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Lent is a time when we talk about something we’d rather not talk about… because we don’t like using the word. Maybe we’d rather live in denial. We don’t want to admit we are involved in it. Maybe the word evokes too much guilt… and who wants to feel guilty.
Maybe we’ve used the word or the word has been used against us as a weapon of self righteousness… and arrogance… Maybe the word simply seems old fashioned… out of date… belonging to another time. Because it is a word we don’t like to use too often. When we so, some people cringe.
And you know the word. It is not a four letter word. It is a three letter word. Sin.
Sin. Who wants to talk about sin? It is such a downer.
I’d much rather be one of those preachers that talks about prosperity and your potential… how God can help you be all you can be… Many congregations who seek a more positive worship experience relegate prayers of confession to the dustbins of history… with the explanation that people prefer not to think about sin.
Talk about sin? What a Debbie downer!
I heard a pastor report this statement from a church member: “Here at Christ church, we don’t have sin.” Another pastor had a friend who told her she could not sing “Amazing Grace,” as she had never been a “wretch” who required saving.
Sin. Who wants to talk about it?!
Well…. Paul does In fact in Romans 5-8 alone the word sin occurs 42 times.
Paul doesn’t wish to be a Debbie downer, but Paul would say there is no denying the power of sin in our lives at every level.
When Paul talks about sin, it sounds to me like he is talking about a virus that has spread to the world… almost like a plague:“.. just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned…”
I feel like someone from the CDC- the Center for Disease control … or should I say, someone from the CSC- the Center for Sin control… should issue a warning… “outbreak of sin”…
If only we could find a flu shot for sin… limit it… contain it… control it… keep it from spreading from one person to another….from one group to another… from one nation to another… We could stop sin in its tracks… eliminate it.
But Paul would say… We can’t. We have no shot for sin… no hope for containment… it inevitably will infect everything we do… down to our core. Or to put it another way, we are rotten to the core.
Don’t believe it? I’m not sure how anyone can say this is not true.
As my theology professor once told us, “the only empirically provable doctrine of the Christian faith is the doctrine of sin. The evidence is all around us.”
You know this is true. I know you know this is true. Sin can take something wonderful and good and be used for demonic and destructive purposes.
Years ago we took the atom… we developed the wonderful capability to provide nuclear energy… which it has… we developed ways to use it in medicine… But we also developed the ability to destroy the world. Why else do we worry about this technology getting into the wrong hands? We know the potential for sin!
I just returned from a conference where, in a small group, we discussed and debated the good and evil of social networks. I like how Facebook keeps me connected with so many of you… it supplements our relationship. But others fear that social networks will mislead people into false friendships and virtual relationships… That is also true. Sin would lead us that way.
You know how sin can do great damage.
In September of 2010, a young violinist who was a freshman at Rutgers ended his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate broadcast online a secretly filmed, hurtful video. Just a few years earlier, an eighth grader committed suicide after learning an internet romance was a cruel joke. Cyberbullying they call it.
You know the other stories: identity theft… bank accounts stolen… partisan politics that seek to demonize the other side… facebook affairs where people meet old flames and leave family and marriage to start over…
Slander, politicial lying, bullying, theft, affairs are age old problems that are multiplied by using adding the word “cyber” in front of them.
Sin. Unless you are in deep denial… it is hard to argue with Paul that it is a condition that affects and infects every one of us… and it is as old as Adam. And there is little WE can do about it.
At least that is how Paul sees it.
Fortunately, Paul sees something else too. While we may be powerless to defeat sin… God is not. While God may not be able keep us from sinning— and hurting each other– no one can do that as long as we have free will… God has found a way to deal head on with sin… to defeat the power of sin.
Did you hear what Paul said?
“For if the many died through one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for many… Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience, the many will be made righteous.”
As God once handed humanity over to sin, God has now handed over his Son Jesus Christ to defeat sin… To save us from ourselves. As Adam brought sin into the world… so Jesus Christ brings forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation to those who suffer under the power of sin. Christ brings a gift that defeats sin: the gift of obedience, love and forgiveness.
It reminds me of the story about Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers – was an ordained Presbyterian minister.
For many years, he and his wife visited one of his favorite seminary professors in a nursing home every Sunday afternoon. They would sing, talk, read scripture, and pray.
One Sunday, the Rogers sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which included these words:
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure,
For, lo, his doom is sure:
One little word shall fell him.
When they finished the song, Mr. Rogers asked his old prof,
“Dr. Orr, when it says one little word will fell him, what is that word?”
Great question: What word has the power to bring down the prince of darkness? To stop evil and sin?
Dr. Orr replied, “Evil simply disintegrates in the presence of forgiveness.”
I don’t know if that’s the word Martin Luther meant when he wrote “A Mighty Fortress.” But it certainly fits. And I think Paul would agree.
What Christ did was to undo Adam’s work… reverse the affect of sin and evil… through the power of the forgiveness… Or, as Paul would say to another church,
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, forgiving us when we didn’t deserve forgiveness (2 Cor. 5:19)
What has undone the power of sin and death, it seems is Christ’s obedience that results in divine forgiveness.
Which we understand is the power we have as well… not as perfectly or completely as Christ… sin still flows through our veins… but every now and then… it is a power we see as something that slows the spread of sin. When we follow in God’s way, sin if not completely stopped, is diminished.
I saw this recently as I closely followed a story that happened at Auburn. No surprise to any of you!
As you may know… a 62 year old man from Dadeville Alabama, named Al, recently did something unthinkable. It was sick. Sick as sin. He poisoned some sacred trees at Auburn. Toomer’s Oaks. More likely than not, they will die. These are 130 year old oaks where Auburn students have gathered for generations to celebrate special victories like Carolina fans do on Franklin street.
This year we celebrated the SEC championship and the National Championship. And we celebrated beating Alabama.
Now an Auburn fan put a Cam Newton Jersey over a Bear Bryant Statue in Tuscaloosa… Truth be told, one of our fans violated what was sacred to Alabama fans. It was not a righteous act. And I would understand the anger.
But Al (whose kids, no kidding are named Crimson and Bear) went off the deep end… he purchased herbicide that would have killed up to 100 trees just to kill those two trees. He bragged about it on the radio. He was proud of his destruction.
As you can imagine, Auburn fans were stunned, angry. I was ready for there to be some retaliatory strike on Bama’s campus.. It is just the way sin works you know.
But something strange and wonderful happened that will forever affect my feelings for Alabama fans. On Facebook, a Bama fan set up a site called, “Tide for Toomer” … to support Auburn people in their grief and to raise money for Toomer’s corner… perhaps new trees. They raised far more money than any expected. Comments poured in. Best wishes from Bama fans… Thank you from Auburn fans. Words of grace and even forgiveness. The site became so filled with fans, they had to shut it down. The Bama students couldn’t keep up with it.
But it spurred other actions. The presidents of the two student bodies announced that trees would be planted on both campuses as a sign of good will.
And do you see what happened? One man’s sinful act that could have turned into an ugly pattern of revenge… that’s what sin would have wanted… one man’s act was stopped in its track, by one Bama student’s act of grace… which inspired other acts of grace…
I think that’s in a very small measure what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
Though we who are infected by sin would let it continue to destroy our relationships, our communities, our nation, our churches and even ourselves… God desired to put a stop to it… So God sent Christ to offer forgiveness and grace … most clearly made known on the cross. It stands forever as the symbol of God’s loving act of forgiveness.
Sin… no one likes it. Not even God. Look at the cross this Lent. See how much God hates sin… and how much God loves us. And give thanks. Give thanks to God. Amen.