Paul’s ready, too. Paul warns us against thinking that somehow we’re exempt, that somehow our heritage or our piety or our rationalization might let us pretend he’s talking to someone else. But he points us back to the words of the psalmist: there is no one who is righteous, not even one.
Even Jesus gets in on it this morning. You search the scriptures, you think you’re waiting on God, but I’m standing right in front of you, Jesus says. I’m right here, right before you, and yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Well, at least we’re all in this together. We’re all standing there, smooth and heavy stone in hand, arm drawn back, and yet it’s slowly dawning on us, one by one, that none of us can let it fly. I draw some strange solace from that one little word hidden deep in our baptismal covenant: “whenever.” As in, not if, but “whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” I think most of us are, when we’re honest, deeply aware of the sin that surrounds us: our throats like open graves, the venom on our lips, our feet swift to shed blood, things done and left undone, hearts half given, the cosmic forces, the systems of this world, the deeds and desires that draw me away from God: “I’m right here, right before you, and yet you refuse to come to me to
“…but if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And we’ve been praying that collect all week: “O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy…” Always. Not because we deserve it, but because God is merciful. Because God, in Jesus Christ—who tempted in every way as we are yet did not sin—God has already shown us his mercy, right before our very eyes. While we throw at our Messiah the very worst we can—all of our pain, pride and cruelty, our derision, our callousness and indifference, all our violence, empire and execution—and while we are throwing it all Jesus, while it literally kills him, Jesus asks God to forgive us. Christ gathers all that darkness to himself, bears it, redeems it, transforms it—redeems us, transforms us—and from it brings forth new light and life. God has shown us his compassion, his kindness, his mercy, his love, his truth, in the face of the one who was sent that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Glory, indeed.
It’s that Lenten-y paradox Martin Luther named so well (you might even say he nailed it!):Simul justus et peccator. In Christ we are simultaneously sinners and righteous. We screw up, we confess, we say “I’m sorry,” we turn back to God, but we don’t despair. We ask forgiveness with humility and with confidence. We have grateful hearts and persistent spirits and yet know that our glory and our hope never rests in our own efforts, in our own strength, but in Jesus, the Rock of our salvation.
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring us again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.