Jesus’ People, Forgiven and Loved

October 21, 2018


There are times when a scripture passage really hits home…today is one of those times for me.  Not the Mark scripture, but rather the verses we heard Ann read from Hebrews, especially the second and third verses in speaking of a priest.

“He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.”

Most Sundays I stand up here in front of you praying on the behalf of all of us that God will forgive us our sins, I then invite you to take some time in silence to confess your sins to the Lord.  If you have noticed, at that point I also turn around and face the altar joining with you as part of the congregation, so that I too can confess my sins.

The confession and forgiveness is one of the most meaningful parts of the worship service for me, especially those moments of silence as we silently speak to the Lord, and then in union confess our imperfect humanity to Jesus.

Why that moment?  Because, in that silence we might reach our greatest moment of unity and agreement in the entire week.  For in our common silence each of us confesses to the Lord our sins.  In that moment none of us is better or worse than any other, in our sin, we are all equal sinners in the eyes of God.  Each of us is a sinner who can only give her or himself over to Jesus for redemption.  This communal moment of honesty is important for us as Christians.

We spend much of our lives comparing ourselves to other people, don’t we?  We compare and contrast who we are, what we do, how we look, what we earn, what we have, and a whole host of other things.

I know we can never completely stop comparing ourselves to others, but I do know that if we could learn to do this less, and find ways to find joy in whom God has created us to be, there would be a lot less stress, money spent on therapists and drugs, legal or not, and a lot more happiness and healthy relationships.

As Christians, we even, hopefully only sometimes, compare and contrast our perceived righteousness, or holiness with what we perceive as other’s righteousness, or holiness.  The hurtful thing though, is that we tend to do this by comparing and contrasting our sinfulness to that of others.  The contrasting of one Christian’s sins against another’s, is an exercise that is not helpful in the least, to ourselves, or the health of the Christian community.

In his book to the Romans Paul writes, “For we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Jesus is not into ranking our sins, though we have a human tendency to do so.  To Jesus, a sin is a sin.  Any sin is a separation from God, and a detriment in our relationship with him, and too often that sin, also separates us from our neighbors with whom we share the world.

If we want to concentrate upon someone’s sins, they should be our own, for as Jesus taught, “Before you point out the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye, you need to look at the log in your own.”

I want to make a little change of direction right now, as we are thinking of how we compare and contrast ourselves, and other people.

As much as it is dangerous to be spending our time comparing people’s sins, as dangerous can be the lifting of another person into a different state of, ‘holiness’ or, ‘worthiness’ or, ‘righteousness.’

Though we seem to think that it is alright to lift someone up above others in this way, I believe that this type of contrasting and comparing is also dangerous.

An incident that highlights this reality took place when I was serving in my first congregation.

One Sunday morning, immediately following the worship service I had walked back into the sanctuary to go to the  pulpit to pick up my sermon.  As I was walking past the base of the steps leading up to the altar, the elderly lady who had given the flower bouquet that morning, asked me something, and because of the way that she asked her question, I have never forgotten it.

She asked, “Pastor?  Can you go up and get my flowers from the altar, I am not worthy to go up to the altar and get them.”

I stopped, stunned by her assumptions.  In an instant I calculated, “If she is not worthy, then neither am I, for we are both sinners.”

I responded to her, saying, “You are as worthy as me, but to save you from needing to climb the steps, I will get them for you.”

I don’t know what she thought of my comment, I do know though that she was happy to get her flowers!

Her comment on worthiness highlights this other type of contrast within the Christian community.  That is, to exalt certain people above others, usually because of the office or position they hold, but also, it can be the result of what they might do, or say.

In the incident just shared, the lady presumed that since I was her pastor, I was more worthy than her, in the eyes of God.  People often make these presumptions about priests, pastors, evangelists, and religious leaders of any kind.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard some variation of the line, jokingly or not, “Hey pastor, could you put in a good word for me, your closer the Almighty than I am.”  Or, “You’ve got a direct line to God, could you tell him we need rain!”

Often these things are said with a smile on the face, and twinkle in the eye, but they can only come from a common misperception that some people are more worthy than others.  Where this misperception gets dangerous is when a religious leader who is lifted up in this way, starts to believe the hype.  How many pastors, bishops, and T.V. evangelists have we seen act in a, ‘holier than thou’ manner, thinking that their will and their ideas are the same as God’s?  Too often.

It’s not good to lift a human up in such a way, in fact as I said, it’s downright dangerous!

Today we also heard Jesus’ response to the argument over who was greatest amongst the disciples, again, it was that crucial teaching of Jesus, a teaching to help us in our human relationships, “…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

And that is why these verses from Hebrews are so important to read and learn from.  In these words we are reminded that us religious leaders, priests, evangelists and pastors, well, we are sinners too, and that there is only one who is righteous, only one who is worthy, only one who is perfect, and so, can claim the title of Savior.  Who is that?

Jesus, of course.  He is why we are here, why we call each other sisters and brothers.

Jesus came to walk amongst us as God’s obedient suffering Son, his suffering led to death, death itself was conquered by his resurrection, which makes Jesus the source of our salvation.

So, if our loving God, who is perfection is willing to come down and humbly live amongst us, so that we might be given salvation through his suffering, death, and then resurrection from death.  We then must be able to…humbly…share this good news with the world, in a way that will speak to them.

We cannot share the gospel news of Jesus’ gift of everlasting love as we publicly bicker and fight over who is the greatest within Christianity, or who has the most correct theology, no.  No, the world has seen enough of Christians fighting, and heard enough of our public bickering.  Like the disciples who were caught bickering, and the religious leaders who are humbled by their sins, our church bodies and denominations must admit to their failings, stop their public fighting, and humbly put their time and effort into loving the world.

Remember how I was sharing with you my favorite moment of the worship service?

That moment of union when we stand together as the sinners we are, well that moment culminates with Jesus’ forgiveness being spoken to us, each one of us, and so we end up standing together in solidarity as the forgiven people of God, graced with his love.  A people called together to walk forward into our lives each week as Jesus’ humbly forgiven people.

We are not called to be perfect people, but rather forgiven people.  We are forgiven so that we can put our sins behind us, and humbly walk forward in our lives.  For when we meet other people and interact with them, share our lives with them, and we do so as forgiven sinners, we give Jesus the chance to shine through our words and actions.

Jesus never met a person in need from a place of superiority, he never looked down upon them as ‘holier than thou’ but instead as a brother, a friend willing to listen, willing to engage, willing to love the other as humbly as if Jesus was the least person on earth, and the other the greatest.  In doing so, he changed…he transformed their lives through his love.

Jesus can and does the same today, but through us.  It is our listening ears, our engaging with the person who needs talk, to be befriended, who needs to be met with forgiveness and not condemnation.  Jesus loves us, so that we can share his love with our neighbor, whoever that might be, and pray that the Holy Spirit can work and move in that person’s life, like God, the Spirit moves through our lives, that they might ask for forgiveness, confess belief in Jesus, and receive salvation through God’s grace.

We are Jesus’ feet, hands and voice upon this earth, so, let us humbly, walk, do and speak, always going to the source of salvation for forgiveness, and love.


Bible References

  • Hebrews 5:1 - 10
  • Mark 10:35 - 45



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