"Half Truths: Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" - Matthew 7:1-5
Jesus said, "Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. For with the judgement that you make you, you will be judged, and the measure that you give will be the measure that you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye."
I’m sorry I can’t give credit where credit is due, but I just can’t remember where or from whom I first heard this. But some time ago, I read about someone who challenges the way we introduce ourselves and our friends and family to one another, in our culture.
The suggestion – which I think holds water – is that how we introduce ourselves and each other when we meet is limited, incomplete, and uninspiring, to say the least. Of course we start with a name, like Brandy, Andrew, Joyce, or Aaron. And generally, the next thing we think to say about someone is what they do for a living – where they work – if they’re an adult, for example. And, if it’s a kid or a young adult, the most we offer up is their age, or their grade in school, or maybe what university they attend and what they might be studying.
Like Brandy is a teacher and Andrew's in 8th grade and Joyce used to work for an architectural firm and Aaron's a pastor. But those of you who know these people know they are a whole lot more than just that, right?
Like Brandy is a kindergarten teacher, which does say a thing or to about the state of her soul. But she calls her students her "FRIENDS," and she has a wall of crosses in her house from all over the world, and she offers a great ministry of hospitality around here, making dinners for us and for the Agape ministry downtown, where we participate once a month. And Andrew Peterson is an 8th grader, but he's also a student athlete, who's thrilled to be helping lead our Palm Sunday worship next week as part of our Faith Formation class. He also has a crazy love for really expensive tennis shoes. And Joyce is also from Minnesota, she’s the Altar Guild queen around here, and she stitches all of our baptismal napkins and cooks the most delicious food and plays the piano beautifully when she thinks no one’s listening. And Aaron’s a Pastor, but please don’t ever forget that pastors have a lot more going on in their lives than what you see up here on Sunday morning. He plays the guitar and brews beer and can really, really sing. And he’s a Buckeye, too.
So I got to thinking, if we don’t take the time to see or to say what’s most important or interesting about the people we like and love, in some instances, when we introduce them; if the first, easiest, most accessible, identifying characteristics we can use to describe or introduce someone we know are so surface-level and limited, how deeply are we considering the hearts and minds and lives of people we don’t know; people we haven’t met; people the world around us would give all kinds of reason NOT to know or like or love in any meaningful way?
…which brings me, in a strange way, to our “half-truth” for the day, and the last in our series for this Lenten walk: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
See, I think the ease with which some of us have accepted this “half-truth” is an identity issue for Christians. We use this “half-truth” to justify a pretty simple, incomplete, uninspiring, unfaithful way to engage people in the world around us – or not. Even more, to love people in our lives or out there in the world – or not – has everything to do with how we understand ourselves – and others – fully, as children of God – or not.
And, when it comes to “loving the sinner, but hating the sin,” all of it smacks of a by-product of what we have come to call “tolerance,” in our culture. In our day and age, we pretend that the notion of “tolerance” is a good thing; a positive thing; the politically correct thing; maybe even a Christian thing, if you ascribe to today’s “half-truth.” But I’ve always hated the notion that “tolerance” – when it comes to people – is some kind of virtue. After all, who here longs to be “tolerated?”
We “tolerate” a distracting noise when we’re trying to concentrate. We “tolerate” a slow computer or a technical difficulty when we have to. We “tolerate” pain when we are sick or injured. We don’t “tolerate” people.
I mean, we shouldn’t merely “tolerate” people of color. We shouldn’t merely “tolerate” people who are Muslim or Jewish or who believe differently than we do. We shouldn’t merely “tolerate” people who are poor. We shouldn’t merely “tolerate” people whose identity, the very nature of their being, is lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or queer. And we shouldn’t merely “tolerate” sinners, either.
People are not meant to be “tolerated,” according to Jesus. People are meant to be loved, like neighbors, and that’s a high calling for Christians who want to walk in the ways of God.
Today’s “half-truth” – “Love the sinner, hate the sin” – is a “half-truth” because it pretends to give us license to walk around looking for specks and counting the sins of others, first, while we are, all the while, so burdened and so blinded by our own specks and our own sins, that we can’t see the fullness of anyone for who they really are. What “Love the sinner, hate the sin” tempts us to do is to walk around in the world, identifying people first by their sin – or by our own arbitrary measuring stick of sinfulness – so that we – from the lofty heights of our self-righteousness – might benevolently, graciously tolerate them, in spite of it.
Good Lord is there any doubt why people are hesitant to join us for what we try to do in the world?!?!?
I did some light reading over Spring Break last week. By “light reading” I mean I read a book called The Autobiography of an Execution, written by a death penalty lawyer in Texas, and I’m in the middle of The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer’s 1000 page opus about the life and crimes and trial and capital punishment of Gary Gilmore.
Both authors do such detailed, in-depth, careful research and reporting about their subjects – I mean they introduce them, if you will, not first – or solely by their crimes – so that you can’t help but see – even the most guilty, heinous criminals among us – as people; people with pasts; people with problems; people with personalities and gifts, even; but people whose sins – however inexcusable by my estimation or yours – were influenced and encouraged by so many circumstances that were beyond their control, and that are too R-rated to discuss here: absent parents … astonishing poverty… and unimaginable abuse – the likes of which most of us will never know and couldn’t dream up in our worst nightmares.
What these stories… what today’s “half-truth”… what the ways of Jesus and the Cross of Calvary… all remind me is that each of us – every one of us, bespeckled though we may be – is so much more than the sum of our sins, as far as our creator is concerned.
Like so many of the other “half-truths” we’ve been dealing with the last five weeks, the antidote to this one, as far as I can see, is humility in ourselves and grace for one another.
So our challenge as followers of Jesus, is to walk around in the world still wet with the water of our baptism; water that identifies us, first, as children of God; water that invites us into a new way of life; water in which we are forgiven in all the ways we need God’s grace; and water that washes the logs from our eyes and the sins from our souls, so that we might see others as though we are looking into a mirror – not through a magnifying glass; so that we will see others as God sees us all: speckled and sinful; broken and in need; lost but loved, anyway, by the same God who created us all… loves us still… and that calls us to love others – and to mean it – in return.