Believing that the world is created good and in God’s image, that God so loved the world he sent his Son Jesus the Christ to redeem the current mess we are in, that God does not forsake the world, that the church as the body of Christ in the world bears witness to his life, death, resurrection and calls us all into a new life, that we, redeemed yet broken are called to (as my own tradition reminds me) to “lives of repentance,”* that as the body of Christ, when one of us suffer, we all suffer, I, Geoff T. Sinibaldo, a child of God and pastor in Christ’s church do humbly repent of the church’s inability to live up to its own calling and mission.
Collectively, we have failed you. We are to be salt for the earth, light for the world, a city on a hill, being leaven in the loaf, a place of compassion, healing, forgiveness and renewal for Christ’s sake, and too often we neglect these Christ given claims upon us for other initiatives.
That the church has embarked in conquest, enslavement, genocide, exploitation, capitulating to worldly powers of greed and power, and turned a blind eye to these injustices, we have failed you. When children are abused and the church refuses to police its own, it is wrong. That the whole church has not shared in the world’s outrage at such heinous actions while hiding under the cloak of God is inexcusable. As one person in the church among many, I am deeply sorry.
That the church has been embedded within its own status in Western society – either making decrees everyone should follow or sitting in a back room deciding for others how to engage the challenges of our day, we have shown that our arrogance is matched only by our own folly. We have neglected important and needed partnerships. We have elevated our clergy as Lords of ministry rather than utilize their gifts to locate and empower ministry in others. Rather than listen and seek understanding among our neighbors we have withdrawn under the illusion of a need for self-preservation. We have run from the world rather than enter it. In some places, including Europe and North America the damage that the church has caused has pushed it from the center of society to the edges, and in many ways we deserve such treatment. It will take many decades to regain people’s trust, and in the meantime we all suffer for it. We have failed you. As one person in the church among many, I am deeply sorry.
That the church has been engulfed by its own sectarian divisions, turning brothers and sisters in Christ against other sisters and brothers in Christ; we have weakened our joint witness. Rather than promoting Jesus’ words, “that those who are not against us are for us” we have acted in reverse, acting as though those who do not agree and submit to our authority are enemies that must be destroyed. We have failed to see Christ in the needs of others outside our Christian faith by our own internal struggles. While our self-absorption has led us to stand divided rather than united, it also has caused us to neglect the world around us, as we lick our own wounds to prepare for the next battle rather than care “for the least of these” as Christ calls us to do. We often blame others rather than be peacemakers because it is the easier choice. We have failed you. As one person in the church among many, I am deeply sorry.
For these and other accusations rightly rendered against the church of Jesus Christ, we stand judged by what we have done and what we have left undone. I am deeply sorry, and I know I am not alone. If the world never takes us seriously again, we have only ourselves to blame. I could promise that the church will try to better next time, or that we hope to make it up to you, or say we have learned from our mistakes and are ready to move on if all parties are amenable to a few proposed changes. I will not do that. I know human nature enough not to make such empty promises as if we could ever fulfill them. So we stand before you convicted.
Our hope for the future rests not in ourselves to make it right but in the forgiveness Christ offers that is free, unmerited, and undeserved that makes all things right. Although we stand convicted of all wrongdoing and are rightly judged for the pain we have caused or neglected to realize, we have been purchased for a price, the costliest of all things, Jesus himself, and we are forever indebted to him for so precious a gift. Truth be told we need the mercy of God most of all – which is why we are the church in the first place. The forgiveness Christ gives is not a license for us to serve our own means or forget who we are. It is a calling to serve the needs of others; freed from the brokenness that so infests our lives. We need constant reminders that we are raised in him to be his body, his hands, and his feet, pierced through and offered for the many. At times we neglect this bedrock of our faith, and for this I am deeply grieved.
I hope you, the world, will receive this apology, and receive it well. I hope in time you will be able to accept it. But most of all I hope you will able to follow our Lord’s example and forgive.
Until then, we, the church of Jesus Christ, are at your mercy. We believe that reconciliation is not only possible, it is the message we hope to share as we continue to preach, teach, forgive, baptize, share the Lord’s Supper together, console one another in times of hardship and equip our people to serve others in God’s world. We may do a better job at it. We might not. We pray for the Holy Spirit to use us and guide us. We aspire to be the salt and light and the city on a hill our Lord has in mind for us, yet we rest solely in his love – knowing that being salt, light and that city is not something we can achieve for ourselves. I hope that in time you will come to join us in God’s restoration project of this beloved world. We could really use your help.
Peace, Geoff T. Sinibaldo, Pastor 12/06/2012
*“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent!’(Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” (Martin Luther, “Ninety-Five Theses,” Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. ed. Timothy F. Lull. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989], Thesis 1, p. 21.)