This week, I went to Denver for a preaching conference. I had a really good time. There were 1,800 preachers from the US, Australia, Canada, England, and Norway. There were Disciples, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, UCC, all kinds of Christian denominations. The conference was led by some of the best preachers and preaching professors from around the country hoping to share some of their wisdom on preaching. There were 4 days of lectures and worship. It was a great week.
It is rare that I get to worship God in a service where I am not responsible for leadership. This week, I worshipped with my colleagues 4 times. It was great to hear a gathering of 1,800 singing songs like This Little Light of Mine, Amazing Grace, Be Thou My Vision and other church favorites. This conference was quite an experience.
Monday afternoon, before opening worship, I was walking around downtown looking for dinner. There were several guys stopping people to take a survey. One of the guys stopped me to ask me some questions. He opened with, “Are you in town for the preaching conference?” Wow! I know I looked Midwest, but I must have looked like a preacher. Whatever that means.
I stayed out of town and rode the bus into town everyday. Ya know, I lived in Lexington, Ky and worked in Cleveland, Oh. I have seen diverse crowds, but nothing like you encounter on public transportation.
I decided there are 3 types of people who ride the bus. 1) Kids, 2) people who can’t afford cars, and 3) people who want to save the environment by not driving. And, me. I stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the local passengers.
I rode the bus with a blind man, a man in a wheelchair, a guy with a walker, Hispanic kids, African and Asian American kids, Indian Americans and American Indians, old people, low income people, middle class people, a queen and his hag, couples with babies, moms with kids, construction workers carrying tools and lunchboxes, people wearing headphones singing to their music, a young man with a developmental disability, people with lots of tattoos and piercings, people with mullets and purple hair. I heard lots of languages being spoken.
I was quite judgy of my fellow travelers.
I judged the young couple with dazed eyes and smelled like it was a wake and bake type of morning. And, the stoners behind me talking about which screens they use in their bowls.
I judged the people speaking their native tongue wishing they would speak English only so I could hear what they were saying.
I judged one young man who was gay. He didn’t look gay or talk gay or act gay, but I sensed he was gay, because I have really good gaydar. I also judged the girl with him for being poorly dressed. After all, girls have gay friends for this quick wit and fashion sense.
I judged the full-figured woman for wearing stretch pants and a short fitted t-shirt for wearing clothes I thought were inappropriate for our size even though I know how difficult it is to shop for our body type.
I judged the girl with the 4” stiletto heels in a business suit because those shoes are more appropriate for the red room than the Board room.
Here’s a funny one. I stereotype people with tattoos, even though I have 4.
A couple weeks ago, we defined sin as anything that was displeasing to God. I am quite certain that my judgments did not please God. I really try to not be judgmental, but it is probably my greatest sin. When I catch myself doing it, I look at the person I am judging and try to think of something positive about the person, especially that they are a beloved child of God uniquely and wonderfully made.
I’m thinking that I’m not the only one here that is guilty of this sin.
If we’re honest, we may have even done some of the things we judge people for.
I don’t know why I’m so judgmental. I don’t like that I am. Paul in Romans 7:15 wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I can relate. I try to be so inclusive and what to love everyone, but I struggle with my thoughts.
There are a few professors that I really wanted to hear. I read their blogs or listen to their podcasts weekly. I also really wanted to see Nadia Bolz-Weber, a pastor in Denver. I have read her blog and a book she published about her journey. She is known for her tattoos and foul mouth. She has more tattoos than me and she doesn’t hold her tongue. She’s funny.
In her lecture, she talked about sin. In her Christian tradition, she hears confessions from parishioners. She told the story of hearing one person’s confession. She said she was particularly unimpressed by this woman’s sin. She didn’t share what kind of confessions she found interesting compared to others that weren’t so impressive. It seems in some way she rates sin. Another parishioner told Nadia that she was glad that she was her pastor and heard her confessions because she knew Nadia had done far worse than she had. It seems her parishioners too rate sin.
Nadia has been very open about her past before Christ of drug addiction and inappropriate relationships. She is open with her congregation to let them know she knows what they struggle with because she’s been there. I commend her for this because there are very few pastors who are willing to be as vulnerable as she is with a church.
The only thing I don’t agree with her on is rating sin, being unimpressed by sin, thinking that some sin is more interesting than other. I believe sin is sin in God’s eye. I don’t believe He judges a little white lie differently than adultery. The thing about sin is that we disappoint God, not how much we disappoint God.
Our reading today is another from Paul’s letter to the Romans about sin, death, baptism, and grace. Paul questions cheap grace, grace taken for granted. He asks the church, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” His answer is emphatically, “No.”
We know we are forgiven. We died to sin and were baptized into new life with Christ. Our sin has been forgiven, but we continue to sin. Paul tells the Roman church in this chapter that we should not go on sinning, but, in the next chapter, he says he does what he doesn’t want to do.
Paul wrote to his churches about salvation and sanctification. Forgiveness has been granted. We are forgiven what we confess and ask for grace over. But, we can’t just stop sinning. We are called to be holy and are being sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Thes 2:13). We are a work in process.
God’s work with us is not finished. We continue sinning because we have not yet been sanctified. Sanctification is a process. In that journey, we sin because we are sinners in a sinful world. But, we are forgiven and loved and continue to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
We can’t take forgiveness for granted. We are assured of it, but it isn’t an invitation to test God’s grace. As Christians, confessing and being made holy, we try to do what is right. We try to make wise decisions. We hope to be more like Christ and are given mercy when we miss the mark. For, sin is missing the mark and our goal is to be more like Christ.
There’s a reason we call God Father and think of Him as our Divine Parent. Parents know what it is like to be disappointed with a child when he or she makes a poor decision or does something bad. You still love your child, even though sometimes you want to beat the snot out of him. You don’t give up on a child after she does something wrong. You give him innumerable chances to learn because you know he is capable of doing what is right and making wise choices…and because you love her.
God will give us innumerable chances and offers us grace, because He loves us. Sinners, carry on, because we are being made holy through the journey.