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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sinners Anonymous: Matthew 9: 9-13
An organization called “Alcoholics Anonymous” has been of great service to many people afflicted with alcoholism. Associated in its work are people who are THEMSELVES alcoholics and have helped each other overcome the problem. One of the first steps in the process is to ADMIT to themselves—and to others—that they are, indeed, alcoholics—completely unable to handle intoxicating liquor, and therefore committed to the necessity of never again touching the stuff!
TO BE HELPED, others have to make the same admission and to recognize the same necessity. They are then encouraged to “seek POWER from on high” in order to achieve what is humanly impossible! This is where there is some shortfall in the program, but at least it begins to point people in the right direction.
As part of my training in seminary I chose to take classes in chemical dependency, and part of that training was to attend a number of AA meetings. Several things characterized these meeting.
1 Cigarette smoke. I‘ve never been to an AA meeting where the room wasn’t filled with smoke. There’s a reason for that but I won’t get into it.
2 The more important thing was a gut wrenching HONESTY which characterized the meetings. Which I have seen nowhere else since—at least with that level of intensity.
3 The third thing was FELLOWSHIP created by this common problem, and their commitment to being of assistance to one another. There was no condemnation,
no condescension, no looking down on others, just a desire to help! And a willingness to stand by those in need.

NOW, it’s not my purpose to comment today on Alcoholics Anonymous, except to say for any shortcomings in the program, it has still helped a lot of people and still has probably the best overall record for helping people overcome this affliction. No other organization, including the church, has been able to do as much as AA. That’s became they know what they are about, and they accept people into their ranks in the light of common goals and concerns.
BUT this raises a question. Does the CHURCH know what it’s about? Is the CHURCH aware of what it really is? AND is its fellowship meaningful in the sense that it really works? WHAT IS THE CHURCH ANYWAY?
Some people have the impression that the church is a collection of high class snobs, who come together for the purpose of criticizing everyone except themselves! Where would they get that impression?
One thing is for sure: This picture of the church as an assembly of RIGHTEOUS people, smugly sure of themselves and bitterly critical of everyone else, CERTAINLY doesn’t come from JESUS CHRIST, the founder of the CHURCH! In fact, as our text

states, Jesus felt quite at home with sinners! In fact, he he openly ASSOCIATED with so called “SINNERS” –a practice which brought criticism and censure from others, PARTICULARLY the “religious” people of his day!
AND MAKE NO MISTAKE, the people he received and even sought out were REALLY sinners! They were tax collectors, political grafters, who cheated people blind; they were women with lurid reputations, women of the streets; No one else would even talk with them, Jesus ate and drank with them! According to the custom of the time, sitting at table with another was a sign of ACCEPTANCE—still true in that region of the world today!
He was not above eating and drinking and talking with these people, considered OUTCASTS, the SCUM of lst century society!
In fact, when Christians look at our Lord Jesus Christ, we see in him PERSONIFICATION of a divine invitation issued centuries before through the prophet Isaiah:
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Don’t get me wrong; Jesus didn’t CONDONE sin. He didn’t take sin lightly, simply wink at it and pretend it didn’t exist. Jesus describes sin throughout the Gospels in all its ugliness and in terms of its devastating eternal consequences. Left unchecked, it will separate us from God now and eternally. God’s wrath rests upon sin. In the sight of God, sin is scarlet, blood red. And yet, it says, OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST visited with sinners, even ate with them! Extending to sinners of every description a divine invitation to a brand new relationship with God based upon grace and forgiveness.
So here’s the first point I’d make. Wherever the church exists, it is first and foremost an ASSEMBLY of people who are THEMSELVES sinners, and know it. They don’t just THINK about sinners, they don’t just TALK about sinners, they ARE sinners…and they know it. They’re not the kind of people who sit around saying: “Well, I’m not so bad after all. At least I’m not like so and so, ‘cause I go to church and my record is good.’ When the Church is doing its job, it consists of people who could very well call themselves SINNERS ANONYMOUS.
In fact, Christians should come across as refreshingly honest people. Who admit to themselves and to others, what they are. Every week when they come together, they say these or similar words; “I a poor miserable sinner confess my sins and iniquities which I have ever offended thee, and justly deserved thy temporal and eternal punishment.” They think of their own sins as nothing short of scandalous; and they see themselves as needing a SAVIOR just as much as anyone else. And they know that they are RIGHTEOUS in the sight of God. Not because they are such GOOD people, but because CHRIST has clothed them with HIS righteousness, and they see themselves as constantly in need of God’s forgivness.
THE CHURCH, “SINNERS ANONYMOUS”—is a fellowship of people who have the same problem, sin, and they have come to Jesus Christ, and his cross, as the answer to that problem.

