Eugene Peterson, pastor and theologian, once wrote that “Every Congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors.” Peterson reminds us that every Church community is made up of people who miss the mark time and again, and this will never change.
Being a sinner is part of what it means to be human. This awareness that we are sinners deepens our connection with other human beings. Acknowledging our own moral failings enables us to stand in solidarity with those who do the same. When we don’t acknowledge our sinfulness, we separate ourselves from others, and run the risk of judging others. The early Desert Fathers tell the story about some monks who invited ABBA Moses to a meeting to discuss what should be done about a brother who had committed a fault. Moses refused to attend. When he was called again, he came to the meeting carrying a leaking jug of water on his shoulder. When he arrived at the meeting, the brothers asked him why he was carrying the jug. He replied, “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another?” When the monks heard this, they forgave their brother.
Spiritual pride kills churches. This disease infected the 1st century Christians in Corinth, and it has infected churches ever since. What can we do to protect our church from this disease? We can protect ourselves by saying the general confession on Sundays. We can protect ourselves by gathering around the Lord’s Table and remember that it was “on the night he was betrayed” that Jesus took bread—betrayed by us, not just his first disciples. We can protect ourselves by reading the biblical story, a story that reminds us about the ongoing failure of God’s people—then and now—to get with the program.
When we acknowledge our sin, we become aware of how much we need God’s grace to do the work God has called us to do. We then move forward with great humility, realizing that we all have a checkered past, and have no grounds to Lord it over anybody else. Awareness of our failings, we make us less prone to see “the speck in our neighbor’s eye” because we just might be overlooking the log in our own (Mt 7:3).
Remembering that we are all sinners is especially important in our divisive political climate. St. Timothy’s and other churches are not immune from these divisions. As each of us tries to navigate our way through the issues of the day, we will often disagree with people who sit next to us in the pew. As we become aware that we disagree with one another on important matters, we will start to feel ourselves moving away from each other. At such a time, let us pause to remember that there is something which binds us together: we are all sinners in need of the grace of God.