Posts Tagged ‘sin’

SIN: Still a tricky topic

June 12, 2016

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.

The same old sin, and a lesson in grace.

February 28, 2016

How often have you heard people complain about the differences between the Old and New Testaments…complain that the Old Testament is full of stories of God’s vengeance and wrath, while the New Testament reveals that God is love.  It’s not true, of course – God is God, and our efforts to describe God – to capture the essence of God in mere words – always fall hopelessly short of the mark.

We are made aware, through the history of the Hebrew people (as it is told in the Old Testament) that they understood their hardship and suffering in terms of God’s punishment or God’s absence.  They had some justification for this, I suppose, as their suffering was extreme, and their difficulties were numerous.  As a result, their descriptions of ‘God’s vengeance’ were vivid, and they lived with the constant expectation that God was both willing and able to punish them for their mistakes.

That expectation becomes a cultural ‘fact’; their history is full of fine examples of what they understood as God ‘acting out’ – surely, God knows the difference between punishment and prosperity – and so it is easy to develop a worldview that places punishment entirely in God’s hands, meaning the avoidance of punishment is our task, every time.

This week, however, the Lectionary readings offer us an alternative: joy and plenty from the hand of God, offered by a prophet who works among people in exile; people who believe their exile is part of God’s plan to punish them – and the prophet tells a story of providence instead.

It boggles the mind that God, whose task (in the Old Testament) is imagined to be limited to judgement and punishment, instead offers comfort, nourishment – even GLORY – to those whose lives have fallen apart.  True, this is a call to repentance – but repentance is always necessary in a world where

“…my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”  This is also a reminder that God’s measure of who is and is not worthy defies our understanding.

This seems to be the point Jesus would make – not that Jesus has suddenly reverted to an ‘old testament’ understanding – to promoting a two-faced god.  “Are they (who died so horribly) worse sinners than all the rest?”  There is a temptation to make Jesus sound morally superior, but the parable that follows suggests that Jesus is mocking those who imagine that any one particular sin is worse than another in God’s eyes.

I take this approach to this morning’s lessons at a time in the life of the national church when our energies are directed toward these sorts of ‘preferential judgements.’  A flurry of Overtures to last year’s General Assembly brought Homosexuality and same-sex marriages back into the spotlight.  To be clear, the Presbyterian Church in Canada has already said that homosexuality is not a sin, but that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman.    Nonetheless, following the discussions on Overtures to last  year’s General Assembly, the church at large is taking time to consider what it means to be ‘fit to minister’ in the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

There are those who argue for fuller inclusion; calling the church to recognize this as an act of social justice.  Others prefer the current approach, that allows homosexual individuals to be ordained and seek a call, so long as they remain celibate.  Still others believe that the recognition of homosexual people as among those fit to serve the church is nothing more than a dangerous concession to society.

It’s likely that we’re all wrong.

”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways” – so says the prophet on behalf of the Lord (Isaiah 55: 8) – words not meant to discourage us, but to remind us that we are still part of an ordered Creation that we do not fully understand, over which we cannot gain full control.  Our hiding behind rules, modern and ancient, and our various appeals to ‘tradition’ or ‘progress’ are simply further outbreaks of the same old sin.  We are consumed by the pride which suggests that “we alone” can know the mind of God.  This is the sin that makes Jesus weep for Jerusalem – the sin that drives him to these careful comparisons – “…are these any worse sinners than those…?”

It is possible to imagine that there is only one sin – and that, being human, we have managed to express that one sin in an infinite number of creative ways.  Therefore, among sinners, God does not play favourites (if that were the right word) – indeed “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and yet…and yet…God’s favourites are those who recognize that their sin keeps them from right relationship with God.  Repentance is always necessary, for everyone – constantly – not because certain sins are occasionally ‘favoured’ as more harmful, but because we continually re-invent new ways to express our sin.

