Thursday, July 10, 2008

Forgiveness

Something cool happened last night.

First, a little background. Over the last couple of weeks there have been a couple of little disputes between a few people at my church. A decision was made about a piece of equipment which upset a few people and there was some he-said-she-said going around on both sides of the deal. I also talked with a few parishioners who were frustrated over some personality conflicts and other little riffs between themselves and other church members.

There was one thing in common with all these situations. None was being handled appropriately. Instead of talking with each other directly there were conversations taking place about other people in their absence. Some people came to me first, and I directed them to talk directly to the other person involved. Some people went to their friends first instead of going to the correct person and had not-so-nice conversations in the wrong places at the wrong times. Some people misunderstood the other person's intentions and took undue offense without asking for clarity. And no one was apologizing because no one was being direct about it.

So at our board meeting last night it was my turn to give the devotion. We opened this way. Sensing the tension in the air I chose to talk about two particular passages. First, we read and discussed Matthew 18: 15-17. We examined Jesus' words about going to the other person privately first, then bringing in a mediator who can help resolve the issue, then treating the other person as a tax collector and sinner (just as Jesus treated them, by loving them, associating with them, forgiving them, befriending them, and ruining his reputation in order to do so). We discussed the need for dealing with conflict face to face privately, then seeking proper help, then finally, if nothing works, getting over it, forgiving and befriending each other.

Next we discussed Matthew 5: 21-26, Jesus' words on how to handle anger and conflict. He gives stern direction to seek reconciliation before coming to the altar of the Lord. He also gives a warning that forgiveness must be sought before it becomes impossible.

In response to these things we resolved in word (only time will tell about our resolutions in deed) to deal with things as Jesus instructed us. Then we discussed the necessity to seek reconciliation and forgiveness before coming to the altar.

For this reason I had prepared an altar (table) in order for us to collect offerings and share in the Lord's Supper. It may be unusual practice for a board meeting but in our denominational polity we can justify it. We recessed our meeting, telling everyone they had some time to go and seek reconciliation and forgiveness, time to resolve some disputes before coming to the table. And then we walked out of the room. Some people sat bewildered. Others quietly asked each other questions. And a few people walked into quiet areas of the church, confessed their faults and failures against each other and asked forgiveness...which was graciously granted.

There were a few people who didn't get it. There were a few, of course, who thought I was talking to everyone in the room but them, when indeed I was talking to them.

But, there were a few who realized they needed to go and call someone to make ammends. There were a few people who talked together about their problems and embraced each other in a forgiving hug.

We came back to the table in an atmosphere of forgiveness and reconciliaton, brought our offerings, and shared in the Lord's Supper.

I think we started off this meeting right. Only time will tell if people will choose to resolve their disputes properly in the future. And I know it takes more time than we allowed for the whole process of forgiveness and reconciliation to complete. But for once we took something Jesus taught us seriously and put it into practice. And we became different people...we became a different church because of it.

I hope things like this become a little less akward for us as we begin to practice them more frequently. I hope we can take Jesus even more seriously in the future and become a radical community of believers who know the power of confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. I hope we can become a community that knows the unconditional love of God and the immeasurable grace of Christ so well that we can't help but share it with each other all the time, and inspire people who don't know our Christ to want to.

Something really cool happened last night.

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