It was a small group at church today but the young man and woman from the last several month's worth of drama, were present. I dont want to use their real names, but will call them Mark and Sarah for the purpose of this blog.
What did God do?
They came to church with a bit of an attitude. Sarah was disappointed her best friend was absent so she felt she was without support from her "team". Mark always has an attidue...baseball cap worn backwards, pants hanging halfway over his butt, slouching in the chair and hesitant to stand for the songs. They were defiantly NOT speaking to each other.
I preached on forgiveness from Matthew 18. I tried to contemporize it. Peter must have had a gripe against someone. He came to the Lord asking, "How many times do I need to forgive my brother who sins against me? Seven times?" I dont think Peter thought through this question. How can you set a limit to forgiveness? What would happen after the 7th time? Do you say, "Hey, sorry! My records show that I have forgiven you 7 times already. You are over your quota. Get lost." Not.
Jesus in his reply is gentler than I am. He just touches on Peter's legalistic question and then addresses the motive for forgiving others. He tells the story of the king's unmerciful servant. We acted out the story. In our Deaf Chuch drama helps many who have limited signing skills to be able to visualize what the story is about. So the king tells the servant that he owes a million dollars. The servant can't possibly pay that amount. The king is ready to send the servant and his family to debtors prison for what would probably be a lifetime when the servant begs for mercy. The surprise in the story is that the King forgives him. He lets the servant go free and completely waives the debt. (No one could believe it. Sarah looked at me and smiled... she alone knew that the King in the story was a metaphor for God.) So what does the servant do next? Have a party? Bow down and worship God? Hug his wife? No. He chases after a fellow servant, a friend, who owes him a dollar. He beats up his friend and then has him thrown in jail for not paying a measly dollar debt. (The Holy Spirit was bringing understanding. Everyone started laughing at the absurdity of the servant's actions. Everyone in the room would have forgiven a dollar debt. They knew the servant should have extended the grace he received from the King.) It was fun to see them all understand the story, but did they understand the metaphor? So we talked it out a bit. Some daydreamed, some watched through glassy eyes. It wasn't hitting home.
Then we played a game. I have to give God credit here. Yesterday while I was thinking through this sermon, I knew I needed something to bring it home... a game... an image...something. God helped me remember a game that we used to play at deaf women's retreat every year. We never tied it to forgiveness. It was just a game, an activity. God's Spirit had a plan.
First the boys/men. I put three pieces of masking tape on each person's arm. I told them that each piece of tape represented one of our mistakes...maybe lying, maybe anger, maybe punching someone, whatever. On "go" they were to take the tape off of themselves and put it on someone else. The goal is to try to end up with no tape at all. For a minute they were grabbing and slapping and some were rolling on the floor. In the end everyone had at least two pieces somewhere on their body. We did it again with the girls. This time I stood in the middle and didnt take off any of the tape any person put on me. I just kept accepting it. When a minute was up, I had about 12 pieces on me. I said. That's what Jesus did. He took all of our sins so we could be clean. (Sarah started crying). How can anyone who has been made clean turn to someone else and say... you have a spot and I'm sick of looking at it? Forgive your brothers and sisters, because Jesus forgave you. (I think I've said that many times since I've been here in Orange Walk. The other times I didnt get much of a response.. maybe someone said, "Ok. Can we have lunch now?")
This time God moved us. I confessed and asked for their forgiveness for something, a young boy confessed something and asked for forgiveness from the group, three girls stood up and said they were sorry to each other, at least two more people asked for forgiveness and then there was silence, for a little bit. I was ready to close worship and Mark stood up. He said, "I want to say I'm sorry to you and to Sarah for hurting you and I was wrong." All the angels in heaven must have been cheering because this boy never says he's sorry or admits he is wrong. Then he hugged me and then everyone started hugging. (Wow! I kept thinking ...Yes, God answers prayer. Our church is on the road to healing. Thank you to everyone who prays for us.)
The rest of the morning went well, everyone was mixing and talking. Someone said to me as we were cleaning up lunch, "This is fun." She didn't mean the cleaning. She meant the love the group was learning to share. As I was driving the van to drop people off after lunch, I saw Sarah and Mark sitting together, talking and smiling. There might have been a kiss.
As I drove I was thinking, God has a plan for Mark. Maybe someday, he will be preaching to our church, telling his testimony about how he used to be attracted to gang behavior, drinking , bad language, sex, and a rough temper, but God forgave him. And the people of the church who will be much younger and not know the old Mark will say, "No, really? You? But you are so gentle.