I once read a story about a businessman who, down on his luck decided to do something pro-active to save his business. He was in particular danger of losing his business, then his home, and very probably his wife and family if all went as he had foreseen. He owned a company that supplied car tyres.
His solution was, during the night, to slash the tyres of some cars in his neighbourhood. The car owners would make a claim with their insurers and the man's tyre-replacing business would become the nominated repairer. In short, he enhanced the need for his services. In the end, he got greedy, got caught and got himself slung in Stir for seven hundred million years, lost his business, his home, his wife and kids, his freedom and his dignity. It is naughty, so the Judge proclaimed, to create a need that only you can meet.
That is an extreme example of something that troubles me in my Christian life. I read something during the week that triggered this in my mind:
It's the power of the love of Jesus Christ, the love that conquers sin and wipes out shame ... [Hybels, 2002]
Bill Hybels is right, of course. But then I think of the Church and how we are in terms of the lives of those around us. We scamper about 'saving' people, after having judged them ourselves as 'unsaved'. We forgive the sins of people whom we judge to be sinful. The "shame" that we are called to wipe away is the "shame" that we identify - and there are times when the Church can appear like the scrawny little kid who sneers from behind the school-bully.
The church is, in many ways, a very judgmental organisation (with never fully sits right with God is Love Plc). I remember, in my undergraduate days, being told by some Smiler in the Christian Union that sex before marriage was a sin and that I (and the assembled throng) should feel jolly wretched if we had submitted to that urge. Maybe we had and maybe we hadn't, but I think all of us felt lower than a snake's belly. Do this, you are bad. Do that, you are wrong. Do the other and you are wretched. Do something else and you will, my dear friend, burn for an eternity with the fiery Imps of Hades. Why, cos we say so (or at least that is what we interpret the Bible as saying). But don't worry, meagre sinful worm - we can wipe your shame away; you know, the shame we just gave you.
If only those who are without sin cast the first stone (those are Jesus' words), then why are we a church so hell-bent on labelling the world as sinful and providing the nominated cure? Are not sinful ourselves? If we are not careful, a pragmatic world will cotton on to the fact that if they bypass faith altogether, the measure of their sinfulness vanishes and they will never need darken our doorsteps again. I seem to remember Jesus distancing himself from the judgmental attitudes of his Disciples.
Maybe we should stop saving a world that God saved already - and worry about how we might be worthy of that life-changing Grace. Charity, after all, begins at home.