We have a tradition as Lutherans…of seeing ourselves as simultaneously saint and sinner. Not distributed by percentage…like maybe I’m 40% sinner and 60% saint….while you might be 80% saint and 20% sinner…depending on the day.
No…Luther was convinced we were 100% sinner all the time. Because from inside of us comes that long list of Jesus’ evils that defile us — fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. Sometimes the list sounds so archaic and weighty that we fail to recognize our own hearts — but stop for a moment — and find inside you the pride, the arrogance…the need to be right….the easy justification for violence and war…the jealously, the bitterness…the petty judgmentalism — the grudges we carry and the mean and angry words we say or post about those we do not like or disagree with — the addictions to pornography or obsessions with others’ sex lives — the folly….dear Lord, the extent of our folly — our waste of time on things that don’t matter…can we say social media? Can we say Fox news? CNN? 100% Sinner. We can’t escape it, no matter how many self-help books we read or hours we pray. It creeps up on us again and again. We are defiled, through and through.
Every history book, every biography is littered with all the things we humans screw up — over and over again. And there are no exceptions. All of us are in bodange to sin and cannot free ourselves. All of us hurt others with our words and actions…sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. Our capacity to hurt others…and ourselves…is vast. And it even infects our faith. That’s what Jesus is getting at here — how people have used their faith as a justification to malign people, to despise them, to even hate them. Here, the Pharisees are disgusted with Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands the way the Jewish law prescribed. But how many things have “disgusted” people of faith over the generations…causing them to do violence to people’s hearts and souls in the name of God? Luther himself was a vile anti-semite, and his writings were used in justification of the Holocaust.
Yes, we are sinners. And here’s the real rub. We are sinners even when we do get it right. A seminary professor was helping a student in the midst of a difficult life decision…and after deliberating together, he said, “Remember that even if you make the right choice, you’re forgiven.” Yeah. That’s what I said. Even if you make the right choice, you’re forgiven. We think of forgiveness as something we need when we mess up…but forgiveness is what frees us to live…whether we get it right or get it wrong.
Forgiveness is what makes us saints. All the time. 100%. Beloved. Forgiven. Children of God.
Friends, forgiveness is our hope…because getting it right will never be an option. Forgiveness is what Jesus came for — because it’s the one thing the world can’t give. The world has all sorts of ways to improve us. All sorts of ways to make us better people. The world has awesome plans for teaching us to be good communicators and compassionate neighbors. You can go to therapy… and you probably should…to learn how to accept yourself and get “unstuck” and become healthier in your relationships. These things are all good. They make for a better life. Just like the law in scripture can make for a better life — loving God and loving your neighbors. That’s a good thing. But here’s the truth…a reality check….at some point…all of my “goodness”…isn’t going to be enough. At some point, I will find myself dead inside…with guilt…anger… shame… grief…despair…fear. At some point…I will not know how to love God or love my neighbor or love myself and all the balls I am juggling trying to be a good person, trying to get it right….will all fall to the ground. At some point…the evil around me and inside of me…let’s call it “death and the devil”…that’s what Luther liked to call it….will overcome me. Will tell me I do not matter. I am beyond hope. I am a failure. And that’s when I need Jesus.
And let me tell you… I don’t need Jesus to show me how to do better, or encourage me to improve. There are plenty of voices out there and in my head that tell me that. I need Jesus..to tell me that I am forgiven. That there is nothing I could ever do that would make God love me less…or make God love me more. That God’s unconditional regard for me is absolute. And that God raises the dead. That nothing…and noone …is so far gone that they are beyond God’s ability to redeem…to resurrect.
When I am dead…when I can’t juggle one minute longer…I need grace. And I need to know that when I fall apart….when all my goodness collapses ..I fall into the loving arms of God. And I am 100% forgiven…100% beloved…100% child of God. 100% Saint.
Dear friends…we are not at church to learn to be better people. We are here…because we need grace. Because when we are dead, we need to know that God is the God of resurrection.
We are here because we need Jesus — who declares to you…right now..sinner that you are…that you are 100% forgiven….100 % beloved….100% child of God… 100% Saint. …even if you make the right choice.
When you come up for communion this morning…you do not come up to become a better person. You come up to receive the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead and the unchangeable favor of God …for you. You come up to receive in your hand …Christ. And that is our only hope, you see..our hope is in Christ. Not in anyone or anything else. Not in our goodness or anyone else’s goodness. Our hope is in Christ. And in Christ…there is grace. For you. Amen.