Forgiveness is Incredible Grace

We pray every week, in most of our congregations, the prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  The assumption, I believe, is that there will be experiences of trespass to deal with, right?!  Jesus would not have included this imperative into the disciple’s school of prayer if it wasn’t going to be a rather ongoing need.

And one of the things about this whole idea is that Jesus doesn’t distinguish between major and minor offenses, does he?  There isn’t an asterisk in the prayer that identifies certain trespasses as exceptions to the rule.  And even more than that what Jesus is inviting us to pray is for God to forgive us in the same way we forgive others.  That’s a bit of a challenge to me most days.  I’m quite frankly, not always as forgiving as I want God to be towards me!  But the call is clear, isn’t it?  We are to be those who forgive.  We are to be those who forgive all who trespass, who injure, who sin against us.

I have listened to some of the comments coming from individuals who had family members killed in the most recent mass shooting in Texas.  Their expressions of forgiveness and grace have been deeply moving and meaningful to me.  They remind me of the incredible response to the shooting of 11 girls at an Amish school in 2006.  In that case the children were held hostage for hours and ultimately 5 were killed and 6 others wounded by the gunman Charles Roberts.

This might be one of those places where we would try to put an asterisk if we were writing Jesus’ prayer.  I mean we are willing to forgive some “trespasses” but this is beyond anything that could be expected or even suggested right?  There must be an exception here.  But a Lancaster, PA paper told a different story.

“In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn’t cast blame, they didn’t point fingers, they didn’t hold a press conference with attorneys at their sides. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family.

The afternoon of the shooting an Amish grandfather of one of the girls who was killed expressed forgiveness toward the killer, Charles Roberts. That same day Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain.

Later that week the Roberts family was invited to the funeral of one of the Amish girls who had been killed. And Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at Charles Roberts’ funeral.”

This is incredible grace.  It’s the kind of incredible grace God shows us and offers to us every day.  May we be those who live out this extraordinary grace with one another even in very troubling times, as we follow the one who shows us the way.


Finding a way to live together in the tension

I spent some time on Facebook following the announcement of the Judicial Council decision regarding the election of Karen Oliveto as a Bishop.  I read articles from UMC news agencies and the pastoral letter of our Bishop David Bard.  I read the letter from the Council of Bishops and a piece from the New York Times.  I especially appreciated the letter of our Bishop and the gracious nature of his words.

In the midst of the Facebook comments about it all there were − of course − a variety of reactions.  For some, there was anger at what was viewed as another legalistic response by the church to an individual gifted and loved by God.  There were in other comments a sense of hopelessness towards the future.  There were others passionately presenting their feelings that the Council had upheld an appropriate standard.  There were lots of comments expressing a variety of opinions on these two basic themes.

One comment though stood out for me.  It was in a long string of reactions representing all that I shared above and it said this, “Wow, I can’t believe that I belong to the same church as some of these people.”

On one level I understood this completely.  When we see people who claim the name we claim and they are acting in ways, holding beliefs that seem to be far from our own, far from our understanding of the “essential” components of our faith, we wonder how we can stay in fellowship and connection with them given their position or perspective.  I understand that completely.  It is exactly what has gotten us to the 28,000 or so different Christian denominations in the world.

But on another level I don’t get it at all. It’s absolutely counter intuitive to what we know about the Church.  There is a reason that Jesus makes such a point of calling us to “love one another.”  There’s a reason why Jesus suggests that we might need to forgive one another from time to time!  Because the Church is not designed to be a homogenized group of folks who all think alike.  In fact the church is full of people who would never get together anywhere else.  So on any number of issues around any number of strongly held perspectives, we will differ.  That is just a reality, a reality that Jesus understood and anticipated.

But for me, this reality provides for us a great opportunity to be a witness to the world around us.  It is an opportunity, especially in these days when our culture is experiencing an incredibly high level of polarization, to provide an example of how we can disagree in very significant ways and still love one another, still focus on the core mission of the Church and find ways to live together in the tension.  The Church is not designed to be a place where it’s easy to be community.  If it were easy for us to love one another Jesus and the Epistle writers wouldn’t have had to mention it so many times!  But since we are called to be that kind of a community, to be that kind of witness, I pray that through “The Commission on a Way Forward,” through conversations and prayer, through the power of God’s Spirit at work in me and you, we will find the grace and power to be the Church − even as we struggle with one another.  I invite you to pray to that end.