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Vows to take whole church to see his movie

By Chinta Strausberg

Saint Sabina’s Father Michael L. Pfleger paid tribute to the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela who died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.

The traditional ten-day period of mourning ends today as thousands attended the state funeral and watched his coffin, draped int he red, white and green South African flag, being carried to its final resting place.

Last Sunday, Father Pfleger asked the church to stand and applaud the life of Mandela, Pfleger saying, “The world tried to change him, but he changed the world. We thank you Nelson for all that you did for the sacrifice, for becoming better and not bitter, for loving and not hating, for teaching us what it means to live with justice in our heart and but kindness in our hand. Thank you, Nelson.”

Pfleger said there are times people can involved “in the rat race, the ritual, the habits of our minds, we miss history right in front of our eyes.”

Talking about the death of Mandela, who will be buried on Sunday in his ancestral home of Qunu, Pfleger talked about John The Baptist and how he called on the world to “repent, prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight the path. Take the crooked and make it straight. Take the rough and make it smooth. Level the mountains. As I hear him confront the religions and the government of his day and hear John The Baptist calling Pharisees and the Sadducees vipers…challenging the arrogance of the rule of the land.”

Pfleger reminded the church of the many times John The Baptist was in prison because of the good news he proclaimed. Wow, we’ve come a long way from John The Baptist,” he said.

“We look at a church where apostles and disciples were arrested for preaching the gospel and now today the church has become mainstream, become another corporation in the world and now we say benedictions and invocations for burials instead of telling them to let my people go.

“I watched them confront the government and the gospel of John The Baptist and Jesus the same, and I remember the time when he was in prison and even beheaded for his preaching of the truth of the gospel.”

Referring to the Isaiah prophet in the first reading day talk about the belt of justice wrapped around God that he was a God of justice who called the land to become a land of peace and brotherhood and sisterhood, as we hear that I can’t help thinking about Nelson Mandela,” said Pfleger.

“I can’t help thinking about who he was and not just what you heard in the last 24-hours but what he’s been for the last 95-years.”

Saying many young people don’t know Nelson Mandela or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pfleger said, they just know pictures and names. “We rob our children of history,” Pfleger said announcing he will beholding a “Saint Sabina Day” where the church will go to see Nelson Mandela’s movie at the Chatham 14 Theaters, 210 W. 87th St. “I want everybody here to go and take your children so they will understand the man and not a blimp on the news.”

Referring to the days following Mandela’s death,Pfleger said, “You hear all of the praise and the affirmation and the accolades of Nelson Mandela. Some of those same accolades and affirmations from the very mouths of those who called him a terrorist.

“Let’s not forget that he was the (U.S.) terrorist list until 2008,” said Pfleger. “He needed special permission after he came out of prison he still couldn’t leave the country without special permission because he was a terrorists. The African National Congress (ANC) was listed as a terrorist organization.”

Now, since his death, Pfleger said everyone is talking about how great Mandela was. “Let’s not forget how he think he was. You hear the world commending him now, but let’s not get amnesia about a world that condemned him… a world that continued to crucify him while he was locked in a prison cell. We must not forget his condemning America when we entered the war in Iraq. We must not forget that when he was raising money for South Africa and America said to him, ‘now that we are defending you and we’re raising money and we’re supporting you, we now ask you to denounce your friendship and your allegiance to Cuba and to Fidel Castro and to Omar Gaddafi.’”  Pfleger quoted Mandela who said at that time, “Why would I remove myself from old friends who have always been with me to join hands with some new friends whose relationships have not yet been tested.” Pfleger said that is called “integrity…character.”

Mandela, Pfleger said, would not travel to or have a relationship with Israel “until they denounced their covering of ownership over Palestine and Palestine was free. Until Palestine would have freedom and be free of their own, he would cut them off from Israel’s dominance.”

