From the Rev. Spencer Brown
Churches are unique communities. That one sentence could sum up many of our thoughts of church. Being such a unique community brings many blessings and many blessings in disguise. We often do what we can to focus on the blessings, preferring to feel comforted and not mess up a good thing.
As with any community, focusing on only the good parts can create a feeling of stagnation. We rush to fix things and people while we jump to forgiveness and peacemaking. These aren’t bad things, but they can hinder true reconciliation and deep forgiveness.
In our Gospel this Sunday, we hear of radical forgiveness and a glimpse of the reign of God. Jesus calls out Peter’s questioning of how many times to forgive. Without actually saying it, Jesus seems to roll his eyes because Peter doesn’t seem to understand the radical nature of God’s forgiveness.
Jesus’ teaching goes on, and rather than giving us a parable ending in “go and do likewise,” we’re offered a glimpse of the reign of God. Jesus begins his teaching by saying, “the kingdom of heaven is like[…],” and proceeds with the teaching. This is incredibly significant. Radical forgiveness isn’t simply forgiving those little things that happen every day, brushing them to the side and moving on. Practicing radical forgiveness draws us closer as a community, forcing us to confront one another and hold one another to a higher standard.
Now, please know that what I am not saying is to begin confronting everyone with whom you have a bone to pick. What I believe Jesus is calling us is to a relationship with one another so deep, that we hold one another to a standard that will bring glimpses of the reign of God.
Holding one another to a standard that will bring glimpses of the reign of God is a blessing in disguise. This is the uncomfortable work we have as disciples of Christ. Jesus reminds us that God’s forgiveness is overflowing, and that we participate in it. Our participation is not done from spite, through holding a grudge, or confronting someone based on our perceived superiority. Our journey to radical forgiveness is one filled with deep relationship, conversation, hospitality, grace, and mercy.
None of us are completely blameless. Whether it was intentional or unintentional, we have harmed someone or our relationships with others. Thankfully, we know what it is like to be in a forgiving, loving, and faithful relationship. God’s relationship with us is never-ending, forgiving, and abundant. Our relationship with God through others compels us to grow, to forgive radically, and to be discomforted.
Developing these kinds of vulnerable, forgiving relationships is difficult at any time. This unique time of dispersed community invites us to new and innovative community connections. Being vulnerable with one another, pushing our boundaries, practicing intellectual and theological hospitality, and listening deeply without contemplating a response are good ways to begin. We are in this together, knowing the forgiveness of God and ready to strive to follow Jesus into the world. Thanks be to God.