Stanley L. Olsen
Some Homilies from the Chapel of Reconciliation
Heather Aldridge, 25 Oct 2000
I have always believed that Augustana is a place that values questions as much as the answers. Especially in this place [the chapel] I believe we should explore questions of faith without the expectation of an immediate or complete answer.
This talk is about some questions I have regarding my faith. These are issues I am working through.
I hope my questions and musings resonate with you and your faith journey...if not, I'm sorry.
My issues begin with some paradoxes or at least difficult requests God makes with regard to Christianity.
The scripture from 1st John lays out the basics of Christianity: Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and we know him if we obey his commandments.
In verse 6 we are instructed that whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
This is so simple, yet, in practice, there are issues that ruin it for me.
My issues: Love the Sinner Hate the Sin, and closely related Witness vs. Judgement
Lets begin with Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.
I've heard this in various churches from various pulpits: God commands us to love the sinner and hate the sin.
One difficulty here is the with the nature of language. To be a sinner is to have committed sin. Thus, in order to love the sinner, I have had to make a judgement that the other is a sinner but I should love them anyway.
Beyond that, as a human devoid of divine patience and love, I have real difficulty loving all people in spite of what they have done.
One story should adequately illustrate my difficulty.
When I was 16 years old a young woman who was planning to enter seminary came to live with us and assist my parents in the ministry of our church.
The church told her that she needed to move out of our house and demonstrate that she could manage on her own before entering the seminary. You must understand that I viewed Donna as a sister, since I was the oldest and the only girl in my family.
About six months after living on her own in downtown Des Moines, we got a phone call at around 11:30pm. It was Donna in a weak and broken voice asking for help because she had just been raped. Without comment I (who had been on the phone simultaneously with both my parents) got dressed and joined my parents for the rather rapid ride downtown. It seems odd now that neither of my parents stopped me from going with them.
We arrived before the police to find a site that I cannot describe without a considerable amount of pain. Suffice it to say, that she had been raped and left for dead.
The police rounded up the rapist who lived in the building and brought him down for identification. I remember taking a step behind the kitchen door to shield myself from him. I also remember the look on his face as he smirked at what he'd done. I noticed a set of knives next to the door and remember contemplating how much damage I could do to him before the police stopped me.
Needless to say, that event has haunted my pursuit of a Christian life. I find it difficult to love that man but hate only the destruction his life has caused, you see that was his fifth rape but Donna's rape would be only his first conviction for rape.
Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin. Christ did it, why can't I?
Another issue I am facing is closely related to this last point. I am concerned with the line between witness and judgement.
Jesus calls us to be living witnesses of God's love and grace. What does this mean. The reading from Corinthians spells it out pretty clearly... We are To LOVE. Nothing we do regarding faith and belief in Christ is worth anything without love.
This seems simple as well. However, the decision to witness is often based on the assumption that someone else is without God's grace. For example, is it a witness for Christians who man picket lines outside of family planning clinics–who do more than perform abortions–to shout out the implications for a woman's soul who is entering the clinic? Is it a witness when they shout at doctors that they are going to hell?
To me those examples fall under judgement, which the scriptures Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37 Jesus commands us not to judge or we will be judged likewise. In Luke, Jesus further commands: "Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven."
Jesus had the right to condemn as he was blameless before God. However, he chose to live as an example and to explain his example when asked rather than to condemn.
I am struggling with my own judgements against those who claim to be Christian but feel so secure in their faith that they offer condemnation freely to those they've deemed unworthy.
Again, I find it difficult to love those who, in God's name, are violating the very commandments they are attempting to uphold.
So where am I? I read the scriptures and see that Christianity is quite simply a belief in Christ and the will to obey God's commandments.
What's Christ got to do with it? Everything and sometimes nothing. The people I have been most inspired by in my faith journey are those with a humble spirit who serve the Lord without the show for which Jesus chastised the Pharisees.
I think the ultimate irony about Christianity is that it is so simple and yet so difficult to practice.
Then again, it may be that it is the struggle that renders us worthy in God's sight?