Yesterday, I stood in a new church singing a song with all the old, redemptive swagger of a classic hymn. We rested on the chorus in repeat and I finally sang in the first person.
"I am a sinner, if it's not one thing it's another caught up in words, tangled in lies You are a Savior and you take brokenness aside and make it beautiful, beautiful." (Brokenness Aside by All Sons & Daughters)
I am a sinner.
Have you ever been challenged to make "I am ..." statements? I often asked my students in Honduras to make a list of ways they could finish that sentence. We would then look through the list and talk about which of those statements were true, which were false, and which were within his/her power to change. All those conversations are nice and tidy when I'm on the counseling end, encouraging people to examine their inner being and ask God to reveal if there is any wrong thing.
As I stood there singing, "I am a sinner" in the first person, something broke. "Sinner" is not the first thing I'd like to have follow my "I am" statements. I'd like to have an impressive list before I make that admission. I always have a hard time thinking about specific ways I sin when I'm standing in church (so convenient, I know). But not yesterday. With every repeating chorus I thought of ways I'd made my heart ugly.
I am a sinner.
The pastor introduced the sermon series on generosity and we read from Luke 18 about the offerings of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
I work with the kind of stories that would tear your heart out - parents, children, families, neighbors capable of things we try not to know about. There's a distance that threatens to creep in to my posture when I come before the Lord. There are so many things I haven't done and would never do.
I pictured the posture of the tax collector at the temple and his first person proclamations struck me. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed for favor. The Pharisee was grateful for what he was not. The tax collector was grateful for who God was.
The tax collector prayed with a posture that honored the Lord, recognizing how great God would have to be to save him - a sinner.
It is this kind of posture that produces a generous heart - a desperate, first person statement that begs for mercy from the One who is merciful.
I am a sinner, but You are my Savior and you take brokenness aside and make it beautiful, beautiful.