The Year of Good Riddance
Did you hear about Good Riddance Day?
Probably not unless you happen to live in New York City. Last Monday (December 28) was Good Riddance Day in Times Square. Organizers encouraged people to write their grievances down and then throw the lists into shredders symbolizing the act of letting go of painful memories, bad experiences, foolish mistakes, bad relationships, dumb choices, and long-held grudges that had been gunking up their insides. Participants could use a sledgehammer in case the shredder didn't provide enough emotional release.
One blogger clearly loves the idea:
"I think this is becoming one of my favorite holidays!!! Today's the chance to say Good Riddance to something... and I'm making quite a list!!!"
There is something almost irresistible about the idea of "out with the old, in with the new." Sometimes we need to say "good riddance" to the pain and hurt of the past. To do that we're going to have to find the courage to let go of our anger, say farewell to our bitterness, and cast off our malice toward those who have hurt us deeply.
We must learn to forgive. Until we do that we can never go forward. As long as we live in the past, we will be chained to the past, and the people who have hurt us deeply win a double victory-once when they hurt us the first time and twice when we refuse to let go and move on.
I learned this many years ago in the first church I pastored right out of seminary. One year I surveyed the congregation and asked them to choose the topics for a series I called "The Marriage Clinic." It was so successful that the next year I did the same thing for a series called "The Family Clinic." When I surveyed the congregation two years in a row, only one topic was repeated. And that topic ended up receiving the most votes both years. It was "How to Handle Anger and Bitterness." I remember being flabbergasted at the results so I asked my wife why that topic came in # 1 both years. With characteristic wisdom, she replied, "I guess it's because our people have a lot of anger and bitterness."
We all struggle with broken relationships, people who hurt us, painful words, deceitful actions, friends who turn against us, and unkind words said about us or our loved ones.
The Great Offender
The following two things seem to be true about the human condition: We always need forgiveness and we always have someone we need to forgive. It is precisely at this point that 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 becomes so relevant. In this paragraph Paul challenges the Christians at Corinth to reach out and forgive a man in the congregation who had sinned. He is sometimes called "the great offender." We don't know exactly who the man is or exactly what he did but it must have been bad. Historically, Bible commentators have connected this passage with the man Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 who was sleeping with his father's wife (evidently meaning his step-mother). And worse yet, the church was glorying in its "grace" in allowing this man to remain in the church. Paul instructs them to come together as a congregation and put that man out of the church so that, having been cut off from Christian fellowship, he might eventually come to repentance. If that's the man in view in 2 Corinthians 2, then the excommunication clearly worked because the man repented and wanted back in the church but the congregation refused to take him back. And that may well be the background.
More recent commentators say that the man in question is not the man mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5, but rather another man who led a rebellion against the Apostle Paul, claiming that he wasn't a "real" apostle, dividing the church and causing great harm. Paul had written the church, telling them to put the man out. They had done so, and evidently he had come to his senses and wanted to be reinstated. So Paul writes to tell the church that the troublemaker had suffered enough and they needed to forgive him so that he would not be utterly heartbroken.
In a sense it doesn't matter which scenario is correct because the underlying teaching is the same.
Sometimes we must take a strong action against those who sin.
When we do, we must be willing to forgive them later on.
Which is harder?
To judge sin or to forgive sin?
To take a stand against sinful behavior?
Or to believe a man has truly changed his ways?
It seems to me that both are equally hard but in different ways. Both require courage, wisdom and love. And we need the Holy Spirit to show us the way forward.
You can read the rest of the sermon online.