• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Sin and Scandal

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Mahatma Gandhi had this to say about the Christian faith, and his words have been remembered all over the world because they strike a chord in us. We all know it’s true, and most of us have struggled with this. How can we explain the injustices committed in the name of Jesus Christ? How can we commit to a Church rife with scandals? How can a gospel be true when it’s preached by so many hypocrites?

Christ came to build His Church. Did He really mean to leave it to us? Really? You have to wonder some times. “The Church is the Ark,” I once said to a friend. “Yes,” he replied, “and the animals stink.” But God wasn’t delusional when He left the Church in our hands. He knew the hearts of men, and He knew what we were capable of. We’re broken people. So there’s really nothing surprising about the scandals in the Church. The only true scandal, the only great shock, is that the Church produces saints. It’s all in the parable that we heard today.

‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matt 13:24-30).

This is about the Church.

God sowed the seeds, and they were very good seeds.

He gave us the Holy Spirit, that moment when we were baptized, and He feeds us with His own Body and Blood. With time, water, nourishment, and TLC, a seed takes root and grows so that it produces fruit. So it is with us. It remains up to us to nurture that seed, with God’s constant help. With time, the Spirit within us can take root and bear fruits of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance” (Gal. 4:22-23).

But this is certainly not all we see in the Church. There are also the tares.

Call a spade a spade. Evil is evil and it doesn’t come from God. Sometimes, we fall in the trap of rationalizing evil. We might wonder, “There must be good in it,” or say something pious, like, “God willed it.” But that’s wrong. Evil isn’t good, no matter how you look at it, and God never wills it. Neither can you explain evil with psychology or sociology. Just think of a parent whose son or daughter is caught up in the downward spiral of addition to narcotics. You can find chemical explanations, psychological wounds, and social influences. But the parent who only looks for answers here will end up despairing. “An enemy has done this.” There’s a dark force behind addiction, just as there is behind every sin. Healing has to come from above. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12).

Our God “sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.” You see. We shouldn’t be shocked or embarrassed when we look at the behavior of those before us and those around us. Jesus Christ foretold it all from the beginning.

Our job is to look at our selves, and to look up at Christ.

Why does God put up with so many sinners in the Church?

Let’s just say, it’s a good thing He does, or else I wouldn’t be here, and neither would any of you. We’re works in progress. God suffers saints and sinners in the same house with the hope that we sinners might eventually change into saints.

St. Augustine explains: “Many are correcting themselves, like Peter; many are forborne, like Judas; many will not be exposed until the coming of the Lord, Who will illumine that which is concealed in darkness and will disclose the thoughts of the heart.” Some of the best saints had been the greatest sinners. They simply chose to give themselves to God.

And we have to look at our own selves in this same way. As a pastor, again and again, I run into the same lie from hell, perhaps the greatest of all lies: that you aren’t worthy to bring yourself to God. Many people feel too ashamed to come to church or to ask God for forgiveness. But God doesn’t expect us to clean up our act first and then come to Him. He tells us to come to Him as we are, dirty and broken, and then He will change us.

You know, this is where we religious folk can make the biggest mistake. We expect people to act like Christians when they walk through the church doors. But isn’t that backwards? You have to walk through the doors first in order to learn how to be a Christian. You start as a sinner in order to become a saint, and that takes a lifetime. You know who belongs in these pews? Sinners, profligates, addicts, liars, hypocrites, and every wounded soul (that’s why they let me in)… Our culture is broken. If we’re going to be a church, a real church, we have to open our eyes to the reality of the war. These pews are nothing other then cots for the sick and the bleeding. We’re the hospital of sinners with the most compassionate Physician.

So how should you respond to Mahatma Gandhi, were he to say to you, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.”

You might say: ‘Mr. Gandhi, you’ve missed the whole point. You’re right that we Christians are so unlike our Christ, but that’s exactly why we’re Christians. We aren’t here because we’re healthy. We’re here because we’re sick. We’re not here because we’re like Christ. We’re here because He’s beautiful, and we trust His promise to make us beautiful too.’

God sowed the good seed. If we bring ourselves to Him and let Him do the rest, then He will change us, you and me, into beings more beautiful then anything the mind can fathom.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309