And so, in this season of preparation and, yes, anticipation, let us hear for ourselves Jesus’ call to repentance “…or else you will perish as they did.”  This is not an empty threat – there are two choices within a life of faith – acceptance that “God is God and we are not” – a position of humility and worship and service guided by the promise of God’s providence, or a futile pursuit of “certain righteousness” based on a proud (but baseless) assumption that our minds have somehow unravelled the mystery of God’s plan for Creation.  No matter which path we pursue, we shall perish – that is certain.  But will we have lived lives of humble service, or lives of willful belligerence?

Even the tree that have not produced fruit are nurtured and encouraged; there are many “last chances” in the vast fabric of God’s grace – many times many, it seems – and it is only our foolish pride that runs us out of chances.  To those who believe that the churches future hangs on our ability to make the “right choice” – relax; remember that God is predisposed to Grace.  If Resurrection teaches us anything, it is that we should humble ourselves before the One who has overcome even death.  Let us abandon the pride that must be right – the pride that must be certain – and accept God’s offer of mercy which is deep and wide and absolutely without favourites.

Amen

A lesson from the Garden

June 7, 2015

The reading from Genesis this morning brings with it memories of flannel-graphs and Sunday school art of a man and woman hiding behind shrubbery, a half-eaten apple discarded in haste, and a snake lurking in the branches of a tree.  There it is, we say; the FIRST SIN!

That is the set up, at least, for the text that we read this morning (Genesis 3: 8-15).  For we are quick to point out the moment that “sin entered the world”, but we don’t like to linger on the consequences.

Among the consequences of sin is that, eventually, every sinner is held accountable.  Not always quickly  – (theologically, not even death can keep us from judgement) – but somewhere out there, someone is ready to ask “why did you do that?”

This morning, it is God, out for a morning stroll – enjoying the fruits of all that creative labour; eager to commune with the best parts of Creation…but the man and woman are hiding.  Afraid (he says).  Ashamed at having been tricked (she says).  Naked and exposed by their actions, which they knew to be wrong.  They try to avoid their responsibility, but nothing doing; actions have consequences – that’s part of the pattern of the Created world – and God purposely sends them out into the wide, wide world.

This morning, we stop with the punishment of the serpent. But that is not the last act of judgement, just the most telling, because for all the misery we attach to the disobedience of the first couple, the serpent modelled original sin quite well – and the punishment reflects that.

Scripture reveals that even in our exile from paradise, humanity has found favour, and ultimately forgiveness from God – the serpent, not so much.

Still eating “dust” – still going about on its belly – because it is a serious mistake to mis-represent the mind of God.

Maybe you’ve never thought of the Genesis story in that way – maybe it’s always been about OUR sin and the road back to paradise, but the text does not ignore the role of the serpent, nor does it diminish the serious nature of  the serpent’s suggestion that it knew better than God what God intended for humanity (read Genesis 3: 4-5).

It is that idea – that particular sin (the “knowing better than God”) – that is at the heart of this morning’s gospel lesson.  Jesus is followed by huge crowds; some eager for miracles, others, curious at his motivation.  His family tries to rescue him, thinking that he’s lost his marbles, and that suggestion provokes a speech that is difficult for us to understand:

‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

An unforgivable sin?  Really?  What about the enduring love of God?  What about the ‘power of forgiveness’?  What about God “who sent the Son, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved…”?

But here is a link to that first story, that first couple, and the first sin.  A sin “against the Holy Spirit” – a slander on the character of God, that suggests that the sinner knows more about God’s mind than God does.

Consider the crowds – the “Doctors of the Law”, who offer their judgement on the source of Jesus’ power; “he has a demon.  He drives out demons by the power of the chief demon (Beelzebub).”  These folks, who appear faithful, see miracles and decide they are mischief.  Can’t you hear the voice of the serpent?  “That’s not what God wants…that’s not how God acts…trust us, we know God; in fact, we know better…”

It may be a sin to deny God (a classic definition of sin is separation from God, so any act, thought or declaration that separates us from God – including denial, fits the definition); but such sin can be remedied and forgiven.  So much greater the sin to assume the mind of God, or presume to know completely the will of God.  This ‘sin against the spirit’ has no remedy, says Jesus, and that’s not surprising; for those who believe themselves godly have no need of God’s liberating Spirit.  To know the all-knowing with complete certainty defies simple logic, but it’s the pride behind the idea that contains the sin.

Don’t believe in an all knowing power?  That’s fine – just make sure you’re not acting like one.  And rest assured that those of us who do claim faith in the Almighty are not immune to these ‘godly delusions’.  Church people with all the answers; those ‘fundamentalists’, who offer absolutes in their interpretation of Scriptures, and unswerving belief that theirs is the right way of thinking about God / faith / life…as though God were whispering in their ears.  Those who reach out in faith to new cultures or different religions with the confidence that what they offer (in terms of religion and culture) are superior to all others.  Plans that hinge on the notion that “God is with us” (a position maintained by both sides during World War II).

Such dangerous positions as these have desperate and predictable consequences – no matter what faith tradition is the starting point.  So much suffering is brought about when we take the role of the all-knowing power for ourselves.

The good news is that we need not stay “…on our bellies, licking at the dust”.  The good news is that God has given us discerning minds and hearts that can be moved to change.  The division in the body of Christ between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches has not disappeared, but humility has allowed us to live in relative peace with one another for the last several generations.  Wounds are still being healed between the church and the First Nations, but our certainty has given way to what I hope is a genuine desire to learn more about one another, and learn from one another.  Ecumenical movements continue to recognize and celebrate similarities between and among a wide variety of denominations in the Christian Church, allowing faithful people of widely different traditions to band together in our service to the wider world.

We are learning to disagree in faith, and that is no small thing.  It is, in fact , a sign that we are beginning to learn the lesson of the Garden; that God’s wisdom is greater than ours, more mysterious, more full of grace; and that no amount of certainty in us can replace the gentle, loving nurture of the Spirit of the Living God.

Jesus opened the family of God to those “who [do] the will of God…”  To do the will of God, we must be open, and humble, and ready for the Spirit to move us “like the wind”.  Thanks be to God, that Spirit moves among us still.  Praise God, for the gift of humble service that is for us, and for all, modelled by our brother – our Saviour – our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Fear, itself.

June 23, 2013

Jesus has (according to Luke’s gospel) just brought his friends

safely across the “the lake” (Luke 8: 22) through a fierce storm.

 Their fear has been conquered by Jesus presence,

and his “command of the wind and the waves”.

The last thing they need is trouble on land, but that is what they find.

Jesus steps ashore to a different kind of storm.

 He is accosted by a madman:

naked; raving; a danger to himself and others

(according to the hurried biography Luke’s gospel gives us).

This fellow has been banished to the edge of town.

 Because of his condition, he is perpetually unclean.

He is forced to make do for himself among the tombs;

on the boundary between the living and the dead.

He is neither.

 There is no medical, social, or personal response to this man

except bondage and the watchfulness of those set to guard him

(more likely to keep him “where he belongs”).  Luke’s gospel does not recall his name.

Yet for all the energy spent to keep him apart,

he has broken his bonds, evaded his captors,

and like steel to a magnet he is drawn to Jesus.

From this distance, we are convinced that this is as it should be;

Jesus, whose mission it is to heal the sick and bring good news to the poor,

 has already amazed us with his “way with the suffering”.

From our Resurrection perspective,

we accept that Jesus purpose was that we might be free of all that binds us –

so this story would seem to hold no surprises for us.

Jesus confronts the demon – demons, actually –

bargains with them and casts them out of our unfortunate friend

at the expense of a herd of swine –

(no great loss, and great ritual significance to a Jewish audience,

but a crushing blow to the innocent swineherds)

and there you have it:

another triumph for this gracious and generous man of God.

But this is not a triumphant moment in Luke’s gospel –

 there is no heroes welcome – no joyful retelling of this miracle of liberation.

This is all about fear.

The key to this text comes when the people discover what Jesus has done.

