Rector’s Reflection – June 29, 2014
I have gone to St. Paul’s in Picayune today to present Ben Bryan for confirmation. He was unable to be here when the bishop came on Ascension Day, so Fr. Nick Johnson has been kind enough to include us in his service. Not being here means I don’t get to preach, but there is something in the Letter to the Romans I just can’t let slip away. And so I reflect… on sin.
I have remarked from time to time that it is difficult to put a new homiletical spin on, say, Christmas or Easter. But it is really more difficult to preach on sin. I always have the feeling that, on the one hand, somebody out there is thinking, “Oh great, she’s going to bring back the guilt it took me six years of therapy to get rid of,” and, on the other hand, somebody is thinking, “I hope she lowers the boom on all those sinners out there.” Preaching on sin can quickly go from the Good News to meddlin’.
In the beginning of the 6th chapter of Romans, Paul describes followers of Christ as “those who have died to sin.” And so today he continues with, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” His premise about ‘dying to sin’ anticipates a change in behavior.
There was a great cartoon a while back in a magazine (I think it was Christianity Today) in which two couples are engaged in a study of this teaching concerning dying to sin. One of the women is speaking. “Well,” she says, “I haven’t actually died to sin, but I did feel kind of faint once.”
That’s probably a fair image for a lot of people, and one of the reasons I think we treat sin lightly (or not at all) is that talking about sin assumes from the beginning that there is a fundamental difference between right and wrong… and that’s not a popular thing in society today. Saying someone or something is ‘wrong’ is, for segments of our world, tantamount to hate speech. In my lifetime, the pendulum has swung so far toward tolerance of all behavior – even destructive behavior – that many subscribe to the notion that there is no such thing as right and wrong. As one observer of the church has said, “In our haste to be compassionate toward the sinner, we have deadened our sensitivity to the repulsiveness of sinful behavior.”
But right and wrong do exist. There is such a thing as a Christian morality, and it is apart from legalism. Knowing where to draw the line may be difficult, but there is a line. If we choose to cross the line, there are consequences for the choices. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul put it this way: “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
Remember in the first chapter of Genesis, on the sixth day God came up with the brilliant plan to create human beings. Not just random creatures like the leviathan or the panda bear or the Siamese cat. Human beings had a very specific prototype: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God looked around and saw everything that he had made, and he deemed it “very good.”
Of course it didn’t take long for sin to find its way into God’s world, but this is why Paul says, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies…” You weren’t meant for this.
Most of you know that I am not a rigid person. Fire and Brimstone could be names for paint colors I might chose, but not my preaching. I don’t want to increase anyone’s level of guilt. But I do believe there is a moral law at work in this world and whenever we violate that law, there are consequences.
And I also believe we were not meant for this. No one was meant for sin. God knows that, which, incidentally, is why we live in a state of grace. God wants us to do better than fall for the temptations of sin, and then waste precious days or months or years attempting to convince ourselves that somehow it’s okay. But we weren’t meant for this, and thanks be to God, he’s ready to forgive us when we come to our senses, whenever that may be, and return to him.
So, without any intent to create guilt or any desire to condemn, I simply repeat these words from Paul for your reflection: “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.” And whenever you are tempted to sin, remember: You weren’t meant for this.