Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Category: Half Truths Series

"Half Truths: Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" - Matthew 7:1-5

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.

Amen

"Half Truths: God Said It; I Believe It; That Settles It"

Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Father, from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit who unites us in faith. Amen.

This time of year the game of basketball is a popular topic throughout our nation, so I thought I’d jump into our discussion about another Half Truth of Christian scripture with a basketball-related story.

One year when I was in high school all the athletes attended an assembly by a sports psychologist. His message was about the power of positive thinking. He told us the story of how he had worked with another high school’s basketball team. This team was having a terrible time at the free-throw line. So he told the team to stand at the stripe and picture the ball going into a giant jar of spaghetti sauce. Not just any spaghetti sauce, mind you, but Prego sauce. Watch this commercial and see if you can make the connection…

Prego, “It’s in there.” Get it? Got it? Good.

The idea was for anyone shooting a free throw to focus on this image and three-word phrase, “It’s in there,” in order to block out all negative thoughts. The sports psychologist said that the high school team ended up winning the state title that year due in part to their incredible free-throw percentage. 

I remember going home that night, grabbing my basketball, shooting free-throw after free-throw in my driveway, each time picturing the giant jar of spaghetti sauce, each time saying aloud, “Prego, it’s in there.” And I tell you what…very few went in. Truth be told, I was at that assembly because I was on the tennis team; I’d never been a part of a basketball team, nor been taught correct basketball-shooting form. No matter how confident and positive I was when I shot the ball, my confidence and positivity could not make up for my lack of training and skill. 

I tell you that story because it highlights the need for education and humility – two things our world and our religion is in desperate need of right now.

Here’s an image that gets right to the heart of the matter.

PeanutsTheology.jpeg

This comic strip was my computer wallpaper during seminary. Many of my seminary classmates made it seem as though they were there in order to defend their faith against any new knowledge, insight, or questions posed by the professors. I was amazed at how often seminary students would argue against the professors, without having allowed themselves to contemplate the new insight. It was a very different approach than I had experienced as an undergraduate student, where vigorous debate took place after we had a chance to reflect on the new ideas.

These students would have loved this Peanuts comic strip because they interpreted it as something they would say to a self-righteous professor who was threatening their faith - an accusatory, “You’re wrong. I’m right.”

I, on the other hand, had already endured the painful process of having my adolescent faith transformed as a result of asking tough questions and allowing doubt to ferment my faith. I loved this Peanuts comic strip because it reminded me of the attitude I needed to have in order to continue to learn and grow in my faith. Admitting that I could very well be wrong about a great many things opened me up the entirety of a high-quality seminary experience. And to this day this idea serves as my framework of faith - a faith guided by the pursuit of knowledge born out of a spirit of humility. 

In other words, I read this comic and see the complete opposite of the Half Truth, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” 

Too often we mistakenly think of faith as believing the right things and having the right answers (or if we don’t have the answers, not even bothering to ask the questions). However, throughout Christian scriptures, history, and liturgy, a great many references are made to the life of faith as a journey or pilgrimage.

In Acts 22, the apostle Paul refers to his past experience persecuting “the Way.” There are other references to early Christ-followers as “People of the Way.” The very reference to “Christ-followers” implies movement. The very notion of repentance has at its root the Hebrew practice of Teshuvah - a joyful return to the path in which God is leading you. 

Yes, there are times when we settle in God-ordained places for a while (metaphorically speaking), but God always uproots the settlers and sends them on their way once more. One of the most powerful images of this taking place is the image of Jacob wrestling with the angel and walking away limping. Authentic encounters with God change everything, particularly the direction or way in which we continue on the journey.

I came across this brief film interview with Greg Boyd, a pastor in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In this film, Greg rather succinctly explores implications of raising one’s certainty above one’s capacity to question, doubt, and wrestle with God. I wanted to share this clip with you and I hope it speaks to your heart.

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.