By Rev. SERENA JONES • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Editor’s Note: Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, Union Theological Seminary president, was stricken with COVID-19 and missed speaking at the installation of the First Presbyterian Church’s new pastor, Faith Gay, on Nov. 29. Instead, she delivered her sermon Sunday, Jan. 10, when the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol was fresh in everyone’s minds. This is an excerpt.
No one watching the storming of the Capital could miss the “Jesus Saves” sign bobbing up and down as windows were smashed and police attacked.
I have also heard the reports that in the House Chamber, the people gathered for prayer to thank Jesus for supporting them in their actions. They were on their knees lifting up praise to God for what they had wrought, justifying it with Divine sanction.
The Christian whiplash of these two scenes next to one another was excruciating, painful, and so very, very American.
…Today, I want to wade into those murky waters, because they aren’t just headline topics, these tensions live within the heart and mind of everyone who claims the name “Christian” in this nation.
This morning, however, I want to talk a particular battle part of this battle that is taking place in my own heart, a mighty wrestling \that is deeply personal to my faith and is also marking our larger public conversations about how I – we -view the people who stormed the Capital and what kind of accountability follows actions such as these.
There are two “Christian” people voices inside of me.
One looks at the mess of folks running around the halls of the Capitol with backpacks filled with weapons and bombs, and my rage and sense of justice says to me, “Lock them up,” “Don’t let their white privilege protect them,” “impeach the President who incited them.” Slam the fist of justice down upon them hard.
Another Christian voice in my head looks at the old woman who can barely make it up the steps as the crowd stormed, or the young man who looks just like my nephew who is a BLM activist in Oklahoma, or the woman who was shot who could be my sister or my dreaded right-wing Republican Aunt, and I want to say, “forgive them, they know not what they do,” as I have been forced to say about my aunt often during my life.
The Christian voice of justice, righteousness, and accountability and the voice of forgiveness and love and healing the divide, are at war inside me, inside us, swirling around the collective psyche of our nation.
And I know it is only going to grow louder in the days and weeks ahead.
And in the midst of this rabble of heart and mind we hear the words of Paul to the Romans telling us what is perhaps the single most important truth of the entire Gospel: “Nothing in the world, neither life nor death, nor principalities nor powers, nor anything in all of creation can separate us from the love of God.”
Which voice is Paul speaking – justice or forgiveness?
Neither voice and both voices.
Paul is speaking to a community in crisis, much like our own.
As Christians, do we obey the Roman Empire and its rule of justice, unjust as it may be, or do we fight back, claim our faith, or give it up in order to survive.
And Paul refuses to answer those questions in a straightforward manner. He steps back and looks at all of this from a God’s eye view and reminds his people, that when it comes to our ultimate destiny, all of us, the mob and the mobbed, the guy with horns and the senator praying as she lies on the floor believing she is about to lose her life to a man with horns – nothing any of these people, on whichever side they stand, can do anything that separates them from God’s love.
He tells them about Grace, the ultimate, dramatically and divinely equalizing love of God that falls about us all, despite our deeds, saints and sinners all of us. In the Divine court of judgment, we are all blessed and loved.
Wow. Grace. Beautiful, powerful, and absolutely frustrating, mindboggling when applied to this moment and the war of voices inside of me – human justice or human forgiveness.
We are called to hold the tension. We cannot demonize or dismiss or refuse to love the quaking senator or the horned man. God loves them both as so should we.
But does that mean we must forgive them? Not hold them accountable. That would be too easy an answer. God’s love is not a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to the world of human affairs.
We must love them and in loving them, hold them accountable to the best standards of justice we can muster.
Justice and mercy walk hand in hand.
It is a mighty call to live lives of Christian conscience. We must have the prayerful strength to never lose sight of our shared human beauty and value before God and, as we do that, we are called to enact justice, to assure that our measly but powerful standards of human justice, our principalities and powers are respected and upheld.
God gives us this freedom, an awful, precious freedom that we dare not turn away from.