Referring to Mandela, Pfleger said, “We honor him like we honor John The Baptist, like we honor great prophets who walked among us, like we honor Jesus Christ. All of those be it Mandela, be it King, be it Malcolm, be it Jesus, all of them suffered the condemnation of systems and governments and religious structures and people. All of them went through a great time, a great struggle and persecution by the system and even those around them,” said Pfleger.

“It is also interesting to me that three great leaders who impacted our lives, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela and the Apostle Paul all impacted the world from jail cells. The letter from the Birmingham jail of Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela from the single cell from Robben Island and the Apostle Paul who wrote most of the New Testament locked up in a jail.

“Don’t you dare put down people who’ve been to jail,” he said to a round of applause. “Don’t you dare hold grudges and” judge people who have gone to prison because Pfleger said many have changed the world especially Dr. King, Mandela and the Apostle Paul.

“If we are going to be witnesses of truth, if we’re going to be following of Christ, if we’re going to be disciples and not simply the believers…that’s always been the charge of this church…we’re called to be believers turned into disciples, believers where the place in the kingdom of God and giving their lives to Jesus Christ. They now have a place in the Kingdom of God that cannot be taken from them….”

“Believers have a place in the kingdom of God but disciples have matured to a place to understand my job is to bring the kingdom of God to earth every day where I am like Mary breaking open an alabaster jar and changing the atmosphere in my job, in my school, in my block where ever I work.

“This ought to be different because I brought a change to the atmosphere. Some stuff can’t go on because I work here. Some stuff can’t happen at that school because you’re a student there. Some things that happen in that work place because you work there and there is some stuff you won’t tolerate. The devil ought to get angry when you wake up in the morning when you ought to come into a place and say I’ve come to change the atmosphere….”

“We got to stop being such punks. You are a world changer…,” bellowed Pfleger. Referring to a job, Pfleger said, “You know the good news about a job, they are paying you to start trouble. Some demons ought to run out…when you enter a place….”

Referring to those who are bashful and timid too afraid to offend anybody, Pfleger said, “no sexism should be in the place you work. No racism should be tolerated. Let’s start banning together with some other believers where you’re at and start an army turn this place upside down….

“We must understand if we’re going to be disciples of Jesus not just believers who go to church but disciples who are church who understand I’m a walking sanctuary. I’m an arch of the covenant that where is church where ever I go.

“If we’re going to be that, we must be willing to struggle. We must be willing to be condemned. We must be willing even to die,”he said.

Referring to the days of segregation and his getting ready to board one of the buses, Pfleger said, “they said if you’re not ready to die today, don’t get on the bus. My immediate response to myself was‘hell no. No, I wasn’t ready to die today.’

“My mama always told me make sure before you go out you have clean underwear…and I wasn’t sure I’d done it that day because I didn’t know this was the day.

“We got to be willing to be condemned and yes die. Sometimes we’re so afraid of dying that we forget to live and that’s not popular in a world that likes the easy road. That’s not popular in a world that says I don’t want anything that cost be nothing…. I want to get through this thing as easy as I can as quick as I can and get on to the next thing in my life. That is not very popular in a world where everybody wants to be accepted.I’m OK. You’re OK. We want the affirmation of people.”

But, Pfleger warned Christians that “until you mature to a place that you understand your affirmation is from him…when you understand that it is he who affirms you and his is the only vote that counts, then you get released and free from needing the affirmation from somebod yaround you. Why would you need affirmation from seasonal friends? They may be with you in the spring of your life but when the winter comes they can’t be found, but I know there is somebody who will never leave you or forsake you. I will never abandon you. I am with you Emanuel….”

Pfleger said one of the things that Jesus, Dr.King, Mandela and John The Baptist taught us was to fight against injustice. “Sometimes we live…where it’s not in my backyard. As long as it’s not in my backyard, hell can be going through across the street. I didn’t see nothing. Code of silence because I won’t speak up. If I speak up, I may become a target, but if 20 people on a block speak up, there is no target,” he stated.

