January 31, 2014 by Pastor Ben McIntire
This week I got an anonymous call. I’ve received others before, and they drive me nuts. It was a guy who said he was calling churches in the community with some questions. He said, “Last fall there was a wedding announcement for a gay couple in the FAMILY section of the local newspaper. Then there was a front page story on the first baby born in 2014 at the local hospital, and the baby was born to parents who are not married. I want to know why the churches aren’t responding to these things. Why aren’t you writing letters to the editor about these evils? Isn’t that what the churches are supposed to do? The world is going to hell and no one is saying anything. What does your church teach about this stuff?”
My response was, “Who is this?” I was sort of hoping this was some kind of prank, though I knew better. He said his name was “Will,” but who knows. What drives me nuts is that trying to reason, explain, and debate with a faceless, nameless person over the phone is usually a fruitless waste of time. Obviously “Will” had an agenda, and didn’t actually call me to openly engage in a real discussion. I invited him to come in and talk in person; even better, to come to a worship service or Adult Education class and hear what we teach at our church. When that didn’t take, I did actually answer his question:
“I don’t write letters to the editor in response to these issues because I don’t think that is an effective, loving, or grace-filled way to communicate the Gospel. I am not the Morality Police, nor am I a judge. My ministry and the mission of this congregation is to proclaim God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness to everyone. We have all sinned and need God’s grace. What I want people to know is that the church is a place to find forgiveness, healing, and love.”
I won’t repeat the rest of the comments “Will” made because they were not pleasant or wholesome. But this conversation has obviously stuck with me and has caused me to continue to reflect on the issues of morality, mission, and hypocrisy.
First of all, morality. God has indeed given us the Law in his Word. The Ten Commandments are the most obvious place to start, but the Law can be found all throughout the Bible. Certain behaviors are condemned, others valued, and the consequences of sin are shown again and again in the life of ancient Israel as they struggle with God. God is quite clear, when humans sin the results are pain, suffering, brokenness, and ultimately death. Justice requires a punishment for sin, there are penalties for breaking the law including fines and jail time according our civil laws. But with God, there is also always the chance for repentance, grace and mercy.
Next, mission. I feel like the church’s role for far too long has been to sit in judgment of sinners, to condemn the sins of people inside, but especially outside, the church. It has gotten to the point that many hurting people will not turn to the church as a “hospital for sinners” because it functions instead as a “museum of the saints.” As Lutherans we are fortunate to know that we are simultaneously “sinner and saint,” according to Martin Luther’s famous quote. Here our mission is clear, to proclaim the Good News that forgiveness, life, and hope are possible because of Jesus Christ–God in the flesh.
Finally, hypocrisy. Do we ignore sin then, letting everyone do whatever the hell they want? Of course not. We do not ignore sin, yet neither is it our place to condemn. We too are sinners in need of grace. I recently saw a post by a teenager on FaceBook which read, “Don’t judge me just because I sin differently than you do.” Jesus himself said, “You point out the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but you miss the log in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). Therefore, we teach the Law, and proclaim the Gospel. Thanks be to God for His abundant mercy on all us poor sinners. May we be given the courage to admit our guilt, accept God’s grace, and share that Good News with others who need to hear it too.
Heavenly Father, thank you for showing grace and mercy to me. Help me to reflect love and mercy on others rather than judgment and to be an example of your grace in the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.