When Going To Church Helps You Forgive

Of all of the things that Jesus told his disciples they needed to do as his followers, forgiveness is perhaps the most difficult to master.  

God knows I have struggled with this in my own life.  Most of us have if we are being honest.  The old 18th-century chestnut "to err is human, to forgive is divine" speaks to how challenging it is to forgive those who have wronged us.

Our own frailty as humans seems to keep us from practicing forgiveness regularly, and it often requires what could be described as "divine intervention" to get there.  

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shared teachings with his followers about the power of forgiveness, and he had this say: 

23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

There's beauty to this teaching that is far beyond the simplistic way that many churchy folks have assumed it should be taken.  

This is not about needing to have everything worked out in your life before you come to church.  It's not about making sure you don't offer a gift to God "unworthily," as many preachers from my past put it. 

Instead, this is about how worship often brings to mind the ways that we ought to be and the wrongs that we may need to forgive and release in order to worship more fully.  

Many of us have lived our lives with a ledger-based kind of faith.  We expect God will reward us if we put in the effort.  Conversely, we might believe that if things are not going our way, we might be getting punished by God.  

This is also known as transactional faith, and it's a terrible kind of theology that gets peddled in all sorts of ways in all kinds of churches.  

The problem with living this way is that we often extend the same thought process to others regarding our ledgers with them.  It's difficult to overcome and forgive when we keep track of wrongs and see people as "in the red" regarding our relationship with them.  

Fr. Richard Rohr puts it like this: 

To participate in the reign of God, we have to stop counting. We have to stop hoarding in order to let the flow of forgiveness and love flow through us. 

Among the many reasons why I believe that being an active part of a faith community and regularly attending worship is that it's in those settings that we are often convicted and led to repentance of our ledger-based faith and relationships. 

At least the kind of faith community that doesn't erroneously teach that God is transactional in God's love for us and the world.  

In the above passage of Scripture, Jesus teaches his followers that as we come to God in worship with our burdens, longings, and need for grace and mercy, we should also bring to mind anyone who requires that from us. 

Forgiveness isn't about letting someone off the hook for their bad behavior; it's about setting yourself free by forgiving them and turning them over to God.  

They may not accept your forgiveness or deny that they have done anything to warrant it.  It could be that the person you need to forgive and release is no longer alive or in your life (maybe for good reason).  

Yet, the act of forgiveness itself is enough, even in those circumstances, to loosen the walls around your heart that should be wide open to receive and give.  

May we all find the strength and resolve to find a place to worship and to grow.  May we all find the courage and the faith to forgive and let go.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.  

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