It was over in thirty seconds, but it changed everything. We muddled through to the end, but everyone felt the tension. I was glad to leave.
I was at a professional seminar earlier this week. We were a group of pastors. We were talking about addiction and in one of the breakout sessions the topic turned to pain management, an altogether appropriate turn in the conversation. Our presenter had some helpful insight. It was right then that it happened.
I don’t remember exactly what she said, but in the context of pain, the woman to my left – I know her slightly – said something snarky about dentists. I suppose it was meant as humor, but it wasn’t very funny. Poor dentists. No one ever says anything nice about them. In fact, it was comment with an edge and denigrating to an entire profession.
The moment would have passed had the woman to my right – who I also know slightly – not spoken up. Her father is a dentist, she told us, and she resented the comment made by the woman on my left. Even then we might have made it through the tense exchange, but the woman on my left insisted on making another snarky comment about dentists, and the woman on my right responded with a defense of her father’s honor and dentists in general. I wished I had chosen another seat.
I don’t remember much more about the seminar. I was thinking about how we might have better managed that painful moment.
In our recent study of 1 Peter, we have heard the Apostle’s encouraging words that love covers a multitude of sins. Writing to Christians living in tough times, he encourages his readers to “above all, keep on loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
As far as I know, everyone who attended this week’s seminar is a Christian. And, yes, snarky, denigrating comments aimed at people and groups of people are sin, sometimes petty, minor sin, but sin nonetheless. It is sin to persist in making those snarky, denigrating comments.
I suppose that the woman on my left has had some bad experiences with dentists. And I suppose that the woman on my right has just about had it with snarky comments about dentists. After all, the father who loves her and who she loves is a dentist.
“Keep on loving each other,” the Apostle says, “since love covers a multitude of sins.” He doesn’t tell us which sins may be excluded from the multitude of covered sins. Maybe snarky comments about dentists aren’t covered.
Let’s assume, though, that my snarky comments that cut groups of people and individuals I may or may not know are sinful. Let’s assume that sting I feel when someone makes an unkind comment about pastors in general or about me in particular is the sting of verbal sin. How might love cover such sin, mine in the cutting comments I make; the other’s in stinging words he or she uses?
Love, the love we meet in Jesus Christ, tells me to keep my mouth shut, to mind my words, to think of the other before I make my comment. My sin so covered, the Holy Spirit begins to build in me the habit of kind speech. I’m still working on it.
Love, the love we meet in Jesus Christ, tells me, in Peter’s words, to “entrust my soul to a faithful creator while doing good.” Love reminds me that I can cast all my anxieties on him who loves me “because he cares for me.” Her sin, his sin, against me, covered by love, loses its sting.
Had our professional seminar been better covered in love, the snarky comment about dentists might not have been made. And the daughter of the dentist might have been less compelled to push the point about the honor of her dad’s profession.
To the Christians in the far-flung provinces of the Empire, and to LPC, Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Let’s keep working on it.