The swineherds complain about the sudden loss of income, disguised as a miracle,

and when the crowds come to investigate,

they find the village villain “clothed and in his right mind.

And they were AFRAID!

Fear bound this man and kept him nameless.

Fear chased him to the tombs to live among the dead.

Fear kept his jailers from getting to know him, or from daring to consider him human.

Fear made an animal out of him, and kept him at bay.

Such are the demons that Jesus meets and casts out;

demons that have been assigned to one person;

 projected on his condition/behaviour by a community gripped by fear.

That same community strips him of his humanity, and declares their fears banished,

But they are hiding behind their cruelty – they have committed the worst kind of crime.

Fear is at the heart of this.

 Their fear generates the companion sins of ignorance and oppression.

Fear of something different led to an imprisonment.

Fear of a life now changed – radically changed –

and thus unpredictable and uncontrollable,

brings their attention to the man who upset the applecart…

and so they turn their fear on Jesus next;

 the fear of one who refused to bow to the cultural expectation

and treat this man as less than human –

this fear brings them to show Jesus the quickest way out of town.

This is a common reaction in human beings –

the impulse to ignore the obviously odd, and shun those whom we do not understand.

The dividing line is easily moved –

be it race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation –

there is no end to the things that generate uncertainty in us,

and uncertainty too quickly turns to fear.

So the fear returns and Jesus leaves, and we are left with this remarkable story,

and an un-named evangelist, now set loose on the community that once imprisoned him

to tell of the things God has done for him.

The miracle in this story is left for us to discover.

           Can we not imagine ourselves bound by this same kind of fear?

Fear of the strange or the unknown –

fear of the “madman in our midst”,

whom we are quick to identify, but reluctant to call by name…

Are not we guilty of letting our fear bind the weak and strange among us?

Does our fear keep us from recognizing the work of God even in this “enlightened age”?

Those who talk, or look or think differently

do not fit easily into our tightly controlled communities of faith.

We test and we judge, and in the process we lose sight of the possibility

that these strangers may have had something to tell us/show us

of the grace, mercy and love of God.

We don’t even think to learn their names –

they are different, thus dangerous,

and we think ourselves well rid of them.

But the lesson – the miracle – that Luke’s gospel offers us

Is not that Jesus “cured” a madman,

but that the cure is so simple, and so easily within our abilities.

To offer compassion – to face the stranger and call them friend –

to touch the untouchable and offer the hand of friendship to the outcast;

Jesus does all these things, and invites those who would follow him to do the same.

To recognize the human being in the one being shunned, or persecuted –

that is what Jesus does in the name of God,

and we who are part of God’s covenant family must do the same.

This seems simple, but experience tells us it is hard; hard to face our fear –

hard to imagine that “they” are just like us.

Jesus saw only the man – Jesus is drawn, not to his madness, but by his humanity.

Jesus is quick to recognize the child of God in everyone he meets;

This attitude is central to his teaching, and affects his every action.

Our exiled man “at the tombs” discovered this to be true,

And his new knowledge turned him into an ambassador of God’s Kingdom of grace.

No name – no home – but a new sense of himself;

A miracle has changed him;

and all because Jesus recognized him as one of God’s own.

Think of what might be accomplished –

in the church; in the world – for the kingdom of God,

if we were to turn our hand to that kind of miracle.

I love a parade…

March 24, 2013

 

Parades are connected with celebrations, in our time –

happy moments marking victories, or holidays.

So we are inclined to read accounts of Jesus making his way into Jerusalem,

with the Passover celebrations looming as ‘just another occasion to celebrate.

We imagine a triumphal parade, complete with palm branches and singing crowds –

some churches will re-create that parade this morning

but the truth about this morning’s parade is more sinister.

 

Jesus is making his way toward Jerusalem motivated by terrible purpose.

He is at odds with the authorities – he has baffled even his closest friends –

and this final stage of his journey leaves no doubt that he is making a fatal statement.

Jesus has taught and told the story of this new kingdom all around the territory.

