I Forgive Me

Scripture:  Philippians 3:13
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
November 26, 2017

 Nancy, a fourth grader was instructed by her Sunday School teacher to draw a picture of something from the book of Genesis.  Nancy drew a picture of a white stretch limousine.  A middle-aged man drove the car and a scantlessly clad couple sat in the back of the limousine.  “Why Nancy,” exclaimed the Sunday School teacher, “I asked you to draw something from the book of Genesis.”

“But I did.  I drew this limousine,” responded Nancy.

“To which passage in Genesis can you possibly be referring to, Nancy?” asked the teacher.  Nancy thumbed through the Bible until she found the passage.  “Here Genesis 3:24 – ‘And God drove out Adam and Eve from the garden.”

I much prefer Nancy’s view of this passage than that of traditional Christianity over the years. Christianity has often referred to this passage as the “Fall” or as “Original Sin.”  Neither the words “The Fall” nor “Original Sin” are written in the Bible.  They are words coined by Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century C.E. The theology of “Original Sin” says that since the first humans sinned, all human life would be born in sin.  In other words, we are inherently bad.

Therefore, we are portrayed as helpless victims, wallowing in weakness and guilt, waiting for the punishment we deserve all because God drove out Adam and Eve from the garden. The story goes on to say we need a Savior. Jesus enters the world. Jesus comes as the savior of the sinner, the redeemer of the fallen, the rescuer of the lost. Jesus intervened on our behalf, saving us from eternal damnation, through his death on the cross. And we have made a fetish out of the cleansing blood of Jesus. Christians speak of bathing in it so that their “sins might be washed away”. Christian hymnals are filled with such titles as “Washed in the Blood,” “Saved by the Blood” and “There’s a Fountain filled with Blood!” And we wonder why people feel vaguely uncomfortable in worship and drop out of the church.

A central motif in traditional Christianity is guilt, unbearable guilt. The theology of human depravity and degradation pushes us down into the depression of feeling unworthy. Through the centuries Christians have paid penance for their guilt through self-inflicted pain. Some have worn a cilis, a rough cloth (like a shirt) made out of goat’s hair, which is very itchy. Others have slept on a bed of nails. And still others have participated in self-flagellation, the devotional practice of beating oneself with whips. All in the name of Christianity – because God drove out Adam and Eve from the garden and Jesus had to take our place on the cross. Yes, a central motif in traditional Christianity is guilt, unbearable guilt.

Bishop John Shelby Spong says, “If as a parent, you were to tell your child how bad, sinful, evil, and rotten he or she is everyday of his or her life, you would create a dysfunctional child.  If as a parent, you were to tell your child how wonderful, incredible, and good they are, you would most likely create a healthy child.  For the past two thousand years, the church has been creating dysfunctional people with its overemphasis on sin / guilt theology.”  It is time that we start creating healthy people in our churches.”

As you can imagine, I am not too fond of names for Jesus that paint humans in such a negative light: the savior of the sinner, the redeemer of the fallen, or the rescuer of the lost. Instead I like to call Jesus the teacher of life and love. Jesus tells us why he came. He said, “I came that you may have life and have it in abundance to the full until it overflows.” Life with Jesus is not meant to be condemned, criticized, and dissected but enjoyed, cherished and celebrated. Remember the Bible is called “Good News.”

This is why I prefer the language of “Original Blessing” over the language of “Original Sin.” Original Blessing came before Original Sin. The first words out of the Creator’s mouth after the creation of humanity were “It is good. It is very good.” Yes, the essence of our being is good. We are a blessing. The Good News goes on to say in Exodus, “You are a treasured possession”; Deuteronomy proclaims, “You are destined for praise and honor”; the Psalmist declares, “You are beautiful.” Ephesians asserts, “You were chosen before the creation of the world.” Peter asserts, “You are a holy people.” It is time to stop the religious abuse of “Original Sin” and celebrate the gift of “Original Blessing.”

Leonard Zunin in his book Contact: The First Four Minutes, tells of a tribe in African in which every person is seen as good.

“When a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, that person is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every person in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe, regardless of age, begins to talk aloud to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in their lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted…the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe (Zunin 207-208).

In so doing, that person is reminded of their Original Blessing, their inherent goodness.

Certainly, there are times when we act irresponsibly and unjustly. There are times when we miss the mark and don’t live up to our high calling. And sometimes the hardest person to forgive is ourselves, the one we see in the mirror everyday.

This holiday season I want to encourage you to give yourself the gift of forgiveness, the gift of freedom. You may have made mistakes, but those mistakes don’t get to make you. You’ve been carrying this weight too long. The pain of yesterday has already taken too much from you. It’s time to let it go and be free.

The Apostle Paul says, “Forgetting what lies behind, I strain forward to what lies ahead.” Like Paul, we all have a past, things about us we don’t want others to know. We all have a shipwreck or two, a thorn in our flesh, days and even years when we feel weak and insecure. And God says, “My grace is sufficient for thee. My power is made perfect in weakness.”  If we can learn from our mistakes, our past is then no longer a hindrance to the spiritual life; on the contrary we become more effective because of our struggles.  Your thorn in the flesh is not a roadblock, but a bridge to empathy and understanding.

If you come and tell me, “Jill, you don’t know what I’ve done. I am ashamed of the mistakes I’ve made. I can hardly look myself in the mirror.” I can say, “I get it. I’ve been there.”  If you tell me, “Jill, I could’ve been a better mother/ father/parent,” I can say, “I hear you. I’m a witness.”  If you tell me, “Jill, I’ve emotionally hurt the very people I’ve loved the most.” I can say, “I’ve done that, too.”  The Good News is that God can turn our mess into our message. Jesus came that we may have life in abundance to the full until it overflows.

Paul says, “Forgetting what lies behind, I strain forward to what lies ahead.” Maybe you didn’t get it right at one time. I didn’t get it right at one time. But let’s not let who we were interfere with who God is calling us to become. It’s time to get our life back. It’s time to claim our Original Blessing. It’s time to look in the mirror and say, “I forgive me.” Amen.