Forgiveness for the third and fourth generations

Mar 29, 2018 by

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A few years ago I learned that a Native American coffee shop was opening near my church. A native business other than a casino got my attention. I found this place to be one of the friendliest social gathering places in the city. I met a lot of native guys my age, most of them Vietnam vets, most of them having lived in the horror of alcoholism and drugs following military service. The overwhelming pattern of absentee white fathers and Indian mothers was astounding. Almost to a man they said that what brought them out of addiction was going back to their native spiritual tradition, not Jesus.

Some years ago I met Doug, part Ojibwa and part French, and a dear brother in Christ. He told me the story of a village where the gospel was preached, embraced, and missionaries appointed to be sent to enemy villages in Canada to share the good news. Then the night before the missionaries were to leave home, the United States Army destroyed the village and its people. So the missionaries didn’t go. I will never forget his sad, incriminating story.

It’s a real challenge to share Jesus in the coffee shop. I live in Minneapolis. Most Minnesota natives are Ojibwa. The Lakota who survived the Lakota war of 1862 were forcibly removed to central South Dakota, near the place where I graduated from high school. Today many have filtered back, and I meet them here and am trying to learn from them, too.

So are these stories bygones that native peoples should get over and forget? They can no more be bygones for them than King George, the Alamo, Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 are bygones for non-native Americans. We have national holidays to help us remember. The Palestinians have not forgotten 1948, and the Zionists have not forgotten AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed. Nothing but the message of the cross will ever heal all these memories.

Each time I visit the coffee shop, I ask the Lord for a chance to bring his beautiful name into the conversation, and that does happen quite often. But often, I just get a blank stare at the mention of Jesus’ name. One man, a traditional healer, has made sure I understand he does not read the Bible and doesn’t want to. Pray that Jesus will reveal himself through me. Actually, I must say that Jesus is not all that welcome at the big university down the street from my house, either. Religion, yes; good deeds, yes; correct politics, yes; but Jesus, no.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. On that day, the clever Jesus sneaked his supporters (his army, if you will) into Jerusalem under the guise of a traditional celebration and occupied the city. He took charge, went wherever he wanted, and changed whatever he wanted to change. His clean-up focused on the worship in the temple. I just wonder what kind of clean-up Jesus might do today. The local Temple of Sports dominates the approach to downtown in my city, almost within sight of my backyard. That is where pilgrims come from all over the Midwest at great financial sacrifice to worship their heroes on Sunday afternoons, and the place crawls with merchants. I wonder whether Jesus just might not find the place as equally offensive as he did the temple in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Recent weeks have seen school shootings and the bombings in Austin, Texas. I am horrified, but not at all surprised. At age 74, I can clearly remember when my hedonistic generation turned sex into a crass form of recreation instead of a sacred covenant before God. The sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of human life are two sides of the same coin, I believe. Fornication at Woodstock and the killings at My Lai, Vietnam are the legacy of my generation, a legacy of open defiance against the Heavenly Father. That is why I am not at all surprised at the escalating violence around us.

Easter is April Fool’s Day this year. So who have been the fools? Moses warned that the iniquity of the fathers would poison the community until the third and fourth generation (Ex. 20:5). Today the third generation is reaping the sins of their fathers. The desolate, lonely, fatherless grandchildren have opened fire on the schools and business their grandparents (my generation) built. What Moses predicted for Israel is proving true for us as well.

I am sure of one thing. We don’t really need more cops or a better funded military — we need God! We need honest repentance. “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). On the other hand, “If you (we) don’t repent,” Jesus said, “You will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3-5). I fear what horrors may torment the fourth generation still to come!

However, between Palm Sunday and Easter is Good Friday. The sacrifice of Christ is sufficient for our lost generation. While the 2nd generation since the ’60s has lost its way, still there is time to save the third and fourth generations. If our nation will bow humbly in repentance before the cross, we can still obtain mercy. But should we refuse, our place will be the place of thieves on crosses in the next generation. Yet should that happen, even then, Jesus will be there, suffering with us and offering his forgiveness as he did to the original thieves on Good Friday.

Pray for our land and pray for our church. Let true freedom ring — not the liberty to sin, but the liberty from sin that has been squandered over that past 50 years of deception and false liberation in our land.

Philip E. Friesen is a partner in ministry with Central Plains Mennonite Conference, working with international scholars and immigrants in a Presbyterian (ECO) church on the University of Minnesota campus.

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