Monday, July 9, 2012

You want me to love whom?!?

Scriptures for Sunday, July 8th 2012
Chris Simpson is an intimidating man.  
At 6 feet and 245 pounds, he fills out clothing with authority. He does not think his tattoos draw notice, but they are hard to miss.
"PURE HATE," is tattooed across his knuckles. His forearms read "BLOOD" and "HONOR." There are four battle-axes in the shape of a swastika on his left shoulder with the words "Supreme White Power" over them. There are several wolf's hooks, a Nazi symbol. The iconic lightning bolts associated with Nazi Germany's Schutzstaffel, the SS, are above his right wrist. There's a Nazi war bird on his chest. There are tattoos of a Valkyrie, a Viking, and Thor with swastikas drawn in his helmet. There are 42 in all, he thinks. 
Simpson was a member of Battalion 14, a white pride group with supporters in Michigan. His involvement in the white pride movement began in a place of pain, frustration, anger, and confusion. On April 28, 2000, Chris and Misty Simpson lost their first child, Alexis Nicole.
Born with open spina bifida, a buildup of fluid in the brain, clubbed feet, and no intestines or stomach, Alexis lived only two and a half hours.”
Recently married and struggling to scratch out a life in Danville, Va., Alexis' death sent Simpson reeling.
"I was feeling a lot of anger and hatred, and I was confused," Simpson said. "I just built up this hatred, or what I thought was hatred."
Hate consumes.  It burns like a wild fire- consuming the good and the bad, trash and treasures, mansions and mobile homes.  Its power is devastating- once unleashed, almost unquenchable.
And yet, hate seems like almost a natural reaction to things.  If we are wronged, does not society implicitly tell us that the righteous thing is to strike back?  Even as we are appalled at the manifestation of Chris Simpson’s hate, even as we object to his choosing to hate black people after the tragic death of his infant daughter, don’t we get at some level his desire to release himself in rage?  
Letting things go, on the other hand, is a mark for cowards and push-overs.  Hate.  Anger.  Never letting go.  These seem like the hallmarks for strength in our society.
So, here we have David.  He hears of the death of his rival- King Saul.  Saul tormented David.  Ruined his life really.  Drove him into exile.  Hunted him like a dog.  Tried to kill him numerous times.  And David morns his death.  He weeps and cries 
“How the mighty have fallen!..You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields!...Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”
This doesn’t seem fake.  This seems like real, legitimate grief.
But- how?  How does David mourn for the very man who tormented him?
In Eugene Peterson’s Leap over a Wall, he writes- “Saul hated David.  Saul chased David.  Saul defrauded David.  Al those wilderness years, David lived in a world sovereign with Saul’s hate.  Or so it seemed.  Danger, hardship, loneliness, loss- all because of Saul.  But there was something else going on that was more significant that Saul’s hatred of David, and that was God’s anointing of Saul.  What God did for Saul far outweighed anything that Saul did to David.  And that is what David chose to deal with.  David chose to be influenced by and shaped under that sovereignty.  God’s grace in Saul’s life, not Saul’s hate in David’s life, is what gave content to David’s prayers and decisions.  Saul made life difficult for David, but he didn’t destroy him.  If David had allowed Saul’s hate to determine his life, he would have been destroyed.  He maybe wouldn’t have been killed, but he certainly would have been damned- reduced, cramped, and constricted by vengeance.”
In other words, David chose to see the world through God’s grace instead of Saul’s hate.  He wouldn’t give up seeing Saul as one of God’s beloved creation.  He held on to that as a sort of antidote to allowing hatred and despair from overwhelming his life.
Did not give in to the temptation to take revenge
One day when Saul was chasing David in the desert, David and his men hid in a dark cave.  As Saul and his army passed, Saul entered into the cave alone to relieve himself.  The cave was so dark that he had no idea that David and his men were so close.  David crept up to Saul.  The temptation to finish it there, to kill Saul and end this conflict must have been so great.  In the story, David instead chooses to cut off a bit of Saul’s shirt.  After Saul leaves, David calls out, holds up the fabric to Saul, and demonstrates that he has chosen mercy over hate, peace over violence.  This is the path of the great King David.
But what happens if you don’t quite have the strength of David?  What happens if you have already given in to the hate?  Chris Simpson gave himself over to the white pride movement and yet was able to emerge out of it  What led Simpson to renounce this hate?  It was in finding a loving savior, and being nurtured by a church community, that gave him his release.  Six months after joining the church- he was baptized.
“In April, Simpson stood in the baptismal pool at New Horizons Community Church. He wore a white tank top and white shorts, tattoos on full display for the congregation.
Pastor Jerry Lyon placed his hand on Simpson.
"God I know that there are things from his past life that need to be buried. And God, today we enjoy the opportunity. We take glory in that opportunity to bury that old life and to say to you God, I am a new creation in Jesus Christ," Lyon prayed.
With Simpson holding his nose, Lyon lowered him back into the water. The congregation applauded. 
"Any kind of burdens I carried before, I let them go. There's no need to carry things that happen in the past," Simpson later said. "I forgave all those who have wronged me and asked for forgiveness from those that I have wronged."
The waters of baptism washed away his sin.  But that doesn’t mean it was suddenly easy.  There will still scars to deal with.
Chris Simpson’s hate was literally written on his body- it was in his tattoos.  Removing that hate was going to be a long process that was very painful.
“Tattoo removal takes years. A single tattoo can take several treatments to disappear. 
Simpson wanted Amy Sowers, a nurse with the clinic, to blast off all the tattoos from his arms. When she was done there, he wanted her to start on his stomach, his neck and his legs.
Sowers started on the "H" of "HATE" scrawled across the knuckles of Simpson left hand. Twenty-four seconds later, the first pass was done. The skin instantly swelled up pink.
Simpson said it felt like someone poured acid on his skin. 
"I don't care if you're a Marine, that right there will break you," he said.”
But, we believe in a God who is stronger than hate.  A savior who can heal that hurt in our heart.  Our Gospel lesson today proclaimed a Jesus who brings the dead back to life- surely that same Jesus can heal the deadness in our own hearts.
Chris Simpson saw the destructive influence hate was having on his life.  And he was led to Jesus to find healing and hope.  That same healing and hope is available to you no matter what has happened in your life.  The grace of God still shapes the world, even if your life has seemed to be surrounded with human hate and misery.  The bad news is that working on those issues- being healed of hate so you can honestly grieve the death of one of God’s children, will be painful.  But the good news is that with Christ, we can find our way through to healing and wholeness.  If we are faithful, we’ll find that it is not hate, but God’s love, that abounds.