“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld (John 20:21-23).”
The Holy Spirit advocates peace and forgiveness. As a street minister for Operation Nightwatch, I get to hear how the work of the Spirit impacts the lives of my homeless friends. I met Wayne this week in front of Target. He was standing alone with his bike and a box of food from the food bank. I didn’t think he was interested in talking and wondered if I was bothering him. Reverend Paul and I waited awkwardly through the silence of long pauses for the Holy Spirit to move. Gradually, a conversation began to unfold. Wayne revealed that he had been arrested twenty years ago for drunk driving. Stealing a car at the age of fourteen, and being charged with a DUI, has left Wayne financially unable to drive. He needs seven thousand dollars to pay off his legal debts. Wayne begins to smile as he talks about his son and his plans to see him later in the week. We ask Wayne about his tattoos and if he has seen a doctor about his eye. His eye looks infected, and we want to connect him with medical care. Wayne does not have an eye infection. He takes his glass eye out and his hat off, revealing a huge scar across the top of his head. Three years ago, his roommate attacked him with a sword. “I bleed out and was dead in my apartment for twelve minutes. Six months after the attack I told my roommate that I forgave him. He never did believe me. While I was dead, I saw a bright light that looked like pastel Easter colors. I am grateful to be alive!” Wayne opens his shirt and shows us the cross around his neck. What a blessing to learn about forgiveness from Wayne.
Rhonda grew up in a family of Jehovah Witnesses. Her father disowned her when she got pregnant at sixteen. When she tried to leave an abusive relationship, her dad quoted Bible verses about divorce and told her that marriage was for life. She is forty-eight now and lives in a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. She is going to be a grandmother and hopes to return home. Rhonda talked to her dad on Easter and told me that she hasn’t really been able to completely forgive him. We talk about how complicated it is when the people you depend on to take care of you also terrorize you. I tell her how Jesus’s teaching on divorce advocates for women. How the Son of God was born to unmarried teenagers, how her dad could have been excited to be a grandparent. Rhonda shares how her dad provided for the family and how he did the best he could. We agree that forgiveness is a process. While were talking, Rhonda looks up to the sky and tells me that the Lord has always taking care of her. Forgiveness freely given and freely received.
Angela tells me that she came out as queer to her son on Easter Sunday. It went well and she is hopeful for their relationship. She grew up Mormon, always hearing the words of the Bible as condemnation. I let Angela know that Scripture includes sexual minorities into the kingdom of God. We discuss Phillip and the Eunuch from the book of Acts, the Eunuch from Jeremiah, and the nonbinary love of Christ. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27-28).” Angela smiles and tells me that she has never heard those Scripture versus before and seems relieved that I know what nonbinary means. We pray protection and peace for the LGTBQIA community and forgiveness for the ways I have used the Bible to oppress and exclude people from God’s love. Thank you for not withholding forgiveness. May we no longer feel distressed or anxious but reassured that we are forgiven through our risen Lord!