Daily Reflection
of Creighton University's Online Ministries
November 6th, 2008

Barbara Dilly

Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

There are many stories in the Bible about the joy in heaven when one sinner repents. And they elevate the sinner who repents to a place of honor or great value, like a lost coin. They also usually place the sinner in the context of righteous folks who are resentful that the repentant one moves to the head of the line so easily in God’s eyes. In his ministry on earth, Jesus also made a point to associate with sinners and to show them great compassion for their repentance. It wasn’t that they were always following him around; it was as if he were actively looking for them. And this annoyed the righteous ones.

What are we to make of those stories? As an anthropologist who is interested in how people make sense of religious teachings and apply them to their lives, I have always been interested in other people’s beliefs and practices, mostly their practices. While I try to be objective and unbiased in how I think about other religious expressions, I have to admit that I learn a lot from other people that I apply to my own thinking and feeling about religion. For example, this idea of who is the one sinner; now that is something to think about. In a lot of old German Lutheran communities back in Iowa, folks always thought about that one sinner as the worst person they knew. And they went to church to be taught not to be so judgmental of others and to let God be God. Last I heard they were still meddling in God’s business.

But that’s not how it was at Bethel Lutheran Church in the inner city of Los Angeles where I was a member while a student at UCLA. It is a very ethnically mixed congregation that had been founded by immigrant Swedes. But little by little, it came to be an African American congregation with a few Asian and Hispanic immigrant newcomers. I just loved the people there. We had a very lively and inclusive worship experience on Sunday morning. We sang out of several interdenominational hymn books and the choir was led by a young Swedish woman from Minnesota who was very inspired by Gospel music. I was a member of that choir, the only one I’ve every joined.

Our congregation was small. We didn’t have ninety-nine righteous people. What we had was about a hundred sinners. We were there because Jesus invited us to come and sit at the table with him and other sinners. It wasn’t just what we believed; it was what we practiced there. It seemed to me like all the music we sang somehow reinforced the belief that each of us was the repentant sinner who brought joy to heaven and we praised God for welcoming us home. As I read the Gospel lesson today, I remembered singing, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It’s not my brother, or my sister, but it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” No, it’s not about Joe the plumber or Bob the mechanic, or Cindy Lou at the corner bar. It’s about me, O Lord. I am that sinner Jesus calls to repentance. But then, aren’t we all?

Click on the link below to send an e-mail response
to the writer of this reflection.
Let Your Friends Know About This Reflection By Sending Them An E-mail


Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook