"Few words in the New Testament more clearly and solemnly express the magnanimity of Jesus’ spirit than that sublime utterance from the cross, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' This is love at its best."
Standing firmly upon the foundation of the very love that lies at the core of Christ's plea, our ability to keep hope alive in the difficult moments of our individual lives and in the collective calling that is "and still she persisted" and "me too" we are called to make forgiveness more than an occasional act. Dr. King reminds us that Jesus expects us to make forgiveness a permanent attitude if we are to be successful in keeping hope alive.
This SUNDAY, JANUARY 14, the congregation of Union Avenue Christian Church will gather together in unity and love with our friends and neighbors from Pilgrim Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) and Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) as we remember and celebrate the life and ministry of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Reverend Ayanna Johnson Watkins will bring a powerful word to share and challenge us with, entitled KEEPING HOPE ALIVE. We gather for worship at 10:45 at Union Avenue, and following worship we will gather at tables to share a meal and fellowship in unity and love.
"We shall not fully understand the great meaning of Jesus’ prayer unless we first notice that the text opens with the word 'then,' Dr. King reminds us. "The verse immediately preceding reads thus: 'And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.' Then said Jesus, 'Father, forgive them.' Then — when he was being plunged into the abyss of nagging agony. Then — when man had stooped to his worst. Then — when he was dying, a most ignominious death. Then — when the wicked hands of the creature had dared to crucify the only begotten Son of the Creator. Then said Jesus, 'Father, forgive them.' That 'then' might well have been otherwise. He could have said, 'Father, get even with them,' or 'Father, let loose the mighty thunderbolts of righteous wrath and destroy them,' or 'Father, open the flood gates of justice and permit the staggering avalanche of retribution to pour upon them.' But none of these was his response. Though subjected to inexpressible agony, suffering excruciating pain, and despised and rejected, nevertheless, he cried, 'Father, forgive them.'"
These words form the introduction to the Revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sermon, "Love in Action." Dr. King developed this sermon between July 1962 and March 1963, from an outline which he preached from in the spring of 1960. Please take note that the words are "Father forgive them," without any conditions. The text does not say forgive them when they know better or when they have repented. Simply, Father, forgive. Amazing grace.
"Jesus talked passionately about forgiveness'" Dr. King goes on to say. "This strange doctrine awakened the questioning mind of Peter. 'How often,' he asks, 'shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?' Peter wanted to be legal and statistical but Jesus responded by affirming that there is no limit to forgiveness. 'I say not until thee, Until seven times; but, until seventy times seven.' In other words, forgiveness is not a matter of quantity, but of quality. A man cannot forgive up to the four hundred and ninety times without forgiveness becoming a part of the habit structure of his being. Forgiveness is not an occasional act it is a permanent attitude."
If there is any hope for us in making forgiveness a permanent attitude, we must stoke the fires of hope, keeping hope alive among us.