I want to reflect upon what it means to be a sinner in the context of today's readings.
Paul says 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost'. The Gospel says 'the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to hear Jesus'. Peake's commentary on the bible uses the word 'outcasts' inter-changeably with the word sinners. He says that the Pharisee’s position was that the outcasts had nothing to contribute to Israel, implying that they had forfeited their belonging to the chosen people. Outcast – cast out; outside the law, outlaw.
There were so many ways to be excluded in the Old Testament. The New Testament is the polar opposite. It is about being inclusive and non judgmental. One of the early Church fathers said that the church is a hospital and not a courtroom.
What is theology? The science of God. I like to say that theology does not change except for emphasis.
It depends on your churchmanship whether you see yourself as a saint or a sinner;
I am now going to introduce you to three different theologies each with a different emphasis on how God is understood and the implications for how we think about ourselves, as a saint or a sinner.
If your image of God is a Redeeming God, with a theology of Fall and Redemption, then you will see yourself as a sinner. Christ came to redeem and free you from sin.
If your image of God is a Creator God, found in nature and incarnation, then your theology is of Nature and Grace, and you will see yourself as a saint, albeit with a small 's'. Your theology is that creation is good from the outset and grace builds on nature.
There is a third theology and that is rooted in the New Testament, the theology of the Kingdom of God/the Reign of God that is Pentecostal, emphasising a life in the Spirit. Your theology is about being born again. So its complicated being a sinner isn't it?
There is the classic line that says, “love the sinner and hate the sin” to help us to maintain community and continue being inclusive. We no longer cast out or outlaw people from the Church but we do put limits on behaviour that is deemed un-acceptable. The Church, more and more, values openness, transparency and accountability. Synod debates the big issues so as to develop a theology that reflects a more compassionate and merciful God.
One of the blocks to spiritual growth is having a warped image of God; Having absorbed a negative theology of a god who punishes, disciplines and judges, who needs to be placated out of fear of damnation. Thankfully theologies today emphasise the Love of God rather than the fear of God but what we absorbed at a young age sticks in the psyche. I want to conclude with a quote by Malcolm Muggerage which makes the point regardless of the emphasis of your theology the core teaching of Christ does not change, adapt to the times, nor is it negotiable, “ the invention of the atomic bomb makes the sermon on the mount neither more nor less profound than it is”. The same in our time with Artificial Intelligence and nano-technology, the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin always paint the picture of a loving and compassionate God.
You can download this reflection here.