They look innocent enough, but they are still sinners.
by Bishop William H. Willimon
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick….For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:9-13
I stand at the front door of the church. It is Sunday. I like to stand here and watch people entering the church. What unites them?
Sinners come in the church. Some are still in their mother's arms. Sleeping, they come, but not of their own volition. They look innocent enough, but they are still sinners.
Though outwardly, cuddly and cute, they are among the most narcissistic and self-centered in the congregation. When they wake up, they will cry out, not caring that the rest of us are about important religious business. When they are hungry, they will demand to be fed, now. Cute, bundled up, placidly sleeping or peevishly screaming. Sinners.
Sinners come to church. They are being led by the hand. They do not come willingly. Though they put up a fight an hour ago, a rule is a rule, and there they are. They have said that they hate church. They have said things about church that you wouldn't be allowed to have published in the local newspaper, if you were older. Ten years old they are, and they lack experience and expertise but not in one area: they are sinners.
Sinners come in the church. Sullen, slouched, downcast eyes. Out with friends last night to a late hour, the incongruity between here in the morning, and there last night, is striking. They know it and it is only one of the reasons why they do not want to be here. Dirty thoughts. Desire. Things you are not supposed to think about. These thoughts make these sinners very uncomfortable at church.
Sinners come to church, and they have put on some weight, middle-aged, receding hairlines, "showing some age." They are holding on tight. Well-dressed, attempting to look very respectable, proper. Youthful indiscretions tucked away, put behind them, does anybody here know? A couple of things tucked away from the gaze of the IRS. And a night that wasn't supposed to happen two conventions ago. These sinners are looking over their shoulders. They are having trouble keeping things together. Maybe that is why there are so many of these sinners here, coming in the door of the church.
Sinners come in the church, doors at last are closed. The last of them scurry to their appointed seats. The organ begins to play, played by an extremely talented, incredibly gifted artist, who is also a sinner. And the first hymn begins. Something about, "Amazing Grace," sung, appropriately, by those who really need it, need it in the worst way. They sing in the singular, but it ought to be in the plural. “Amazing grace that saved wretches like us.”
Sinners come into church. And now for the chief of them all, the one most richly dressed, most covered up, the one who leads, and does most of the talking. Some call him pastor. Down deep, his primary designation is none other than those whom he serves. Sinners come into the church, and now their pastor welcomes them, their pastor, the one who on a regular basis presumes to speak up for God, making him the “chief of sinners.”
Sinners, come to church, all decked out, all dressed up, all clean and hopeful. Sinners, sinners hear the good news, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Jesus called as his disciples, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Mary and Mary Magdalene. Sinners. Only sinners. And Jesus got into the worst sort of trouble for eating and drinking with sinners. Only sinners. Sinners.
Jesus saves sinners. Thank God. Only sinners. We sinners.