The sermon was about the power, and the impact of a once-hardened heart… now melted. The model for this is good old Paul, formerly of Tarsus, formerly named Saul.
Saul was a Super-Jew and an enemy of those folks that were following the new notion of a risen Jesus. They called themselves “The Way”
To refresh you, Saul was walking down the road to Damascus, minding everybody else’s business, when the risen Lord came to him in a vision, with a question. The question, in modern vernacular was, “Why are you messing with me?”
After a few days of Jesus-imposed blindness, Saul’s eyes were reopened; to see the power of our risen Lord. Saul became Paul, and he immediately knocked off the persecution of Christians, and became the guy that brought the Good News to the whole world outside of Jerusalem.
It was the power of this hardened heart…now melted, that founded a church.
This message of how absolute forgiveness can inspire us to march in His name reminded me of my own life and struggles. But as I listened, my thoughts went to a young friend of mine.
He is only fifteen. A nice young man, and is surrounded by loving family. I have gotten to know him because there is a hole in his life where a father should be; he lost his dad at age four. He is thoughtful and kind and very open. And he wears a confederate belt buckle.
I personally have nothing against yearning for the Old South, but that is not why a fifteen year old white suburban kid sports the confederate flag on his person. It is a statement, and it is born in bigotry and hate. It is not subtle.
“Why do you wear a confederate flag belt buckle?” I asked him.
“I just like it.” he replied sheepishly.
“Bullshit.” I said, un-sheepishly.
We talked about this for a while, and he explained how he had every right to wear it, because of the black kids that picked on him. As you may recall, telling adolescent people what they should believe in is a fools errand, ripe for rebellion. Still, he was willing to discuss it.
I suggested that he consider Brother Martin’s words that we judge others by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I hoped that he could see that the actions of a few don’t fairly apply to all.
“Who made you?” I inquired.
“God.” he said.
“Who made those kids?”
“God.” he replied, with a slight hesitation.
“Then if God made you both, aren’t you brothers, in a way?”
I was thinking more about him and his belt buckle as the sermon ended and my week began. I worried about the effect on him as man, if his heart had become so hardened by age fifteen.
A day passed. We sat in my living room, and I put on the movie American History X. If you don’t know it, it is a modern story about little American minds hating other Americans. It is also a powerful story about a once-hardened heart…now melted. The strongest message though, is that when we hate, we teach others to hate, and the residue can be devastating.
I asked him to watch it with me, and to consider his belt buckle as he did so.
I watched him cringe and move uncomfortably at all of the right scenes. We didn’t discuss it afterward; I was just hoping that he would consider the message.
On the drive home, I noticed that the belt was now rolled up in his hand. As we said goodnight, I asked him why he took it off.
“It’s not right.” he said, and there was sorrow in his voice.
There is nothing more powerful than a once hardened heart…now melted. Watching one melt is enough to make a grown man cry.
p.s. Hey Fr. Hyatt, thanks for the message.