Forgiveness for the Hampshire Chronicle

“The church is for losers… we connect to each other and to God through our shared brokenness” said the Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber; and, as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, she should know. Losers gathered together in their brokenness is both an obvious and denied approach to church life. Obvious because the church is made real by a shared meal. The meal which Jesus gave us in remembrance of him we celebrate with shared bread and wine. A meal, like other meals that Jesus celebrated, which would have been shared with smelly fishermen, corrupt and collaborating tax collectors and scandalous prostitutes; the broken losers of the day. A meal to which, like all our meals, Jesus tells us to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.”

However, this founding truth of church life is also denied. So often in church we pretend that everything is good. Our faith is strong, our families are successful and our job is fulfilling. A Christian culture of success, one that says we should get our relationships with God and neighbour sorted, too often denies our Christian theology. A theology which says that we are all fallen and we really know our need of God’s grace.

Jesus perceptively states “The truth will set you free”, and one of the most incredible privileges of Christian ministry is hearing people struggling to articulate the painful truths which scar their own lives; a ministry often called confession. This statement of truth about our own lives is the first stage in letting go of the pain and shame which is so ready to define who we are. It’s not that we’ve a vengeful God looking for an opportunity to punish us for our sins, it’s that we can so often deny, even to ourselves, the nature of our sins and failures. Denied shame is brooding in our subconscious, breaking out into our own self image and undermining our relationships. To quote Nadia again, “We aren’t punished for our sins as much as we’re punished by our sins.”

The Jewish/Christian foundational myth is of hidden shame. Adam and Eve are seduced by the serpent, taste of the forbidden fruit and then hide from God because they are ashamed. What if, instead of being ashamed, they had been truthful with God and articulated that truth, “Sorry we mucked up”? What if our foundational myth was not one of shame but of truth and forgiveness?

Kate Nash sang, “My finger tips are holding onto the cracks in our foundations”. It’s in our cracks that truth and relationships are recognised. The cracks in our ego let God in while the cracks in our façade allow others to see us as we are. Confession leads to absolution, or forgiveness, and the shedding of the power of shame. It’s a process, not a one off event, often accompanied by these words, “Do you believe that the word of forgiveness I’m about to proclaim to you comes from God?” We experience the reality of God’s good news when we acknowledge the reality of sin’s bad news.

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