Preacher: Catherine Staziker, Cathedral Reader (2006-2010)
21 September 2008, 09:45 (Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist)
Proverbs 3: 13-18, 2 Corinthians 4: 1-6, Matthew 9: 9-13
Sin - an action or condition of living in opposition to God’s truth”i
A good neighbour, dependable, honest and upright. A regular churchgoer, at ease and familiar with the liturgy. A regular giver and part of the church community. A lawful and obedient citizen, a loyal believer. Someone who generally does what is expected by society and does what is right, correct and appropriate.
Do I recognise myself here? Do you recognise yourself here? Hmm, possibly the definition of a Pharisee! Pharisees - often presented as Jesus’ opponents in the gospels, but also seen as society’s “good people”.
What about: Selfish, thoughtless, proud, weak, unforgiving, unkind, judgemental, inward looking, conceited, pious? Pharisees? Or?
And then Thieves, Paedophiles, Prostitutes Murderers, Terrorists, Adulterers Rapists, Bullies? Obviously sinners! “Thank God we’re not like those people”!ii
Tax collectors, Debt collectors, Bailiffs, Beggars, Lepers, Social outcasts, Those with mental illness, Misogynists, Homosexuals, The poor, Tramps, Drug addicts, Alcoholics.
“God I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, unrighteous folks, adulterers, or even like that tax collector over there.”iii Sinners? What do you think?
Teachers, Doctors, Nurses, Ministers, Sinners? Obviously not! Or??
Who are the righteous and who are the sinners? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Complicated, isn’t it? Well, actually, you know, it’s not our place to judge. That right belongs to God, and to God alone. ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’iv Jesus’ words when the Pharisees condemned the woman who had committed adultery to death by stoning.
To be without sin would be to be perfect. And, as we know, we are imperfect; it is part of being human. Jesus called didn’t choose perfect human beings as his disciples. He chose a bunch of sinful, imperfect, flawed people, like Matthew. Matthew, a tax collector, the worst of the lot in Jewish society. When called by Jesus, by God’s grace he didn’t question the command, He simply trusted and followed. He didn’t say: “I can’t possibly follow you; I am a mess”. Jesus’ disciples knew they were sinners. They knew they were in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Sinners. Just like Matthew, just like the Pharisees, just like us. We need the doctor to heal and forgive us.
As Christians we are invited to “own up” to the conflicts that are going on in our lives. We are invited to be honest with ourselves and with God. As today’s Epistle says, “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides”
It is easy to make judgements, especially in situations which we have never had battle with personally. Our judgements are always coloured by our own experiences, our prejudices and our sinfulness, however hard we try to filter them out. We must always question our convictions and positions. We must listen carefully to our "Thank God that I am not like . . ." prayers. It is easy for us to make thoughtless judgements. To end up treating those with whom we differ in un-Christ-like ways. Interestingly the things which often irritate us most about other people are those things which we don’t like about ourselves, either consciously or subconsciously.
It may not be an easy concept to accept that forgiveness is a gift from God, AVAILABLE TO ALL. But, remember it is God, and God alone, who sits in judgement. It is NOT our business to look at others and condemn their sins. Our business is the proclamation of the Gospel of Love “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. vi
I wonder, if you knew everything about me, all my sins, what you would think of me? Would you still like me? My failures, my shattered dreams, my guilt, my imperfections? God knows absolutely everything about me: that which I have told him, and that which I have left unsaid. And I can say to him, “here I am in the mess of life, bad bits and all.” And yes, he loves me unconditionally. As a recovering perfectionist, it has taken me all my life to be able to say this, not an easy journey! “I am wonderfully and fearfully made in God’s image”vii. We are all wonderfully and fearfully made in God’s image.
Confession, either privately or publicly, and the receipt of absolution are tremendously therapeutic (if sometimes painful) acts. But through bringing our fragmented selves before God, just as we are, we can receive the gift of healing and wholeness – integration. If we bring the bad bits out into the open, they cease to have power. We learn from our experience of sin and all the pain that brings. But there is also resurrection. Sin and forgiveness. Death and resurrection, over and over. We are all sinners, what matters is how we use these sins creatively.viii. And, as we are forgiven our sins, we must forgive others.
Just like Saint Matthew, we are all sinners.
Just like Saint Matthew, we are all forgiven our sins.
Just like Saint Matthew, we, SAINTS AND SINNERS are called to FOLLOW.
I leave you with a wonderful image of forgiveness from Austin Farrer:
God forgives me with the compassion of his eyes,
but my back is turned to him.
I have been told that he forgives me,
but I will not turn and have the forgiveness,
not though I feel the eyes on my back.
God forgives me,
for he takes my head between his hands
and he turns my face to his to make me smile at him.
And though I struggle and hurt those hands,
for they are human, though divine
– human and scarred by nails –
though I hurt them,
they do not let go until he has smiled me into smiling;
that is the forgiveness of God.ix
iii Luke 18: 11
iv John 8: 7
v Matthew 12.31: “Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
vi John 13:34
vii Psalm 139
viii Judy Hirst, Struggling to be Holy
ix Austin Farrer, Said or Sung (The Faith Press, 1960), p59