Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Resurrection of Forgiveness

Recently I read the story of Iranian parents who forgave their son's killer and removed the noose moments before the condemned man's execution. The man was allowed to go free in accordance with Sharia law.

For that condemned man, the family's forgiveness was his resurrection. For us, forgiveness is new life as well.

We equate life with existence. Humans exist only in relation to other humans. Without someone to hear our voice, see our expressions,  and read our words, how do we exist? How are we alive in a way that matters? "Eternal life" is a religious abstraction if we cannot find a way to live in peace on this earth.

Yet we may not want to acknowledge the existence of others.  We may find others irritating or worse. This is  particularly true of the person who has injured us; the one we consider our enemy. Bonhoeffer states it succinctly: "with our hearts burning with hatred, we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence". This is the hatred Jesus equated with murder.  Instead Jesus modelled a new response to insult, injury, and betrayal: "Father forgive them for they don't know what they are doing." He not only modelled forgiveness,  he expects forgiveness from anyone who would seek peace with God or man.

Eternal existence is only apprehended by faith. This is the same faith through which we know that peace is found through forgiveness.  The parents who forgave and pardoned their son's killer understood this. Their faith led them to forgive and find peace. In the end, the families embraced. What a picture of the kingdom of God!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ministering in Weakness

"See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey"  - Zechariah 9:9

This verse came to mind as I was reflecting on this past week. It has been a week where my presence seemed to offer very little. I became reacquainted with my own vulnerabilities. Then I thought about Palm Sunday.

This verse predicts Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, but it certainly is an oxymoron. A king? Riding on a donkey? In one sentence we have a picture of both strength and weakness. Perhaps that's a picture of Jesus' followers: strength and weakness. 

As a follower of Christ, I'd like to think that I was always helping, always ministering from a vantage point of strength. As an educated professional, a male of European descent, it is too easy to fall into this conceit. But Jesus demonstrates another way. He deliberately chooses his ride. A peasant's borrowed  beast. A symbol of weakness. 

The Western Church, ("Christendom") has only known how to operate from a position of strength. It is the legacy of Constantine, who made Jesus the patron of Imperial Rome. But now the Western Church has found that strength fading. It finds itself less welcome in halls of power. And if it is accepted at all, it is to legitimize civil ceremonies and war. But mostly, it finds itself irrelevant and bereft of power. 
"For more than two centuries [Western power] has provided the framework in which the Western churches have understood their world missionary task. To continue to think in the familiar terms is now folly. We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and the influence of the Western nations. Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power. They have to learn to go against the stream. And in this situation we shall find that the New Testament speaks to us much more directly that does the nineteenth century as we learn afresh what it means to bear witness to the gospel from a position not of strength but of weakness." -Lesslie Newbigin
So this Palm Sunday, we are all reminded of weakness: our own, the church, and perhaps most importantly the weakness Jesus deliberately chose to manifest as he entered the world. It was out of that weakness that he most clearly identified with us, atoned for us, and changed the world. Not through the coercion of power, but through the vulnerability of love. That is where we will find our strength.