This morning I would like to approach a challenging part of life: trying to walk a holy path with God after being treated unjustly. On reason for this came through the mail this week. I received a letter from our local area Council of Churches mentioning that our Presbyterian brothers and sisters discuss the church and the criminal justice system on the second Sunday in February annually.
And so I though we could join in spirit this morning with all those who feel mistreated of late. Something tells me we have a lot of company?
In Deuteronomy we hear Israel's leader Moses finishing a speech he made to Israel, re-telling them what God had spoken to him. The words speak about choices: choices that are set before both the offenders and the offended of injustice.
In Swedenborgian theology we recognize that actually God never curses or punishes anyone, although life can appear that way on the outside. Our theology does lift up, however, that the Lord must allow evil when chosen, within the Divine's limits, in order to protect everyone's essential right to spiritual freedom.
And so because we are free to choose good or evil, we can say that God will allow us to seek blessedness or cursedness. After we get hurt, then, which path means seeking blessing and which path cursing?
As a society we need to choose how caring we will be toward the victims of murder and to the murderer; also toward local low-income apartment tenants beset with drug-pushing and death threats. In church I believe a primary concern is to address the meaning of spiritual injustice as Christ tried to address it. What does it mean to break spiritual laws? Jesus in Matthew's fifth chapter does not exclude anyone from our goal of loving. His words were, "Do you insult a brother or sister?" And we interpret this typically as any fellow man or woman whom we may want to injure with our words.
When Jesus chose these words, "hell of fire," he was speaking symbolically about the unholy fiery passions of hatred and non-resolving discontent. The Lord knows these traps are real and tempting. He also knows we basically face choices, and thus his job is to constantly keep guiding us freely toward heaven. An assumption here is that by facing injustice together and with he power and presence of God, we may possibly discover unforeseen healing, growth in wisdom, and something, perhaps, about mercy for all.
I remember as a child I used to see the world through rose-colored glasses. I thought there was a police officer on every corner, and state troopers on every highway. In a true story told by Anthony Evans, a student in an intermediate church Sunday School: "One of our Sunday School teachers was telling her pre-schoolers about Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion and had their undivided attention. Even Michael was listening. When she finished and asked for questions, Michael's hand shot into the air; the teacher was thrilled.
"I just want to know one thing, he said, "Where were the state police when all this was going on?!!" How's that for wishful thinking?
While some folks in life suffer a great deal more injustices than others, my sense is that, unfortunately, sooner or later everyone meets the cold, knifing agony of serious injustice. In my own person experience of this, it came in the form of a betrayal of love and trust by an ex-best friend in college.
When it comes to facing the pain and challenge of walking a path with God again after injustice occurs, I find there are various kinds of healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness that are possible. And certainly, each of us must find our own answers in our hearts and minds while praying with God and mediating on the Word.
Ever since the destruction of my relationship with my best friend, I have waited to hear a sincere apology from Duncan - for truthfully it was the loss of our relationship that hurt the most since it had been growing so long. Something told me it would never come, but I decided to follow Christ's words about reconciliation anyway.
In Matthew we hear Jesus asking us to reconcile our broken relationships before bringing ourselves back into God's temple. Maybe that is because Christ knows that if we do, then when we do enter worship again, we will do so with our way self?!
Well, i chose to set up a meeting time, and met with my best friend. Even though I felt that his sincerity was lacking, the experience of facing each other broth a little healing in me.
It was several days after that meeting when some of God's blessings came down on me. I realized that God's love for the truth and honesty are very, very strong. The Lord's love strengthened and touched me within. And still later I realized that God's love is meant for everyone, especially the worst of sinners.
For the Lord still loved me after every sin I ever chose to do in my life prior to that meeting. God's mercy had visited me, and I knew, after months of grieving, that I needed to visit my ex-friend. I was also helped to perceive that my hope for mercy - and forgiveness maybe - would take time and patience.
I found I would need to face and feel some of the pain of the wounds that had been inflicted within me. Truly, we must bear and suffer our crosses, at times, if we are to follow the Lord.
In my journey of healing I found that I could not simply hear only part of God's Word and truth regarding loving my neighbor, or "brothers and sisters," after injustice occurred. I found that I was being called to walk all the turns, hills, and valleys! Or as Deuteronomy 30 puts it, to try to love the Lord by walking in His ways, and observing all His commandments, decrees, and ordinances. We cannot follow only some; Christ clearly asks us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. And the Psalms ask us to pray to God for strength and renewal.
Important pieces of wisdom and love may be found when we face injustice with God's love and truth. I learned that I can essentially let go of the hatred, after expressing a lot of it onto my pillow at home, while being wiser with whom I put deep trust in. Christ seems to have viewed ongoing, unjustified anger as spiritual killing. Is there someone you still feel like hurting spiritually? If so, have you tried taking that brokenness to the Lord in prayer, or talking it out with someone you trust. Or screaming it out with passion and gusto? Or drawing it out with canyon and pencil?
The Lord knows we will be challenged with terrible injustices. And I believe He hopes that we will learn from them how we can stop passing them on to others.
May God's love surround us all, and His strong arms hold us close as we face our choices of how to deal with injustice. May our prayers reach out to those whose job it is to work in criminal justice. And may we all consider carefully how we can better abstain and turn away from committing injustices in affect, attitude, and belief. Amen.
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?"" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the oteher side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God walking in His ways, and observing His commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if you heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying Him, and holding fast to Him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Reading from Swedenborg:
For the Lord judges all from justice, and hears all from mercy. He judges from justice because form Divine truth, and he hears from mercy because from Divine good; from justice He judges those who do not receive the Divine good; and from mercy He hears those who do. But still when He jduges from justice, it is also at the same time from mercy; for in all Divine justice there is mercy, as in Divine truth there is Divine good... That by "God hath judged me, and also hath heart my voice" is meant in the internal sense the holy of faith, is because faith, which is predicated of truth, corresponds to the Divine justice; adn the holy, which is good, to the Divine mercy of the Lord; and further, "to judge" or "judgment" is predicated of the truth of faith; and because it is said of God that He "judged," it denotes what is good or holy.
Arcana Coelestia # 3921