“We don’t want to get involved. We used to be caretakers for one another. We didn’t use to wonder if you came home and nobody was at home where would you go. You would just ring Miss Jones…Miss Johnson’s doorbell. You’d go somewhere on the block because it was the block that took care of each other. Nothing happened on that block that the block didn’t allow.

“We must fight against injustice. Don’t ignore it. Don’t avoid it. Don’t run from it. If you really know who is with you, you’ll run to it” and say there won’t be injustice “on my watch.”

“We forget that God gave us this garden. He said work it and make it fruitful, but too many of us are bad landlords. The earth is in our hands at this time. It’s a long race.” Pfleger asked the members to ask the one next to them to say “the batons are in your hands now, are you running it”?

“We’re called to be world changers to be agents of change through the transformer it ought to be different like on your job or in the world because we live here,” he stated.

“We have to get beyond the day of just celebrating those who went before us and ask ourselves the question will there be a generation to come that looks back on you and say thanks. Will there be someonet o be thankful that we paved the way….

“We can’t keep going back to ground zero. Somebody ought to build something. Somebody ought to change…transform something…” so that one day people will say “thank good because this generation lived or 50 or 60-years from now when they have to skip over us to keep going back to Mandela, King and Rosa (Parks). “We’re called to fight against injustice.”

The second thing Jesus, Dr. King, Mandela and JohnThe Baptist taught us was “life is a constant evolution.” Referring to the February 15, 1990 interview with Mandela and Ted Koppel after Mandela, who spent 27-years in prison, was released (http://abcnews.go.com/Archives/video/feb-15-1990-nelson-mandela-interview-12779866,) Pfleger said, “He said that time in prison gave me time to think and go back on my mistakes and learn about other people impacted the world and how they came from their mistakes and became leaders of change.

“The most dangerous thing that can happen to any of us here is to think you’ve arrived,” said Pfleger who said the longer a person lives the less he or she knows. “It’s true because you start to remember and acknowledge our incomplete our database is.

“Always keep growing. Always look at people around you what can they teach you. What can they share with you? What can they impart in you. What do they have to give you? What gift do they can that can touch your life. Don’t ever think you’ve arrived and think you’re there. Keep growing. Keep becoming. Keep evolving. There’s more ahead of you than behind you” he said.

Reflecting on a 15-minute one-on-one conversation with President Mandela when he was touring the country including Chicago, Pfleger thanked former Mayor Richard M. Daley because “Daley grabbed my hand and pulled me with him” at the Palmer House where Mandela was being honored.

“I didn’t know where we were going but he was the mayor. Where ever he was going, I was going.” When they brought President Mandela into the holding room, Pfleger was allowed to talk to Mandela alone.

A nervous Pfleger asked Mandela how did he take life in prison for 27-years; however before he could finish his question, Mandela grabbed Pfleger’s hand and said, “it made me strong….”

“Don’t let your adversities destroy you. Let them teach you so when I come out of this I’m going to be better. I’m going to be stronger. I’m going to be wiser. Some stuff ain’t going get to me no more because I’ve been there done that….

“I shake this stuff off because you don’t know what I’ve been through and if he can bring me through that, he can bring me through this…. Adversity should make you stronger. Let your adversity teach you, wise you up so the next time the devil comes with your trick, you can laugh at him and tell him, ‘You should have got me before I learned what I learned on my last set back.’”

The third thing Mandela taught us, Pfleger said,was “to be uncompromising in our standard. Sometimes as Christians we have to ask ourselves what do you stand for because we have watered down our beliefs so much because we want to fit in, get along? We don’t want to trouble no waters or make no waves; so we fit in the groups and what ever they’re talking about we just ride on with them like a lap dog.

