This past weekend, my family and I went to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center here in Cincinnati. It is a powerful exploration of the cost of freeing and the cost of freedom. It goes into the past but also looks at the present for where people continue to be enslaved in a variety of ways.
One of the reasons we went this weekend was to visit a new temporary exhibit called Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu. The exhibit is largely photography by Matthew Willman, the official photographer of Mandela when he was president 0f South Africa and in the years after. It was a powerful experience, especially as it brought us back to several places that we went to in South Africa several years ago.
The end of the exhibit was tied to the story of the rock pile on Robben Island (which I blogged about here in 2015) and was a powerful reminder to our whole family of what we experienced then and how it changed us. The core of what was shared in this exhibit was not just about the process of forgiving what has been done but also what are we willing to fight for? (Not necessarily fighting in the manner of taking up weapons of war, but what principles will we stand for, for whom will we advocate, how are we willing to put our principles into action). People were given the opportunity to write down something they needed to forgive and something for which they were willing to fight.
The passage of Scripture I am looking at for this Sunday is the story of Stephen in the book of Acts (Acts 6-7) and it is a story that lifts up one who was willing to forgive even as he was being killed. His last recorded words are “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60). But this happened because he was willing to stand up for what he believed and understood about God’s work not just in the present but in the past. The preceding verses tell of how Stephen was brought before a group of leaders who did not approve of what he was saying and we read the longest “sermon” in Acts as Stephen goes through the history of the people. Stephen was not willing to be cowed by being brought before the people – he stood up for what he believed.
That is the challenge I am hearing in this passage for me today – the combination of both forgiving and fighting. They are not mutually exclusive but instead part of a single faithful response.
(Side Note – I blurred out the things written on the posts that I photographed – while they may be public at the Freedom Center, I didn’t want to make it public per se online)