Monday, April 29, 2013

Ministry and Sin

When I was serving as a full-time pastor, people would occasionally apologize to me for using course language in my presence. Those apologies always amused me, since I am a veteran of the US Navy and have within me the ability to cuss with words that are better imagined than described. I have come to find swearing to be more amusing than offensive.

There’s this thing that people have with Christians in general and ministers in particular: We’re supposed to be shocked by sinful stuff and don’t want to get any of it on us. But the truth is, while we don’t want to be defined and formed by actions and thoughts that veer us away from God, we’re generally pretty cognizant of our own sin (even though we, like most people, tend to overlook some of our sins in favor of others). On top of that, all Christian ministry is engagement with sin.

All of it. Every &#%$ bit of it.

If sin is, as the Bible suggests, missing the mark, straying from the right path and, in general, forgetting about God, then sin is the context for all ministry.

In seeking to minister the healing love and touch of Jesus Christ in a broken and hurting world, we cannot avoid engaging with the sin that wracks the lives of human beings. And, in doing so, we can’t help but come away with blood on our hands, complicit with those whose lives are torn by the sin they have embraced and the sin that has been inflicted upon them. The sinner and the sinned against—those are our people.

For example: I believe that divorce is wrong. All the time. Every time. Without exception. Yet, I have counseled people to file for divorce when abuse and abandonment have destroyed what was once declared to be a marriage. I not only counseled those people to enter into the tragic and broken place of divorce, but I have also gone with them, providing what support I could. I didn’t tell them that divorce, for them, was to be a good thing and that they had followed all the biblical rules for divorcing. I told them that, together, we would be entering in a tragic place and would rely on God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace to meet us on the other side.

For example: I believe that abortion is wrong. All the time. Every time. Without exception. But if someone’s daughter or granddaughter had become pregnant as the result of rape, or her life was significantly at risk because of the impending birth, I would give consideration to abortion, and would stand by the person should the decision be made to terminate the pregnancy. I would not call the abortion “good.” I would know that I was joining in on a willing journey into sin, crying out for God’s forgiveness as we made a painful and tragic choice.

For example: I believe that the laws of the land should be observed and obeyed. But if I were still serving as a pastor and an undocumented worker (code for illegal alien) came to my church, I would offer a safe place. I would not contact the authorities. And I would be a law-breaker. But the law of God’s universal love for humanity would trump my allegiance to the legal system. And if the authorities showed up one day to haul off the worker in cuffs, they would have to bring an extra pair for me. My sheltering of the stranger in the name of Jesus would not shield me from complicity.

Ministry draws us into close proximity to sin. It also brings us in close proximity to Jesus, who is already at work in the most broken, suffering parts of human life.

Jesus—the one called the Friend of Sinners. The one with our blood on his hands.

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