Friday, June 17, 2016
July Sermon Series
During the month of July, I am going to be dealing with the question of sin.
Such a loaded, dangerous, descriptive word.
In her book, Help My Unbelief, Rev. Flemming Rutledge describes sin this way: “We think of sin as a series of misdeeds, but in Biblical theology it is a condition.” In that light, sin can be both something we do as individuals, or it can be something done socially, such as opening fire in a school.
The difficulty of the subject is that sin is slippery. It isn’t always clear-cut or black and white as we might want it to be. Some are obvious, such as the massacre in Orlando last month. But sin is slippery to define or to point out, even though we might act like it is easy to see. And we act like it is, by and large, because of sin in our own hearts. We can quickly spot a sinner because they often look different, act different, or just seem different than ourselves. The Torah is full of lists of sins, as are some of Paul’s letters and Jesus’ teachings. But those lists are not exhaustive.
The Torah lists particular behaviors that are sinful. Jesus and Paul make it even more difficult when they proclaim that attitudes are sinful (Paul, for example, mentions enmity, dissention, and selfishness. Jesus mentions judgmentalism and hypocrisy. They both mention anger.)
So then, we find that if you do something that, as an action, isn’t listed as a sin, but you do it in malice, then you have sinned. Likewise, if your intentions were good, some actions are still bad.
It just gets more difficult from there.
Part of that has to do with how we define that which is sin. In the literal scriptural view, the word meant “missing the mark.” In our day and age, we tend to think of it as behavior that is far more evil in the sight of God, even damnable. Those definitions of sin, though, were not always the ones found in the Bible. The definitions change as society changes (For example, in our day and age, men don’t uphold the prohibition against shaving their beards and women are allowed to walk around without covering their heads).
Whatever may be the contemporary definition of sin, the real issue, as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “is the universality of the corruption which results from undue self-regard.” When we focus too much on ourselves, we turn away from our neighbor, we might even judge our neighbor, and we can quickly lose our moorings from God and the community. As one author described it, the heart of sin is literally and figuratively “I.”
I won’t try to provide a systematic discussion of sin. That would take far too much time. And I’m not going to spend Sunday morning as a time to yell at you about it. What I am setting out to do is to provide insight into the insidious nature of sin, but also the fact that in the face of sin and sinfulness, there is still Good News to be heard.
I hope that you will come and join us.
Grace and Peace,