Graded Sin - Romans 3:21-31; Luke 18:9-14
How many of you like going out to eat? I know that we do. It is nice sometimes to let someone else do the cooking. However, I have to ask you, how many of you pay attention to the grade the restaurant has before you order or eat? Not its popularity or affordability grade, but its sanitation grade. I know that most of the time we pay close attention. Thinking about this I checked out some of the favorite dining spots of folks here at St. Paul’s. Here’s what I learned.[i] They were all “A” grade restaurants.
Anna Maria’s of Graham: 99.5
Biscuitville of Alamance Road: 99
Village Grill: 99
Blue Ribbon: 98.5
Chick-fil-A on Garden Road: 98
Delancey’s Restaurant: 98
The Cutting Board: 98
Harbor Inn: 97.5
40 West Grille & Bar: 94
If your favorite is among this list, you may be thinking to yourself, “whew, I can still eat at my favorite…they have an “A” rating. Interestingly, though, do you know what violations you can have and still walk away with an “A” rating? Among those with “A” rating are the following violations:
Duct tape not approved repair and is not smooth or easily cleanable. Observed duct taped areas on ice machine, door handles, drink dispenser at waitress station.
The handwashing sink in the bar is missing the splash shields on the sides(to prevent splash into the ice bin on the left and to prevent contamination to food, utensils, etc. on the right).
The handwash sink near ice machine was blocked with cardboard. Cardboard box was in the sink.
Observed raw fish stored over top of deli meats in walk-in cooler. Observed raw fish in large metal bowl stored over top of large container of whipping cream in two door unit.
Single-use gloves shall be used for only one task such as working with ready-to-eat food or with raw animal food, used for no other purpose, and discarded when damaged or soiled or when interruptions occur in the operation. Observed employee going from one task to the next without washing hands and donning new gloves.
Observed food residue on the outside of metal lids stored on self as clean.
Observed food residue on several tongs, stored as clean on rack beside three compartment sink. Food residue on knives in knife holder on wall next to ice machine.
You see what kind of things can be in place for an “A-Grade” restaurant. Since we pay attention, most of you wouldn’t be surprised about what happened when a couple of years ago at Annual Conference Davey really wanted to go to Long John Silver. Jerry and I did not want to eat there, so we decided we would go through the drive thru for Davey before continuing on to Burger King to get our supper. We waited for what seemed like forever to place our order at the screen. Then we pulled around. As we drove up to the window to pay, we could see their posted grade. It was a “C”. Needless to say, I pulled up to the window, told them we were cancelling our order, and when they asked why, I informed them it was due to their inspection grade. With the things that will still allow you to have an “A,” can you imagine what it takes to get a “C”?
Grades are used by the health inspectors to let the public know the quality of the restaurant with regards to health safety. We use grades in other ways as well. Most frequently we think of them in terms of the quality of a student’s school work. Rather than “A” to “C,” most academic work is graded on an “A” to “F” scale, with “A” signifying well above average work, “C” indicating average, and “F” feeling that the student had failed.
Letters aren’t always used to grade things, but we get the idea, we tend to judge things on a basis that reveals the level of excellence or acceptance we have for that thing, person, event, or activity. We even do the same thing with wrongdoing, or more directly put, sin. Think about it, we label criminal activity as either a felony (more serious) or misdemeanor (less serious). Catholic theology labels sin as mortal and venial, based on the severity and intent behind the action, and though we do not have an official statement of theology, we tend to do the same thing.
Many of us in our minds are quick to look at some sins as atrocious or abominable and other sins as acceptable, or at least readily make excuses for the behavior. Consider a sin that is widely discussed these days, homosexuality. While the subject of whether or not homosexuality is a sin has divided congregations and denominations, I’m going to operate on the basis that it is a sin. There is a tendency, if you listen to some Christians, to think that homosexuality is the ultimate of sins, maybe the only sin that is out there. We don’t hear many of the folks that are worked up about homosexuality being a sin have that same attitude about pre-marital or extra-marital sex—adultery and fornication being almost widely accepted in our society. It is almost as if we no longer consider it a sin for men and women to hook-up outside of marriage, as long as they are in an opposite gender relationship. However, all of sexual sin is sin, regardless of whether it is same-sex or opposite-sex.
