“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven.”
Or I think of the five year old member of my congregation. Last spring we were learning the story of Joseph. We got to the part where Joseph reconciles with his brothers and I asked this group of grade-schoolers why we forgive. This little one raised his hand high in the air and when I spoke his name he said, “Because if we don’t forgive, we will always be alone.”
Apparently, he and his dad had shared this conversation just a few days before. He was angry with a friend who had chosen to sit with someone else on the school bus that morning. He went home and shared this hurt with his dad who told him, “If we don’t forgive, we will always be alone.” Wow. What a gift to have that understanding so early in life.
In these past years there has been a whole lot of research on the power and the importance of forgiveness. Or the power of not forgiving. Just take a moment and ‘google’ forgiveness research: the headings alone will capture the gist of what has been learned. Those who forgive live longer. They have healthier hearts. Other ailments heal more quickly. And these are just the physical effects of forgiving. We already know our ability to forgive has profound effects on our emotional lives and on our relationships with one another. And this does not begin to address how old wounds un-forgiven play out in communities or between nations.
Now I am no expert at this. While I do not experience deep ongoing brokenness between and among those most important to me in my life, I certainly have my share of long held resentments which I have never let go.
I think, for instance, of my seventh grade tormentor. Today we are certainly not friends in real life nor are we ‘friends’ on Facebook. We lost track of each other sometime not long after 8th grade graduation. However, her name and profile picture will show up from time to time on social media for we have mutual friends. Once not long ago I went to her page and was able to see there the shape of her life: husband and children and grandchildren. Her profile picture has her riding a motorcycle. She likes country music. From what I can tell she doesn’t live too far away, but I haven’t laid eyes on her in more than 35 years. And yet the sound of her name, her smiling for an unseen photographer still stirs me up. I have not forgiven.
Or I think of a congregational anniversary dinner I attended a while back. The church I grew up in was celebrating 50 years. In my formative years the congregation was rife with conflict. We left there when I was still young when those resentments and hurts were still raw. I discovered at this dinner that they still are — for when the pastor who was at the center of the conflict stood to speak, I found myself tensing up. I did all I could to avoid bumping into him or his wife in that banquet hall. I expect they did the same in turn, for it turned out there was no need for an awkward exchange. I drove home knowing that I have not forgiven.
Now neither of these examples would seem to impact my day to day life. I could go the rest of my life and not see any of these people ever again. Even so? The fact that I have not forgiven does not seem to be an issue for them. It is for me though. They have not let me go because I have not let go. And I wonder now if my inability to ‘forgive’ an old bully shapes how I face bullies still. If I just avoid them instead of going after them. And I wonder if my unwillingness to forgive an old pastor shapes how I pastor now. If those old hurts impact my ministry in ways less than helpful in the congregation I now am called to serve.
Lately, I can’t get this song out of my head. Titled simply, “Forgive,” it is sung by Sara Renner. (You can get it on ITunes.) I heard it first this last spring at a conference. The repeating refrain is, “If you wanna live, forgive.” This week I sent a note to Sara telling her I hadn’t been able to track down the sheet music online and wondering if it was available. She immediately sent me the lead sheet. I wrote back to thank her and to ask about copyright. She said they were working on that, but in the meantime to use it, sing it, spread the word. The world needs it.
Indeed, the world needs it. I need it. You need it. And according to today’s Gospel lesson, my wholeheartedly embracing it and living it has eternal consequences. Consequences which begin in the very next moment of our life together.
Even as I know and believe this, I am deeply aware of how far I fall short. And so for now I’m hoping that my tendency to not forgive is outmatched by Jesus’ willingness to forgive. As I know and trust it certainly is. For as Peter proclaims so clearly in those moments before he is given this awesome gift and responsibility: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” This being so, perhaps what I do or do not do is not so central. And yet even at that, this power of binding and loosing is still given to us. Even at that, this binding and loosing we are given to do has profound consequences.
And so I am given pause today to realize once more how much it matters now: this matter of forgiveness. It is central to all that we are and hope to be. It is the very foundation on which we are built, the rock on which we stand. And so this much I know for sure: no matter what happens in heaven, it certainly matters now.
- What ‘camp’ do you find yourself in? Do you hear the ‘rock’ as being Peter, Peter’s Confession, or the Power of Binding and Loosing which has been granted us?
- What does it mean to you to ‘bind or to loose?’ What does it mean that this may have eternal consequences?
- If to ‘bind or to loose’ is actually about forgiveness — as I believe it is — how have you experienced it in your life and ministry? How is life itself tied to forgiveness even now?