This sermon is written from a Christian perspective.
Once again America has been forced to witness another senseless act of violence in the slayings in Charleston, S.C. The murder of nine Christians during a bible study has caused an outburst of shock, grief and anger not only in the United States but in much of the world.
Yet amid all these reactions, the one that stands out the most is that of the families of the victims. Just days after the horrible event, they faced the murderer and forgave him.
This incredible act is a great example of Christian love and forgiveness. For all Christians, forgiving others is an absolute necessity. However, this does not mean the families were forced to forgive; they did so willingly.
By taking this act alongside Biblical teaching, we can better understand what Christian love and forgiveness is all about.
Forgiveness is required of Christians
Jesus' parable of the unmerciful servant is one of the clearest teachings on forgiveness in the New Testament. A servant owed the king a great amount of gold, but was unable to pay. So the master ordered that everything that was his would be sold. But the servant begged for mercy and forgiveness, and the master took pity on him.
Immediately after, that servant went to a man who owed him money, and demanded the debt be paid. The man asked for patience, but the servant refused and had him thrown into jail. When the king heard this, he rebuked the servant and had him thrown into jail for failing to show mercy. After telling this story, Jesus declares, "This is how my heavenly father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart." (Mt 19:35)
This idea is repeated when Jesus instructs his disciples on how to pray. In Luke 11:2-4 Jesus says, "Whenever you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation." Other verses that reiterate this idea are Matthew 6:14-15, Ephesians 4:32, and Colossians 3:13.
Christian believers are made in the image of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit are gradually molded into the likeness of Christ. Therefore, forgiveness is a requirement and a sign of true Christian faith.
Forgiveness outwits Satan
Dylann Roof, the shooter in the South Carolina slayings, said his goal was to start a race war. It seemed he had hoped to start a "eye-for-an-eye" type of chain-reaction, in which the black community, filled with understandable maybe even righteous anger, would lash out and continue the violence.
This was a fundamental misunderstanding on his part. He assumed that other people would think like he does, and respond with violence. But by forgiving him, these Christian families have proven that their identity in Christ is stronger than any scheme that Satan could create. What they said to the murderer was almost straight from scripture, "What I have forgiven - if there was anything to forgive - I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order than Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." (2 Corinthians 2:10-11)
Satan's schemes were foiled when the families forgave the murderer, called on him to repent, and asked God to have mercy on him. May their actions be an example and a light to all of us.