Brian Stolarz is one of my best friends. I’d do anything for him and he’d take a bullet for me. Brian worked for years to free Alfred Dewayne Brown, also a friend now, from death row in Texas after Dewayne was falsely accused of a cop-killing, his IQ test ginned up, and exculpatory evidence withhold by the prosecution and police. You can read Brian’s story in his book Grace and Justice.
Brian recently preached a sermon on Ephesians 2 based on his experience. Here it is:
Thank you for giving me the amazing opportunity to be here today. I’m honored.I’m also not a professional pastor so please excuse me if I mess up. Just know that my heart is in the right place! You are blessed to have a guy like David here. He is a true rising star.I love this church and all it stands for. I love it so much that I slept on the small couch in the office last winter during hypothermia season and it was the best night sleep I’ve had in a long time because I felt the love from this place.So I’m here today to tell you about a personal story that showed me what God’s grace is all about and what today’s sermon is all about. I’ll also let you in on a secret.So I’m a criminal defense lawyer. I used to be a public defender. I’ve defended hundreds if not thousands of people charged with crimes from stealing a pack of gum from a store to murder. Some were innocent some were guilty and I learned some very important lessons – no one is as bad as their worst act and and everyone is worthy of redemption and a second chance. And everyone is entitled to a strong defense.Let me tell you about one of my favorite clients – Bike. I was hooked from that day on.I left the public defenders office and worked for a large firm in dc. I got a call one day from a senior partner asking me to handle a death penalty case pro bono. I jumped at the chance. And I met the client who changed my life, Alfred Dewayne Brown.Dewayne was convicted of capital murder of a Houston police officer and was sentenced to death. He professed his innocence the first day I met him and despite the fact that most of my clients lie to me I believed him. I felt it way deep down. A truth I felt deeply.I want to say out front that I’m against the death penalty. One of my personal heroes is Sister Helen Prejean. She taught me that every life is sacred even those on the Row. I am glad that the Pope has taken a strong stance against the death penalty. It’s not for the state to kill a person.Not only am I opposed to the death penalty for religious reasons but also for legal ones. I didn’t see a lot of wealthy white people on death row or that many white people for that matter. Most were minorities and didn’t have the funds to pay for counsel. Sister Helen says those without the capital get the capital punishment.Many are wrongfully convicted like Dewayne. Some have died at the hands of the state and later found to be innocent. It is a disgrace.Today’s scripture says that we were dead by our trespasses. And the death penalty is one of those trespasses. Those who support the death penalty are supporting a system that is unfair and unjust and against the teaching of Jesus to forgive 70×7 and to forgive those who trespass against us. Killing someone to say that killing isn’t right would make Jesus shake his head.Fortunately after 8 years of work and 12 years and 62 days of Dewayne being confined he was released. And how was he released? The prosecutor and the police officer in the case hid exculpatory evidence which was found in all places in the homicide detectives home garage. Not kidding. He walked out a free man on June 8 2015. One of the best days of my life after the day I met my wife and the birth of my kidsI wrote a book about it. Entitled Grace and Justice on Death Row. For those who have the means you can buy it. For those who don’t I’m donating a copy to the church for anyone to read and experience.The case changed not only Dewayne’s life but it changed mine.Folks say I saved his life but he saved mine. He showed me Gods grace. He forgave his captors. He forgave his trespassers. He said on the courthouse steps that he has no hate in his heart for what the state did to him. He is moving forward in his life and doing great. He taught me so much by this.He also taught me the value of perseverance even when times are hard. I was not sure I was going to be able to get him out and I worried I would watch him die. The testing of your faith produces perseverance. Dewayne wrote in the book I’m donating to the church – keep going when times get hard. How beautiful of a lesson is that?Galatians 6 says “let us not grow weary of doing good. For in due season we will reap if we do not give up.” I didn’t give up. He didn’t give up.And here’s he secret I was telling you about. And turns out the secret has to do with roller coasters.I love theme parks. My wife thinks I’m dumb but put me at Busch Gardens or Hershey Park and I feel like a kid again. And last year when I took my middle kid we bought a “fast pass” so that we could cut all the lines. It was awesome. We rode the log flume 6 times.You see I thought growing up that I thought I had to store up a bunch of good deeds so when I walked into the pearly gates of heaven I could show my good deed resume and would be a shoo in for the eternal life in heaven. I even had that thought when Dewayne was released.I was so wrong. Couldn’t be more wrong actually. I have and you have already been saved. We all have a fast pass to heaven already. We are saved by grace through faith. And the good works we all do or aspire to do? We don’t do them to get into heaven or get God to like us. We are already in his favor-we are as the reading says Gods handy work. Created in Christ Jesus to do good works. Which God prepared in advance for us to do. He set the stage for us to do good works.I read recently that grace isn’t grace if its earned. Grace is always free. Always.So do good works. Answer the call to do good when the call comes. Not to get into heaven but to what god has made each and everyone to do and to praise his glory. And preservere when times get hard because grace wins every time.So it turns out I already I have my fast pass to heaven. I pray that you do too.I just hope heaven has cool roller coasters.May God Bless you today and always.Brian