Two Very Different Groups, the Same Need
There’s an old saying that affirms “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” As we celebrate the central events of our faith during Holy Week in 2013, I will speak to two very different groups. Friday afternoon and Sunday morning I will celebrate with regular church-goers. Thursday and Sunday evenings I will be with prisoners. What a vivid reminder that will be to me that our need of Christ’s provision is exactly the same for all of us. In society at large, we all are used to being ranked in a certain pecking order. Some of us are seen as being more worthy, valuable and acceptable based upon our position, job, and perceived goodness. Our acts of devotion, good deeds in the community, and politeness reinforce that we are a cut above the rest. It can be real easy for us to act like the Pharisee Jesus condemned who said to himself, “I am glad I am not like other people.”
I know of a pastor who followed a well-known pastor who was very politically involved calling America to repent and reverse its moral decline. The new pastor began to preach that the people in the pews needed to repent of their sins as well. This caused quite an uproar. They had been so used to being told the people outside the church needed to repent that it never dawned on them that they needed repentance. They were offended by their new pastor’s message. But of course, he was right. We all need repentance regularly.
When we come into the church our humility about our own sins should be so evident that people feel the ground is level and we all have the same need of a Savior because we all are sinners in God’s sight. This is healthy and is the basis for us reaching out to people who seem to be in greater need than we are. I say “seem” because in reality our need is exactly the same.
As an example, the 6th Commandment “You shall not murder,” takes us in this direction. Jesus taught that we can be guilty of murder of the heart and even words of contempt are a form of abuse that breaks the 6th Command. Jesus also taught that failing to help anyone we are in a position to help is abuse because we are withholding the help they need. When we look at it like that we all stand condemned. Our hearts are just as polluted as those committing the outward acts. In fact, our pride may be even worse because we are not admitting the forms of abuse we engage in which God sees and condemns. As I came under personal conviction of this, I shed tears of sorrow in my study as I realized how deep sin truly goes in all of us.
This is a hopeful message indeed. Church should be the most accepting place in the world. Not the most tolerant, but the most accepting. We must hold up God’s standard and hold it high. But at the same time we hold forth a Savior who died on a cross in place of one murderer (Barabbas), and who died between two other crosses holding two other murderers (likely friends of Barabbas). That’s what we all are and only those who confess it can find grace. This will keep us from coming to church with a smug attitude of self-righteousness. It will also cause us to have compassion on those who seem to have fallen deeper into sin than we have. The truth is we all have fallen deep into sin and are dependent every day on our Savior for forgiveness and daily renewing in grace. It is when we see this level ground that we are in a position to truly be an effective church where we are all beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.
Your friend, on level ground, Pastor Brian (:-}).