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Gracious forbearance

Grace Episcopal Church (Nampa, Idaho)

On May 16th, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, we heard the story of how the first new apostle was selected. It begins with Peter’s explanation of why a new apostle is needed-- Judas Iscariot is no longer with them.

The story is almost an administrative footnote, (here’s the process for selecting new apostles when needed), except for one thing. One very remarkable thing that may make this passage of scripture one of the most important to the life and faith of Christians everywhere. What makes it so remarkable?

Simply this. Peter speaks about Judas with respect. He was one of us, Peter says, “numbered among us and given his share of the ministry.” His actions (the betrayal of Christ and all those who followed him), Peter continues, were a fulfillment of scripture. He speaks of Judas as one “who turned aside to go to his own place”.

There are no harsh words, no condemnation, no name calling. This is a man who betrayed Jesus, who became a “guide to those who arrested him”. This man put everyone and everything his fellow disciples held dear in grave danger and yet Peter speaks of him with respect, saying simply that Judas had his own path to follow. This gracious forbearance for the man that almost got them all killed!

I thought about this scripture this week as I watched an interview with a young woman who found she had to leave her post with a rather prestigious news organization because she was so deeply criticized by those around her for writing about and holding ideas that were different. We have heard many tell these stories in recent years. We call it “Cancel Culture”.

It is essentially bullying people in order to keep them following certain, usually unidentified, rules and norms that have been adopted by a few on behalf of the many. She has written a book about her experiences. “Why do people do this?” she was asked. “What causes people to disassociate themselves from those who have been their friends and respected colleagues; to be so hateful, so disrespectful?”

Her answer was simple. “I think they think they are defending the boundaries,” she said. Suddenly it made sense. If I can just get the rest of you to behave and speak correctly, my world will be a good safe place! So, I get to work policing those around me, for their own good, of course and for the betterment of humans everywhere! I suspect those so engaged, stride forth with a righteous sense of purpose, but unfortunately, they are not righteous, but self-righteous, making themselves the self-appointed judge and jury over others.

Peter gently reminds us today by his example, that first on our list of duties is to set aside judgement of others. We are to love and forgive one another. Not one of us is commissioned to “patrol the boundaries”. We are, instead, each expected to be clear about our own values, our own words, our own behavior, our own boundaries and respect and encourage others as they do the same.

When we take care of our own house, we are constantly reminded of the challenges encountered, of the struggle for discernment, and most of all, of the times we fall short and loose our way. Each of us finds ourselves in need of forgiveness, of repentance. Knowing this makes it easier to be gracious, to love even those who seem lost to us, knowing that no one is lost to God.

When I was teaching school long ago, I grew particularly tired of tattling children. It seemed sometimes that it was a game—who could outdo the others by pointing out faults! In desperation I began responding to all such reports with “Who are you responsible for?” The child in question would invariably hang their head and respond with regret and resignation, “Myself.” It was a great strategy. I was thrilled!

Then one day when I was complaining about someone, freely judging another’s actions or words, I heard a little voice in my head. “So, Karen, who are you responsible for?” I wonder now if it was St. Peter whispering in my ear!

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17. Mai
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Beautiful, thoughtful essay!

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