II Obviously, and unfortunate, many people don’t have this picture of the church. Many people OUTSIDE the church think of the Church as the LAST place to go with this problem of sin. They think: “I’m not good enough to be part of that organization! I’d never feel at home; I’d never be accepted.
Where do people get this impression? Very often the idea comes from the people of the church. When the church doesn’t have a correct understanding of itself, the church can become a breeding ground for PHARISEES and PHARISAICAL THINKING. The church becomes a country club which specializes in criticizing and condemning those on the outside, rather than an organization dedicated to extending God’s invitation to “come” to the Lord for forgiveness and healing. The church says, in effect: Clean up your act, and THEN come and see us. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll judge you good enough to let you in.
Too often the church forgets what it is. It is NOT a social club. It is a fellowship of people who are united by a common problem. In AA, that problem is alcoholism. In the church, that problem is SIN. And all of us are sinners. So, none of us can afford to boast. Alcoholism is characterized by powerlessness, a lack of control. Listen to PAUL as he speaks of his sin: “For I am the chief of sinners.” “The very thing I should not do, that I do; and that which I ought to do, I do not. O wretched man that I am! Who shall save me from this body of death?” But thanks to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
The fellowship of the Church is not based on being perfect. It’s based on a common need, and what we all have been fortunate to receive, through the merits of Jesus Christ; Grace and forgiveness. We’ve all been recipients, says Paul, of grace upon grace. We’re a fellowship of sinners, forgiven sinners, gathered around the cross of our dear Lord.
In AA the basically philosophy is that the one who knows they have A PROBLEM and has wrestled with the problem is in the best position to be of help. Who can best reach a world of sinners for Christ? People who with humility know what they themselves are: Sinners. Ordinary people who recognize their own sin and shortcomings, and yet who have found a solution to sin in the grace of God who forgives sins freely through is Son. When we sound high and mighty and SELF-RIGHTEOUS, that drives people away. When we raise things of minor importance to levels of absolute necessity…we do a disservice to those on the outside. When we become more concerned about buildings and places and programs than PEOPLE and their need for God…we project to outsiders something less than an inviting image.
Our text says that Jesus “ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners.” This is significant, because it tells us that God finds sinners where they are. He doesn’t say: “straighten out, then come.” He says: “Come, let us reason together.”
The Church is no place for proud Pharisees…no person who takes the cross seriously can be proud of himself or herself. He or she can never TAKE a righteous, condemning, judgmental attitude toward others. Why? We’re all members of SINNERS ANONYMOUS. We’re all in the same boat.

One of the great and ancient symbols of the church is the ship or boat. This is appropriate. We’re all in the same boat. The same boat with tax collectors and sinners, with drug users and corrupt businessmen, with sinners of all times and places. Our fellowship is not based on self righteousness, but on our need for Jesus.
Maybe you’re here visiting this morning. Welcome. Welcome to Sinners Anonymous. We can relate to you. We’re just like you. We are lost in sin. But let me tell you, brother and sister, there is mercy for you too, at the cross. Mercy like we’ve received. No one, no matter what they’ve done, is ever beyond the reach of God in Jesus Christ. We invite you to join with us, fellow sinners, redeemed by the Son of God, and Savior of the world. We hear the gracious invitation as we gather around the Lord’s table this morning: “Come, says the Lord, though your sins be scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they are like crimson, they shall be like wool.” The invitation is engraved with the name of Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us. “Come now” says the Lord. Amen.