Easter - 2018

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sinner ... Jesus is your friend!

Why do we make it so hard? We ask today…who is Jesus? He is the friend to sinners. Sinner: in ordinary speech, it means someone who is deeply depraved, evil, bad. However, that's not what the Christian faith means by the word. In Christian belief, 'sinner' is not a moral description, but a relational one. Sin is the broken state of our relationship with God. There's a distance, a gap between us (with the rest of the created universe) and God, a distance far too wide for us to cross over, a distance bridged only by God's act of coming over onto our side of the gap through Jesus Christ (God-with-us) and the Spirit that Jesus sent in His place. The nicest, kindest, most spiritual, and most virtuous of us is a sinner. The vilest, darkest, crookedest, most evil of us is a sinner. Everyone in between is a sinner. God loves each and all of these sinners. And Jesus is the friend of Sinners.

Perhaps it would be best to use a word, which lacks the moralistic overtone of 'sinner'. That overtone undercuts the Christian message of grace for those on our human side of the divide. I would love to look at the good and pretend the bad away, it's so much happier -- but it is unreal. The words often put forward to replace 'sin' and 'sinner' fail to catch enough of the negative quality of that divide: it is very bad for you (in fact, fatal) and is far from what God wants for you. Because the broken relationship is so bad for us, it has profound and deep effects on all of us and all we do. It is a part of our human identity and character (that which makes each of us who/what we are), whether we want it to be or not.

The Bible has all sorts of words to describe sin. The most striking of these is Heb. mešubah (infidelity); the covenant people Israel was chasing after other lovers, as the prophets described it. In the Hebrew Scriptures, other words include ‘ahar (transgression, law-breaking), ma’al (trespass), ‘awon (straying, wandering), tum’ah (becoming unclean), beged (disloyalty, treason), and peša (revolt, rebellion). The image of sin, which the New Testament most picked up on, was the idea of an archer missing his mark (Heb. chatta’t, Gk hamartia). Anyone who does these is in some sense a 'sinner'. The origin of hamartia is the reward from competition; due to missing the mark badly or often, the archer has no (ha-) share in the allotment (mer-) or prize.

Notice that these are word-pictures, metaphors that help to describe something that has so many angles that no mere word or even phrase can quite hit the mark. You can picture someone straying from the path into the dangers of the woods, getting lost. Another image is being soaked through and through with pig-mud. Some of these are relational, others personal, or ritual, or societal. Sin is so pervasive, it colors everything we do. We all do these things, in all sorts of ways, thus we are all sinners. Jesus is a friend to sinners.

You know I love ya, Don

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