Friday, December 5, 2014

You Did It To Me - Part 2

Seven billion people.  It’s a big number. I know that there are more than seven billion people living on this planet, but I can't comprehend what that really means.

God doesn't see the number, He sees faces; behind which are personal histories and heartaches, individual predicaments and potentials. He sees actual people with names. Each one lives in a particular place, wakes up each day, faces their issues and deals with the obstacles that confront them. God feels everything each one of them feels. He sees every detail of every experience that has gone into making each of them exactly who they are at this very moment.

He loves each one of these people so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice for them.  This is the time of year that we focus on the birth of Jesus.  What I am always amazed by when I think of the baby Jesus is His willingness to leave heaven and live the life of a human being.

As we enter the Christmas season, are you amazed by the baby Jesus and what he represents, or is the sacrifice of the baby lost in the shuffle?  Remember, God loves each one of the seven billion people who live on this planet so much that he gave his only son as a sacrifice for them.  Jesus loves each one of them so much that he was willing to come to this earth and sacrifice his life.

If we focus on how much God loves all human beings and the price He paid to redeem us, we’ll come to see ourselves as God sees us, and that will help us understand just how much all of humanity is worth to God. Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.

One of those children is Nick.  Nick's family moved to our area and started attending the Mena Seventh-Day Adventist Church in 1999.  As the youth leader and the Pathfinder Club leader I got to know Nick and his sister Marci.  His parents had been missionaries in Africa and had adopted him there. When they retired, they moved back to the U.S.

Nick enjoyed being a member of the Mena Wildcats Pathfinder Club. Twice a year we would go on campouts, and Nick loved to go. He was a friendly boy and always made lots of friends.

On October first, he was shot to death in Oklahoma City.  He was just 23 years old. The news report read, Around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, police were called out to the apartment complex on NW 25th and Penn on a shots fired call with a man down.  On arrival Nick Scott was discovered in the courtyard of an apartment complex.

An apartment resident told police that they heard 5 or 6 shots. "I ran outside, everyone says Nick, it's Nick! He's dead, he's dead!"  The witness described Nick as a homeless man.

When I heard the news I was really shaken up.  I know that things like this are a daily occurrence, but it is different when you know the person.  I knew that Nick had made some bad choices as a teenager, but I didn't realize that he had ended up homeless on the streets of Oklahoma City.  When I attended his funeral, I found out more about his situation.  There was a problem with Nick's citizenship paperwork that his parents spent years trying to straighten out.  They were never able to get through the red tape, so Nick was actually living as an illegal immigrant.

At his funeral those who showed the most emotion where young street people who didn't look the best or smell the best.  Nick’s cousin gave the eulogy and it really made me think about my attitudes towards people.  The eulogy made such an impact on me that I asked Nick’s cousin if he would give me permission to publish it on my blog.  He graciously gave his permission.  I hope that it makes an impact on you like it did me.

Eulogy for Nicolas N. Scott
by Eric Scott
Ph.D student in Computer Science
George Mason University

"The last few years of Nick’s life were hard. Certainly harder than anything I've been through. There is no way to sugar coat it: as a homeless man in Oklahoma City, Nick suffered a lot. At Nick’s age, he should have been looking forward to an open-ended vista of possibilities. The American Dream, with all its hopes and promises, should have been tantalizing him with its optimism. And on his good days, Nick did dream of future success the way a young person should. He dreamt of getting his G.E.D. and going back to school, of making enough money to pay back everyone he had ever hurt, and of becoming a lawyer and helping people in situations like his.

But most days, Nicolas was trapped in a sense of futility. Robert Frost described an old man in a similar position in one of his poems, “The Death of the Hired Man.” Young as he was, it could easily have been Nick, Nick who lived as an illegal immigrant in his own country, barely eking out a living as a hired hand. Frost writes of him:

So concerned for other folk, And nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope, So now and never any different.

If there’s one thing that I've consistently heard from Nick’s friends and acquaintances over the years, it was that he was truly concerned for other folk. Nick did many things that he regretted, some things as innocent as stealing food to survive, and some things less easy to forgive. I don’t know what it’s like to be locked in the cycle of hopelessness that so many people living in poverty experience from day to day. I’m told that money loses value when there is never enough of it. There is a certain logic to irresponsibility in situations where human flourishing is rare and precious.

But people never lost value for Nick. Nick was a passionate believer in compassion and empathy. Nick stood in judgment over himself for his failures to do justice to people and their experiences. And he stood in judgment over me, over society and criminal justice, and over the church. The one person I never heard him criticize was his late mother, Tilly Scott, who for Nick embodied a complete and unconditional regard for the well-being of her son.

Nick went back and forth on his religious beliefs. Life on the street doesn't afford much luxury for debating academic arguments about God and theology. He didn't know what he believed, but he read his Bible regularly, and Nick seemed to genuinely feel that Christ was often more present in the homeless shelters and jail cells of Oklahoma City than in its churches. He tried many times to explain to me his belief that there is good in everyone, a source of dignity even in what most of us would consider broken and violent souls. Nick knew convicted murderers that he believed were among the most profound representatives of Christ-like compassion that you could find.

A few weeks ago the minister at my church in Virginia delivered a message on forgiveness, and challenged everyone in our congregation to forgive one person that week, and to ask forgiveness from someone. Things were tense between Nick and I at the time. He’d told some fibs while trying to get my family to help him with rent money, and I was feeling pretty stern. It was a busy week for me, and I procrastinated on my homework, but finally I told Nick that I forgave him, and that supporting him was what was most important to us. He died that evening.

Because of my minister’s challenge, I have the comfort of knowing that Nick’s last words to me were of gratitude. That week, his family had chosen to love him unconditionally. He told me that it meant a lot, and that he would try to do better toward us.

But what I failed to do, and what I wish I could do now, is ask Nick’s forgiveness. Not just for the times I wasn't there to help him. I want Nick’s forgiveness for being slow to learn how to see the dignity in every human being. It is always far easier to judge the homeless than to help them, even with family. On Nick’s behalf, I challenge all of us, myself included, to see the Christ in those in need. We have to go beyond feeling sorry for others, and build relationships that allow us to truly understand them. Nick is no longer here for us to learn to love, but his belief in love is something we can carry on now that he is gone."

I hope that this eulogy will help you see the dignity in every human being.  If we can do that - see the dignity in every person regardless of race, gender, religion, social standing, politics,or nationality - we become more like Jesus.  We become like the Jesus of John 3:16,17 -  "For God so loved the world (all seven billion of every possible race, religion, and nationality) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved".

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to Me."  I have always understood that helping the "least of these" was in reality helping Jesus.  I now realize that when I judge or criticize people I do it to Jesus Himself.  When I talk badly about people groups, I’m talking badly about Jesus.

Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.

Seven billion people.  It’s a big number. But God loves them all.  Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.  Are they precious in your sight?