His bold proclamation – the company he keeps – and the parables he offers

all propose a wildly different way of doing things.

And because of this, trouble is coming.

 

He has said so, more than once.

“Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.’ But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” [1]

 

So let’s review – Luke has brought Jesus to the edge of the city,

telling tax collectors that they have found salvation[2], and he follows Zaccheus’ story  with a horrifying parable about a man who would be king [3].

His actions and his words have been deeply critical of the current kingdom –

a kingdom ruled by folks who are desperate

to maintain power in the region and over the people.

 

And Jesus’ entry to the city openly mocks those desires.

 

He borrows a colt – un-trained and therefore unpredictable –

and descends on the city surrounded by singing, waving and shouting.

 

It is the opposite of an impressive sight;

this parade is laughable, given the reality of the power that controls the city,

but Jesus point is apparently made.

The Pharisees are nervous.  Too much attention is being drawn to the crowd –

by the crowd.

“Teacher, order your disciples to stop”, they say.

But there is no stopping this.

“…even the stones would shout out.” Jesus famously says,

Thus endeth the lesson – but the statement made by Jesus at this moment

continues to speak across time. –

 

Only at the cross, and then at the empty tomb, will Jesus make a bolder statement.

He has, by his teaching and his mock parade, declared to all who would listen

that the kingdom he proclaims – the kingdom God has promised –

has no use for the usual symbols of power, or the ‘ordinary’ trappings of authority.

 

***(the parable that precedes Luke’s telling of the palm parade,

suggests that the man who would be king will not stand for criticism,

is a singularly greedy, demanding overseer, whose mission is only to establish – without question – his personal power and authority.

Yet Jesus, proclaimed as “the king who comes in the name of the Lord” comes in humility (on a colt) surrounded by joy, rather than those who trembled before the return of the “king” in fear [4])

 

And so Jesus’ entry really is a triumphal one –

but the celebrations are muted, for the moment.

Jesus will triumph over the prevailing ideas, the prevailing fear,

But he arrives knowing that his presence (and the manner of his coming)

will provoke a negative response –

such is the price you pay for proclaiming freedom in the midst of oppression,

and joy in the face of fear –

 

But Jesus does all of this confident in the power of God,  not to protect him from harm,

but to prevail over the power that holds all people captive.

 

Sin, in all its forms, is about to be given a fatal blow

(not swept away/banished, but robbed of its power).

That includes the sin of pride – of greed – of oppression and judgement.

All the things that make people think they are strong

are diminished as Jesus makes his approach in humility –

and they are further frustrated by the power of God that sees Jesus raised from death.

 

 

All this is present in this morning’s parade,

though perhaps we choose not to see it.

Our celebrations will be interrupted by betrayal, abandonment and crucifixion –

The power of sin will not be overcome by waving and singing,

but the celebration is coming.

Those once ruled by sin will meet a new master,

And soon – very soon – the power of God shall be revealed

in ways that will leave the followers of Jesus speechless.

 

 


[1]  Luke 18: 31-34

[2] Luke 19: 1-10

[3] Luke 19: 11-27

[4] Luke 19:21

“On falling short of the glory.”

August 5, 2012

It’s an anticlimax, really. “I have sinned..”, Says the king. No kidding!

David has, in short order, seen a woman bathing and decided she should be his.

He summons her to the residence – takes her to his bed –

then arranges to put her husband in harms way.

Once Uriah is ‘out of the way’, he marries Bathsheeba and goes on about his royal business.

I have sinned, he says.

We are quick to acknowledge that this kind of behaviour,

as common as it now seems among the famous and powerful,

should not be rewarded, but we are less likely to call their behaviour SIN.

We reserve that word for special circumstances:

the outrageous behaviour of the privileged people of the world, we accept with a shrug.

That is the way they are – there s nothing to stop the mighty from exercising their might.

We do not give SIN it’s due – we have lost sight of the true nature of SIN.

We speak generally of our sins, hoping that our religious observance might excuse them,

but we are soft on SIN.

