2 Kings 20:1-6: This is the passage where a king is told to put his affairs in order as he will soon die… and in response to his humility God extends his life.
Acts 9:1-19: This is the passage where a man seeks to destroy Christianity and becomes one of history’s greatest evangelist’s.
1. Helen was just about ten years old when she met Pearl. It was the 1960’s in Chicago and Pearl’s family had just moved from Mississippi. It didn’t take long for Pearl’s southern accent to draw unwanted attention from some of the “popular” kids. It didn’t help that Pearl wore the same cleaned, pressed dress to school every day. She was sweet and kind and intelligent and the “powers that be” in a ten year old’s government… decided to destroy her. Helen co-opted a friend and they decided that they would reach out in kindness to help integrate her into their school. In a matter of days Helen and Pearl and her friend were forever outside of the circle of popularity. (sigh)
2. It has been one of my favorite movies since its original broadcast in 1967, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” appeared in theaters in a year when multicultural marriages were still illegal in 17 states. Pairing Spencer Tracy with Katherine Hepburn as parents who are coming to grips with their daughter’s engagement to the charming black character played by Sidney Poitier. There is a powerful scene where Poitier’s character passionately tells his father, “…not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs! You understand, you've got to get off my back! Dad... Dad, you're my father. I'm your son. I love you. I always have and I always will. But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.”
3. It was a church member who had called to make an appointment to see me in my office. She was visibly shaken as she told me about the emails from trusted friends who attached links to “verified” news articles reporting that “the Muslims” were making headway in taking over our country. [Note: NEVER click on a link in a forwarded email!] She had begun to outline their plots when I interrupted her and asked if she knew that my Son-in-Law was Muslim. As she looked at me in shock, I told her… “It’s fine. He has us on the “Do Not Be-head List” and I would see if he could add her name as well.” (smile inserted here) It was the beginning of a lengthy and healthy discussion of the grace that we had been shown at the mosque, twice. The first being the signing of a wedding contract where I acted as the “Wali” and the second, was as a Father-in-Law grieving the death of my daughter’s husband. In both cases I was treated better than I have been treated in some Christian churches. (sigh)
4. As a Police Officer I have two letters of commendation on the wall in my office. One was for not shooting a violent individual as I was making an arrest. The second was for solving a series of home invasions along the Lake Michigan shoreline. In the second case I still struggle with the imbalance of justice which addressed the two men allegedly involved in the burglaries. The first was a young black man who was sentenced to prison; the second was a white man from a very wealthy home who arrogantly never feared prosecution because of the standing and resources of his family. (sigh)
I believe that… like King Hezekiah in our Old Testament passage, the Church is ill “unto death.” Too many in the world today feel that we are an irrelevant institution; disengaged from issues of justice and focused inward upon our own needs… But the story offers hope. As Hezekiah turned his face and cried out to God we are shown that our God is a God who hears our prayers! The New Testament story in the book of Acts describes how one man’s views were changed from fear and hateful judgment of others different than himself… to seeing God’s love for all creation. All it took was for him to be literally, “knocked off his ass” (or horse… what did you think I meant?) and given the opportunity to see creation with new eyes.
Bishop Banks, the African American pastor of a 30,000 member church in Dallas said in a recent program following the election, “We have to acknowledge that we cannot perfectly understand the life of another person. But we can be empathetic… and ask them to teach us about themselves.”