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Rev. Harrison Goodman
For some reason we treat sin as if it's completely different from sickness. I've seen cancer destroy lives, but I've seen sin crush people, too. Sin breaks stuff.
When we read about Jesus walking up to a blind man and restoring his sight, nobody asks why the blind man didn't just decide to start seeing without Christ. Nobody wonders if he just didn't really want to see until Jesus came along and told him it would be a good idea.
When someone wrestling with depression and hurt, like my friend whom we'll call Ashley, comes to us for help, we don't see them like the blind man. When I was 17 and I saw cuts on Ashley, my first instinct was always to tell her something that boiled down to stop being hurt. Fix yourself. Platitudes. When she was still hurting, I wondered if she just didn't want to feel better. It sounds stupid. It is. When we pretend sin doesn't break stuff, we always end up imagining the problem can be fixed internally. It can't.
Ephesians 2:1-5 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved
Dead means dead. If we are dead in sin, we can't just choose to stop being dead. We need to be made alive. The answer isn't inside of us. God sends help externally. Jesus became man, not inside my heart, but outside of my broken heart in real flesh and blood. Jesus didn't just tell me "stop being a sinner." He died on a cross for me. He doesn't just live in my heart. He really rose from the dead. All of this is external, because telling a blind man to decide to stop being blind won't work any more than telling a sinner to just decide to stop hurting. Jesus saves us from the outside in.
But we still feel broken. Ashley was still depressed and cutting herself. God's answer wasn't just "think really hard about the cross." The answer isn't inside of us. God sends help externally. The cross doesn't exist only in your heart. It's brought from the outside to your heart, to heal, to help, to save. He makes that cross real and present from the outside in. He gives you communion, the very same blood shed on the cross for you is given for you to drink. His help always comes from outside of us. You don't need to imagine the cross and make yourself feel better. Jesus sends His Body and Blood across time and space to bring all of the peace of the cross to you for when you can't just feel better.
God always answers externally. Outside of us. He sent Jesus to die on a cross to forgive your sins. He sends His Sacrament to you to deliver that forgiveness to you. He works through people, too. The answer is always outside of us.
One of those people will be called a pastor. He deals with sin. He was sent with words that aren't his own. God has sent Him to speak peace to you. We call it absolution. "In the stead and by the command of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." That's God speaking literal forgiveness through a guy He sent to help you. God doesn't expect you to think your way to absolution, so He sends someone equipped to help. Your parents might have a tax guy because they can't figure out how to do their taxes themselves. You have a sin guy, sent by God to deal with your sins, because you were never supposed to be able to handle sin yourself. Use him. It doesn't matter if your pastor is 25 and knows all your favorite bands or 80 and can't work the Internet. It doesn't even matter if he understands your motive, because God can still work through Him. Your pastor was only sent to bring you God's words, not his own. He has God given words. "In the stead and by the command of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." That really works.
Some of those people God sends will be called doctor. They deal with medicine. God loves your soul, but He loves your body, too. It's not an either or. It's both. Don't think that because you have Jesus you don't need doctors, or because you have doctors you don't need Jesus. I wasn't Ashley's pastor or her doctor. It wasn't my job to fix her. It wasn't my vocation. I cared for her, but just because you really love your grandma with cancer doesn't mean you should handle her chemo instead of her oncologist. Ashley needed a friend, but she also needed a pastor and a doctor.
God also sends some people called parents. That's a tough pill to swallow, especially when it looks like they're the problem. This isn't a "God doesn't make mistakes" platitude. Your parents are sinners, too. They might not understand what's going on, and they might not always handle it the best way, but they are sinners Christ died for, and more than that, they are the forgiven sinners that God gave you. Your parents don't have to be sinless and perfect for God to work with them. It's not about the gift. It's about the giver. God could have given you anyone, but He gave you your folks. That makes them special, because the God we love and trust has promised that He will work through them. Even if they are sinners, they're God-given sinners. God works with and through sinners. Even when they mess up, His hand will work.
We struggle with looking outside of ourselves when we hurt, especially because the external gifts God gives don't always look all that impressive. A naked, dead God doesn't look like He can help, but He can. A chalice of wine seems like an antiquated ritual, but it's Jesus. An old sinner in a black shirt with a white tab might seem out of touch, but He carries God's peace to you. Sinful parents might seem like the enemy, but God has promised to work even with sinners.
That's our only hope. God will work with and for sinners. God can work with broken Ashley and broken you. God has helped and will continue to help. He saves you from the outside in. You are not alone.
Pastor Harrison Goodman serves St. Paul Lutheran Church in Winside, Nebraska and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Carroll, Nebraska. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Created: September 17th, 2015