|6/8/2017 9:00:00 AM|
Good news for sinners
All are welcome in this Church
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGERFollow my logic: Christ is always good news for sinners. That, we know from the Scriptures.
People in any kind of trouble were always better off for meeting Christ. Those who were the most down and out, the most marginalized people in society -- lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and so on, all presumed sinners -- not only found acceptance in the presence of Christ, but welcome and deep healing.
It follows that disciples of Christ -- and a disciple is someone who imitates the master -- would also be good news for sinners.
The Church is a community of disciples of Christ, is it not? If so, then it follows that the Church is a community where sinners find welcome and healing.
But is that your experience? Is the Church good news for sinners?
In reality, whether we think of it or not, that is what the Church is called to be: a community of sinners who are forgiven and healed. What else is it that unites us? Is it not our recognition that we need a Savior, that we are doomed without one? Is it not our joy in finding that Savior in Christ, who forgives our sins and feeds us with His own holiness, that is the reason for our coming together to celebrate and to live that life of constant forgiveness?
Unlike any other group or society, being a member of God's people is not fundamentally based upon earning a degree, paying a membership fee, knowing the right person, being born in a certain place or to a certain family or being a certain, age, sex, height or weight.
Anybody -- and in our parishes, we can probably testify to this from personal experience -- can walk into the church, sit down next to us in the same bench and eat, quite literally, the same food at the same table.
I do not use the word "food" lightly. That food, as we of faith know, is the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Not everyone is comfortable with this reality, however. We know how much, in Christ's time, so many of His contemporaries -- especially many of the Pharisees and teachers of the law -- objected to the fact that He wanted to include sinners.
They thought he was perverting religion! Nobody ever formed a religious community around sinners. On the contrary, it was only those who followed the rules of the faith and measured up (in their estimation) who belonged in their company.
Christ actually scandalized some people because He touched the ritually unclean, did the "work" of healing on the Sabbath and, worse yet, shared a table with sinful people. He was challenging the whole concept of what a religious community is.
But Christ certainly knew something about community, having come eternally from one! He, the incarnate Word and second person of the Blessed Trinity, knew more than anyone what it meant to be a part of a loving community.
This community is built around a joy that is shared equally, without any sense of superiority. All other communities base their sense of belonging on some kind of superiority: One is a member of this club or that society because he or she, in some way, is deemed superior to those who are not.
When Christ decided to establish His Church, He built it around His experience as God. Of course, the only way He could do this was to forgive sinners, because, without this forgiveness, none of us could be a part of His holiness.
What a price he paid for that! The joy of being a member of Christ's family, the Church, is based upon the continual experience of being a sinner who is forgiven.
If that is what we all really are, then how can we refuse a seat -- or a smile or a handshake -- to anyone, sinner like us all, who comes to be welcomed and healed?
(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)
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