We are all, in our own ways sinners. We all, at some point in our lives, lie or cheat or steal or just act in a way that we wish we wouldn’t, but sometimes seem powerless to avoid. We are all sinners, just to varying degrees. It’s what makes us human.
But we all—all of us—have the power to atone. We just have to choose to, and that choice is humanity’s defining characteristic. Just as we choose to sin and think that choice unavoidable, we can choose to recognize our sins for what they are and to make up for them.
Just as God made humanity imperfect, He made us all perfectly capable of atoning for even the worst of our sins so long as we are willing to do so.
Man always has a choice, just as two men did years ago: Two men who seemed as though they couldn’t be more different, but who were both sinners and now both united by the consequences of the choices they made...or didn’t make.
One man society would recognize immediately as a sinner, a career criminal who posed a near-constant threat to his community. The other man society would believe to be a saint, a lifelong public servant dedicated to making his community safer. But he was a sinner, too, and he freely admitted it, recognized it, and chose to atone for it.
His sin was hatred; a hatred for career criminals, for those whom he protected his community against.
But God presented him with a choice; a moment when he could recognize his hatred, look inside himself, and choose to atone. It was a moment that he didn’t immediately recognize—a moment that disguised itself as a chance encounter with an old friend.
And he learned that his friend anguished over her failure to talk about God with her nephew before he died. It stuck with him. It was the moment that he realized he needed to talk with his loved ones about God and, before he could, he realized that he needed to know God, to accept God, and to accept that he was a sinner even if he may have seen himself as a saint. It was in that moment he turned to God, and he never turned back.
It was the moment that Milwaukee Police Officer Mike Michalski said he was saved, and that was the moment his life, and his police work, changed.
God had presented Officer Michalski with a moment to change, and he accepted it. God had offered him a chance to accept his sins and atone for them, and he did. It changed him, his work, and his community, because he dedicated himself to helping others atone for their sins, too.
It was what he was trying to do last week, when his path crossed with that of another sinner named Jonathan Copeland.
God had presented Copeland with a chance to atone for his sins, too...ten years ago.
Instead of giving himself up and facing the consequences of his sins, he tried to run from them, tried to escape them. Ten years later, he found himself in a nearly identical situation. The police were closing in on him—he would be again forced to confront his sins and atone for them—but once again he refused.
And instead of running, he tried to escape by committing humanity’s worst sin.
We are all sinners; it’s something we can’t escape, no matter how hard we try, no matter how many sins we commit to cover up this truth. But we all have the power to choose to atone; to choose to live differently.
How different would our community be today if Jonathan Copeland had recognized his chance to atone? Officer Michalski might have given him a prayer card on the way to jail and talked to him about God. Officer Michalski would have recognized something redeemable even in someone as rotten to the core as Jonathan Copeland and tried to help him move on from a life of sin.
But because Copeland never gave him that chance, because he chose evil, he won’t ever have that chance, and our community won’t have the chance to see what sort of good Michael Michalski could have done.
Though his death may seem senseless, it is a painful illustration of the truth that he lived: That while all of us may sin, we can all choose to atone, and that we must all live—and sometimes die—with the consequences of those who don’t.