Called to Innocence

MP3 Audio: WS330342_Dn-Joseph_Called-to-Innocence.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 6, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


Gospel Reading: John 8:46-59

Jesus said unto the multitudes of the Jews,
“Which of you convinceth me of sin?”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One. Amen.

This is a very daring statement. Take a moment and use your imagination. Imagine that you are in a town that you’ve spent many years of your life in. Maybe the town that you grew up in, or a town that you moved to and lived for a long time, or perhaps a place that you visit frequently. A town where you know many, many people and they have known you for many years. Don’t just get one or two, but gather together a large multitude, a crowd of these people, and then publicly ask, “Which one of you can convince me of sin?  Which one of you can point out even one way that I have ever done wrong?” Would anybody in here be brave enough to try that? I wouldn’t. As my dad once said, “There is a very thin line between bravery and stupidity.” For most of us, when we look at our past, we see many, many, many ways that we have fallen short. And while we might like to forget them, we understand that people’s memories are long when it comes to the sins of others. And so we would not want to stand in front of a multitude and say, “Which one of you can convince me of sin?”

But Jesus did this and not one person responded and said, “Well, of course you sin. Don’t you remember when you lied about such and such? Don’t you remember when you lost your temper and you did this evil thing? Well, don’t you remember as a kid when you totally disobeyed your parents and you did this?” Not one person in the multitude was able to convince him of sin. Not one person had any memory of anything that Christ had ever said or done wrong.

What this means is that Christ is pure. Something we all believe, something we all agree on, something we may even take for granted – well, let’s think on that for a while. Last time you were watching or reading the news and you heard about some Muslim terrorist who got a bullet through the head . . . be honest and tell me how many tears you wept over him. The last time you heard about somebody shooting a whole bunch of innocent children and the gun of a policeman takes him down, or he goes down via suicide, how many tears did you weep over that man? The honest truth is that many people do not weep at all.

How does it get ahold of you when you hear that a child has been raped, abused or murdered? When you hear that somebody has taken a gun to a school and has murdered a bunch of children, when you hear that some teenaged girl has been kidnapped, and used and abused, and then finally murdered, how does that affect you emotionally? What if it was your child? What if it was your wife? Our emotional reactions are very different based on the guilt or the innocence of the victim. This is not to say that we should take any pleasure in the death of the wicked. It says very clearly in Scripture that God himself does not do this. When the wicked die, if we are in Christ, we should take no pleasure in their death for their sake. What happiness we do feel, what relief we do feel, should come from the fact that they’re not going to hurt anybody else. It’s not their death that we should be happy about, but we should be happy that the innocent will now be safe from the attacks of that particular person.

But what about when the innocent themselves are attacked, when the innocent themselves are abused? Think of some popular stories or movies – like Stephen King’s “The Green Mile”. There’s more than one execution by electric chair in that movie. When Edward Delacroix was executed, I doubt that there were many tears in the theater. But we’re moved when John Coffee is executed, for we know that he was innocent of the crime he was accused of.

“Shawshank Redemption”, we see multiple deaths in that movie. We have the one guy who is simply trying to do a kind deed and tell the truth about the innocence of his prison mate. And so, unjustly, the warden has him shot dead and we are saddened by this; our gut wretches over it. And at the end of the same movie, the end of the same story, the prison warden commits suicide. And, once again, very few tears are shed by most people who read or watch the story. Once again, it’s a question of: Who is a deserving victim, and who is an innocent victim? When we see a judge sentence somebody to prison, we rejoice if the person deserves to be there. But we weep, we cry, we get knots in our stomach whenever we find out that a person has been unjustly accused, falsely convicted, and mistakenly put behind bars for twenty or thirty years. No matter how many times the judge says, “I’m sorry,” no matter how free the person is now, you cannot give them back those years of their life. Or, God forbid, if they were executed unjustly, there is no way that you can give them back their life.

Many countless thousands of people have been crucified. But only one of them was completely and totally innocent . . . even more innocent than the seven year old child who’s shot at school, even more innocent than the eleven year old girl who is kidnapped and abused and murdered. Even more innocent than them is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who goes his entire childhood and his entire young adult life innocent, pure, without stain, without spot, without blemish. And it is this innocent one that the Pharisees despise, hate, and are determined to kill. And it is this innocence, this purity, this holiness, that Jesus desires to share with us. If just being in sin was okay, if it was no problem, if it was no danger, then Jesus had no reason to come. Like the title of that horrible book, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”, whoever you are, whatever you believe, don’t change anything. You’re okay just the way you are. I’m okay just the way I am. If that was an accurate view of reality, the way it’s supposed to be, then there was no reason for Jesus to come.  He could have just said, “I’m okay, you’re okay”, left us the way we are.  He could stay the way he is, and we could merrily go on our way to eternal torment.

