Seeing God’s creatures up close, is always amazing to me. To see the talons on that eagle; to see how big it is compared to the birds I’m used to seeing up close— to the robins that are beginning to show themselves again— it is astonishing to say the least. What an amazing God we worship who creates eagles and cranes that still remind us of dinosaurs we never got to meet and the turkeys that wander through my backyard. I am in awe of God’s creative powers— of God’s vivid imagination. The Bible is full of imagery of God being like an eagle; or an earthquake; or that God is on the top of the mountain— because our Biblical ancestors were so much closer to the earth than we are today— interacted with the earth in such intimate ways, that it was no secret to them that they were part of the earth, along with all of the creatures.
A Sunday School teacher had just concluded her lesson and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She said, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?”There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy shouted, "Sin!”
Ironically, I’ve found that people who haven’t even done anything wrong in a situation, still feel the need to be forgiven. In The Book of Forgiving, Desmond Tutu himself talks about forgiving his father, who was terribly abusive to his mother, and in doing so, having to realize that there’s forgiveness he needs to extend to himself for not protecting his mother; for not standing up to his father; for hiding in fear. It doesn’t make logical sense— all of us can tell him until we’re blue in the face that a five year old can’t protect his mother from his father’s abuse; but nonetheless, Tutu has to forgive himself.
And, of course, there have been many examples in our conversation about forgiveness for the past eight weeks where people have offered forgiveness— a mother who forgave the man who killed her son; a couple who forgave the young woman who ran over their daughter when she was driving drunk; a woman who forgave her brother for letting her down— and what we find, is that it is often much harder for the person who caused the hurt to forgive themselves.
In 1968, Fred Rogers heard Francois Clemmons singing in church and asked him to become the police officer on Mr. Rogers’ children’s television show. Francois Clemmons is African American, and growing up he’d only known to fear police officers in his neighborhood during the Civil Rights Era, so he wasn’t so tickled about portraying one on TV. But Fred insisted that was the role he wanted him in, and Francois agreed. In one episode, during the sweltering hot of summer, Mr. Rogers was sitting in his backyard with his feet in a kiddie pool, trying to keep cool, when Officer Clemmons stopped by to say hello. Mr. Rogers invited Officer Clemmons to have a seat and put his feet in the pool as well, stating that just taking a few minutes to cool one’s feet can make all the difference in the world. The two talked for a bit, and then Officer Clemmons began to take his feet out of the pool to end that segment of the show. Mr. Rogers handed him a towel, and the two of them began to dry Officer Clemmon’s feet. In a time in which it was illegal in some states to for a white man and a black man to dip their feet in the same water, this was quite a statement.
Fred Rogers, a Lutheran Pastor by training, had just shown the world what it means to truly be a neighbor— to love your neighbor as yourself. Later, Clemmons, would tell the story of how one day he was standing offset watching the show wrap up, and Fred looked at the camera as he always did, and said, “I love you just the way you are,” except that this time Francois felt he was looking straight at him. After the show, he went up to Fred and said, “Fred, I felt like you were saying that just to me today.” And Fred replied, “I’ve been saying it to you for years, Francois, but today, you heard me.”
When I was about six years old, I gave my Mom a great scare. We had been grocery shopping in Jerry’s Supermarket and I got thirsty and probably a little bored. So when it was time to bag up the groceries, I asked my Mom if I could go right outside the entrance of the store and get a drink from the drinking fountain in the mall. She agreed, after much begging, and I went. Only, I don’t remember stopping for a drink. What I remember is finding myself right in front of the bookstore. I walked to the back, where I knew the kids’ books were, picked a few off the shelves, and sat down to read. The next thing I knew, a man in a grocery store uniform appeared in my aisle calling my name. Surprised to hear a stranger call my name, I looked up and then realized that I had been gone a long time. I followed him to my Mom, who was now nowhere near the grocery store, and I remember being puzzled to see my Pastor and his family standing there with her, and even more stunned to see a police officer standing near them. I wanted to say, “Mom, why were you so worried?” But even at 6 years old, I knew better; and kept my mouth shut.
Apparently the angels in our story this morning didn’t know any better.