Simul justus et peccator

The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. —1 John 4:21

I was all set to go. I had a topic for the newsletter’s “Word from the Pastor.” I was sure the topic was of pressing concern. I had outlined the essay, lined up relevant quotes, and was set to write it this afternoon. Then it happened. I screwed up.

This week has been a series of minor disasters, scheduling conflicts, and plain old bone-headedness. I was supposed to be at someone’s home for an appointed visit. Preparations had been made; time and money and thoughtfulness had flowed from hearts and hands in anticipation. The time came. The time passed. Pastor Sam was a no-show. Pastor Sam was carrying on in the conference room, oblivious to the kindness others had put on display. I screwed up.

When another’s visit to my office led me to realize my mistake, self-loathing filled my stomach like a sack of bricks. I don’t usually do such things. Relying on a righteousness of my own, I pride myself on keeping it together. I’ve got an app for that; I’ve got an app for everything that will help me put my best foot forward. Nevertheless, a chink in my armor had appeared. I didn’t have it together. I had fallen short. I called and apologized profusely. Even my phone call was strange. Surely I didn’t need to continue chaining apologies together; they got it the first time.

Then it happened. Rather than judgment, disappointment, or the tsk-tsk of a wagging finger, those involved showed kindness. They understood. In fact, they had understood before I had called to apologize. Before it had even dawned on me that I had fallen short and was in need of confession and forgiveness, my siblings in Christ loved me enough to look at me through the lens of charity. They had told themselves the best possible story about me and why I couldn’t be there, making room for me despite my shortcomings. This is grace. I am loved.

Then the pieces started to fall together. The essay that I felt was so pressing wasn’t so pressing anymore. The definitive stance I was going to take on a pressing social, theological, and moral issue was less definitive. Who am I to stand with a finger pointed at another, when others were so ready to extend grace to me? I still believe what I believed about the pressing issue I was going to write about, but my heart had been softened by what others had extended to me. They had extended grace because, deep down, they knew that we are all beggars before God.

We are all beggars, and we are all adopted sons and daughters. Simul justus et peccator, righteous and transgressor at the same time. We are both sinners and saints with each and every tick of the clock. This strange working of grace that cradles us in the love of God despite our wretchedness is a mystery that ought to leave us speechless (and in some cases, essayless). We are loved, and because we are loved, we ought to love one another deeply. We ought to tell each other the best stories we can about one another because our stories are now told, now seen through a love that sees beyond the stains. God now sees us only through the lens of His Son, Jesus the Christ.

In the end, I was left speechless. Not wordless, mind you; I did get this essay pushed out! Awed and full of gratitude. What a great Father we have, what a glorious brother we have in Christ, and what wonderful family God has given us in one another. Glory be to God!

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