Behold now the Kingdom! See with new eyes!
(song by John Michael Talbot)
I just returned from the New Wineskins Mission Conference 2019 in Ridgecrest, North Carolina. There is so much to thank God for, and give Him glory for, in all that took place at this Anglican every-three-year gathering. In fact, I was going to write about the extraordinary, Holy Spirit-filled Saturday night session focused on the global Persecuted Church. And I will do that next. But another extraordinary event just took place, and I want to add my voice to those who are marveling at it.
One of the speakers at New Wineskins for both the Saturday night session I mentioned above, and for the pre-conference Conference on the Persecuted Church for which I was a co-leader, was the Rt. Reverend Andudu Adam Elnail, the Bishop of Kadugli and Nuba Mountains, Episcopal Church of Sudan. Bishop Andudu is a dear friend, and I knew his testimony would be deeply moving to all those gathered in those western North Carolina mountains. They would hear first-hand about global jihad and persecution against the followers of Jesus and all of the people in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.
Yes. They did hear about that. But they also heard something else. Bishop Andudu told us how he had been asked to speak at a church in Colorado, and the Biblical text for that Sunday was on forgiveness. That’s a hard one for any of us…even with our First World Problems. Imagine knowing that Jesus calls you to forgive the 30-year dictator of an evil regime that has been responsible for the slaughter, starvation, and enslavement of your people. That you are called to forgive an Islamist enforcer of the Sharia who has no tolerance for Christianity and who has had pastors crucified in the Nuba Mountains. That you are called to forgive the individuals that have rained down bombs on your homes, churches, schools, markets, and (the only) hospital. That you are called to love your enemy!
(Please note that Jesus used the word “enemy.” He didn’t whitewash the evil that was perpetrated, as some — even in the churches! — are wont to do. He said love them even though they are your enemy and do you great harm. It is that kind of love that demonstrates the reign of God, that shows His Kingdom.)
Bishop Andudu wrestled with this for three days before giving in to grace, and allowing God to give him a new way of looking at Omar al Bashir. With Kingdom eyes, Bishop Andudu was able to separate Bashir, the human being, from the evil that he has done. He was able to forgive Bashir. And when he preached at that church in Colorado, those parishioners also caught a glimpse of God’s Kingdom, and a broken church was able to be restored and the people reconciled to one another.
Which brings me to how eighteen year old Brandt Jean forgave and hugged his beloved brother’s killer. That was, of course, the extraordinary event of this week that everyone is talking about. The Kingdom of God was suddenly revealed in this young man’s grace-filled actions at the end of the sentencing hearing of Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. She has been convicted of murder and given a ten-year prison sentence for shooting 26 year-old Botham Jean. Guyger shot and killed the innocent young black accountant in his own home as he sat watching television and eating ice cream.
Jean was giving a “victim impact statement.” Thousands and thousands, hopefully, millions by now, have watched the moment when he offered grace and mercy to Guyger, saying: “If you are truly sorry, I can speak for myself, I forgive, and I know if you go to God and ask him, He will forgive you.” He went on to tell Guyger that he wanted the best for her, because he knew “that’s exactly what Botham would want” — he didn’t even want her to go to prison! And he continued, “the best would be to give your life to Jesus Christ.”
After these powerful moments, there was more to come. Jean asked Judge Tammy Kemp if he could “give [Guyger] a hug.” WFAA, Dallas’ ABC Channel 8, noted, “All the deputies in the courtroom looked at each other, knowing this was a major infraction of the security rules. And then they looked at Judge Kemp for guidance. She made a snap decision and said, ‘Go ahead.’ And so the hug happened.” The teenage brother of the slain young man and the woman who had deprived him of that brother hugged and wept together. Watching the video, Guyger clings to Jean as if she is drowning and he is her salvation. Well, maybe she’s not far from the truth.
Jean later told the mystified reporters at Good Morning America that it was not enough to tell Guyger that he forgave her. He wanted to demonstrate it. This offering of forgiveness was not, as many want to say it is — and want to make it be — about just another evidence of racism. On dozens of websites, angry commenters without eyes to see the grace and mercy of God’s Kingdom that guides the life and heart of Brandt Jean declare that the black man has to offer forgiveness to the white woman “in order to survive.” That may be true elsewhere, but not here.
This was a follower of Jesus offering the forgiveness of Jesus, and costly forgiveness of his own, to someone desperately in need of that forgiveness. This is evident by what Jean said to GMA, and by the fact that the revelation of Kingdom love and mercy in her courtroom may have been what encouraged Judge Kemp to also reach out to Guyger.
Dallas Morning News’s Jennifer Emily reports that how after hugging and consoling Botham Jean’s parents, Bertrum and Allison Jean, and thanking them for the way that they had “modeled Christ” to their son, Kemp returned to Amber Guyger with her own own personal Bible and spoke to her quietly and told her, “Read this.” Emily says that then, “Guyger leaped up to hug Kemp,” and after a pause during which the judge seemed unsure of what she should do, “Tammy Kemp embraced Guyger.” Emily continues: “Only the judge’s responses were heard: ‘Ma’am, it’s not because I am good. It’s because I believe in Christ. None of us are worthy.'”
In her own way, Kemp offered Guyger an invitation like that extended by Brandt Jean. Channel 8 revealed that Kemp told Guyger, “You haven’t done so much that you can’t be forgiven. You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters.” The TV station reporter added that the judge urged Guyger to take the Bible with her, and to read John 3:16.
Attorneys, bailiffs and journalists wiped away tears as they watched Jean and Guyger hug and then leaned in to hear Kemp’s words. A box of tissues was passed around. They noted — with puffy faces and red noses — that they had never before cried in court. That they had never seen anything quite like what had just happened.
And the Channel 8 reporter said, “At this point, lawyers and onlooker were all tearing up, getting emotional. I was tearing up. No one could really understand what was going on.”
In Jewish tradition the Kaddish is an ancient prayer of praise, originally written in Aramaic, that expresses a longing for the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. Thinking of how a glimpse of that Kingdom was offered and seen in Dallas this week, it seems quite appropriate that the Kaddish is now the prayer recited by those mourning for a loved one.
Exalted and sanctified is G-D’s great Name
In the world which He has created according to His will,
And may He establish His Kingdom in your lifetime,
And during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel
Speedily and soon, and say, Amen.
Brandt Jean has mourned the death of his brother well, in a Dallas courtroom, in a beautiful demonstration of the Kingdom of God into which his brother has now fully entered, to feast at God’s banquet table and to see his Lord face to face.