Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pentecost 3 - Year C

I hate to bring up controversy on this beautiful spring day. Especially when summer’s peeking its head around the corner and we’re almost in vacation mode.

But today’s reading from Galatians raises a pretty important issue facing the church. We have a national convention next week and there will be some other contentious issues being raised. And we need to talk about them. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about. I can see some heads nodding.

Of course, what I’m talking about is: male circumcision. And whether we should let uncircumcised males become members of our church. I can see some of our new members squirming “There was nothing about this at the meeting!”

But that’s the fight that the church in Galatia was threatening to tear itself to pieces over. The pews in the Galatian church were filled with converted Jews who didn’t like all these dirty gentiles stinking the place up.

They liked to see their church grow. They just wanted the right people through their doors. They wanted all the new folks to behave like good Jewish Christians. And for the guys, that meant a little snip-snip where the sun was not meant to shine.

Paul couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How could cutting a little piece of skin bring them closer to God? How could they have Christians in first class and Christians in coach?

But that’s what they wanted to do. I wonder if we’re not the same.

It’s one thing to say that “yes, Jesus loves sinners. After all, everyone’s a sinner. Everyone fails in God’s eyes.”

It’s another thing to name the sin, to put flesh on it.

The website Triple X Church dot com sells a T-shirt that announces that “Jesus loves porn stars.” Swish that around in your mouth for awhile. What does it taste like?

What if I came to see you in the hospital wearing a badge that said “Jesus loves pedophiles”? Would you throw me out?

How about a baseball cap that read “Jesus loves Paul Bernardo?”

I don’t know about you but that makes me squirm in my shorts.

When we say that Jesus loved porn stars do we mean that Jesus loves porn? Of course not. But that’s the first thing that pops into our heads, isn’t it?

When we say that Jesus loves pedophiles do we mean that Jesus looks the other way when they victimize our children, taking the side of the oppressor over the oppressed? Obviously not.

When we say that Jesus loves Paul Bernardo, do we mean to say that Jesus doesn’t think his crimes were that big of a deal? Clearly, not the case.

But what does your gut say when you hear that God loves even the most loathsome creatures among us?

The Apostle Paul heard these same arguments from the Galatian Christians, so he let them have it by saying: “But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.”

That’s the Oxford Debating Society’s way of saying, “Jesus loves me even when I’m a sinner. He may not love what I do. But he loves me anyways. Even when I screw up.”

But it’s easier to side with our Galatian cousins. We may pay lip service to the fact that all sins are equal in God’s eyes, but our attitudes and actions sing a different song. Even though, for God, a sin is a sin is a sin. No one sin is worse than another.

I recently heard an interview with the guy who manages the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan and he said that, in Canada, white collar criminals don’t go to jail when convicted. In the States they do, but not in Canada. And no one seems to care - even though millions of dollars and people’s life savings are being stolen.

We pick and choose our moral umbrage. We shrug our shoulders when a VP of a major corporation dumps his stock two days before announcing plant closures. But Paris Hilton better spend the ENTIRE 24 days of her sentence, after all she did drive with an expired driver’s license.

We joke with each other about how we weren’t completely honest when filling out our tax forms. But we are morally outraged when Prince Harry plays tonsil hockey with a bartender in Calgary.

I don’t know why it’s easier to point out people’s sins rather than see God working in their lives. I don’t know why it’s easier to condemn people’s failures rather than rejoice in their victories.

I don’t know why it’s easier, but it is.

Maybe it’s because we like to see ourselves farther down the path of righteousness than other folks. Or the farther away someone’s sins are from our own the fewer stakes we have in condemning them. So we can be morally outraged with little or no cost to ourselves. It’s easier.

I received a letter this week from a fellow thanking me for my Christian witness to a mutual friend we have in Ontario, a friend from university who recently came to faith in Jesus.

When I think of our friendship I think I was more an accomplice to sin than a witness to grace. Yet somehow, God was able to speak to his life through me.

And when I think of my own life, and what evil resides in the inner-chambers of my heart, I wonder how I can have the audacity to stand before you here and preach against sin; much less have the temerity to suggest that I am somehow an instrument of God’s goodness.

But maybe God doesn’t want me to be perfect. Maybe that’s what Paul was getting at.

A group of church commentators have suggested that the church should be more like Alcoholics Anonymous and less like a Broadway musical. I think they’re right.

In Halifax, I got a phone call from a guy wondering when the Gamblers Anonymous group was meeting at the church. He said that he just blew his mortgage payment at a VLT.

Knowing some of the people in the GA group, I knew this fellow would be welcome, because they had all been there.

I’ve been told that you can show up drunk to an AA meeting and no one will bat an eye because they all know what it’s like to fall off the wagon. But how about if someone came to church reeking from cheap scotch?

We’re all broken. None of our lives is perfect. We trip on our way up the mountain. Sometimes we lose our footing and fall to the ground.

And when we do slip, we know that there will be a crowd cheering our descent. Just ask Paris Hilton, Conrad Black, or Dick Dewert.

But I also hope that there will be a small group of believers who will reach out with scarred hands and broken bones to lift us up. Then, together, as a family of believers, we hold each other up by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we hear Jesus’ words to us sinners: “your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


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