Southpoint News April 13, 2018
Hold Fast and Forgive
Buried halfway through last Sunday’s lectionary text, John 20:19-31, lies this cryptic verse: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” It is found right after Jesus appears to the disciples behind locked doors. Right after he says, “Peace be with them”. Right after he breathes the Spirit into them. Right after he tells them he’s sending them out into the world. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” There’s something heavy about this verse. At first view, through the lens of our culture, it appears that Jesus is laying a mantle of responsibility on his disciples: it is now their job, in his absence, to forgive sins, and not forgive sins. Therefore, it must be their job to figure out which ones are forgivable, and which ones are not: both which sins and which people; forcing the disciples into the unwieldy role of judge and jury over their fellow human beings. The church universal has tried its best to bear this burden and fulfill this responsibility, no matter how heavy. For 2000 years the Body of Christ has tried so very hard to figure out who is worthy of inclusion, and who is worthy of exclusion. Over the centuries, both the nature of exclusion, and the matters that made one worthy of exclusion, have varied. Christians have, at times, excluded other Christians over baptismal practices (infant or adult; sprinkling or dunking?); purity practices (drinking or no drinking; covering women’s heads, legs, stomachs, or not?), and theological stances (free will or predestination; purgatory or straight to hell? women in leadership or not; marriage between LGBTQ – yes or no?).
Just as the matters deserving exclusion have changed, the means of exclusion have changed. At times, these exclusionary practices have included burning at the stake, imprisonment, excommunication, shunning, denominational fracturing, and revoking membership. The church leadership over the centuries, weighed down by the responsibility of deciding such heavy matters and means, has instituted processes such as inquisitions, inquiries, and policy papers.
But what if we got it wrong?? What if this heavy burden we have taken upon ourselves, this role as Judge and Jury of humankind, was never ours to bear? What if this was not the intention of Jesus for his disciples? Sandra Schneiders gave a presidential address to the Catholic Biblical Association in 2010, later published as “The Lamb of God and Forgiveness of Sin(s) in the Fourth Gospel”, in which she re-examined the traditional translation of John 20:23b. She makes the observation that the word for sin does not appear in the second clause and proposes an alternative translation based on her observations and her knowledge of the Greek text:
“A more adequate reading would be the following: “Of whomever (possessive genitive plural) you forgive the sins, they (the sins) are forgiven to them; whomever (objective genitive plural) you hold fast (or embrace), they are held fast.” In other words, it is the persons, not sins, in the second clause who are the “object grasped or held fast. “Or to simplify it… “Of whomever you forgive the sins, the sins are forgiven to them. And whomever you hold fast, they are held fast.” What if we were not sent out by Jesus to judge, condemn, burn, imprison, amputate, or exorcise one another from the body of Christ? What if we were not sent out into the world to judge our fellow human beings, declare them unrepentant sinners, and condemn them to hell? What if our job is as simple and as light and as difficult and as transformative as holding fast and forgiving? Loving our neighbours, and praying for those who persecute us? What if when we hold fast and forgive, we are revealing the deepest truth about God? Underneath the rising and falling of human history, God’s covenantal faithfulness to the earth and her children remains unshaken. What if when we hold fast and forgive, we are revealing the fundamental truth about one another? Underneath all our wounded responses of fear and hate, underneath all our distorted idolatries and addictions, our identity as God’s beloved remains unmarred.
I wonder what would happen if the church took up this mantle: holding fast and forgiving? Would the face of Christianity look a bit more like Jesus, and a bit less like ourselves? For the rest of my life I will be mulling over the implications of Jesus’ life and teachings for the church. I am still on the way, asking for a deeper revelation and understanding of Divine Love, aware of the way my own presuppositions blind me to the fullness of the kingdom. However, I must confess that these days, I am wondering if what needs to be exorcised, burned, cast out, cut off, are the church’s deeply rooted practices of judgement and exclusion. I am growing in my conviction that the theological presuppositions that justify these practices need a heavy dose of reexamination. I pray that God will raise up a new generation of theologians, biblical scholars, and practitioners, as well as prophets, artists, and storytellers, to help us find our way. Maybe some of them are sitting right now in our church.
Pastor Anne Smith
For peace in Syria, and all our refugee friends in Surrey who are concerned for their communities back home. For the housing crisis in the greater metro Vancouver area and all those affected. For the families of the Humbolt Hockey Players.
- We now have an calendar of events available on our website. Curious about what’s coming down the pipe? Check it out!
- This Sunday, April 15th: : Swim with the Junior Youth! The junior youth invite the whole church to come swimming this Sunday, from 1:30-3:30 pm, at Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre.
- Good Seed Sunday: April 22nd. Wee are ALL OUT at Brooksdale – 1620 192 Street, Surrey. Come join us at A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Center for our annual Good Seed Sunday onion planting party! Wear clothes for kneeling in the garden. Baked Potato potluck to follow. Bring a topping – about 6-8 cups of whatever topping you choose, Plates, cups, and utensils for your family, A picnic blanket or garden chairs. Note: There will be NO service in the Sunnyside building Sunday 22nd, just our gathering at Brooksdale.
Labyrinth Prayer: A Pilgrim Journey Close to Home.
Saturday, May 26; 8:30 am – 3:30 pm at Kingfisher Farm, 512 172 Street, Surrey “To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.” Mark Nepo, The Exquisite Risk (2005)
Are you yearning for time away with God but unable to go on an extended pilgrimage? Why not choose a pilgrimage close to home? With a backdrop of picturesque Kingfisher Farm, come and explore walking the labyrinth as a Christian spiritual practice. Labyrinth Prayer is a contemplative spiritual discipline based on the ancient practice of pilgrimage. Join us, as pilgrims, for a facilitated day retreat offering worship, instruction, periods of silent prayer on the Labyrinth as well as on nature trails, reflection through the creative arts and small group sharing.
Facilitators: SoulStream Community Partners Brent Unrau, Roland Balzer and Janet Scott. Proceeds will go to SoulStream Initiatives, a non-profit organization that seeks to support the contemplative lifestyle and encourage others to live authentically with Jesus. Please bring a bag lunch. Tea, coffee and snacks will be provided.
Cost: $50. To register: Please go to the SoulStream website. Registration is limited to 30 people so register early to avoid disappointment. http://soulstream.org