By Curtis K. Shelburne
Somewhere in his fine book, “Franklin and Winston,” Jon Meacham quotes a friend and colleague of Winston Churchill as commenting, “Winston was not a sinner, but he liked the company of sinners.”
Don’t worry. I’m not questioning the time-tested wisdom: “Evil companions ruin good morals.” Like most parents, I’ve given some heartfelt speeches along that line.
But still, the quotation above caught my attention. Even the wise and virtuous Abraham Lincoln, who said many more inspiring things, also said, “It has been my experience that people who have no vices have very few virtues.”
No, I’m not recommending sin and vice, but I think I hear what Churchill’s friend and Lincoln are saying. I suspect it’s what the writer of Ecclesiastes is saying when he writes, “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise — why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked and do not be a fool — why die before your time? … The man who fears God will avoid all extremes” (7:16-18).
Translated, I think that means, “Nobody likes a self-righteous twit.”
I doubt H. L. Mencken was being quite fair when he defined Puritanism as “the sneaking suspicion that somewhere, somehow, someone was having a good time.” But we’ve all known—and hoped to avoid—folks cut from that cloth. I’ve already had the flu and if what they have is “faith,” I’d rather not catch it.
Remember what Jesus’ enemies said about him? They said that he was not only a “sinner,” he was a “friend of sinners.” While I’m sorry that our Savior was maligned, I like very much what the misunderstanding says about him.
Christ’s enemies were the poisonously “religious” men of his day who, he said with fire in his eyes, used legalistic religion to tie heavy burdens on the backs of folks, but wouldn’t lift a finger to help carry those burdens. They didn’t love people. They didn’t love life. They loved only themselves, their power, and their position.
When God stood on earth’s sod, the only harsh words he had for anyone were for the “religious” moguls whose twisted “faith” made him sick.
When God in the flesh walks here, he turns out to be a “friend of sinners.” The Almighty turns out to be the God who absolutely loves absolutely ordinary people. The God who created life loves life and loves living life with real people. For the Pharisees, that’s reason enough to hate him. But real people follow him, flock to him, love him. They have finally met the true God and, wonder of wonders, he loves them. He likes them. He wants to spend time with them.
It turns out that the God who created everything of beauty in this universe has never created anything he finds more delightful than one of his seemingly ordinary children.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at