“We got to be uncompromising for what we stand for and what we believe because while you’re trying to fit into somebody else they don’t like you no way. You’re wasting your time trying to get somebody to say you’re a nice person. They don’t like you. They ain’t going to be there when you lose your job. When you ain’t got no money, got no car…, they ain’t going to be there,” he said recognizing ABC 7 anchor Hosea Sanders and WGCI Tony Scofield. “You lose your job tomorrow, you out there in the street” and people won’t remember their names. “Don’t believe your own press,” he said.

Pfleger told of the time when he was speaking at an event and somebody came up to him and said, “I can’t stand you.” Pfleger responded, “Well, praise the Lord. God bless you, too. Have we ever met before? He said, ‘no.” Have you ever heard me before”? The person said, “no.”

Pfleger shook the hand of his hater and said, “I’m so glad that you’re here because now you’re going to know why you hate me. You going to make sense when you talk now because you sound real stupid right now.You hate what you don’t know. Know what you hate about me.

“Have some standards. Be uncompromising,” Pflegers aid honoring Mandela. “Sometimes, we are so willing to come down we forget that Nelson Mandela was offered to come out of jail so many times if he would just sign a document” declaring he would not talk about certain topics. “He said no,” Pfleger said.

There are lessons in how Mandela handled his27-years in prison that are teachable and relevant today. “It’s better to be locked up in a prison than to be free and locked up in your heart. I’d rather have a free mind, a free heart and a free spirit” rather than to “compromise my values. “Now, I’m letting people lock me up and become our jailers.”

“If you are a person of faith, there some stuff you ought to stand for….”

The fourth lesson Mandela and other black leaders taught us is the power of forgiveness. Pfleger equated social change with Dr.King and the formula for a transformation being “after education, after negotiations, after self-purification, after demonstrations, the fifth step isalways reconciliation because Dr. King says you never win an argument untilyour enemy becomes your ally.

“Dr. King understood the power of forgiveness.Nelson Mandela understood the power of forgiveness. When he was asked weren’t he bitter and angry about the people that did this you, Mandel   said, “They kept me captive for27-years. Why would I now keep them captive as I am a free man”?

“In this season of expectation and preparation, as we prepare for the great celebration of Christmas look into your inventory of who you need to forgive,” said Pfleger.

Referring to the time when he first became the pastor of Saint Sabina, Pfleger said there was this woman who sat in either the third or fourth pew and every time he’d begin to preach she would put her fingers in her ears in a very visible and public way.

It puzzled Pfleger who said, “Well, maybe there is something wrong with her ears, but she did it every time, every Sunday and I said wow, that’s not nice. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she had been in the balcony or the basement but she was right here.

“But. God taught me to let it go and to go right on and preach and not allow that to get into my spirit because the enemy was trying to use her to vex my preaching. I had to let it go and ignore it.

“Years later, I got a call from one of her children who said mother wanted you to come to her house because she’s dying of cancer,”he recalled.

As Pfleger walked up the stairs to her house he thought to himself, “As I was walking in and…this will be her death date today,” he said worried that she would stop her ears when he spoke. An anxious Pfleger thought as he approached her doorbell, “It’s going to be like the Supreme Court Justice on Scandal. She’s going down today,” he mused telling his members who were laughing to “calm down gladiators.”

“I came there. She could barely move, talk or speak, but one of the first things out of her mouth was ‘I’m sorry.’”

Going back home, Pfleger said he remembers God telling him “if you had not planted the seed of forgiving him, you would never have enjoyed the joy of her saying I’m sorry, but you watered that seed overall those years and you didn’t hold a grudge.

“Whenever you think somebody has hurt you so bad that you just can’t forgive them, think about Jesus on the cross dying for you and I jacked up lives saying he knew all of the stuff you were going to do, buthe believed in his potential so much he still hunger and would not come down.The only thing he could say before he gave his last breath was ‘father forgive them. They know not what they do.”

