Note: The following sermon was delivered September 2, 2018, at the Virginia Scottish Games Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans Service.
Luke 23: 33-34
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
Life, at times, seems like a game of Tetris. You work as best as you can, arranging the blocks just so — trying for the big payoff. And then, one day, it happens. The long piece you’ve been waiting for drops from the sky. You rotate, maneuver, and drop. And in an instant, four rows disappear … gone. And the tension drops with all the other stacked-too-high blocks in a euphoric, fist-pumping “YES!!!” of an adrenaline-filled moment.
BUT … The pieces keep falling faster and faster, and eventually, your mistakes catch up to you. One here. One there. But they add up. And before long, you realize that all you’re doing — all you were ever doing — is playing a game of long odds that were never in your favor to begin with.
And as the blocks are stacked against you, higher and higher, you begin to accept your fate — you begin to understand that you won’t last much longer … you won’t win.
You despair. …
Anger and frustration roll over you in crashing waves, and you feel like you’re in a small fishing vessel, lost against the backdrop of an ever-darkening sky. And as the last vestiges of hope elude you, slipping through your fingers like the wind, you stop playing altogether and opt to watch the last several blocks stack in ugly, meaningless, twisted configurations.
You give up. … Game over.
And everybody’s there. Everyone is playing the game. Some are just good at it, and they go and go and go. And everyone either cheers for them or hates them for it. (“Hates them” in this context being synonymous with “envies them.”)
But everyone’s at some stage of the game. Right now. In offices just like this, all over the world, someone’s blood is rushing through their veins, because they’re winning. While someone else’s blood is running cold as they watch the blocks stack against them.
Someone’s living. And someone’s waiting for … “Game Over.”
And some people don’t wait. Some mash down on the game controller just to speed the drop of the blocks, so they can finally be done with the game.
In searching for something else, I came across the name Steve Stephens. I was reminded of the absolute tragedy of his life. Steve was the guy who killed 74-year-old Robert Godwin on Facebook Live on Easter Sunday 2017.
The national manhunt for Steve ended in him taking his own life. That left a lot of questions.
He claims he “snapped,” but he planned that murder, and people who snap don’t do that. People who roll up to perfect strangers and execute them in order to “get back at their ex-girlfriend” are deeply troubled people. And who knows what was going on in this guy’s life? Who knows what mental trauma he was experiencing? Who knows what turns his life took along the way that set him on this destructive path?
And, to be brutally honest, who cares? Well … Jesus, for one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. The thought makes me sick on a certain level. Only Jesus could care for Steve Stephens. But then, maybe that was part of the problem. No matter what the truth was, he obviously felt hurt and uncared for. And I’ve heard that when he told his mother that he was experiencing homicidal/suicidal feelings, she reportedly blew him off. It looks like Steve Stephens felt like nobody could care for Steve Stephens.
And I’m not defending him. My nine-year-old heard us talking about the case, and I’m sure it’s part of the reason he couldn’t sleep last night. So trust me, the cops wanted him, and I wanted the cops to get him.
Our anger calls out for justice. He murdered, in cold blood, a precious 74-year-old man with 10 children and 14 grandchildren on Easter Sunday. Steve Stephens did this. And it doesn’t matter what he was thinking, or what his reasons were for doing it. This fat, bald, Cheshire-cat smiling, murderous piece of human waste … is exactly the kind of man Jesus came to die for.
And it begs the question: “How many people around us, like Steve Stephens, are headed for “Game Over”? Because if we look — if we really try to notice — they’re there. Who’s going to be enough like Jesus to come up beside folks like Steve and try to steer them straight?
I ask, because unless Jesus decides to come down and do it all over again, we are His hands. It’s you. And it’s me. How many Steves could we — who bear the brand of Christ on our hearts — bring to a saving knowledge of Jesus by reaching out to people with the Gospel? Conversely, how many monsters could we help create simply by our failure to do so?
And if I’m being totally honest, would I be Steve Stephens, if someone hadn’t reached out to me?
As it turns out, Steve Stephens killed one of the men who might have been able to help him. CNN interviewed Robert Godwin’s family, and listen to what they said: “Each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer,” Godwin’s daughter, Tonya said. “We want to wrap our arms around him.” In a faint voice, another child, Robert Godwin, Jr., said: “Steve, I forgive you … I’m not happy [with] what you did, but I forgive you.”
The children of 74-year-old Robert Godwin say that, in addition to teaching them the value of hard work, he taught them how to love God and fear God … and how to forgive. A fitting tribute to a man who died on the day we celebrate the resurrection of his Lord and ours — a Lord, whom I need not remind us, cried out, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
If we’re honest, we all probably have that coworker, that acquaintance, that church member who drives us up a wall. That person who just seems so hostile they almost love to lash out and hurt others. They’re just … unlovable.
But as a pastor friend of mine is fond of saying, “Hurting people hurt people.” And as much as it sounds like a bumper sticker, it’s true. People lash out at us, and we focus on our pain, what it did to us. We focus inward, and that’s just natural — but Jesus came to change our natures and give us a new natural, to change our focus from internal to external; and in order to have that external outlook, we have to kill our pride. In order to love the unlovable, we have to learn to love beyond the pain.
The ministry of Jesus was marked — no, filled — with moments of love for the unlovable. If we are His, then our lives should also be filled with those moments. Mine’s not nearly as filled as it should be. May God forgive me. And may He have mercy on those against whom I have held grudges instead of trying to model the love of Jesus to them.
Lord, change me, change us, so that we might help change them … before it’s too late … before it’s “Game Over.”