In the mid-70s, I spent a year working in a TD Bank in one of the Lake Ontario towns east of Toronto. The Toronto Dominion Bank was the coming together of the Bank of Toronto and the Dominion Bank some 20 years earlier. I shouldn’t have been surprised that there was still a divide in the staff between those from each bank. It is one of the countless examples of a “them and us” attitude I have witnessed all my life. I see it readily in others. I am not quite so objective in my own self-appraisal.
In the mid-90s, I did an internship in a church north of Toronto. While there, divisive conflict exploded into open warfare. I’ll never forget the outburst of one of the angriest seniors. “They are doing it again to us; just like 25 years ago!” she cried. The only problem was that all of the folks involved 25 years before were either dead and gone or just plain gone. She hadn’t forgiven them, and all the unresolved anger had festered barely below the surface until another provocation surfaced.
So, what do these two vignettes have to do with renewal? As I pray, study, and talk about renewal with folks from BC to Newfoundland, I keep pressing to identify barriers that keep us from individual and communal renewal. My non-scientific view is that individually, there is no greater category holding us back than our lack of willingness and ability to forgive those who have pained us or the ones we love. Corporately, perhaps the most consistent issue is our divisiveness. I have witnessed this in even small congregations and presbyteries. I wonder if some of the desert island cartoons showing two or three inhabitants divided into camps aren’t windows into our sin-riddled, divisive hearts.
Jesus was front and centre on both our issues of unity and forgiveness. He prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are one. To ensure there was not a cosmic “them and us”, He actually became one of us. The barrier was broken. The bridge was constructed. He taught us to pray these dangerous words: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” He was leading us into striving to forgive more generously, not asking God to limit His forgiveness in any way.
The gospel of Jesus Christ includes this truth. He died and rose again to defeat sin and death. His grace is sufficient to help us overcome our human frailty. We can live in unity in His grace. We can forgive even the most hated enemy in His grace. Renewal can be ours. It is our inheritance as children of the High God that we do not have to continue to live in the hopelessness that divisiveness and long-standing grudges can bring.
How freeing that could be. It is good news indeed.