Our story takes place in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus had been teaching when a woman appears. She has a spirit that has crippled her for 18 years. The spirit caused her to be bent over or hunched over. She wasn’t able to stand up straight. Jesus called the woman to Him. He laid His hands on her and released her from the spirit announcing that she had been set free. She stood up straight and praised God that she was free from the captivity of the spirit.
The leader of the synagogue condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Healing was considered work and work was prohibited on the Sabbath. The leader and Jesus find themselves at an impasse about their understanding of the Sabbath. The leader believed healing was work and work should not be done on the Sabbath. His understanding of the Sabbath comes from the Exodus 20 interpretation of the Sabbath linking work to the story of creation. God rested on the seventh day from the work of creating the world. Therefore, if God rested, we too should rest from any and all work.
Jesus, on the other hand, interpreted the Sabbath in terms of the Deuteronomy 5 tradition that links the Sabbath to the Exodus story. This understanding of the Sabbath connects the Sabbath to release from captivity, freedom, and deliverance. Jesus felt He was justified in healing on the Sabbath because He was releasing her from the captivity of the spirit and giving her freedom to live with the burden of the spirit. In this interpretation of the Sabbath, we can understand our day of rest, Sunday, as a day of liberation. We are set free of our responsibilities to rest and be released of our burdens. We can remember that we have been liberated from the power of death and given the freedoms of life.
Sabbath rest isn’t about being lazy. It is a day to remember God’s acts of liberation in our lives. It is a time for us to look around and see how God is working in the world to set us and others free from the captivity of spirits that would weigh us down and bend us over. In our recognition of God’s work, we can lift up and celebrate God’s actions and be renewed in our faith that God is present and releasing us from the burden of sin.
While I was away at General Assembly, I had the opportunity with a wide vision to see what God has been doing in the church and in the world. The General Assembly is the assembly of representatives and clergy from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations around the country and Canada. The assembly engages in the work of the greater church and seeks to connect churches with opportunities to develop their Kingdom work.
One of the opportunities I sought was to participate in a discussion about the kingdom mission of the Church. This lecture was by an author and consultant who is an expert at transforming congregations for mission work in the Kingdom of God letting go of the work of counting people and money on Sundays. It was an excellent lecture though nothing I hadn’t already read. The second part of the series was conversation that ended up being people complaining about what wasn’t working in their churches so I skipped part 3 & 4. Instead I bought a couple books on the topic of transforming for mission. This important work is something the Board has been and will continue to work on as we develop a new 3-year ministry plan. Don’t worry Board members, I won’t make you read anymore – these books are for me to read to help me lead us through the work ahead of us, no more reading homework.
The assembly worshipped together every evening. The preachers turned our sights to the injustices in the world and helped us see the work the Church is doing to move toward justice. We saw the wrongs of our society and how we perpetuate the sin of exclusion and unwelcome. We learned that Jesus calls us to forgive our neighbors just as God has forgiven us. We learned that Jesus calls us to treat our neighbors with favor just as God favors us.
The assembly also participated in worshipful work. We heard reports of the general ministries, like Disciples Home Mission, the Colleges and Universities of the Christian Church, Global Ministries, The Reconciliation Ministry, Week of Compassion, the Disciples Historical Society, the National Benevolent Association and others. We also adopted resolutions that were quite controversial. The assembly agreed to not support drone warfare. We agreed to welcome all God’s children into the work and ministry of the church regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We agreed to participate in the ecumenical work of support of the on-going work of Civil Rights and seek to uphold the need for the Voting Rights Act.
I would say that the over arching themes of the assembly were the welcome table, meaning all, everyone, are welcome to participate in the life of the Church. And, the value of being a Pro-Reconciling / Anti-Racist church. These two foci were the source of some controversy during business sessions. I would say that the focus on civil rights has been important since it was named as a priority of the church in 2000; however, that priority was heightened as we heard the verdict of the Zimmerman trial and neighbored the NAACP in the convention center.
The case of George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin is a prime example of a need for forgiveness. Regardless of which side you stand on the case, whether you think George Zimmerman defended his life or murdered Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman needs forgiveness. If Zimmerman has repent of the sin of killing another human being, then God has forgiven him. I don’t know what it will take for Trayvon Martin’s family or the black community to forgive Zimmerman. The issue of racism undergirds the case and I don’t know if forgiveness and reconciliation are possible until racism is eradicated from our society.
What I wonder if possible is Zimmerman forgiving himself. He believes he stood his ground and defended himself. He believes what he did was right. However, he must live with the fact that he killed another human being. He must live with the what-ifs of that night. What if he had stayed in his car like the 911 dispatcher told him? What if he had not pursued Trayvon? What if he had not been carrying a gun? He has to live the rest of his life trying to forgive himself for killing another man even in self-defense.
He will live the rest of his life bent over under the weight of his guilt for killing his fellow man. God may have forgiven him. He likely knows that the Martins and the black community may never forgive him. Likely, the biggest weight on his shoulders is releasing himself from the guilt of the sin of spilling another man’s blood.
Forgiveness is at the heart of reconciliation. Forgiveness is required to bridge the gap between sin and wholeness. Forgiveness is what releases a person from the guilt of sin. We are assured of God’s forgiveness. We must recognize that forgiveness is not the end of God’s work. Jesus is God’s work of reconciliation.
Forgiveness requires 1 party; reconciliation requires 2. Forgiveness is the action of one party letting another go. Wikipedia defines “Forgiveness [as] the renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offence, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as ‘to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offence or debt’.”
God has forgiven and continues to forgive our sin. We can forgive ourselves for our sin and forgive others for the sin against us. But, forgiveness is just the beginning. Jesus is God’s reconciling action in the world. Jesus is about reconciling relationships, not just forgiving sin. Forgiveness requires 1 party; reconciliation requires 2. Forgiveness is the act of 1 person forgiving another. Reconciliation is the action of both parties allowing the effects of sin to be let go.
There is this great movie called the Life of Pi. It is about a boy whose family left India in pursuit of a new life in Canada. En route to Canada, Pi’s family dies when their cargo ship is capsized in a storm. Pi survives the accident in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger which was on the cargo ship. Pi lives for what seems like months on a raft attached to the lifeboat – the tiger occupying the lifeboat. Pi tells his story of survival to a writer. He tells the writer that life is a story of letting go.
Pi let go of a girlfriend whom he loved to move with his family. He let go of being angry with his family for leaving their life. He let go of his parents and brother when their ship went down. Pi let go of the anger for their deaths. And, Pi let go of the tiger. He had come very close to the tiger as they lived together in the middle of an ocean on a tiny boat. The tiger was Pi’s only friend and he let the tiger go. He let go the blame of the cargo ship operators and company.
As Pi knew, life is a story of letting go. We let go of anger. We let go of blaming others. We let go of our hurts and pains. We let go of grudges and vengeance. Letting go is about letting go of the need to be repaid for the wrongs we’ve endured. We let go of the need to be righted and accept that what has been cannot be undone. We move on. We forgive the wrong not because it has been righted. We forgive because we choose to not allow the wrong to weigh us down bending us over.
Forgiveness is only the beginning. Forgiveness requires us to let go of the theology of an eye for an eye and adopt the theology of reconciliation. God’s work in the world is not about vengeance; it is justice and reconciliation. Jesus came to bridge the gap between the Divine and human.
God’s action in Christ works “toward reconciling us to each other and restoring us to the community of love.” “In His teaching and suffering, Jesus remains loyal to us even in the face of betrayal, denial, and rejection.” God had offered forgiveness of sins throughout the Old Testament. Jesus wasn’t about forgiveness. Jesus demonstrated God’s self-giving love inspiring us to greater acts of love and mercy. Through Jesus’ self-sacrifice, we have an example of mercy and charity. Out of mercy and charity, we offer forgiveness. Out of forgiveness, reconciliation is possible. Reconciliation is the restoration of us to the community of love rooted in God’s self-giving love and favor of His children where we are free to forgive one another and love one another and seek justice for one another.