“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter.” – Mark 3:28 (NRSV)
Not long ago, a young man I’d never seen before walked into our chapel before the start of our weekly jazz worship service with an electric guitar slung over his shoulder. When he introduced himself and it became clear that he was expecting to play, I welcomed him and explained that this wasn’t a jam session, meaning that the musicians were people I knew and had hired in advance. He said he understood, and proceeded to unpack his guitar and plug in his amp. He took a seat about three feet from where I was set up and stared intently at me throughout the service, occasionally asking if he could play along as I counted off a song. At the end of the service, he approached and began to berate me, my lack of understanding of Christianity and the unwelcoming posture of the church. I did not respond well.
Since that day, I’ve replayed the details of that encounter countless times, identifying ways in which I might have handled the situation with more grace. He was, of course, responsible for some of the difficulties between us; but I’m older, should have been wiser, and can see in retrospect how I worsened matters. I’ve added this young man to the list of people I pray for whom I’ve wronged in my life, or who might see me as an enemy. I ask God to forgive me and bless these souls; yet, in every case, I continue to feel guilty, often many years after the fact.
It occurs to me that my guilt reflects my vanity and weak faith. How else to explain my refusal to believe that through God’s grace, I am forgiven? Taking responsibility for one’s actions is good; nagging guilt, however, is evidence of self-absorption, a turning away from God. Mature faith means letting go of self-importance, allowing God to cleanse us as only God’s love can. Mature faith means believing that when God says we are forgiven, God means it, and God, not we, has the last word.
Gracious God, let me turn away from preoccupation with myself, and turn to you with a faith deep enough to accept your forgiveness and let go of guilt for my mistakes.
Willie Sordillo is Music Director of Jazz Worship at Old South Church in Boston.