This last Sunday night we spent some time thinking about forgiveness with our confirmation youth. Specifically, we were focusing in on the petition of the Lord’s Prayer where we pray,
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
To bring the learning home, one of the exercises we shared in was that of remaking a video. We viewed this short clip of “Signs of Forgiveness,” we handed out cardboard and markers, and we asked them to make their own signs. Then in their small groups they filmed themselves with their signs, emulating what they had seen in the video. Only, of course, what they wrote on their signs was personal for each of them.
It went pretty well. The conversations were meaningful and thoughtful. Yes, some of them took it more seriously than others. To be sure, as you can imagine, some took it so seriously they found they could not fully participate, for their pain was too fresh.
I have to say I was knocked over when I walked in to observe our 7th graders. One had scrawled on his sign,
“You told me I ought to kill myself.”
And then he flipped it over,
“But I forgive you.”
And oh, isn’t it so that we need to love each other now more than ever?
For well do I remember Junior High. I remember the terror that reigned when a couple 12-year-old girls in my class made it sport to visit me at my locker every day and threaten me with physical harm. Worst of all, I suppose, I remember what it felt like to feel as though I had no friends. Indeed, if anyone else saw this play out day after day, they certainly did not step in. I, for one, never told a single solitary person. I suppose that was the ethos even then. You simply didn’t tell.
This was more than forty years ago. It was more than tough out there then. And without a doubt, I expect it is that much tougher today. And yet, even with all of that, I know I was profoundly fortunate. For while I did not tell, I still had people at home who loved me. And there was a cadre of other caring adults watching out for me in other ways who carried me through until it got easier.
Now, maybe it is just simply harder for kids, for they cannot control who they spend their time with as much as adults sometimes can. And maybe not. Perhaps the suffering we too often inflict on each other is just more subtle than it was when we were in middle school. And maybe not.
Either way, I responded on Sunday night by talking to our kids about bullying. I spoke of my own experience at the hands of a couple of my classmates. Yes, I spoke about taking the long view — for these decades later it is clear that I more than survived. While it felt like it would never end then, 7th grade did not last forever. More than that, I talked about how they might take care of and look out for and stand with each other out there in the world. And about how one of the ways we do that if we can see no other way is to tell someone who can help. We brainstormed for a moment about who we should tell should it happen to us. Mostly, I simply wondered with them about how we might be called to love each other. Even if we are not especially friends outside of church.
Will they? I have no idea. Indeed, do any of us ever really do this well? I have to say, I don’t always know. And yet, I do know it is what Jesus calls us to now. To Love Each Other.
And I know this, too. This calls for more than an impromptu response to a group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. We need to talk about what it looks like to love each other over and over again. More than that, these are words which need to be backed up by concrete action: demonstrating the kind of patient, enduring love which Jesus calls us to. And which Jesus offered first.
It takes energy, attention, resources and more. And yet it is more than worth it. For from what I hear in today’s Gospel, this is all that matters: It is everything. It is what will enable us to keep on and it will be our most enduring witness to the world.
For 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, yes. And for all the rest of us, too. For you know this as well or better than I: too often, congregations, followers of Jesus today, are known for how we do NOT love each other — for how we inflict pain on one another. And so I wonder now:
What would it look like for God’s people to change that? How might we love one another on Sunday mornings and Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings? In the workplace, in our neighborhoods, at school, at the ball field? How can we begin to love each other even better than we have before? Even if we are not especially friends with each other. Even then. Especially then.
I have said this more times than I can count. This world we live in has far too few examples of what love looks like: especially across our differences. Indeed, it matters more than ever that we are given the chance to let the world know who we are in this way: As We Have Love For One Another. This more than anything else will bear witness to who we are. Because of who Jesus was and who Jesus is for us still.
- It is easy to come up with examples of what loving one another does not look like. Can you think of concrete examples of what it looks like for followers of Jesus to love one another? How might that preach?
- While God’s people are always called to care for those who are not part of the community, we are also called to care for one another. It is tough out there. What does it look like for us to love each other in the world so that the world might indeed recognize the One we follow?
- According to Jesus today, it would appear that acts of love bear a stronger witness than ‘correct theology’ or to use an old cliche, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Can you think of times when this has been true, even or especially across theological, political, social, or economic differences? What did that look like?