Thursday, June 10, 2010

"A Joyful Awareness of Forgiveness..."

Today, I read this in Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel: "Any church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of grace. As Hans Kung says, 'It deserves neither God's mercy nor men's trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another been guilty of. And though it is true that the church must always dissasociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God's kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.'"(Hans Kung, On Being A Christian)

A memory surfaced. A church board meeting, a lay leader looking me in the eye and intently stating that, "We do not tolerate sin in this church", the nodding, quiet approval of the rest of the board save the pastor, who was cringing in his seat and on trial as much as I was. I would be given five minutes to tell my story, to try to explain that I was not guilty of the sin I was being accused of. There would be many more minutes of accusations, rude comments and condemnation. I was not permitted to respond to the comments that followed my five minutes. Of the entire group, I had only personally discussed my situation with one of them. For the rest, their knowledge was based on hearsay, gossip, and evidently from the comments that they were making, lies. At the time, the accusations and betrayal by people I had trusted was traumatic enough, and my focus was on my pain, and the suffering of those who shared a part of my situation.

When I read this quote from The Ragamuffin Gospel, though, the passage of time and healing of hurts afforded me a new perspective. I heard the words again, "We do not tolerate sin in this church.", and in my mind's eye I looked out at the serious, determined faces of the members of the church, and my heart broke for them. At the time, as now, I did not believe that the senitment expressed was that of God. While I was not guilty of the sin on the table at that meeting, I am not innocent. I know that I struggle with sin. And I know that God accepts me.

I remember the words of Jesus well, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:13. And, God's love is expressed in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." I cannot overlook the glorious confession of the apostle Paul, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst." 1Tim 1:15

The thing that broke my heart, when I thought about that meeting, was the foul stench of a lie that drifted up from the seemingly logical words, spread out and dispersed over an entire room of sinners, who heard and agreed that God does not accept sin, or those that sin. I knew the people in that room. I knew that not one of them were clean. We had been friends for many years. I knew who despised their spouses, who had terrorized their spouses, children, even co-workers with their anger, who chose fear and mistrust of God over trust and lived worried, hand-wringing lives because of it, who was the town gossip, who was mocked at work for claiming to be a christian because of rude, arrogant, dishonest behavior at the jobsite, who struggled with pornography, bitterness, slander, or worship of money, food, success, or entertainment over God. The only difference between us was a power inequality. They were board members and lay leaders. They had the power. And they believed on some level that God does not accept them as they are. That is a tragedy.

How does one, as a sinner, maintain that God does not accept sinners while running a church filled with sinners? What kind of mental, emotional and spiritual gymnastics does it take to manouver around the fact that one is a sinner? How does one live so close to, as Kung writes, the "joyous awareness of forgiveness" without availing oneself of it by confessing sin and humbling oneself to the God of truth and mercy? How fearful, to sit with arms and legs crossed, narrowed eyes, keeping the secret of one's sin in by pushing the sinful away from the only One who can save.

Oh, but we mustn't condone it. Condone what? The sin that is eating you alive? Of course not! How is it condoning sin, when a Bible study teacher grasps the hands of a drug addict as they pray together for freedom from their sin? When a pastor links arms with a thief as they humbly walk to the foot of the cross, together? Confess their sins together? Receive freedom together? The message we preach is not, "Come to Christ and be perfect like me!" It is, "Come to Christ and know the love that has always been there for both of us!"

The irony is that in order to avoid condoning sin, the church nurtures it among her members by encouraging pride, deception and denial of sin, thereby preventing repentance and confession, which leads to freedom from sin.

"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place." 2 Chronicles 7:13-15

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Astonishing style. I want to be able to write that way.
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