The members repeated, “If there is anybody you should forgive, let that be their Christmas present. Forgive them. Wrap up that forgiveness in the bow of a smile. Wrap up that forgiveness in a bow of a gift and a joy…. We don’t have to be friends. We just can’t be enemies anymore.”

“Mandela hugged his jailers and then hired some of them to work at the presidential palace,” Pfleger said explaining there is a funny irony to that.

“The people who used to call him names and talk about him, harass him behind the bars, now when Mr. Mandela walks into the office they say ‘sir, can I take your coat? Can I get you some coffee….” God said he’d make your enemies your foot stools. Don’t get caught up in unforgiveness. Don’t get caught up in grudges. Learn how to be forgiving.

Pfleger laid out the fifth lesson Mandela and other leaders taught us about “the willingness to teach us about the struggle.”

Referring to the sign in back of the church that says “Discipleship cost are you willing, Pfleger said it bothers him that some people don’t want to go through anything…. “Are you willing to pay he cost? Sometimes we treat discipleship like we treat going shopping. Where is the sale? We want things cheaper.”

“We want things easy and quick…. If you are going to make any real chance out here, you got to be willing to sacrifice and struggle,” he said.

Referring to Allen Boesak who spoke at Saint Sabina a few weeks ago, Pfleger said, “When we come to judgment and God will look at us and ask ‘Do you have no wounds,’ and we will say no. He will say, ‘was there nothing worth struggling for? Was there nothing worth fighting for? Was there nothing worth bleeding for?

“Why did Jesus still have his wounds? Jesus has his wounds because he wants us to know when we see him in glory and we walk up tothe throne of God and reach out to Jesus, he will reach out with hands with wounds in it to say, ‘I just want to remind you what it cost for you to get there.

“Don’t forget he went to Calvary because everythingcost. Mandela sat in his cell for 27-years. King…Malcolm was murdered….Countless people hung like strange fruit from trees. There’s a cost. The questionis are you willing to pay it?

Listing the names of Jesus, King, Mandela and John The Baptist, Pfleger said they taught us “about humbleness and gentleness while still being bold and strong.

“We live in a very weird world today where we somehow think if you’re gentle you’re weak. If you’re humble, something is wrong with you. You’re a push over. Jesus was no push over. Jesus was a radical messiah…. He was bold and strong and unbending in what he believed.

“Don’t think your strength is lording it over somebody. Let your strength be your character that makes somebody look up to you. Learn how to be gentle. Learn how to be kind. Learn how to care for people and treat people.

“Do you know how easy it is to just say hello to somebody on the street”?

Father Pfleger said, “We have to learn how to be humble. What the world lacks more than anything right now is kindness. We’re such a mean spirited world the way we treat each other, the way we talk to each other.  It doesn’t cost nothing tobe kind…to be gentle…to be friendly with one another.”

Pfleger talked about the seventh thing Nelson Mandela and others taught him. “How did we become such a selfish world with such witnesses that walked among us. We’re not talking about 200-years ago.They were in our lifetime.

“Shame on us that we have become so self-centered and so selfish in a time when there has been such great prophets God has allowed to walk amongst us. Shame on us that there was a Christ that we say we worship and he gave his life. There is no better love than one who lays down his life for another.

“Christ said you’ll know you are my disciples by your love for one another.”

Pfleger told about the parable about the Samaritan who cared about someone along side the road. “Yet, we have become so harden and immune we don’t care about children dying. We don’t care about poverty greater than it has ever been. We don’t care about unemployment seven percent in the country, 22 percent in our neighborhood. We don’t care about people who have no heat. We just want a bigger coat,” Pfleger said.

“We don’t care that as we sit here somebody is under a viaduct and someone is sitting in a doorstep trying to learn how to get through the day.” To those who don’t like what they have in their refrigerators, Pfleger said, “Somebody wish they had your refrigerator to go to. “How do we become so selfish…”?

