#ThinkLikeGod is the reflection for February 28, 2016. Can God forgive a man who has killed 8 people? What kind of a life would that be and become in prison? What kind of prisons do we live in and what can God do with us? Can God forgive us? Can we forgive ourselves? Listen here in this reflection: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Homily #Forgiveness #ClydeThompson #MeanestManInTexas #DeathPenalty #DeathRow #Forgiveness #Confession #Repentance #Absolution #AbundantLife
Think Like God: A Reflection on Isaiah 55:1-9
For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 2/28/2016 The 3rd Sunday of Lent.
Please pause this audio and read Isaiah 55:1-9.
Clyde Thompson was a man who was sentenced to death at the age of 17 for killing two men with an accomplice. They had taken guns they were not supposed to have. They went out late at night. They went along a creek known for trouble near their country town in Texas. They met trouble. They argued with trouble. They caused trouble. So, in 1938, he was first sentenced to death and it was later commuted to life in prison.
During his time in prison, he killed six more people. Some he killed in self-defense. Some he killed trying to escape. He was so bad they converted a small unused morgue behind death row into a prison cell and put him out there alone. It was there that he asked for the only book they would allow him to read, a Bible. Seeking to prove God’s word a lie, Thompson began to read it and learn to read at the same time.
Over time, he came to believe in the Truth contained in the Scriptures. It caused him to look back on his life from a vantage point of faith and say this:
“When people have committed great sins, they sometimes feel that God cannot forgive them and therefore they are fearful before God…. There are eight people in their graves because I have lived, people who probably would be alive if I had not gotten them into trouble or killed them with my own hands. It is mighty sad to know that you’ve killed somebody and that you can’t do anything about it as far as giving back that life. We teach that repentance involves restitution, and this is true insofar as it is possible. But if you’ve ever killed somebody, you can’t restore that life.”
We do something that is self-defeating and paralyzing: we hold on to our own sins. We are taught that there are three parts to confessing our sins to be forgiven. We have to feel sorry for our sins. We have to say we are sorry for our sins as we commit to try to not do them again. Finally, we have to do something, if possible, to make things right. Yet, I think we should add a fourth part to this: We should let go of our sins. Remember? Feel it. Say it. Fix it. Forget it.
Thompson went on to testify in faith to the guards who took him for his weekly bath and they came to believe. He asked a pastor to come to the prison and baptize the guards. The only place available for full immersion baptism was the retired death row bath tub used to give prisoners their last bath. The guards had to walk down the old death row and let their old lives die in the executioners chamber as they were raised to everlasting life. The power of this image is incredible when we realize that the Cross was the tool of the executioner and our Lord was on death row with one on his left and one on his right.
As the prison allowed him to talk to more people, the more people came to have faith in Christ. By the time he was released and got married, he had baptized sixty men through his preaching and teaching.
Here was a man who had killed eight people. He was sentenced to three terms of life in prison. He was touched by God; forgiven by God. Surely, if God can take a man like this and forgive his sin, he can forgive your sin. Surely, if a Christian like the Rev. Clyde Thompson could let go of his guilt and embrace the absolution of God for sins, you can, too.
I believe the reason that we hold on to sin is because we always believe that someone has to pay. Jesus is faced with Galileans who were killed by Pilate and their blood used in a pagan sacrifice in the Gospel of Luke for today. Surely, they must have done something really bad to deserve such a fate. We forget that they may have just suffered this fate because Pilate was bad and Pilate was disobedient to God. God lets us exercise our free will. But, there we are, we cannot get out of our own head. In our head, someone has to pay. We often forget about the fact there is evil in the world. We forget that God is not going to make anyone follow him, even evil people.
We frequently associate our way of judgment and thinking with how God thinks. This was the mindset of the Israelites who were in captivity in Babylon at the writing of the Prophet Isaiah. They thought they were going to be held and punished for not living the way that they should as a nation. As a side note, we could use some of that here in the U.S.. They could only see loss and failure. It is in this frame of mind that God comes to them. He speaks softly and gently to them and says,
“my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
The classic mistake of atheists and detractors of the Gospel is that they paint pictures of God that show God as a flawed human writ large. We are created in the image and likeness of God, not the other way around. It is Isaiah who says that God is slow to anger, rich in kindness. God offers us the waters of salvation, even if we have no money. He gives to us wine and milk without price. He gives us hope in hopeless times.
One of the biggest points made against us is that God doesn’t solve things in this life. That is sometimes correct. Yet, every society has understood that there is an infinite. Every culture ever has some sort of religion. They have the religion because we human beings know, as a form of instinctual knowledge, that life does not end here. We do best when we connect to the infinite. So, yes, we are materialistic people who fail to understand ourselves in the greater spiritual context of life in general. In doing so, we often hold onto things to have a grip on something, even if that thing we hold on to is a past sin that we cannot forgive. The irony is that the one who has the perspective on all of life, Jesus Christ, has forgiven us the very sin we cannot forgive ourselves.
Clyde Thompson was able to find meaning and joy in a three step wide cell fashioned from an abandoned morgue on death row in Texas because he could understand that the Father can forgive a man who killed eight people through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ applied in the power of the Holy Spirit for our sins. Not only does the Father forgive him, he calls him to go and preach in the name of his son to convert sinners invited to the Gospel feast. So, why is it that we cannot forgive ourselves and leave behind the event, the sin, the memory that left behind will set us free? I suppose a dog always returns to his vomit.
The Creator knows who we are. He made us and delighted in his creation so much that he declared that our mere existence was “very good.” We forget who we are. We think we need to be who our mothers wanted us to be, who our fathers wanted us to be, or who a flawed human said we should be. No! We are called to turn from those images of who we think we should be and embrace the life that the Father in heaven has planned for us. We are to turn away from how we think. We are to change our attitudes and remind ourselves that as people who have been baptized into Christ it is not right to do certain things:
We do not intentionally demean others. We do not ride people for what they have done. We offer mercy. We offer forgiveness. We offer gentleness. We offer kindness. We offer goodness. We offer hope. We offer a different kind of life lived out in every day actions. We offer that life to God. We offer that life to others. But we MUST offer that life to ourselves as well so that we can live a life that is truly free at last.
If Jesus is our Prophet, we must listen to his words. If Jesus is our Priest, we must believe in the power of his Sacrifice. If Jesus is our King, then we must obey his commandments. His prophetic words are “who has condemned you? Then neither do I.” His priestly sacrifice “saves his people from their sins.” His royal commandment is that we will “love one another.” These are his ways, they are our ways, and they are to be applied to us. When we apply his words to our lives every day, we will be changed. When we are changed we will have repented. When we have repented we will be saved; for the adulterous woman, for the Jew first, then the Greek; for those who love, and finally for you and for me. That is our life. Now we must live it.
Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of Salvation. Amen.
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