Monday, April 14, 2014

You Are a Pervert

Yesterday, I used a word in my sermon that, hopefully, made some people uncomfortable. Yes, it was my intent to make people uncomfortable. It is not naturally something I like to do. In fact, it is exactly what I don't like to do. I am much more disposed to making people feel comfortable. It is my joy to show mercy, to overlook faults in others, to dwell on the good, and to forgive the evil. It is the way God made me.

However, God also made me a preacher of the Gospel. There is one aspect of the Gospel that shows no mercy. With this particular truth of the Gospel there is no room for softening or sugar coating. There is no explaining or excusing or hedging or hem-hawing. There is not a nice way to say or a flattering way to frame it. So it was my duty and responsibility to find a word that cannot be construed as nice or respectful or flattering.

PERVERT

Yes, I could have used the word "sinner." I could have talked about our fallen nature or how we are rebels or traitors or some other word that would have been accurate enough. The problem is we've grown accustom to all those words. We don't feel too bad about being called sinners, after all "nobody's perfect." We're fine with recognizing that we are fallen and that mankind is in rebellion.  The word I chose to use still makes us uncomfortable. As it should. If you are in a public place you are probably uncomfortable just having the word on your screen lest someone should walk by and wonder what you're reading about. We generally reserve this word for people who have so far diverted from the human path that they are sick in the head. We put these people on lists and make them do all sorts of humiliating things so we can protect our children from them. We keep online databases of where they live so they can be harassed by vigilantes.

But here's the thing, I believe there is no better word in contemporary language to express our spiritual condition before God. Here is the internet definition of the word from Dictionary.com:

per·vert

  [v. per-vurtn. pur-vert]
verb (used with object)
1.
to affect with perversion.
2.
to lead astray morally.
3.
to turn away from the right course.
4.
to lead into mental error or false judgment.
5.
to turn to an improper use; misapply.
6.
to misconstrue or misinterpret, especially deliberately; distort: to pervert someone's statement.
7.
to bring to a less excellent state; vitiate; debase.
8.
Pathology to change to what is unnatural or abnormal.
9.
to convert or persuade to a religious belief regarded as false or wrong.
noun
10.
a person who practices sexual perversion.
11.
Pathology a person affected with perversion.
12.
a person who has been pervertedespecially to a religious belief regarded as erroneous.

We have been led astray morally; we have turned away from the right course; we lead others into mental error and false judgement; we have turned our lives to improper use; we have misapplied our gifts; we have misconstrued, misinterpreted and distorted the Truth; we have brought this world to a less excellent state; we have changed to what is unnatural; we have converted to a religious belief that is wrong; we practice sexual perversion. Sick. Twisted. Messed up. That's what we are.

Am I wrong? Of course I'm not. Read the news. Look at your own heart. Human kind is downright inhuman. The fact that we can still recognize it and be disturbed by it is evidence of God's common grace. The fact that we can be distressed by this condition and yearn for something better is perhaps the clearest sign we have that we are in need of a savior. If we are all perverts then who can help us? Other perverts? That's a joke. Perverts distort the truth. Who can we trust? Who can we turn to? All of us deserve to be put on a list, a searchable database with a map of where we live and a disheveled mugshot. It should say, "Don't trust this person. They are a pervert and will try to hurt you. They are sick in the head and cannot help but try to manipulate you, use you, reject you and harm you."

If not humans, then who can we turn to? God? But won't he destroy us? If we are so guilty, he is the only one who can judge us. Wouldn't turning to him for help be to sign our own death warrant? A just God would surely put a quick end to perversion. We are better off hiding from him as long as we can. Criminals who turn themselves in expect judgement and punishment. But our guilt is against a holy and eternal God. The punishment is too much to bear. What a sorry state we are in!

This story is bitter, but true. It is written not only in scripture, but in our very consciousness. We can see it in the depths of our own minds. Psychiatrists see it, though they may explain it differently. Counsellors understand it. Police, divorce lawyers, tech support workers, teachers, social workers--they all know this story to be true. If you deal with enough people you will see the recurring theme that there is something deeply wrong with all of us. This Wrong makes us fear people and hurt people. The more we fear, the more we hurt. The more we hurt, the more we get hurt. The worse we hurt, the more we fear. We are stuck in a cycle that leads us away from God, into the Abyss. The fate of perverts.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
How could God do such a thing for perverts? Well, let's think about what Jesus did. Knowing the situation we might think the most loving thing he could have done would have been to release his grip on Creation to end it all in a moment. But that's not his style, you see. Instead, Jesus...
...although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The Cross! The Cross, what a shameful, disgusting thing! What a spectacle of inhumanity! What prominent example of our perversion! If you or I, not used to such displays, happened upon the scene of the cross we would have thrown up and fainted. Why would Jesus subject himself to such a thing? Why would the Word, God's Only Son, subject himself to the full display of our sinfulness? Why would a perfect Son of Man, the only human not deserving such a punishment, submit so willingly to be completely stripped of his humanity by people acting so fully inhuman?

There is only one answer that makes sense. God is love.

Could anything but love lead to such a sacrifice? Could any love but God's be powerful enough to accomplish this? His love compels him to do the only thing that can remove our hurts, our guilt, our perversion. Jesus' physical act of sacrifice is a mirror of the spiritual truth that our perversion destroys us. He allowed our perversion, our inhumanity to destroy his flesh--his human flesh--so that we can know that our inhumanity also destroys our souls. He took that destruction upon his perfect self as a just punishment for our sins. The Atonement was not just Jesus removing the wrath of God from those who would trust in him. In it he restores to us our God-given HUMANITY. He makes the way for us to be human again the way that God created us to be. He loves us! Why? Because that's the kind of God he is! And glad we should be. We should celebrate that the bitterness of our story is being overcome by a sweetness that gives the story a perfect flavor of richness, depth and delight.

In Jesus, the Holiness of God and the Perversion of Humanity were crossed. Two opposite (yet not equal) things were crushed together in the flesh of Jesus. It was and is a bitter and ugly thing. It is a reminder of our guilt, but it is a reminder that should make us all the more thankful for the outcome. The love of God is so powerful that even the Perversion of Humanity could not overcome it. The inhumanity of humankind is overcome by the perfect humanity of our savior, the one and only, Jesus Christ.