SIN: Still a tricky topic

With David, everything has to be ‘an event’.  That is part of what it is to be the king, I suppose – see what you want, take what you want.  Consequences are for other people…ordinary people.  But we are told quite plainly “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord…” – and no wonder!

Uriah’s wife is “summoned” by the king.  There is every kind of problem with this rendezvous, but the biggest problem is this; Bathsheba is another man’s wife.

Uriah is called home to try and lend legitimacy to the child that will be the result of David’s indiscretion – I’m treading gently on Bathsheba’s role in all this, for it is difficult to refuse the king – especially difficult for a woman of the day.   I am quite content to follow the leading of the text here and paint David as the villain.

The punishment is severe – though Nathan assures the king that “the Lord has put away your sin…” still, the child shall die.

It is texts such as these that convince people that God must have a personality disorder – so many harsh judgements ‘back in the day’, set against the love and grace that Jesus points to as being God’s primary position.  How can we reconcile the two stories that the lectionary puts before us this morning?  I’m not sure I can…

A woman – a sinful woman – makes a fuss and disrupts an otherwise polite gathering of responsible men – no question who is at fault here, according to the customs of the day.  In a segregated, man-power society, this woman has got it ALL wrong.

Public affection…offered to a stranger (an important stranger – the guest at the dinner was Jesus – thus he was to be honoured AS GUEST, no matter who he was as a man)…and the whole room ‘knows’ that she is a sinner.

A word about that – the text does not really suggest what her sin might be – usually we assume that, because she is willing to offer such an intimate display, that her sin must have been physical (ie. sexual) in nature, but the greek word is used to describe someone who has “missed the mark” in terms of God’s favour or righteousness, so it could be any number of things that cause this designation

The incredible thing about this ‘new testament’ forgiveness party is that soon after, (Luke chapter 8: 1-3), we are told that a number of women have significant roles to play in the ministry of Jesus – these are supporters, providers, and those who have been healed.  Grateful people; influential people. The three opening verses of chapter eight say something remarkable about the path that Jesus ‘ministry’ takes  – against the prejudice of the day (against the pattern of the ancient near east) – a path blazed (in part) by the women whom had been shown mercy – revealed as fully human – by the love of God in Jesus.   So rather than ask ourselves “what does it mean to sin?” – a question that too often has been the preoccupation of the church – we might better consider “What does it mean to be forgiven?” – a question that is only rarely asked.

Sin is easier to talk about, because it seems easier to define.  There are lists, after all, of things that ‘are abominations before the Lord…”; things that we have been told separate us from God; things that we don’t understand and fear might ‘taint’ us; things that diminish us as human beings.  If we’re honest, we claim to know quite a lot about sin

But forgiveness is harder because it defies logic.  It comes without expectation; it is often offered against expectation, in fact.  Forgiveness does not limit all the damage (see David’s example) but it opens the door to further relationship – to further exploration, and yes, to repeated offences in most cases.  If our notions of sin are clearly defined (though constantly disputed), then our understanding of forgiveness is totally fuzzy, and that needs to change.

Faith isn’t founded on sin – but forgiveness.  That’s the simplest way to put it.

That’s the message of the gospel lesson – a woman who weeps and attends to Jesus in this extravagant manner has (in Jesus words) expressed faith like no other.  Faith that understands the scope of forgiveness is more resilient, gentler and more likely to attract than faith that is defined by the limits of sin.

The Christian church has a complicated relationship with both sin and forgiveness.  History convicts our exclusive, Imperialist tactics.  Encountering strange cultures as the new world was opened, we condemned what we didn’t understand, and calmly announced that our way was the best way.  It took nearly 500 years to recognize that our treatment of First Nations people, ‘in the name of Christianity’, was sin.  Our slowly changing relationship with First Nations has lead to relationships that enhance our understanding of the Divine.

We have had similar experiences around other long-held questions of sin.  Women in leadership?  The status of those who are divorced?  The physical and intellectual challenges faced by some folks were also once barriers to full inclusion in the body of Christ – not because Jesus doesn’t treasure people, but because his followers reject what they don’t understand; what they fear.

Now, in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the questions swirl around those whose sexuality is differently defined.  It’s sin, some say – as though that settles everything; but a church defined by sin is not the church of Christ.  To be sure, we are challenged by our encounter with the Risen Jesus to live changed lives – lives that honour the love God shows us; lives that recognize the delicate balance between good and evil, seeking good as we are able.  And the truth that allows us to live in that precarious balance is that God’s forgiveness is there waiting for us.

The cost of that forgiveness may be nothing more than a single tear – or simply won with a moments hesitation, or a sober second thought.  That forgiveness is liberating and life-giving; it allows relationships to form and to heal.  Forgiveness recognizes our humanity, and celebrates it.

The forgiveness Jesus offered this anonymous woman was hers before she entered the room; “Your faith has saved you…”, he says “go in peace.”  This is the faith rooted in grace – not limited by the constant reality of our sin – faith sure to save even the most unlikely among us.  Amen.


Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: