My Favorite Dirty Word in Church
“Next Sunday, wear something to church that represents how you actually see yourself.”
What if a preacher said that?
And what if the people did it?
What would we see?
We’d see a 15-year old in the youth group dressed like a call girl. The boys in her school think porn defines sexual normality. So they harass her to text them nude pics. Her most recent boyfriend said he’d take her to the movies if she gave him oral sex. So she did. She gives the boys her body in exchange for cheap affirmation. It makes her feel like she matters, that she’s pretty. Then she sits in the pew, chews the communion wafer, mumbles the Lord’s Prayer. But she feels dirtied by shame.
A 41-year old man wears a shirt two sizes too small. He wore it two decades ago when his life came to a crashing stop. He was a drunk 21-year old, driving home from a frat party, when a woman crossed the dark street in front of him. Every night since, he sees her face, twisted in a scream. He’s married now, three children, owns a lawn care business. But inside he’s still a junior in college, blood smearing his hands, the poison of self-loathing gurgling through his veins.
A 33-year old woman wears a white T-shirt with the words “Human Garbage” on the back. After two disastrous marriages, three kids with three different men, a failed stint in rehab, and a current boyfriend more into video games than her, those two words pretty much sum up how she sees herself. “I’m just trash. Use me up and throw me away. I damn sure don’t deserve to be in this church. But, here I am, a piece of filth in the pew.”
And you? What would you wear to church that represents how you actually see yourself?
My favorite dirty word in church comes up in the confession of sins. We say, “I confess that I am by nature sinful and unclean.”
We talk plenty in church about being sinful. We need to talk a whole lot more about being unclean.
Not everything that’s wrong with us is a sin. We preach about right and wrong, morality and immorality. And we should. But what’s wrong with us goes deeper than that. We experience shame, self-hatred, false guilt. We feel unclean.
We need to recapture a crucial spiritual truth in the Old Testament: a holy God makes unclean people clean and holy again.
Corpses, Periods, and Skin Problems
In the old days of Israel, being unclean did not mean you were guilty of doing something wrong. What made you unclean could be an affliction you were born with (like a skin disease), a recurring physical condition connected with blood (like menstruation), or an action that put you in bodily contact with death (like preparing a corpse for burial).
You became, for a time, ritually unclean. Not sinful. Not immoral. But unclean.
To be unclean meant you bore in your own body the effects of a creation in bondage to decay.
God provided for these unclean believers in Israel. In rituals of purification, usually involving water, the uncleanness was washed away. The water, full of God’s word, purified and sanctified these people.
Your Place is at the Father's Table
Though we are no longer under the OT purity laws, we are still part of the same creation in bondage to decay. All of us, for one reason or another, are not only sinful but unclean. We bear in our minds and hearts and bodies the effects of a world gone wrong.
Jesus meets us all where we are. He doesn’t say, “Clean yourself up and then come to me.” He doesn’t say, “Once you’ve overcome these struggles, then I’ll accept you as my own.” He says, “Come to me, all you who are ashamed, who feel like trash, who are abused, confused, and afraid, and I will give you peace.”
The Son of God absorbed our uncleanness into Himself. He made Himself ritually impure when He touched lepers, a hemorrhaging woman, and a corpse. Jesus was a sponge for the world’s impurity.
And He still is. Jesus holds us in the wet embrace of baptism. In that word-filled water, He is present to transfer our uncleanness to Himself. His holiness washes over us and our unholiness bleeds into Him.
Jesus becomes the rape victim.
Jesus becomes the self-hater.
Jesus becomes the man racked by false guilt.
And we become clean, holy, as pure as the love of God Himself.
We change our clothes in church. Jesus removes what represents our shame and puts on us the pure white robes of the sons and daughters of God. We wear the garments of the innocent. Because in Christ we are. We are clean. We are holy. We are just the way our Father wants us to be.
What defines you is not the abuse you suffered, the disease you bear, the worthlessness you feel. What defines you is the God Who holds you.
Your Father says, “Listen, you are my child. I am your Abba, your Dad. I love you. I don’t see any of speck of dirt on you. I wouldn’t change a single thing about you. You are a reflection of my own heart. You are my own flesh and blood. Nothing will ever change my devotion to you. You are mine, and I am yours, now and always.”
You are not a failure, a victim, a slut, or trash. You are the Father’s son, the Father’s daughter. You are Jesus’s brother or sister. Your place is at God’s table, where His children laugh and feast and bask in the glow of the Father’s smiling face.
Chad is an author and speaker devoted to honest Christianity that addresses the raw realities of life. The Gospel is for broken, messed up people like himself. Whether he's writing or speaking, his focus remains on God's Good News for our world: that Jesus is the friend of sinners. He was willing to give his life that we might have freedom and forgiveness in him. He holds Master's degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College.
Night Driving tells the story of a pastor and seminary professor whose moral failures destroyed his marriage and career, left his life in ruins, and sent him spiraling into a decade-long struggle against God. Forced to fight the demons of his past in the cab of the semi-truck he drove at night through the Texas oil fields, Chad Bird slowly began to limp toward grace and healing.