Letting Go of Hate

Romans 12: 9-12

Today marks the 15th Anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and lives lost when passengers aboard another plane likely kept it from crashing into another landmark, possibly the Capitol, as it crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

We are still hated by Islamic extremists and while it is not the purpose of this message to debate the root of that hate, I do want us to think about letting go of our own hate.

I’m not speaking primarily of hate related to the those who attacked us and continue attack innocent people around the world, including their own people, I am speaking of hate of any kind that poisons our hearts and fuels anger that sits in our stomachs like a rock.  Hate that makes us and makes you want to hurt someone.

We are seeing hatred like this aimed at our police officers and some first responders, the very people that we heralded as heroes fifteen years ago.  Today, we are struggling to find enough officers to wear a badge and protect us.

Three days ago, Governor Nathan Deal announced a twenty percent raise for state law enforcement.  We had the lowest paid state law enforcement in the nation, so this will help attract people to the profession.  Yet each city and town must still struggle with its own budget and with its own reputation for taking care of its citizens.

There lies part of the problem.  Police have to police their own.  One of the most difficult things for some departments is to investigate and weed out those officers that are fueling the hate when they end up breaking the law themselves.  Even when the majority are doing their jobs well, it only takes a few to poison the system.

In 2005, the police department in Benton Harbor, Michigan arrested one of their own, Officer Andrew Collins, for falsifying police reports, planting drugs, and stealing.  He was convicted and was sent to jail for 18 months.   http://www.cbsnews.com/news/on-the-road-innocent-michigan-man-ends-up-working-alongside-crooked-cop-that-locked-him/

For a moment, imagine you are in a prison cell convicted for drug dealing.  You’ve been there four years and one day someone comes to your cell and says, “They caught the officer that planted the drugs and filed a false report on you. He’s been convicted.  You are free to go.” What do you feel?

You feel joy, elation, and happiness.  Right?

Jamell McGee felt these emotions.  But he also felt hate.  The fact that he was innocent was not news to him; only that someone had confessed to setting him up.  He’d maintained his innocence from the beginning.   However, because of his arrest and incarceration, he had lost everything.  So, as he stepped out into the sunshine and breathed the fresh air of freedom, his only goal was to find Collins and hurt him.  (Ibid)

Eventually Andrew Collins was released from prison.  Jamell McGee never left Benton Harbor and because it is a small place, it was inevitable that these two men would one day run in to each other. (Ibid)

That happened last year at a faith-based employment agency called Mosaic, where they were both seeking work.  And it was in those cramped quarters that the bad cop and the wrongfully accused had no choice but to have it out. (Ibid)

For years Jamell McGee had carried his hatred around and this was his chance to make good on his promise to take revenge. When he confronted former Officer Collins, the white officer said, “I have no explanation.  All I can do is say I’m sorry.” (Ibid)

McGee, an African American said, “That was pretty much what I needed to hear.” (Ibid)

hartmanforgiveness0415Today these men are not only cordial, they’re friends. Such close friends, that these men have genuine love for one another. (Ibid)

When Collins talks about the forgiveness McGee has given him it brings tears to Collins’ eyes because he says, “He doesn’t owe me that. I don’t deserve that.”(Ibid)

But McGee says he didn’t just let go of his hate for Collins’ sake, he says that he did it for “For our sake.”  (Ibid)

Did you hear that?  He let go of his hate not just so it would benefit the one he was hating, but so it would benefit him, too.  Please hold on that because I want to circle back to it.

Clearly, we are not in control of what can be taken from us in this world.  All of us are subject to injustice and mistreatment, some more so than others.

When we are mistreated, when we suffer injustice, when we are treated unkindly, cheated, abused, forsaken, left out, overlooked, not given a blessing, or not loved, deep emotions are often stirred within us—deep enough that we might call it hate.

A lot of people have been where James McGee has been.  I am saying a lot of people know the pain of losing four years of freedom for a crime they did not commit.  I do not mean we understand his pain as a minority, though some have comparable stories.  I mean that most people understand the emotion of hate to some degree.

While we might not have ever falsified a police report, planted drugs, or allowed an innocent man to go to jail, we understand what it is like to profile a person of color or judge another person just by their appearance or because of their religion.  So we can also identify with Andrew Collins.

