Stains have a way of ruining something, of making the bearer of the stain seem worthless or shameful. In our western society if something is stained and all of our tricks of detergent, bleach, stain sticks etc, don’t work, that item of clothing is relegated to rag status. It’s only good for that which is filthy already. If the carpet or the furniture is stained, we try and hide it or disguise it, and eventually get rid of it altogether.
We do the same thing with our own stains, our own mistakes or the mistakes others make that effect us. We carry the shame, the pain, the guilt, the mistrust around as a stain on us. We hurt, we get angry, we feel worthless, we are stained. We don’t feel good enough, or we feel that others aren’t good enough. We try and get rid our own stains with denial and distraction of all kinds. We try and make up for them, or we embrace them and make them part of our identity. It’s not just our own stains we get caught up in either; we carry the stains of others. We harbor resentment, we point fingers, we blame. We let fear of their stains cloud the reality of our own. We are a mess. We aren’t good enough.
In Jesus’ time, that stained feeling, that feeling of being not good enough, was built into the temple system itself. The temple, that place where people could go and offer sacrifices to God for atonement, for cleansing, where they could learn about him, was limited to those who were deemed good enough. As a woman, a child or a non-Jew there were only certain parts of the outer temple you could go in. You weren’t good enough for the rest of the temple. If you were a Jew, you were deemed worthy to go into another part. If you were a priest, still another. All though, were cut off from the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s presence was supposed to dwell. Only certain times of year could someone enter, and only a priest who had been cleansed. He had to have a rope tied around his ankle, because even he might not be worthy, and if he were not, he would fall down dead when he entered. The rope would be used to drag him out.
There was a system of rules and sacrifices to make you clean, to make you worthy, to keep you from stains, from sin and to cleanse you from sin. Even then though, not all were good enough. It was a terrible system, and caused people to be even more terrible to each other than they already were. People were declared unclean because of their stains, because of their issues. Some people thought they were clean, thought they were better than others. God knew though, that all of them, that all of us are broken. He knew he would have to do something to make us clean, and to help us see each other differently.
Jesus changed all of that though. He invited the unclean and the left out to his table. He touched the lepers. He healed the sick and the cursed. He showed people that the laws weren’t working, and that they needed to love each other first. He surrounded himself not with the seemingly perfect, and pure, but with the dirty, the misfits, the stained.
We saw the account of his own disciples, who made mistake after mistake, and they were the closest people to him. He didn’t cast them aside, he built his ministry with them. He built his church on them.
In this passage in Romans, we see Paul talking to a church that has struggled with keeping the laws. They are fighting about which ones should be upheld. They are making some feel left out and out of place in the church again and Paul reminds them. It’s not in the keeping of these laws that we are made right. It’s through Jesus.
Jesus made this at once beautiful, and horrible sacrifice, of his life. His blood was shed and stained the ground around him, so our stains could be made clean. So that we could be made right, made new. That is an amazing gift as Paul points out. We can’t earn that. He gives it freely, because he loves us, and though we might see ourselves as unworthy, we are worthy in his sight. He loves us with an amazing love, like no other. When he died, the Gospels tell us the curtain in the temple tore in half. No one was kept from the presence of God anymore. All who could accept it, were made worthy through Jesus sacrifice
All we have to do is have faith in his sacrifice, and believe that he shed his blood for us. He doesn’t even require an unyielding faith. Just that we step forward and try to trust him. We see doubt in his followers, we see doubt in the early church. The new testament is filled with the disciples trying to answer questions and sort out problems. The scriptures are filled with doubters. That’s okay. Doubt can inform our faith and help it grow. As long as we are asking, as long as we are seeking Jesus, we are okay. Jesus took the stain of our sins, all of our sins, the ones we haven’t even done yet.
Stains can make us feel so ugly and unworthy. They can make us feel beyond hope. They can bind us in anger and shame. They don’t have too. We can give those stains over to the one who gave his life for us. We can accept that grace, that mercy and love, and we can also extend that to the people around us. Jesus showed us a new way on that cross. We may point fingers and condemn, we may try and say that we are better than others, but Jesus took the punishment of a criminal. He took the ultimate humiliation and pain. He did it for all sinners, for the liars, for the adulterers, for the murderers, the cheats, the complainer, the gossips, the thieves, nothing was too big, nothing too shameful. Jesus died for all of it, and all of us.
So tonight, let’s give him our stains. Let’s work through our shame, our guilt, our anger, our mistrust, let’s give it all to him. Those things we have done and those things others have done to us, those walls we have put up to hide our stains, let’s give those to him. Let’s take all the trying to work so hard to be okay or to keep up appearances, to get out those stains on our own, and let’s give them to Jesus. Let’s accept this sacrifice as gruesome and as horrible as it might seem. Let us accept it, and our brokenness, and let us receive the mercy and the grace and love of Jesus Christ.