I took a group of youth camping, many years ago. It was a Church youth group. On both nights of the camping trip we held a campfire with songs, games and prayers. The first night each youth was asked to bring a small stick of wood to the campfire. They were told that the stick symbolized their sins or something about themselves they wanted to change. They were invited to throw their stick into the fire and accept the forgiveness of God. Everyone tossed their stick into the fire.
The second night at the campfire each youth was asked to bring another stick. This time they were told that the stick represents something about themselves that is good and that they can give to God to use for good in the world. Some of the youth just stood up and tossed their stick into the fire, seemingly without much thought. Others clearly gave it great thought and tossed their stick in during the evening. And some didn’t toss their stick in at all. Sadly, they couldn’t think of anything good about themselves that God could to use.
So much of what people think of God and the Church is based on the idea that we are not good enough. Many people have been left with the impression that God is about judgment and condemnation. Well, judgment is best left to God. The further we can stay away from judging people the better. At the core of the Christian message is that judgment belongs to God’s. We do not need to spend an ounce of energy judging others, lest we be judged. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven…” (Luke 6.37)
The main point of the Gospel is forgiveness. Not only are we to refrain from judging and condemning others, we are to forgive. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14) And in Mark’s Gospel he says, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter.” (Mark 3:28) The point being that the love and forgiveness offered to the world from God is available to everyone. If it is only the message of condemnation that gets through then the fullness of the Gospel is not being expressed.
People do not need any more reason to feel judged and of little value in the world and to God. In the Bible God’s love is expressed in such an exaggerated way that it says that God lovingly numbers each hair on our heads.
But surely, some people may think, God will condemn some people; sure our enemies will be judged harshly. I think that it is in his book, God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope for our Time, Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes that, “God loves you! And God’s love is so great; God loves your enemies too.” I think Tutu is saying that what matters is not how good we are but how good God is. We will not be measured by how much we love God but how much God loves us. And God loves us whoever we are, whatever we’ve done or whatever we believe.
There is something good in each one of us, even if that thing is God’s forgiveness and God’s love. That might be the very thing God wants us to use; the very thing we are to offer to God; to help in the proclamation of the Gospel. “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22.39)