It says in 2 Corinthians that he died and he rose again so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but that we would live for him who died for us. That’s why he came. It’s so you’d stop being selfish. It’s so you’d stop living for yourself. It’s so you would start living for him. It’s so you would be pure, be holy. It’s so you would be changed. It’s not as if Jesus saw a bunch of people who were ready to go to heaven, and the only thing keeping them from going there was this annoying barrier between them and heaven, and if they could just find some way through or around that barrier, man, they’re ready to be there. No, no, no! Jesus saw a sinful people. That would be you and me. Jesus saw a people who, if they were to go to heaven, it would be hell for them, for no person stained with sin can bear the direct presence of God, whose holiness burns as a flaming fire, whose eyes are ten thousand times brighter than the sun. In the presence of the flame of his glory and holiness, any one of us would be burnt to a cinder in a second. That barrier that keeps us from going to heaven immediately is not a curse; it’s our salvation. You see, we need time to repent. We need Jesus not merely to remove that barrier between us and heaven, but to change us so that we become fit for heaven, so that we are not like wood, hay, stubble and straw that is burned up like the chaff. But we are like gold, silver and precious stones, the beauty of which is proven by fire. Jesus was completely pure, completely holy, and he has called us to be completely pure and to be completely holy.

I saw a little comic strip on Facebook the other day.  It was about a modern church that is trying to be “relevant”. And this guy is out in front of the church and he’s talking to the pastor and he says, “Oh man, I’m so glad that I finally found your church. This is the place I’ve been looking for all my life. You see, I’m deeply immersed in sin and I have absolutely no desire to change, and I feel welcome here.” I cannot tell you how much bigger this congregation would be today if we were willing to be that kind of church. Of course, at that point, we would just be a social club rather than a group of people who are struggling to follow Christ, who are repenting in his presence, and are taking our path to heaven seriously.

Jesus could not be convinced of sin by anybody – not one person could point at anything that he had ever done wrong. It is this innocent one that they whipped. It is this innocent one that they put the crown of thorns on his head. It is this innocent one into whose face they coughed and spat all manner of filth. It is this innocent one whom they hit with their fists. It is this innocent one whom they laughed at and mocked and teased, draped a robe around him and mocked him: “Ha, so you think you’re a king? Hail to the king of the Jews!”, treating him as if he were a fool, treating him as if he were a sinner, treating him as if he were worthless. And yet, there he stands like a sheep silent before her shearers, more innocent than the seven year old girl who is shot, more innocent than the eleven year old child who is kidnapped, he stands there completely innocent, completely undeserving of any wrongdoing.

And their hatred just builds and pours upon him. It is this innocent one whom they forced to carry the cross until he could carry it no further. It is this innocent one that they cruelly nailed to a cross of wood with spikes through the wrists and feet. It was this innocent one whom they stripped of his garments to make him publicly shamed and naked. It’s this innocent one whom they killed and they took down from the cross and buried in a tomb.  And it is this innocent one who was stronger than all of that, “trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” He went through all of that not so he could leave us the way we are and just relocate us to heaven. He went through all of that so that we could become innocent like him.

You see, there is a great misunderstanding about the word “hypocrisy” in our culture. And I believe that it is intentional on the part of the demons that this misunderstanding exists.  It is told to us again and again and again in books and movies and television, and in our personal dealings with other people, that if you have ever done something wrong in your entire life, no matter how many years ago it was, then you have no right not to tell me not to do that thing. Otherwise, you’re a “hypocrite”.

Just a few days ago I had somebody use this very same argument. They said, “Well, I can’t judge so-and-so about fornication, adultery, because the person I’m married to, I can’t honestly say that they’re the first person I was with.” And I’ve heard the same argument again and again and again. “You have no right to tell me not to look at lustful things on the Internet because you told me yourself that, years ago, you used to do the same thing.”

Do you realize how often children use this against their parents? By the time children get to be teenagers, early twenties, if they know of some sin that you committed twenty or thirty years ago, and you warn them against it, and you tell them, “Don’t do this thing . . .” [Their response is,] “You’re just a hypocrite! You know that you did the same thing! How dare you tell me not to do it when you did it when you were my age.”

That definition of “hypocrite” is not just a little bit off . . . it’s stupid! It’s way off base. It’s not even close to what hypocrisy is. So I don’t care how many people in the culture, how many T.V. shows, how many songs, how many friends you’ve had talk like this, just put that out of your head. That’s a ridiculous definition for hypocrisy.

