On faith: Go and sin no more
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Two Harbors
It was June 2002 and I was driving back from Ely down Highway 169. Just before entering Tower when I saw the flashing red and blue lights coming at me. Instinctively I looked down at my speedometer. I was going over 70 mph – just a little over the 50 mph speed limit. The police officer passed by me and a sense of relief passed over me. But then, as I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw him make a quick u-turn and come right up behind me.
Of course I pulled over, right across from a gas station where it seemed everyone in Tower had gathered outside to gawk. I rolled down my window in embarrassment and waited for what felt like a really long time before the police officer finally came over and asked me, “Do you know how fast you were going?” What was I going to do? Lie? With a remorseful look on my face I said, “I think about 70.” And that’s when my mother, the only passenger in my car, said, “I didn’t think this car could even go that fast.” Oh boy!
I figured with the facts laid out – and with my mom’s “help” – I’d either be sent on my way with a hefty ticket or he’d be putting me in some handcuffs. But something else happened. The officer asked me where I was going in such a hurry. I told him I was headed to Hibbing where I was starting in my first parish the next Sunday. I had been ordained a pastor just a few days earlier. That police officer was smiling the whole time. I didn’t take his smile as good news.
He asked me a few more questions and I answered, hoping to get out of this with just a ticket. But then he started talking to my mom. The moment she opened her mouth I began mentally preparing myself for a night in the Tower jail.
But as it turned out, this police officer and my mother used to go to Sunday school together. And he knew my family up in Ely. And, lo and behold, he used to be a pastor before he became a police officer; I was sent on my way with a warning: “Do you know why you shouldn’t speed?” He asked. “Because it’s a sin.”
I’m writing this to confess – for myself and all the other (honest) clergy out there – that we are sinners. We speed. We make excuses. We do things and say things we shouldn’t, just like the rest of the world. Saint Paul wasn’t exaggerating when he wrote to the Romans: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” He meant all, and I’m included in that just as much as you are.
But in the Lutheran tradition, confession is always followed by absolution - which is a fancy word for forgiveness. And forgiveness only comes through the grace and mercy of Christ. We don’t get off with a ticket or even a warning. We’re absolutely absolved. Not because we are such good and wonderful people. Not because we do something to make amends or pay a fine. We are forgiven and set free because of who we know: the Savior Jesus Christ who has the power and authority – and more than anything else – a heart full of love to wipe our records clean and to send us on our way in joy and thanksgiving.
To know more about Christ’s amazing grace, read this story in John 8:1-11.
The Rev. John Dietz is the pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church.