How Will We Treat Each Other Now? by Jon Maroni

Good morning friends, I am excited to be back in the meetinghouse for the first time in many months for me. Hello and greetings to everyone who is in person here today, and thank you for what you all do to make this meeting possible.

I also want to say hello to our virtual friends, I am normally among you and I am stealing that idea of virtual friends, which one of my MBA professors used to describe students who were taking the class online and I loved that title of virtual friends. So greetings to our virtual friends as well.

On behalf of my family, which now includes our daughter Mila Rose, thank you for your prayerful support during our time as new parents. Some of you know that Krista and I have been on the adoption journey for several years. You have journeyed with us as we became foster parents, cared for the twins, Kylie, and then waited for 18 months to finally have Mila come into our world. It has been hard, stressful, full of heartaches and joys but so worth it. Mila has successfully had her cleft lip repaired which you can see on the screen, and she’ll have her cleft palate repaired when she is about 1 year old. 2020 has been full of hard stuff, but Mila has been a constant source of light for us.

I want to re-read the scripture that is central to my sermon today. Ephesians 4:32. “Be Kind and Compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”

I’ll be honest I didn’t know the actual definition of compassion until I looked it up in preparation for this sermon. It means “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” I want us to hold that definition in our minds as we talk about this today. I am going to challenge each of us to treat the people in our lives who frustrate us most with compassion. To understand that each of us suffers in our own way, and I think that Christ is calling us to exercise compassion with those around us.

Yesterday was a historic day in many ways; it looks like we will have a presidential transition. We will likely soon have our first female vice president, our first female African-American Vice President and our first female Asian-American Vice President. As the father of a Latina daughter, I am hopeful that these next four years will provide her with a sense of opportunity, that she can rise to any office or position that she feels called to fill.

However, what this election season truly revealed is that we are a deeply divided nation, even more so than anyone expected. For many people this weekend was not one that they celebrate but rather one causing stress and trepidation about what the future may hold for them. Whether we can imagine that for ourselves, that is what some people are experiencing.

I’ll admit that it is difficult for me to exercise compassion on a consistent basis. I certainly did not at this time four years ago and if the election had not gone how I hoped it would, I think I would have struggled to exercise compassion now. In fact as I have reflected on this election season, it has revealed a distinct lack of compassion within myself.

Krista helped me come up with a query that is appropriate for this time:  “What have I learned about myself during this election season? How have I exercised compassion to those with whom I disagree? Am I more pleasant to be around because my candidate was the victor? Why?”

As I reflected on who is the ultimate example of compassion, I wanted to highlight someone who offered compassion to someone who had personally harmed them in profound ways, and who still offered that compassion to them. The story of Corrie Ten Boom is one of the most powerful living examples of this type of forgiveness and compassion.

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch woman whose family risked everything to assist Jewish refugees escaping from the onslaught of racism coming from Nazi Germany. She was trained as a watch maker, her family ran a legitimate watch making and repair business, and their home served as a safe house for Jewish families seeking safety and asylum. In Corrie’s bedroom there was a secret room built behind a false wall, essentially the size of a large wardrobe, in which six people could stand huddled and hide during Gestapo searches of the home. It was called the hiding place and eventually became the title of her memoir. If you haven’t read it you absolutely must, her’s is an incredible story. In February of 1944 Corrie and her family were betrayed by a fellow Dutch citizen who informed on them to the Gestapo. Corrie and her sister were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp; her sister perished but Corrie survived.

In 1947 Corrie found herself preaching at a church in Munich, Germany, and at the close of the service, a balding man in a gray overcoat stepped forward to greet her. Corrie froze. She knew this man well; he’d been one of the most vicious guards at Ravensbrück, one who had mocked the women prisoners as they showered. She wrote:

“It came back with a rush, — the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man.”

And now he was pushing his hand out to shake hers, and saying: “A fine message,  Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course — how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face to face with one of my captors, and my blood seemed to freeze.

“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there… But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein” — again the hand came out —“will you forgive me?”

And I stood there — I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven — and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

The soldier stood there expectantly, waiting for Corrie to shake his hand. She “wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us.”

Standing there before the former S.S. man, Corrie remembered that forgiveness is an act of the will — not an emotion. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart.”

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.

Was there anything super human about Corrie? No, and while I can’t speak for any of the rest of us, I personally have never experienced any wrong at any level of magnitude compared to what Corrie suffered. Yet despite this she chose to act with compassion and treat this man well. I am challenged by this story.

Which leads me to how this applies to us:  We would be well served to follow Corrie’s example, especially in this post-election season — regardless of political party, affiliation etc. We can always make a different choice.

To wrap up, I would like to share some ideas on how to handle hard conversations. This comes from Valencia College:

1.Create a hospitable and accountable community. We all arrive in isolation and need the generosity of friendly welcomes.

2. Listen deeply. Listen intently to what is said; listen to the feelings beneath the words. Strive to achieve a balance between listening and reflecting, speaking and acting.

3. Create an advice-free zone. Replace advice with curiosity as we work together for peace and justice. Each of us is here to discover our own truths. We are not here to set someone else straight, to “fix” what we perceive as broken in another member of the group.

4. Practice asking honest and open questions. A great question is ambiguous, personal and provokes anxiety.

5. Give space for unpopular answers. Answer questions honestly even if the answer seems unpopular. Be present to listen, not debate, correct or interpret.

6. Respect silence. Silence is a rare gift in our busy world. After someone has spoken, take time to reflect without immediately filling the space with words. This applies to the speaker, as well – be comfortable leaving your words to resound in the silence, without refining or elaborating on what you have said.

7. Suspend judgment. Set aside your judgments. By creating a space between judgments and reactions, we can listen to the other, and to ourselves, more fully.

8. Identify assumptions. Our assumptions are usually invisible to us, yet they undergird our worldview. By identifying our assumptions, we can then set them aside and open our viewpoints to greater possibilities.

9. Speak your truth. You are invited to say what is in your heart, trusting that your voice will be heard and your contribution respected. Own your truth by remembering to speak only for yourself. Using the first person “I” rather than “you” or “everyone” clearly communicates the personal nature of your expression.

10. When things get difficult, turn to wonder. If you find yourself disagreeing with another, becoming judgmental, or shutting down in defense, try turning to wonder: “I wonder what brought her to this place?” “I wonder what my reaction teaches me?” “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?”

11. Practice slowing down. Simply the speed of modern life can cause violent damage to the soul. By intentionally practicing slowing down, we strengthen our ability to extend nonviolence to others—and to ourselves.

12. All voices have value. Hold these moments when a person speaks as precious, because these are the moments when a person is willing to stand for something, trust the group and offer something they see as valuable.

13. Maintain confidentiality. Create a safe space by respecting the confidential nature and content of discussions held in the group. Allow what is said in the group to remain there. Do not post about face-to-face conversations online.

My simple exhortation to us this morning is to be compassionate to one another, and especially to those who test the limits of our compassion. This election season will reveal who we really are, and as friends of Jesus let’s reflect his example.

This message from Jon Maroni was begun on Nov. 8 during Sunday worship at Spokane Friends, but was interruped by a wide-spread service outage by Comcast. So Jon was asked to repeat his message on Nov. 15, so that Zoom attenders could hear it in its entirety.

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