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My First Job in Ministry, Forgiveness & the Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

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Forgiveness is not something I am good at…but I know it is something that I need to do.  This is a short talk based around an experience…the experience was and is mine…but the discussion topic of forgiveness is for all of us.  I began my ministry in a very small town in Alabama.  I served as a youth minister for both the First United Methodist Church and the First Baptist Church.  In small towns they can create such ecumenical arrangements.  Nevertheless, my youth group was really growing and we began to have parties for all the kids at the First Baptist Church.  I used the sound system to play music for the kids.  Little did I know that there was someone who was very protective of the sound system in the First Baptist Church…actually the gentleman was so protective that on multiple occasions he physically assaulted me and threatened my life…again over my use of a sound system.  The pastors of both churches did little to help and one even threatened that they would have to fire me for insubordination if I pressed charges against the gentleman (Alabama is an at will state I was reminded).  There was so much injustice in the situation.  I was angry then and every time I think about it now I get angry.  I get tired of carrying the burden of the stupidity of a dumbass psycho control freak and the pastors who protected him in a small Alabama town.  Are the words I use too strong?  Forgiveness is not something I am good at…but I know it is something I need to do.

 

Jesus speaks to such a situation in the Gospel of Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”  The first step toward loving your enemies is forgiving them and the first step toward forgiving them is wanting to.  I have wanted to forgive the situation that happened in Alabama for many years and yet I still struggle with letting go of the violation/inaction that occurred.  Maybe letting go is not the point.  Maybe the point is to hold tight to a desire for justice…but not let the hate for your enemy hold you back.  Maybe the want to is often manifested in that act of volition known as a prayer.

 

I am not an expert at loving my enemies…but I know forgiveness plays a big part in the process.  I don’t know of any better place to look for an example of forgiveness in action than to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that gathered to investigate the crimes that took place during the Apartheid Era in South Africa.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu led the panel and often declared that forgiveness is an act of God.  When I hear such words, I am reminded that I am not God…but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to forgive.  May we never stop trying to develop the want to and desire to forgive even our worst enemies…and when our efforts seem imperfect…may we pray to be closer and closer to God.  For one day as 1 John 3:2 says, “We shall be made like God…”  I guess we all just need to keep trying to pray and forgive until we get there.

 

Amen.

 

Delivered at Prism Denton

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