Saying Jesus could not get discouraged because eventually the cross would free us all, Pfleger said, “We have to have the kind of hope in us that nobody in life that nobody can extinguished. There has to bea hope in us that like Martin said, ‘I’ve seen the promise land….

“There has to be a hope that kept Nelson Mandela alive and 27-years and getting stronger and developing kindness, love and forgiveness so he can walk out and go from a prison to a presidency.”

“What ever you do, never quit. The fight’s fixed.We win at the end. Read the last chapter. When you get discouraged, go to Revelation. Read the end of the book. It’s a good ending…. If you just don’t give up, you’ll be all right. We win at the end….

“If you really want to honor Mandela, there’s no easy walk to freedom anywhere. If you want to honor King, don’t just watch the funeral. If you want to honor King, don’t just go to some King event. If you want to honor Jesus, just don’t have some nice little Christmas dinner, put some carols around the house, a tree and decorations because” anniversaries end and the holiday lights will come down.

“If you really want to honor Mandela, if we want to honor Jesus, then we must embrace who they were with the lives that we live every day. It’s easy to celebrate them. It’s easy to mourn them, but we can do that from a distance. The question is do I believe enough in them to embody what they stood for.

“Do I have a divine tension in me that doesn’t allow me to just walk through life with worry about my own comfort, and my own thing and my own position and my own power but do I care about the world likethey cared about the world”?

Father Pfleger shared a story about the late Coretta Scott King who told him to “take him off the pedestal.”

Pfleger shared another story about Dr. King’s father and how he suddenly heard “Daddy King saying ‘Michael.’” “Dr. King was standing there in a T-shirt and his drawers. I said, I can’t see you like this.”

Daddy King reported told Pfleger to “never put somebody up above you. Just picture that person sitting on the toilet seat because all do it just like you… It wasn’t the Daddy King I wanted to talk to right now, but it taught me a lesson because if we put them up that dismisses us from having to be like them.” Referring to Dr. King’s daughter, Bernice, Pfleger added, “Don’t honor a King, be a king.”

Pfleger charged the church on the weekend of honoring Nelson Mandela in remembering “this great man…. You’re all great. Don’t remove him. Embrace him. Become like him. The bible tells us there is a crowd of witnesses up there and that crowd of witnesses are sitting in the grand stands of life cheering you and I on because it’s your time and my time on the field.”

Pfleger said, “It’s our job is to run this race as best we can giving it everything we got. Tomorrow is not promised.” He asked the members to place their hand over their heart and repeat, “I am Mandela. I am Rosa. I am Harriet. I am Sojourner….”

Pfleger made an altar call asking all high school and grade school students to come to the altar.

When the children gathered around Father Pfleger, he told them, “The world is going to try and tell you who is important and who is valuable. You see all that stuff on TV trying to tell you what makes you rich, what makes you great…. The world is going to lie to you and try to makeyou think what’s important, what’s valuable and what is great.

“I bind up that wrong thinking right now. Be ye not conformed by the world but be ye renewed by the renewal of your mind by the word of God. Do not be deceived by the world. This is success. This is greatness….”

“I charge everyone of you young people do not compromise the truth God puts in you. Do not be deceived on what’s on TV. Be it as crazy as Real Housewives…the devil stuff.”

Father Pfleger told the children to place their hand on their body and to repeat. “I am Malcolm. I am Martin. I am Rosa, I am Mandela I am the disciple of Jesus Christ. I am the new leadership I am tomorrow’s future. I am a world changer. I will not sell out. I will be humble. I will achieve my destiny. I will be great like Mandela.”

Asking each to raise their fist, Pfleger asked them to repeat, “I am Mandela. I am tomorrow’s new Mandela…. Pick up the baton….”

Father Pfleger asked the church to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela by singing the song, “Freedom.”

Saint Sabina’s Father Thulani Magwaza, who is from South Africa, prayed in English and in his native tongue thanking the life ofMandela and what he stood for, “for his teachings and all that he did for South Africa and the world….”

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.

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