In which I address the “sadness” over the recent Supreme Court Ruling, in the context of Peter’s confession “I am a sinful man.”
When it’s all over, and the fish are gathered, Peter tells Jesus to go away. Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. That wacky Peter. Always the first to speak. Always sticking his foot in his mouth. Of course Jesus knows he’s a sinful man. That’s what Jesus came to fix, isn’t it?
But Peter’s confession, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord” is wise. It shows a healthy fear of the Lord, and what it means to be in the presence of God himself. A criminal in the presence of the police, a condemned man in the presence of the governor. Peter in the presence of the Lord. Peter is not comfortable with his sin like we are, and so his declaration that he should not be in the presence of Jesus seems simplistic to us. After all, we are far more sophisticated than Peter was. We are far more subtle in our sins. And so, we consider ourselves not as naïve as poor old Peter. Certainly not as likely to say stupid things.
And yet, considering that Peter had only recently met Jesus, it is amazing that he has such insight into the whole “Jesus as the Son of God” thing. Peter has the wisdom to recognize that he is unworthy to be in the presence of almighty God. Peter knows that sin is not merely some sort of self-imposed separation, and that if only you work hard to improve yourself then everything is ok. Sin is rebellion – it is treason against the most high God. And it is worthy of death not only in this world, but in the world to come. Under such circumstances, who would want to be in the presence of the almighty and just judge.
Instead of righteous fear, like Peter, we domesticate our sin. We put makeup on the pig to make it pretty. We cover over the rot with a coat of paint and hope God doesn’t notice. We dress up the corpse and put perfume on it to hide the stench of death, and we convince ourselves that we really don’t have that big a problem. That our sins really aren’t all that offensive.
The thought of taking our condition seriously enough to tell God to go away, is foolish and naïve. Of course God wants to spend time with us. Why wouldn’t he? Aren’t we such great people.
And the church aids and abets this glossing over. Not the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church – which speaks clearly God’s word of Judgment. But we want a church that domesticates things. We soften the hard edges of God’s word. We try and wiggle out of what he really says.
We find that there are certain things that are uncomfortable to say, so we don’t say them. Certain sins that are uncomfortable to mention, so we don’t mention them. Meanwhile, we rail against the really bad sins – the obvious ones. The Oh yes, we know those are sins ones. The ones that are easy to pick and rail against. And so we wail and wail, and decry the poor miserable sinners who commit those obvious sins, while the more subtle ones are winked and nodded at, as if, Well, there’s really nothing we can do about those, lest we offend our members.
Our synod responds with sadness to the recent supreme court rulings regarding homosexual marriage, without ever stopping to note that this is a disaster more than a half-century in the making. We can rail against the sin of homosexuality, while quietly allowing all manner of depravity in other areas covered by the sixth commandment, because we are really more concerned about image than about the word of God that condemns every act of uncleanness. We can stand looking sadly at ruling this week and say, “The Supreme Court has destroyed marriage.” Ignoring entirely that Holy Scripture just as clearly condemns divorce, pre-marital relations, adultery in marriage, pornography, any lustful thoughts, and any incitement to those lustful thoughts. And we can stand sadly mourning another loss in the broader culture, or we can ask ourselves what we have done to encourage this sort of thing, how we have looked the other way while the foundations were slowly chipped away from under us.
We can stand solemnly saying, “Depart from him, for he is a sinful man, oh Lord.” Rather than looking at our own sinful heart and saying with Peter, “ I am that sinful man.” Peter is wise beyond our wisdom, because he recognizes that sin leads to death. The only thing he doesn’t realize yet, because he hasn’t been told, is that it won’t be his death. It will be Jesus death. As Paul so eloquently puts it – we preach Christ crucified. That’s what the church is here for. The bring the richness of the mercy of Jesus sacrifice for sin – that is for all the sin, yes, even the ones you commit – to you.
But first, we must stand with Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” For there can be no forgiveness without repentance. There can be no mercy for the sinner, unless the sinner acknowledges the sin. There can be no treatment for illness for the one who refuses to admit the illness. And so Saint Peter’s words, as silly as they seem, are wise words. Depart from me for I am a sinful man. They give Jesus the opportunity to say, “Do not be afraid.” You see that’s what the church is supposed to be in the business of doing. Replacing sin and fear with forgiveness and peace. Do not be afraid Peter, from now on you will catch men. Jesus doesn’t say, although he could have, You will go on to be beaten, despised, condemned, and finally crucified just like me. What’s there to be afraid of, except each and every one of those things! And yet, Jesus, who overcame the world by suffering death, says, “Do not be afraid.” Why? Because Peter’s sins are forgiven him. Peter, the sinner, will be the instrument, the voice that will confess boldly that truth that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God. Peter will see the risen Christ, will preach the risen Christ, will Baptize in the name of the risen Christ. He will bring forgiveness in Jesus name.
And that crucified and risen Christ is cause for celebration. That is where there is true forgiveness, true healing, the true balm of Jesus applied to those who most need it, to those who are, like Peter, afraid because of their sin. Forgiveness given in place of condemnation, regardless of the sin – yes even the ones we say are really bad. It is for those that Christ died. It is for your sin that he died. It is to you that life is given in place of death.
Depart from me for I am a sinful man. Do not be afraid, for your sins, which are many, are taken away. Regardless of what else happens, there is no need to fear. For Christ has redeemed you. He has died for you. He gives you a life not of this world, not of power and of influence, of money and of pride, but a life of service, a life that looks past the glitter of this world, to the life Jesus gives. The life he is. The life that never ends, The life that Jesus gives to sinners.
Do not be afraid.