And it becomes immediately apparent the moment you apply it to something that the whole culture agrees is wrong. The whole culture agrees that it is wrong to get strung out and addicted to drugs. And so what does our culture do? Well, if you happen to be a person who has finally gotten over your addiction, and you’ve cleaned up your life and you’ve been away from drugs for five years or ten years, what does our culture do? Say, “Oh, you don’t have any right to tell anybody else not to use drugs, or else you’re a hypocrite.” No! Our culture pays you money to go from school to school and to talk to kids about the fact that you did drugs, and here’s the horrible things that they did to you, and here’s the reason why you should never take drugs. And nobody calls them a hypocrite!

In Alcoholics Anonymous, a person will stand up and say that he has been dry for so many months or for so many years. He’ll tell stories of the horrible things that drunkenness did to ruin his life. And then that same person just may say, “Please don’t do this. Please don’t get drunk the way I did.” And nobody calls him a hypocrite.

For a person to call you a hypocrite for telling them not to do something, because you did that same thing thirty years ago, means that person does not believe in repentance or forgiveness. If doing something wrong once means that you’re guilty of that for life, then that means you can’t repent of it, you can’t change, and you can’t be forgiven of what you did. It’s just a stain that’s on you forever. Is that what we believe as Christians?

Was the Apostle Paul a hypocrite, was King David a hypocrite, when they told people not to commit murder? No, both of them had blood on their hands. Both of them knew the guilt, the pain, the suffering, the destruction that comes about because of it. And it’s from that negative experience that they have the authority to tell you not to do it. “Please don’t follow in my footsteps. Yes, I did this horrible thing, and if you do it, the same bad stuff that happened to me is going to happen to you. So just don’t do it.” That’s not hypocrisy, that’s smart! That’s just good, plain loving your brother and warning them of danger. There’s nothing hypocritical about it.

So don’t let anybody zip your lips. Never ever let yourself be silent when confronting somebody with a sin because you say, “Oh, well, I would get after them for that, I would tell them that’s a sin, but, you know what, fifteen years ago I committed that sin myself.  Five years ago, I committed this sin myself. And since I’ve committed that sin, I can never, ever, ever say anything about it to anybody else because then I’d be a hypocrite.”  No.

Do you know what a hypocrite is? A hypocrite is somebody who is unrepentant, who is currently doing that sin, telling you not to do that sin. So, if every day, with no repentance, I continue to look at evil things on the Internet or in magazines, and then I dare to tell you not to do it, then I’m a hypocrite. If I’m killing people, if I’m strung out on drugs, and I haven’t repented of that, I’m still doing that, then, yes, I’m a hypocrite if I tell you not to do that. If I’m sleeping with somebody who is not my wife, and I’m still doing it, and I haven’t repented of it, and then I tell you to be pure, then I’m a hypocrite. But having done something years ago, having repented of it, having cleaned up your life by the grace of Christ, and now living a pure and holy life the best that you can with the help of God, to talk to somebody and to say, “Oh, don’t do this sin, don’t do that sin. That’s going to hurt you. You don’t want to do that.” That is not hypocrisy. That is calling them to purity.

Now you might say, “How can I possibly be pure and holy like Jesus Christ? After all, even ten years ago, even twenty years ago, even thirty years ago, Jesus never did any sin. He was pure his whole life. Me, well, to be honest, yes I’m forgiven but still I’m stained. I know what I did thirty years ago. I know what I did five years ago. I know what I did five days ago. How can I be pure? How can I possibly be innocent? Can Jesus clean me out that much?  Not just to forgive me of what I did and say I can go to heaven, but can he actually make me innocent? Can he actually make me as pure as he is?” Romans 16:19 says, “Be excellent at what is good and be innocent of evil.” It’s not just a possibility; it’s a command. I am commanded, you are commanded, to be innocent. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It does not matter how long you went astray. It doesn’t matter how much filth there was staining your soul. What Jesus did for us in his passion and in his resurrection is enough to wipe away every remnant of that stain, so that you don’t just come to worship an innocent person, an innocent God, but you yourself, by his grace, can become innocent too.

For this reason Jesus suffered and died and rose from the dead, so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but that we would live for him who died for us. He has called us to live for him. He has called us to be innocent. Every stain washed away, in innocence walking before him, in innocence calling our brothers and our sisters to repent of their sins and to walk before him. So that of a truth we too will be able to stand, not just before a multitude, but before God himself. And God himself will not convict us of even one sin.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Our God is One.  Amen.


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 6, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.



About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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