We know what it is to despise someone who has wounded us or hurt our child or taken something very precious from us.

We know the feelings that rise up within us when we see someone from our past that has wounded us or taken precious and valuable things from us.

When we direct our hatred toward others it also takes away our freedom.  Hate hurt us.

Jamell McGee was a free man.  His newfound freed taught him that his hate was part of his incarceration.  He came to understand that if he didn’t let go of his hatred he was putting himself back in a prison.

So he let it go not just for Andrew Collins but for himself.

Hating others imprisons us in our own world of self loathing.  Since we cast blame for our emotional state on others, moving beyond our pain and injury becomes difficult.  We remain chained to those we hate, often believing that our only relief will come in the form of revenge.

But instead of taking revenge, Paul told the church at Rome that if we do that, we try to take the place of God.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.’” (v. 19 NIV)

It’s God’s right and prerogative to administer justice.

While we might question how that is metered out in this world, we must trust that God will work all that out in His own way and in His own timing.

This does not mean that we should not seek justice through a legal system for crimes that are committed.  Without a legal justice system, there would be anarchy.  I am talking about metering out our own personal revenge against people to even the score.

Paul makes clear to the Roman church that it’s not our place to avenge those who have mistreated us.

Paul says that we are bless those who persecute us. (v. 14). Where did he get such a crazy notion? I think Paul must have gotten that from Jesus.

He says “if your enemy is hungry feed him.  If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. (v.20)

He said if you do this, it will be like your enemy’s fire going out and instead of you just allowing your enemy to borrow one of your coals to get his fire going again, put together a pot full of coals, put them on your head and carry them over to his house so he can have a blazing fire again.   Imagine the surprise at that kind of generosity?

Notice, that Paul never says that you have to feel love for a person to feed him or her.  I don’t every recall feeling love for an enemy.  This is action apart from feeling. This is how we learn to let go of our hate.

We cannot make another person change their response toward us.  The only person’s response we have control over is our own.

We might not choose our conditions but we always choose how we respond to our conditions.  I’ve seen people in positions of great suffering, but because of their attitude, humor, and strength from God, their suffering seemed minimal.

In the same way, we cannot choose what someone has done to us, but we still   choose how to respond and whether we will hate or not.

Victor Frankyl, survivor of the Holocaust, said it in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/2782.Viktor_E_Frankl

There –that is the key.

If you must hate, Jesus wants us to hate the evil, to hate the injustices of the world, but He does not want the evil of the world to cause us to hate the world or to hate the people of the world.  “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good,” Jesus said. (v. 9).

Jesus wants us to rise above the evil we hate and with the power of the Holy Spirit dictate the conditions that can bring about changes in the hearts of people who will be shocked by the mercy and grace they are shown by us.

Before that can ever happen, we have to let go of hate.

We must allow the grace of God to help us let go of our hate so that the doors of the prison can be opened and we can step out of own self-imposed jail.

By God’s grace we realize we are free not to hate.

By God’s grace we realize we are free to forgive.  We are free to enjoy the gifts God wants us to use.

While the pain of someone’s hate may shapes our past, we do not have to be chained to the past.  Our energies do not have to be consumed with thoughts of revenge, anger, or grief.

In order to leave this prison, we have to let go of the hate.  We have to let go of any thought of getting even.

We have to let go of the idea that things are going to be the same.  They will not be the same.  But with a new landscape comes new opportunities.

We can let go of hate when we pray for those in need, practice hospitality, and bless people who don’t deserve our blessing.

Imagine what would have happened if Jamell McGee had not let go of his hate.  Imagine if revenge was still burning so deep in his heart that when he finally laid eyes on Andrew Collins that he laid him out.

But instead he decided to take Paul’s advice: “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (v. 16)

If we are going to do this, we must have enough self-awareness to know when hate is establishing a foothold in our hearts.

As Christians, we are commanded to let our hate go.  If we don’t, if we make no effort, if we don’t seek the grace and power of God to overcome the hate that is within us, if we seek revenge on those who have harmed us, then the difference between us and those who brought down the Twin Towers is just a matter of degree.