Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Sinful Man

“But seeing this [great haul of fish], Simon Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord.” --Luke 5: 7b-8


This line has struck a chord with me this week, after using it in the devotional you may find below this entry. It comes only once in the Gospels, here in Luke Chapter 5, and is yet one of those compelling, heartbreaking, transient moments that shows us how one of the disciples really felt about himself in relation to Jesus.

We ask so often, what would Jesus have thought of this? What would Jesus have done? What would God want me to do? Here we find out.

To Peter’s statement, Jesus says, as he so often does, “Do not be afraid.” He follows it up with the famous line from this passage, “ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ἀνθρώπους ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν.” Now things are different, Peter. Now, from this point on, you will be catching people.

What was the fear that Jesus was responding to in Peter’s reaction? His fear of the fish? His fear of what he would do with his life? Or of being sinful?

I have a great fear of being sinful. I am afraid of driving people away if they get to know me too well and don’t like what they see when they look too close. Is this not a pretty common fear, the same one that Peter confesses to Jesus? It is a rather silly and condescending fear. Of course I am sinful. Duh! Like anyone isn’t? simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner. This is the human condition.

There is no intimacy without honesty. And yet, I think a great block to an intimate relationship with Jesus is a fear of confessing who we really are in all of our glory and shame, to our very creator, who already knows these things about us. As though being honest with God will somehow scare God away?

Yet this is just how people have been taught to be before God: clean, upright, upstanding, and stultifyingly nice.

The next reformation of the church will be one of honesty.

“Go away from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord.” I am a man who is, by his nature, a sinner. Unclean. Unworthy. Unjustified. Nasty. Dirty. Out of the norm. Out of bounds. Out of control. Out of luck. Dingy. Ditchy. Switchy, and itchy. I am shady and skanky. Ridiculous, rank, and somehow *less* than holy.

Christian self-abnegation is no more attractive, nor particularly any more effective, than any other variety, just because it is in relation to Jesus. Peter begged Jesus to leave him because of his sinfulness. But Jesus said, “No, Peter, you have some work to do.”


I have often felt like this sinful man during my process of feeling called to the Lutheran ministry. I have been this sinful man. And those along the way have at various times assuaged my sense of sinfulness, and ratcheted it up at others.

I have been waiting for three years for my first call as a minister in the ELCA. In that time, I have received not one interview. My training is the same as my colleagues who have been ordained and in churches for years. My vocation has been tested according to the same standards, and certified according to the same standards. It has not, however, been affirmed by the same standards.

“Go away from us, Chris, for you are a sinful man.” You are an open homosexual. You are defiant in the way you present your sexuality, the way you lead with it. We think our churches will just conclude that you are a sinful man.

This is the reality of what I have felt and at times heard from this process since I was assigned for first call. Not from each of those involved in it, because there have been some wonderfully supportive people, who have affirmed what Jesus said, “There is work yet to do.”

It is easy to get self-righteous, to let the chip on my shoulder, more embarrassing than any other kind of sin, lead, as it were.

Go away from me, Lord, for I have been a proud man, whose pride has not been in you but in my own accomplishments. Go away from me, Lord, for I cannot pray consistently, but I can tell people what I think is wrong with what they are doing. Go away from me, Lord, for my heart wanders far from you.

These are things that should make Jesus go away from us? That would make God cast us off?


Sin is not the definer of who is in or not in relationship with Jesus. And Jesus is not going to depart just because we ask nicely, ashamedly, or any other way.

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Luther puts it another way—“sin boldly! But pray more boldly still.” Pray as if you expect Jesus to stay, rather than to run away.

I’m about as inconsistent of a pray-er as it gets. I do much better when in monastic community, which I have had the pleasure to be on a few occasions for weeks or months. But I don’t know that this is my calling.

I get pretty raunchy at times with Jesus. I just let it all hang out with the Lord, because let’s face it: Jesus knows us already. We ain’t got jack to hide from Jesus, particularly the sinful sides of ourselves that we hide from each other.

“Come close to me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Come closer to me, let me speak my truth to you, which you have given me to live. Give me the words to speak it to others, and to give them the space to speak their truth to me. Speak your truth to me, which is above all others. For however we understand things, your understanding is greater. You are the source of our love, hope, and reconciliation.

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