He suspected it was an ambush. The sweet-sounding invitation to come over and join her on Tuesday afternoon. The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies wafting through the air. The glass of cold milk sweating on the table. “Have a seat,” she smiled. He did. Polite small talk. He thanked her and ate a cookie. Drank half the glass of milk. Wiped his mouth with the perfectly folded napkin.
“So, you wanted to talk?”
She did. Not about the unseasonably warm weather or her grandchildren’s new puppy. Other things weighed heavy on her mind. She was concerned, she said. There were things he needed to know. Things about someone in the church.
“Oh,” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
Because he just needed to be aware of a bit of this person’s history. You know, since he was the new pastor and everything.
“Oh,” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
He took another bite of cookie. She cleared her throat and began, “Well, Pastor, there’s a person in this congregation who…”
“These are good cookies,” he said.
She was good at what she did. She concealed her frustration. Just an ever so slight tightening of the lips. “Well, thank you,” she said. “So, as I was saying, there’s a person who…”
But again he spoke. “Before you begin, can I ask you something?”
There was that tightening of the lips again. “I suppose, if you must.”
“Are you about to tell me about someone else’s sin? Because if you are, I need you to do something for me first.”
“And what exactly might that be?”
“First, tell me three of your deepest, darkest sins-you know, the ones you’ve been hiding from the world for years, the ones you don’t want anyone to find out about.”
“I can’t do that! Anyway, that’s no one’s business but my own.”
He picked up another cookie. Met her eyes. Chewed and swallowed. Finished off the milk. “So, what I hear you saying is that you are perfectly willing to confess someone else’s sins, but not your own?”
A long silence followed. Finally, she said, “Have I told you about my grandchildren’s new puppy?”
Everyone would rather hear evil than good about his neighbor, says Luther in the Large Catechism. And not only hear, but like the lady in this story, they’d rather speak evil than good about their neighbor as well.
It’s like this: When people hear that God has cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19), there are always some who put on scuba gear. They dive deep and scour the ocean bottom to bring back up those sins for all the world to see. Their treasure will be someone else’s scandalous behavior. And they won’t be stingy with the treasure. They’ll share it. Invite others to break off little pieces of it and carry it in their pockets to show to others.
If you’ve been one of those whose sins have been paraded around for everyone to see, you know what this does to you. You feel branded, like a hot iron has forever burned the words of accusation upon your skin. And it becomes like a phobia. You see a group of people talking, and if one of them so much as glances in your direction, you assume they’re talking about what you did. It swallows up your identity. It becomes how you think of yourself and how others think of you. You are “that person,” the one who did _______.
Even if you’ve confessed your sin and have been forgiven, every time someone brings it up again, you relive the same hurt, feel the same shame-hot on your face. At such times you start to doubt the sincerity of your repentance. Maybe you doubt whether God has truly forgiven you. Perhaps you even question whether you’re a believer. I know. This is my life and it has been for years. This is my daily struggle as well. And here’s what I’ve learned.
I’ve learned that those sins that people want to throw in our face are signs of grace. They are signs of grace because every one of them is painted red with the blood of God. The crucified Christ has transformed them from emblems of shame into icons of love. They no longer define us; the blood of Jesus that covers them defines us. That blood says that you are a child of God. It says that your Father has forgiven you and His word is the only word that matters. Everything else that speaks contrary to this forgiving word is a lie.
Your sins are not branded upon your skin because Christ was branded in your place. That deepest, darkest stain that still bothers you-Jesus became that for you. He took that sin away and will not give it back. And in its place He gives you adoption into the family of God, a clean slate, and all the riches of His mercy.
Your sins have been cast into the depths of the baptismal font. And that saving sea is fathomless. No diver can plumb its depths. No one can bring them up again. God has forgiven and forgotten them. But He will not forget you. Every day, every hour, He says to heaven and earth, “This is my beloved son. This is my beloved daughter. And nothing, certainly no one, will ever separate them from my love in Jesus Christ.”
You are baptized. Your sins are no more. This is the truth that drowns every lie. The truth trumpeted from the cross of love. The truth of a God who will stop at nothing to make you and keep you as His beloved child.
Chad Bird is a member of Crown of Life Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas. His email address is email@example.com