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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Forgiveness and redemption

Now that we've celebrated the resurrection of Our Lord... how do we live into what that means?

There's a story making the rounds in the media, about a convicted sex offender wanting to attend church, and the struggles the congregation is having over the issue. The story can be found here (registration required), or here (free access).

There are conflicting impulses here, of course. On one hand, there is a godly desire to welcome all sinners (acknowledging that we are all sinners) into Christian community, and to proclaim God's forgiveness as available to everyone.

"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5
Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven (or seventy times seven) times." Matthew 18

This comes up against the godly desire to care for children (acknowledging that we are all children), and to provide a safe place for nurture in the faith.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. Matthew 19

Perhaps, like so many of Our Lord's examples, the proper approach is not an either/or, but a both/and. Perhaps we could start with gratitude that the man in question is openly and honestly admitting and dealing with his past behavior.

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." John 8

Perhaps we should admit the reality that others do not, and there are almost certainly harmful inclinations among the redeemed sinners already in our congregations.

For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. Romans 3

Perhaps we should operate under the rubric that all our dealings with one another must be open and aware as we try to compensate for human weakness in Safeguarding God's Children.

"See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Matthew 10


Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

I also saw this. Having just gone through "Safeguarding God's Children" with my vestry, it brought up some interesting thoughts.

I suppose the easy answer is, "Of course he's welcome in our church, but we also have boundary issues to protect everyone." That both/and thing. But, as we all know, it's more complicated than that.

Welcoming people into our midst doesn't mean free access to everything. A corollary could be drawn using a convicted embezzler. Would that person be welcome in our church? Of course. Would we allow that person to become church treasurer? No.

It's a matter of clear boundaries that protect everyone involved. They obviously protect the children, but they can also be seen to protect the man. Something I heard somewhere once . . . Lead us not into temptation . . .

April 10, 2007 12:14 PM  

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