationship together. This would have taken a lot of courage from both people. Here is one inspiring story:
On 12th February 1993 Mary Johnson’s only son, 20-year-old Laramiun Byrd, was murdered. The perpetrator was 16-year-old Oshea Israel who received a 25 year sentence for second degree murder. Many years later Mary visited Oshea in prison and since his release in 2010 they have lived as neighbours in the Northside community of Minneapolis. Mary now dedicates her time to From Death to Life, an organization she founded that uses healing and reconciliation to end violence between families of victims and those who have caused harm.
I was at work when a caller rang to ask if my son had come home that night and if not I should try to get hold of him. She said she didn’t know if it was true but she’d heard that his body was at the morgue. I was so confused and immediately called my sister who called the Police department. When she called me back she said, “Mary, they said they’re coming to see you so it must be true.”
Three days later I was told they’d picked up the 16-year-old boy who had taken Laramiun’s life. I believe hate set in then and there. Here was I , a Christian woman, full of hatred.
I was pleased he was going to be tried as an adult for first degree murder so when the judge suddenly changed the charge to second degree murder I was mad. In court I viewed Oshea as an animal and the only thing that kept me going was being able to give my victim impact statement. I was inspired by my faith, and so I ended off by saying I’d forgiven Oshea “because the Bible tells us to forgive”. When Oshea’s mother gave her statement she asked us to forgive him, and I thought I had.
But I hadn’t actually forgiven. The root of bitterness ran deep, anger had set in and I hated everyone. I remained like this for years, driving many people away. But then, one day, I read a poem which talked about two mothers – one mother whose child had been murdered and the other mother whose child was the murderer. It was such a healing poem all about the commonality of pain and it showed me my destiny. Suddenly I had this vision of creating an organization to support not only the mothers of murdered children but also the mothers of children who had taken a life. I knew then that I would never be able to deal with these mothers if I hadn’t really forgiven Oshea. So I put in a request to the Department of Corrections to meet him.
Never having been to a prison before, I was so scared when we got there and wanted to turn back. But when Oshea came into the room I shook hands with him and said, “I don’t know you and you don’t know me. You didn’t know my son and he didn’t know you, so we need to lay down a foundation and get to know one another.” We talked for two hours during which he admitted what he’d done. I could see how sorry he was and at the end of the meeting, for the very first time, I was genuinely able to say that I forgave Oshea. He couldn’t believe how I could do this and he asked if he could hug me. When he left the room I bent over saying – “I’ve just hugged the man who’d murdered my son”. Then, as I got up, I felt something rising from the soles of my feet and leaving me. From that day on I haven’t felt any hatred, animosity or anger. It was over.
In March 2010 we gave Oshea a welcome home party organized by my organization and some Catholic nuns from the hood; even some ex-gang members from Chicago drove down to witness what was happening. When Oshea told me he wanted to share his story publicly with me so that he could help others, I couldn’t believe he wanted to do this. He is my spiritual son. It’s not easy for us to stand next to each other, again and again, and share our story but I say to other mothers that talking and sharing your story is the road to healing.
Who do you need forgiveness from? Who do you need to forgive? Remember this is process that sometimes can take a life time. We forgive to free ourselves from the lasting impact of destructive experiences in our lives. We forgive to bring healing, love and hope to the world.
King David spent the rest of his life dealing with the consequences of his behaviour. I wonder what happened to his relationship with Bathsheba. I doubt that she was fully able to forgive him. We can only hope that she found the courage to free herself from the impact on David raping her. I doubt that they became the best of friends. I hope that after this event that David was able to treat her with some gentleness. What do you think happened?