I sat down on a cold plastic chair in a narrow beige room; a thick barrier of Plexiglas spanned the table to the ceiling. Tender names of lovers and vulgar epithets were etched on it alongside one another without shame. Loud voices and the bang of heavy metallic doors echoed in this cramped space as I waited for my friend to step through the door on the other side of the plastic barrier.
In the two minutes that passed before he arrived, I replayed the high points of our friendship. I remembered the grace with which he received my story of sinfulness. I flashed on the image of working beside him in a little church on Saturday Work Days. I smiled at the deep belly-laughter we enjoyed telling stories with our families. I remembered the Bible study he led. The prayers he prayed. The acts of service for the community—all of these memories tumbled together in a swirl of kaleidoscopic colors and shapes.
The door opened and in walked my friend wearing a pink jump-suite. His eyes fell when I smiled at him. The smile on his face was an ambivalence of joy at seeing me and shame at the same time. He said, “I am sorry, Joe. I am sorry you had to see me here in this place.” Tears filled his eyes. “But,” he continued, “I am glad you came to see me.”
I don’t remember what I said. Something about how cute he looked in pink. We tried to laugh. But laughter only covered our tears. Sadness and joy filled that confined space and became the sacrament of community. We handled those tender elements with great care. I prayed for him and promised I would be back next week and every other week until he was released. I kept that promise. Each week it got easier to talk to him about his life in jail and the complications of what put him there.
He told me that he remembered God speaking to him through one of my sermons. He said, “Joe, do you remember when you preached about Samson? You talked about how he broke each vow one-by-one on his way to ruin. That each vow was like a speed bump God put into his life to cause him to slow down and consider what he was doing, but that each time he approached that speed bump he just gunned the engine and eventually he lost everything and ended up in prison. I heard you say all that while I was careening out of control and thought that won’t happen to me. I’m a good driver. Now, here I am in jail wearing a pink jumpsuit. I should have slowed down.”
I heard a quote this week that said, “People want you to fix in a counseling session what they’ve rejected in a sermon.”
Wonder what I’ve heard in a sermon recently and chose to reject? Maybe I didn’t like the preacher. Maybe I didn’t like the topic. Or maybe I just decided that I would enjoy the sin a little longer. I’ve done that.
Here’s what I know: Sin will take you places you never dreamed you would go.
It took Abraham to a lie about his wife. It took Moses to the desert. It took Samson to blindness. It took King David to Bathsheba. It took Saint Peter to a warming fire. It took a prodigal to a pig pen. It took my friend to jail.
Where is my sin taking me?
Here is the good news. There is no lie that God won’t forgive. There is no desert that God won’t cause to bloom. There is no infidel’s bed that God won’t purify. There is no betrayal fire that God won’t exchange for a breakfast fire of restoration. There is no pig sty that God won’t redeem. There is no jail that God won’t visit.
Just ask my friend in the pink jumpsuit.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ~~The Apostle Paul