It seems like it was just yesterday.
My younger brother was in trouble – again.
Almost nightly, it seemed, he was getting a spanking or having to atone for something he had done that particular day.
I think I was about 10 years old, and he was about 7.
I don’t remember what prompted me, but I did something rather crazy on that night: I offered to stand in and take his punishment for him.
My parents looked at me in disbelief, but they allowed me to substitute for him and take his place.
(We lived in a day when children were expected to do as they were told. If you disobeyed, you were punished.)
If you did something really bad, you got three spankings from my dad – with his belt.
I think my dad eased off on the pressure that night, but I got spanked none the less.
There were some tears, there were some hugs and there was one very grateful younger brother.
He’d been graced with a “proxy” – someone to stand in for him and be his substitute.
Like that night so long ago, I’d like to offer today to stand in as a “proxy” in another area.
A proxy is merely a substitute, a person who represents another in a certain situation.
Over the past few days, weeks and months, I’ve been hearing stories from men and women across the country who have been deeply wounded by their churches, their pastors, their ministers, their priests, their fellow congregants, their Bible study leaders or someone else in a church or religious setting.
I’ve talked to some of you who’ve been out of church for just a few weeks and others of you who haven’t darkened a church door in 20 years.
I’ve talked to some who will never go to church again and others who have been more open to going back in the future.
I’d like to ask a special favor of you today, especially of my friends who have been deeply wounded by, in or in association with a church – can I act as a proxy today, a stand-in for that church or that person who hurt you so much?
I know I’m not your former pastor, but I’m a pastor’s wife.
I’m likely not the minister or staff member who hurt you, but I’ve been on staff at 3 churches.
I’m probably not that teacher or Bible study leader that wounded you, but I have been in both of those roles, and I am certain I’ve wounded people.
Your pain might not have come from something I’ve said or done, but I’ve certainly said and done plenty to wound and to cause pain.
So, I’d like to appropriate myself as your “proxy” pastor, proxy minister, proxy fellow church member, proxy teacher, proxy leader or proxy whoever hurt you.
And, I’d like to apologize to you today.
I’m sorry that we let you down.
I’m sorry that we hurt you when you were already in so much pain.
I’m sorry that we didn’t call when you had your surgery.
I’m sorry that we misunderstood your actions and treated you with such harshness.
I’m sorry that we ignored you and didn’t notice your need.
I’m really sorry that we left you out and stayed in our own little clique.
I’m sorry that we didn’t check up on you when you missed week after week.
I’m sorry that we didn’t call your teenager when he or she started pulling away from church.
I’m sorry that we judged you unfairly.
I’m sorry that we weren’t there for you when you were going through your divorce.
I’m sorry that we didn’t even talk to you when you came to the party.
I’m sorry that we didn’t help you when you moved.
I’m sorry that we didn’t walk through your cancer treatments with you.
I’m sorry that we didn’t come to visit you when you were in the hospital.
I’m sorry that we didn’t invite you to join us for lunch or for any other function.
I’m sorry that we didn’t show you hospitality.
I’m sorry that we all talked to each other and never turned to engage you in conversation.
I’m sorry that we didn’t involve you or invite you to use your gifts.
I’m sorry that our teenagers hurt your teenagers.
I’m just sorry that we hurt you and wounded you.
I’m sorry that we were rude and unkind and inconsiderate.
I’m sorry that we were so sarcastic in the way that we spoke to you.
I’m sorry that we didn’t show you love and compassion as we should have.
I’m sorry for the cruel comments that we made to you and to each other.
I’m sorry that we didn’t show you the love and grace of our Lord.
It wasn’t necessarily intentional or purposeful. But, we know that we let you down.
We blew it, and we are sincerely sorry.
And, we want to ask you to forgive us.
Would you please forgive us?
Because this is likely the only apology most of you will ever receive from any pastor, any minister, any church, or any church person – would you please accept it from me?
And, would you do me a couple of other favors?
Would you forgive us?
Would you open up that huge “bag” of hurt that you’ve been holding onto and just dump it out?
For you see, those pastors, ministers, church members, churches and people have moved on with their lives.
They will not likely come seeking you out.
They may not even realize that they hurt you, and they certainly are not going to come looking for you to make amends.
But, I have good news for you today – you can get okay with this painful situation.
You can let it go.
You can yank it out by the root and let God heal this broken place in your heart.
You’ve carried it long enough.
Won’t you let God take it?
1} Start by praying and pouring out your heart to the Lord.
Tell God how you feel, how you hurt and about all about all of these offenses and slights that have been dealt to you.
Just talk to your loving Father about what has happened to you.
Psalm 62:8 simply says:
“O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge.”
2} Ask God to drain the anger from your heart.
Just like you drain the dirty water from a bathtub, allow your loving Heavenly Father to drain that anger, fury, doubt and disappointment from your heart.
Invite God to take away your heavy burden and to give you REST for your soul.
Matthew 11:28-31 puts it this way:
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
3} Let God avenge you!
If someone needs to be dealt with, God is incredibly capable of doing the dealing.
My pastor growing up used to say, “If someone does you wrong, tell God on them!”
It may not feel like it now, but we all eventually reap what we sow.
That person who hurt you will be dealt with. God is never fooled, and He is always just!
4} Get on with living – with greater freedom and joy.
Let this go so that you can be better, happier, more joy-filled and healthier.
Get on with living!
And, could I ask you to do one more thing?
Would you pray about giving God’s church one more chance?
You can go to a different church, sit under a different pastor and take your kids to a different youth group.
But, would you go and simply force your foot across a church threshold?
Because we need you!
You have gifts, abilities, talents and so much more to offer to a church.
And, God created us to need to be around other believers.
We were made to fellowship with each other. We are part of the same body and function best together.
God made us with a DNA that wants to assemble together regularly with other Christ-followers.
In Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer addresses corporate worship:
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Somewhere out there is a church that really does want you and need you as a part of their community.
So, I implore and invite and dare you to give church one more try.
My job as a proxy is now complete.
I’ve made my appeal.
Now, the choice is up to you.
What will you do?
I pray you will forgive, let the pain go, trust God with those who’ve offended you and give His church one more try.
It might be the best thing you do for yourself and your family this year!