Season 8th Sunday of Pentecost
Scripture Acts 9: 1-19
Matthew 7: 1-5
Prayer: God of us all, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our Love and our Life. AMEN.
The other day, a clergy colleague of mine was lamenting that a Christian singing group he was particularly fond of was singing a lot of songs that reflected a poor understanding of God to which I replied, “Sometime you just have to love the singer and hate the song.”
Of course today’s sermon is not about singers and songs, it’s about sinners and sins. In fact it is about yet another Half Truth, love the sinner, hate the sin.
Oh, it sounds nice, doesn’t it. Just like something Jesus might say. The trouble is Jesus never said this one either. In fact, it doesn’t appear in the Bible at all.
The earliest known use of this phrase comes from St. Augustine who used it when he was writing to a commune of nuns around 424 CE. In that letter he encourages then to act with love for the persons and hatred of sins.
More recently, the 1929 autobiography by Mahatma Gandhi says something close, but we must listen carefully. He writes: “hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.”
Gandhi goes on to argue that using this phrase is an excuse to judge another person because it cannot be effectively practiced.
So let’s begin with the first part of our half truth, “Love the sinner.” Chances are good that the people you love are sinners, in fact, it’s almost guaranteed. We all say and do things we shouldn’t, sins of commission, and we even fail to say and do things that we should, sins of omission. However, that is not what Jesus commanded us to do.
Jesus said love your neighbor.
Jesus did not say, “Judge your neighbor.”
This morning I chose the story of Saul’s conversion because it tells the story of a man who confessed to being among the least of the disciples and not deserving of being a disciple because he persecuted the church.” 1 Corinthians 15:9.
Saul was threatening the lives of the Disciples. He had been given permission to take followers of the Way of Jesus out of the synagogues where they were worshipping and bring them to Jerusalem as prisoners. However, God loved this man who was persecuting the church of Christ. So what did God do?
When Saul was struck by a light from heaven on the road to Damascus, and Jesus spoke to Paul, it was God who called Ananias to minister to Saul. Of course Saul later uses the name Paul to preach and write many of the New Testament Letters.
Did Jesus see Saul as a sinner? If he did he didn’t say that. He asked why Saul was persecuting him. Then he gave Saul instructions so that he would find Ananias. Jesus saw Saul, also known as Paul, as a neighbor.
This passage should give us comfort to know that, if God can use a person like Saul, God can certainly use us.
This is not to say that we should not stand against the sin in our world. In the places we see it, we are called to name and address it. Human trafficking, starving children, poor stewardship of the earth, sexual immorality… As I have stated before, for those of us who are among the baptized, we took an oath to resist evil. And resist we must.
However, our job is not to judge others. Yesterday, after quite a bit of thought, I made a decision to boycott Facebook and Instagram (they’re owned by the same company.) I did this because I learned that Facebook targets children for online scams, and also people with gambling problems. I don’t want to be part of that.
Am I being self righteous? Yup.
I’m also listening to my conscience. Yup.
Am I a sinner? Yup.
Does this make me better than anyone else? Nope.
Do I care? Nope.
Should the rest of the world do this? I have no idea, ask them.
Does God care that I’m boycotting Facebook? I don’t think so.
Does God care that we do things that hurt others and thereby separate us from each other. Yes, I do think God cares about that.
The real problem with this phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is that it has most recently been used as a weapon against people in the LGBTQ community.
I once had a person tell me that they had “compassion” for people who identify as gay. What does that mean? I feel sorry for you because God made you a certain way? I feel sorry for you because you’ve found true happiness and love, but not with a person of the opposite sex? I feel sorry for you because together you will never procreate?
My response to that person was, and still is, that gay and lesbian folks don’t need your “compassion”. They don’t care about your “compassion.” They need your justice. They cry out for your justice.
Love the sinner, hate the sin, is just another slick saying that distances us from confronting our own challenges in accepting people. What the Bible says is very simple. LOVE. That’s all. Just love.