“I didn’t want to preach on condemnation. I wasn’t sure what condemnation meant,” she said, “so I looked it up in the dictionary. It said reprehensible. I have no idea what that feels like. I’ve never felt reprehensible.”
My mouth must have silently dropped open. All I could think was, “I wonder what it’s like to not feel reprehensible.”
The occasion was today, Good Friday in the Christian church. I chose to attend the church where I volunteer for a homeless ministry. The observance today which ran just short of three hours, was to help all of us come to some understanding or even identify with what was going on in Jesus’ life on that final day of it. “Condemnation” fell roughly in the middle of these seven readings of scripture. The others included Jesus prays, Jesus’ Betrayal, Denial of Jesus, Mocking of Jesus, Crucifixion, and Death and Burial. It ended with prayers of intercession for the church, the world, and all those in need.
Oh, in my younger day, I doubt that I felt reprehensible or condemned. I know I tried really hard to fit in with my classmates. I wanted people to like me. I may very well have condemned other people for behavior I found unbefitting. I was willing to pass judgment – too willing. It took me a while to grow out of that, to mature not only as an adult but as an adherent to the faith. I came to understand that I was not to judge others. I was to take the log out of my own eye before criticizing the speck in someone else’s.
That maturity didn’t come easily for me. The apostle Paul talks about how he doesn’t want to sin but he does the very thing he doesn’t want to do and he struggles with that. The point, I think, is that Paul was not a bad guy, but there was sinfulness in him that he had to fight all the time. Well, I’m at least in good company in that area.
But what I also discovered in my professional and adult life is that there are people who find me to be reprehensible and haven’t been shy about expressing that to me.
I’d love to say that I have a sister and two brothers who celebrate “National Siblings Day” as I noted some doing this past week. But, no, our family doesn’t celebrate one another. There is no doubt in my mind that my sister and one brother find me absolutely reprehensible for reasons that either have not been shared with me or for reasons that have absolutely no basis in reality. The tears I have shed over that finally dried up a number of years ago. I just have to accept their condemnation of me and I’m willing to do that as long as they stay out of my way.
In my career as a journalist or in politics, there were folks who found me reprehensible. When you’re the chief spokesperson for a political figure, you’re going to say some things that tick people off. That’s all right. We all have differences of opinion. There were times that condemnation of me really hurt, but I also developed a thicker skin so that I could just stand up against it.
As a minister, and this vocation is partially what made my mouth drop open today as the preacher said she had never felt reprehensible, I worked as an interim pastor in several churches. One might think that ministers are held in high regard by their congregations. And I’m not complaining – I served several wonderful churches and loved them and felt their love. But as an interim pastor, I also found myself in a rather unenviable position of having to correct the path of some of these congregations or individuals within them. Even though the scriptures tell us to help one another do this, no one likes to be corrected. I had folks lash out at me in ways that I never imagined would happen, completely fabricating stories to discredit me and diminish my position in the church and the community. I felt the full force of condemnation and what it was like to be made to feel reprehensible.
In my private life, and in the church as simply a congregant, I have also been the object of stories that have been conjured up about me using just enough fact to make this now much larger story into a condemnation of my very being. It is a puzzle to me why people prefer to spread gossip rather than coming directly to me to ask about these rumors.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. No doubt about it. I’m still with Paul in having sinfulness within me. I’ve also been an easy target because I feel that being direct with people is better than beating around the bush. I have tried to be pastoral in my approach, but there comes a point that speaking boldly about the Word of God means no more pussyfooting.
A friend, a colleague really, in college once assessed me with, “You just strike me as being very up front,” he said. At the time I wasn’t certain what that meant. But as I progressed through my life, I embraced that description and decided it was exactly the way I wanted to be. But being “up front” doesn’t bode well when dealing with people who don’t like confrontation, who are entrenched in their particular way of thinking, who take not only scripture but life out of context and stir it all up to fit their own expectations.
At some point in all of these years I decided that as much as I would really enjoy having everyone like me, I really don’t care if they don’t. As long as I’m actively going through self-evaluation and conferring with others who I do respect so that I can fight the sinfulness within me, if people don’t enjoy me, that’s just fine.
Just over a week ago, I shared with a friend that I had been hurt in the church. “Who hasn’t?” I asked. And I went on to say that any pastor who has not been hurt by the church hasn’t been doing his or her job.
And then, this afternoon, on this Good Friday, I heard a preacher tell me she had no idea what it might feel like to be condemned or found reprehensible. I don’t know her, but I’ve heard very nice things said about her.
The good news for me in all of this and in spite of my surprise that, perhaps, there may not be as many in this reprehensible club as I might have thought, is that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) As long as I do my very best to walk in the Spirit rather than in human terms, there is no need for me to feel reprehensible or allow anyone to make me feel that way. All of that is the result of what Jesus did on the cross for all of us whether we call ourselves Christian or not.
If I were preaching today, that’s what I would share with my congregants.
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”
18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished. – Luke 23:13-25
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:3-6
12 Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. – James 5:12Share here: