Life Beyond the Door/St. Paul’s sermon Oct. 20

Robert Coney, 76, a free man, holding his wife's hand outside the Angelina County Jail in Lufkin, Texas/Photo:The Lufkin Daily News

Robert Coney, 76, holding a family member’s hand, walking out of the Angelina County Jail in Lufkin, Texas in 2004./Photo: The Lufkin Daily News

In 1962, Robert Coney was a young, African-American male traveling through East Texas when he was caught up in a nightmare. The victim of a case of mistaken identity, Robert was arrested and charged with robbing a grocery store, and convicted to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He had not been allowed to speak to an attorney until the day he appeared before a judge, a guilty plea forced out of him by crushing two of his fingers between the iron bars of a jail cell. In 1976, a judge looking at the case set aside Robert’s conviction. But for reasons still unclear, that decision was never communicated to the right people in order to set him free. And Robert, sitting in prison, never knew he had in fact been freed – at least on paper. In 2004, another judge going through old files came across Robert’s case and found the error and evidence of a wrongful conviction, and immediately set in motion having the case overturned. A young journalist covering the crime beat at the time, I was there the day Robert Coney, 76, walked out of prison and into the arms of his family. The story made national news. How could it not? A black man in the South set free after serving more than 40 years of a life sentence for which he was wrongfully convicted, was compelling news, to say the least. I couldn’t help thinking of him that evening and the next day, and for several days after. The question that lingered was this: if you’ve spent a lifetime without hope, how do you live into that justice when it finally arrives at your door? I had this image in my head of Robert Coney waking up that first free morning at home, standing in the doorway of his bedroom, waiting for some imaginary steel door to slide open and a voice of authority to order him about the business we all take for granted, like showering and eating breakfast. Robert’s story came to mind this week as I read the Gospel lesson from Luke 18:1-8, about the persistent widow and the judge with no respect for God nor man who finally granted her justice because she didn’t give up. How much more, Jesus says in this Parable to his disciples, does our Eternal Judge, the God who loves us, desire to give justice quickly to his chosen who cry to him day and night? Will we be persistent in the Faith, praying to our Heavenly Father and placing all our trust in him in the midst of an unjust world? Or will the Son of Man return to find us without faith? Like Robert, we may feel hopeless. We may have suffered injustice in our life and feel there is no way out. We may know others who have. But unlike Robert, we do not have to miss out on the story of our own freedom. We will go out of here today with a message of freedom and hope for ourselves and for others. The message is this: Jesus Christ died and rose again for our sins and we are forgiven and reunited with God in that act of redemption. We are free. Even as we wait for justice, we are free. We have a hope in us that carries us forward, safe in knowing we have a God who loves us and gives us strength. As others search for their justice, they are already free in Christ Jesus. But like Robert, they may not know it. It is our work as Christians to tell them the decision has already been made. They are free, and they can begin to live their lives knowing the hope of God that is in them. So when God’s justice arrives at their door, they will be able to live into it. We as the Church are called to go to our own doorway and to step out of it into the world, without waiting for someone to come by and open it. Without waiting for someone to tell us we can go and serve. We are free. It is time to start living our freedom. It is time to start living God’s justice in the world. Amen.

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