Rev. Mark Buetow
We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way [alternately: put the best construction on everything]. – The Small Catechism, Eighth Commandment
I’m not much of a sports fan. I don’t really have an interest in who winds up in the Super Bowl, though I’ll watch it in order to see funny commercials and eat gobs of junk food. But I follow enough news and social media to have heard about Richard Sherman and heard the clip of his post game comments after Seattle beat the 49ers yesterday. The guy was amped up on adrenaline after a play that shut down San Francisco and secured the Seahawks’ place in the Super Bowl. Reaction was fast and furious about how he could be so rude, so mean, so unprofessional, etc. Sherman was vilified for comments which may seem harsh in and of themselves but in the context of a post-game adrenaline rush and on-field chaos seem pretty tame. It’s a good illustration of just how bad we are at covering people’s sins.
How often do you hear people say or say yourself, “I can’t believe they did…!” or “Did you hear what so-and-so just said or did?” or “There’s no excuse for behavior like that!” When we see someone sin, it is the easiest thing in the world to blab it all around to everyone else. It’s easy to accuse and condemn and judge because someone said or did something that is clearly out of bounds, over the top, excessive, and bad. And it may well be that what a person says or does is bad. But what are we supposed to do about it? “Explain everything in the kindest way.” It’s no secret that reporters are looking for the juicy story, the scandal-laden report. The opportunity to bring down a person’s reputation and expose hypocrisy is something we like to look for because it makes us feel important at the expense of others. But Christian love compels us to to do otherwise. Being forgiven and being a new creation in Christ teaches us not to instantly go for the jugular when someone says or does something we could point out and for which we could judge them. Rather, as Christ has forgiven us, so we forgive others and when they say and do something that is embarrassing or even shocking, we overlook it and keep from making an issue out of it.
Consider how Christ deals with us. Over and over we give the Lord reasons to condemn, judge, and cast us into Hell. But He can’t. He won’t. Because He’s covered it. In fact, if the devil were to say about you, “Look at His sin!” Jesus’ reply would be, “No, it’s My sin. I took it. Deal with me.” It’s like the story in the book of Genesis when Noah was drunk and laying around naked after the Flood (Genesis 9). His son Ham saw it and went and told his brothers. Perhaps he was mocking Dad or just pointing it out to shame him. Either way, Noah’s other two sons, Shem and Japheth, took a blanket, and walked backwards, covering up their naked dad. They covered Noah’s nakedness. In the same way, Jesus, by taking our place on Calvary, covers our sin with His righteousness. He gives no one any occasion to accuse us, for He has taken way our sin and made it His own. No one can say anything to God against you because of your sins because He won’t hear it.
Likewise, as Christians, we don’t learn the Commandments so we can point out other people’s sins. Rather, the Spirit teaches us the Law of love in Christ which says, “Well, maybe Richard Sherman was just excited after that intense game.” “Maybe mom has a lot on her mind.” “Maybe my friend just had an off day.” If that sounds like making excuses, well, maybe so, but it’s doing the hard work of forgiving and not treating another person as their sins might deserve. That’s how the Lord deals with us and that’s how the Spirit teaches us to deal with others. And yes, we can be very bad at that. So we are grateful when our pastors and other Christians teach us by the Word and by examples in our own lives, of what it means to forgiven and overlook our sins.
The media makes us quick to judge others and social media makes our judgments almost instantaneous. It’s easy to see the faults of others and magnify and broadcast them, to make ourselves look good or to feel better about ourselves. Except the very condemnation we might bring against another person could come back to us too, for our own faults and transgressions! But Christ has set us free from the Law’s condemnation. That means, in part, that we learn in our lives as Christians how to put up with, overlooked, and cover the sins of others. Whether it’s a famous football player or just an average person you deal with every day, their faults, mistakes, and goofs are always an opportunity for us to remember the love God has for us in Christ and to demonstrate that same patience and kindness of not rubbing it in their face or tossing it out for the attention hounds to go after. Instead, we “walk backwards” and “cover their nakedness” exposing not their sin but exposing them the same forgiveness we rejoice to receive always from Jesus.