Since Biblical times, Christians have argued over sin. Who’s sinning? What is sin and what isn’t? And they argue the most about what should be done about it. I’ve found that most folks in the church think the worst sins are the ones they don’t struggle with. But I digress . . .
I’m not about to be able to settle that argument today. But if you’ll indulge me, I’ll tell you a story and share my opinion about it. Not that my opinion matters all that much — it and $5.69 will get you a venti caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks.
One of the greatest blessings of my life was serving in a college ministry when I was young enough to sometimes be mistaken for one of them. The story I’m about to share is in no way an indictment on anyone’s character and not meant to shame or hurt people. I dearly love the folks I’m going to tell you about and consider them a great part of shaping who I am as a Follower of Christ. I’m only sharing it because it’s a great lesson about mercy and grace.
Back in the early 90’s, there was a young girl named Amy in our college ministry who found herself pregnant and alone. Amy was scared to tell her parents, and scared to tell us at church. I believed, and still do, that the Church must love, support, and help single moms. Otherwise, the next one won’t come to us looking for a safe haven.
Somehow it was decided that Amy shouldn’t sing in the choir for a while, and she seemed to be okay with that. I wasn’t part of that conversation so I’m not really sure how it went. All I know is, after the baby came, Amy assumed, as did I, that she could sing in the choir again.
She found out she was mistaken when she came to get her choir robe one Sunday morning and was told she had to sit out longer. Needless to say, she was shocked and hurt.
Enter: MAMA BEAR.
I stomped into the choir room and demanded an explanation, going into a rant worthy of Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women (I know, I’m old). I said something like: while it’s true that the Bible says sex outside of marriage is a sin, having a baby is NOT a sin. Furthermore, if Amy couldn’t sing in the choir because she had premarital sex, then neither could anyone else who had done that, including me (GASP!). I think I even said I wanted to take a quick poll of the choir to see who had sex before they got married, but I didn’t get very far with that. Then I hung up my choir robe and left in a huff.
Rick Amato was our guest evangelist that morning. He didn’t know any of us, and of course he knew nothing about the choir room drama. I was mad as a wet hen, but I wasn’t about to miss him preach! So I grabbed Amy and we sat on the second row (no one sits on the front row of a Baptist church!), right in the middle, directly in front of the pulpit and choir. Amy stared at her lap and I put my arm around her . . . and glared. (BTW, I’m not suggesting this is how you should handle things when you get mad at church. I’ve been known to be a little hotheaded when I’m defending people . . . oops!)
Rick was preaching up a storm when he stopped right in the middle of his sermon, looked at Amy and asked, “Young lady, what is your name?” Wide eyed, she whispered, “Amy.” He looked right at her and said,
Amy, the Holy Spirit won’t let me finish preaching until I say this. Whatever you have done, whatever is in your past, whatever guilt you’re carrying, whatever cloud of shame over you is now behind you. You are a Child of the King. You are forgiven! Hold your head high and let that weight be lifted off of your shoulders.
After that, the Holy Spirit filled that little country church. When Rick gave an invitation to come know the Jesus who heals and forgives, the altar was FULL of people repenting of their sin, choosing to follow Him. There was a lot of tears and a lot of snot slingin’. It was truly a good day.
Amy was back in the choir the next week. And so was I.
Please don’t miss the point! This story is NOT about whether or not you think premarital sex is a sin — or anything else you think people shouldn’t do — insert whatever transgression you wish here. It’s about what mercy, grace, love and acceptance can do when someone feels like an outcast.
When Amy’s sin was judged, all it brought was shame, hurt, division and embarrassment. When she received mercy, grace and forgiveness, it brought great healing not just to Amy, but to all of us in attendance that morning.
There are those who think we should be tough on sin, that we are watering down Scripture. Maybe so. I’m not suggesting we let an embezzler be the Church Treasurer or a child molester work in the nursery. I’m simply saying, LET THEM ALL COME. There is no shame too great, no transgression too deep to be outside the realm of the forgiveness of God.
So how do you know which is more important? Mercy or judgment? Personally, I err on the side of mercy — and I’ll admit it’s because I want to be SHOWN mercy. I’ve always believed the mercy you show will be the mercy you’re given.
James said in Chapter 2, verse 13:
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Most people already know when they’ve messed up, done wrong, sinned. They don’t need us to point out their shortcomings. Deep inside, we all know we’re jacked up. What they need to find when they walk in the doors of our churches is open arms. They need to find HOPE in Jesus Christ.
As Billy Graham famously said,
“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”
Let’s not clean the fish before we get ’em in the boat. And once we get ’em in the boat, let God clean ’em up. There is room at the foot of the Cross for us all. If we’re too loving, too kind, or show too much mercy and grace, God will redeem it. I’ve read the Book, and in the end, He wins.