I was in the hospital just for a few hours recently to get a routine test. Nothing to worry about, but very few of us ever want to be in the hospital. I have to say though, that this experience (the part actually in the hospital, not the prep the night before and let’s just not get into that) could not have been better. Every single person I dealt with or even spoke to was friendly, kind, and gentle and most of them were also humorous. They did all they could to put me at ease.
But wait, there’s more. About five days later I received a Thank You card from the team at the hospital. The card was printed, but it was personally signed by all the people who helped me. I was blown away. That was way above and beyond what I expected. What a great way to run a hospital!
Years ago Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) said, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” I loved it at the time and every time she repeated it. I still love it. It’s a great reminder that just because we and others are part of church does not mean that we don’t sin anymore. In truth, many of us have been deeply hurt by people in the church, the place we went to be healed. We are hurt in ways that do not heal quickly or easily. Sometimes it hurts all the more because we forget Dear Abby and we don’t expect the people of the church to hurt us. We are blindsided by the kind of treatment and attitudes that we expect outside the walls of the church. We think we should be safe inside the church. We think we should be safe from sin. Well, it doesn’t work that way. And Jesus calls us to forgive. It’s a tall order.
Matthew 18:21 tells us, “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’” If you remember this story then you remember that Jesus did not dismiss this question with a quick, “Yeah, that’s good enough.” He said, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy times seven (or 77, the Greek is unclear).” Whether he meant 490 times or 77 times, it’s a lot. In fact, it is so much that what Jesus meant by this is that we are supposed to forgive until we lose track of the number of times and then keep on forgiving. If you are still thinking about it, then forgive some more. If it happened again, then forgive again.
It’s hard not to press Jesus further saying, “But! But Jesus, when it’s someone in the church who has sinned against us, even then? We should be able to walk away from them, or better yet, toss them out. No one in the church should behave that way.”
Ah, children, in the immortal words of your sister, Abby, “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” It shouldn’t happen? Well, it shouldn’t happen anywhere, but it does and you yourselves are also sinners.
Then he began to tell them a parable: The Church is like a hospital that is filled with sinners all in need of healing and wholeness. Not everyone in the hospital heals as quickly as everyone else. Some patients are there for a very long time. But some in the hospital tend to the patients with mercy and grace. They are friendly, kind, and gentle, and they work to put the patients at ease. They greet the patients with a smile and patiently listen. They watch out for the patients when they are not fully clothed and in their right minds. And after all that, instead of expected thanks themselves they thank the patients for the patients have provided them an opportunity to be loving and generous servants.
No, it’s not necessarily a parable I want to hear either. I’m one of those people who have been deeply hurt by members of the Church. I often struggle to forgive. Sometimes it takes years. It’s not easy, but it’s part of what we have been called by Christ to do.