We love to sing the song. But do we get it? That grace could save “a wretch like me?” Truth is, most of the time, we really do not feel all that wretched. Let’s face it, most days we feel pretty proud of ourselves. Because no matter what we have done, we can always say, “at least I’m not like…” followed by a host of sin and sinners that make our small offenses pale in comparison. It’s a great song. Grace is amazing. But for most of us, it’s an amazing song that we feel compelled to sing to others. You, wretched sinner. Jesus saved you. Isn’t that great news?!
In this desert we call Lent, it is time to sing “i once was lost…was blind,” with a new kind of seeing. Seeing that the log in our own eye makes it impossible to remove a splinter for our neighbor’s. (On a side note: did you ever wonder how a person came to have a LOG in their eye? I know that Jesus was all about metaphor, but come on. that sounds like a monty python moment–i’ve got a log in my eye, it’s only a flesh wound…). We must face the inward darkness and ask, honestly, what about me is a four-letter-word spelled in three–what is my sin? What is it that seperates me from God?
Walking through that valley of self-appraisal alone is something we avoid at all costs. All along the way, we resist our knowledge of the destination. “I’m not sinful,” we say. “I didn’t kill anybody. I don’t do drugs or engage in gratuitous sex. I don’t abuse my children or spouse, I am a just employer. I am generous with my money and time. I have no dark places to explore, so perhaps I’ll just go back home and watch some reality t.v. Those people make me feel so much better about myself…Not that I feel bad.”
If you’re wondering why I have such a word for word account of your trip, it’s because I go on the same one. Often. But might I suggest that, although we are not criminals, ours is just a different shade of darkness. It’s the shade of twilight, the shade of darkness creeping up on you. Your eyes adjust gradually so you don’t quite realize it’s gone full dark until, well, it has.
We tend to adjust our barometers of virtue and transgression based on our own behavior patterns. We, who consider ourselves basically good people, figure that nothing we can do, surely, is as bad as “that” sin of our neighbor. We are not deviant types of folk, geez especially compared to THEM. We are ok. Forever and always, everything about us is ok.
Except this little trip gives shape and dimension to our own greatest sin; a lack of grace toward neighbor that forever validates our own behaviors and existence. At least I’m not… is a judgement call of biblical proportion, and we are exactly the people Jesus invites to throw the first stone. We que up eagerly, stretching out our pitching arm, because the more stones we can hurl at _________ [choose your THEM] the more o.k. we really are. The less we need to follow Jesus down into the valley of doubt and repentance, the less we need to experience the true grace of God, and the less we are enabled to see the holy in the people around us. Gee, it got dark all of a sudden…It’s usually harmless enough, to begin. “They” are just a stone’s throw away, really. The woman in the store who’s not handling her child’s tantrum the way that you would; the #**&$% in traffic who not only cut you off but is driving a HUMMER, of all offensive things; the friend who had a few too many last night and misbehaved in public. It’s usually these smaller things that lead us down the path of self-righteousness. It’s not always the rapists and the serial killers. But herein lies the problem. It is too easy, every second of every day, to find someone around who’s sin is surely greater than your own.
To what shade of darkness does it lead us, this perpetual lifting up of self at the expense of other? Well, it’s a mutli-layered darkness, as most of our shadows turn out to be. For one thing, living on such a high pedastal as we do, we get nosebleeds easily. It’s a toxic place to reside, and our bodies and souls were not meant for the altitude.
For another, so easily calling “foul” on your neighbor means that you routinely miss the opportunity to witness how God is alive in them–because, sinful as they are, God surely lives in them as much as in you. And finally, living in a place of judgement–however good it makes you feel–means that you are not living in the place of grace that your creator intends for you. It means, over and over again, that you don’t get it. That you don’t really get what the whole grace tune is about.
I just realized that in the last paragraph, i went from “we/us” language to entirely “you.” Isn’t that just the way? Talk about not humming the tune… OK, what i mean to say is: loving neighbor as self begins and ends with grace, and it has as much to do with extending grace as with accepting it. (Not that WE ever need to accept it because WE are so totally ok. )
I ramble. But, this little tune will help give some shape to my sermon later. For now, I’m having a coke (real one) and some girl scout cookies to perk me up from an afternoon slump. At least I’m not doing cocaine…