 

So what is SIN – what have we forgotten; what are we missing?

Let’s pretend that this is another time,

and that the key to life is answering this one question correctly (What is SIN) –

because if you can identify is, you can avoid it,

and then Heaven is yours – gold medal – top of the class.

So – here’s the task; Answer the question – what is SIN?

Is the question too big?

The classical definition – the theologian’s definition – is that sin is the separation from God.

So apply that to David’s situation: What is David’s SIN?

Sex? Murder? Pride? What???

 

David’s confession does not help us determine how he went wrong.

He was rich & powerful…not a sin

He was (as a young man) handsome – still no sin.

He is described as a man after God’s own heart! Is it a sin to be human then?

 

As much as we are fascinated with finding new ways to behave badly

(and as happy as we are to catalogue the sins of others)

these typically human behaviours that David exhibits are not SIN.

Sex & murder are two of humanities favourite pastimes,

and we have found ways as a society to make our pursuit of these pastimes completely legitimate.

Both are sanctioned under civil law –

under the heading of mutual consent where sex is concerned,

and in the name of national defense for murder.

 

The act is not the SIN,

the sin is the desire that drives us to want what is not ours, or to want more than we can use.

The sin is to covet our neighbours goods, or status, or contentment, or self-assurance, or peace.

When you consider it like this, it is easier to answer the question “what is Sin”,

and much more frightening too.

 

David’s SIN? Jealousy.

Uriah’s wife was the most beautiful woman of the moment, and shouldn’t the king have only the best?

David’s SIN? The competitive urge to “improve your standing”; to be better than the next fellow in every way.

A distance from God that made David think that god-like status was his right – all these encompass David’s SIN, and this is our SIN too – the foundational SIN, if you will.

If it has one name, it is desire – a compulsion to want

 

Do we understand SIN better now? Are you uncomfortable yet?

I am. For I have sinned: yesterday – today – and tomorrow, unless I miss my guess.

Not only that, but I live in a time and place where I am encouraged to SIN –

dare I say, expected to sin.

 

Commercial enterprise depends on my wanting things I don’t need.

Societal expectations are strangely arranged to criticize those who do not want to improve themselves,

to defy time and look (and act) younger than we are.

It begins at a very young age, as even our children are urged to succeed at everything

beyond the ordinary range of ambition.

We have moved beyond encouragement to something darker –

a sense that it is no longer enough to be competent and capably – we expect everyone to be outstanding.

 

To love what you do, and striving to do your best –

these are admirable things but we have been infected by the myth of constant improvement –

no limits on excellence – and that has left us in an impossible situation.

The culture of success at any cost has become the constant reminder of our SIN –

it is – for better and worse – very much a part of who we are –

it creates our heroes and our villains.

(and in the middle of an Olympiad, it is tempting  to make the connection between this SIN and our obsession with success in athletics…)

 

And because it is so much a part of what makes us human,

we might think it normal – even a desirable trait –

until we meet Jesus.

 

 

 

Jesus. Who helps us understand that nothing is more desirable than the love of God.

Jesus – who suggests that not even a miraculous multiplication of loaves & fish

can compare to the steady supply of grace that God provides.

Our desires become hurtful when they ignore the needs of our neighbours

when we selfishly seek that which will satisfy –

Our desire can lead to good and gracious acts – lasting relationships – work that benefits, rather than harms –.

but when it springs from a place of self-protection, or from a flawed self-image,

it produces bullies instead of benefactors: dictators rather than difference makers.

 

Jesus would help us love ourselves as we are –

by meeting our anxieties, and our desire for superiority head on

with the gentle compassion of one who knows that control, or power,

or superiority in any thing (or in everything) are properly given to God –

thus lifting the worrying pursuit of the impossible off of our shoulders.

Jesus delivers us from the sin of desire – the sin of wanting what is not ours –

by reminding us that God has provided all we need –

there is no “first second or third” in the kingdom of God – there is no “us”, no “them”.

There is God, and that is enough.