We do it with things outside sexual sin as well. There is no question about murder being a sin, but we think gossip less serious, or maybe even excuse gossip as, “I’m not gossiping, I’m simply telling the truth about what they did.” We might call lying under oath in court a sin, but hesitate calling a little white lie about whether your wife looks good in that outfit a sin. We readily identify breaking and entering, armed robbery, and shoplifting as sin, but would downplay the significance of taking a pack of paper or an ink pen or something from work, rationalizing that they company won’t miss it.
The reality of it is, my brothers and sisters is that we have developed very pharisaic attitudes about sin. Like the Pharisee in the temple with the tax collector, our prayers before God may include asking God to forgive us of our sins, but our hearts betray us as we think, “God, at least I am not as bad as that tax collector, at least I am as bad as that child molester, at least I am not as bad as that drug addict, at least I am not as bad as that prostitute. We might not say that in our prayers…we may not even think it, yet sometimes our attitudes portray it. When we take the attitude that I have heard expressed at a church before, “If those [people] come in here, I’m leaving” we are looking at their sin as worse than our own. When we start talking about someone else’s sin because they have done something that we consider horrendous and suggesting to others that they may not want to be around that person, we are doing the same thing. We want to grade sin and the sinner. We want to say you can offer a white lie or gossip and still be a “Grade A” person, if you throw in a little theft from the work place, that might drop you to a “Grade B,” extra-marital sex might land you a grade of “C” since that is considered average (and is pretty widespread), “Grade D” sinners would be those that kick puppies and are addicted to drugs, and, in some folks eyes, murders, pedophiles, and homosexuals would receive an “F.”
If that’s the attitude and thinking we have, my friends, we are all wrong. There were a couple of classes that I took at Methodist that did not use letter grades, well at least not the traditional, you either got a “P” for passing, or an “F” for failing. There was no in-between, either I fulfilled the requirements and received a “P” and passed the class, or I didn’t complete the work and received an “F,” failing the class.
As far as sin goes, Paul tells us the same applies to us. There is no graded level of sin, we all receive an “F.” “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It doesn’t matter whether we’re a murderer or a gossip or anything, when it comes to sin, we all stand on equal footing before God. None of us pass…all of us fail miserably when it comes to living Holy lives before God…and that’s good, because if we have that pharisaic attitude that we’re not as bad as someone else then we would be in danger of receiving an “F-“ for letting pride enter the picture.
So if we are all receiving failing grades, what can we do to pass the grade in God’s classroom or faith inspection? The truth is, there is nothing we can do…nothing at all…no amount of studying, no amount of homework, no amount of kissing up to God, no penitential payoff will get us a better grade. So, if we’re all doomed to fail, then all is lost, there’s no help or hope for us, right?
Wrong. Though there is no way for any of us to ever earn a passing grade on our own, our inspector, our instructor, the One who knows we are destined to fail on our own has stepped in and stood in our place. God will not grade us on our own actions, but on the actions of His Son, who gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, living a life so obedient to the will of God, so unselfishly focused on the needs of the world, that He went to the cross and died for our “Grade F” lives. Through Christ, we are each offered a passing grade, His passing grade is offered to all who simply surrender to the fact that we cannot pass God’s judgment on our own, but are wholly dependent on the grace of God offered to us through Christ…and all of us, from the white-lie teller and gossiper to the adulterer, homosexual, and murder, are in need of and equally redeemed by the grace of God. There is no room for boasting that we are not as bad as someone else, or that we have been much better Christians than someone else…boasting “is excluded” for Paul reminds us that our justification is grounded nothing but the faith of Jesus Christ which is offered to us through God’s unimaginable, incredible, amazing grace, allowing us to pass the grade.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.