Unfortunately, we do not have sermon audio this week. Instead, see the sermon text below from Sunday, April 23, 2017.
Alright ladies and gentlemen, this morning, we are going to talk about sin!
In more progressive circles, we aren’t as quick to talk about sin. Because for a lot of us, we harken back to being brought up with a list of don’ts: Don’t drink don’t smoke don’t chew and don’t go with guys or girls that do.
And we could go on: don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t hit, don’t poke your little brother in the eye…
When I think about sin I’m always brought back to my Southern Baptist days. I wasn’t raised in the church, but when I did find the church I was a teenager and that church just happened to be Southern Baptist. It was a good church with good and loving people. They taught me how important community is.
But at this church, sin was a big topic of conversation. We were reminded weekly that we were sinners. We as youth were always curious about those “sins” that no one would talk about. We would comb the Bible like Nicholas Cage in National Treasure, just knowing that there would be a secret code or answer. We never found it.
Then one summer I was a Southern Baptist missionary to the exotic land of Florida. I was sent out with a team of three other 19-year-olds and we traveled from church to church all over Florida for 10 weeks leading vacation Bible school for different churches.
Every week we would have to report to the national office how many people we saved that week. Sinners no more. Now let me remind you that we were leading vacation Bible school, which is typically for children.
So, every week we would lead Lifeway’s curriculum of Admit Believe Confess: the ABC’s of becoming a Christian.
It’s as easy as A-B-C! I would sing you a song that will forever remain with me, but I’ll spare you the anguish.
First you have to ADMIT to God that you’re a sinner and you repent and turn from your sin.
Then you BELIEVE that Jesus is God’s Son who was sent to die to pay for your sins,
and then you CONFESS that faith in Jesus as your Savior and Lord.
And if you followed this formula believe it in your heart then you were saved. A sinner no more.
It’s as easy as A-B-C!
So, it was about two weeks into the summer that I really began to question what we were doing. I didn’t have the language yet, but I could just look into the eyes of a six year and think to myself, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! This 6-year-old is a sinner who has to be saved from the damnation of hell? Can this 6 yr old hold any of that weight?
That wasn’t the easiest summer to get through. It began to put a lot of thoughts and questions into my mind about faith, God, and Christianity as a whole.
Where did this all come from? And why have we trivialized the mystery of God and faith to it’s as easy as ABC? And for that matter, why have we trivialized sin and Jesus’ wrongful accusation and execution?
For some of us, all of this literalism and simplicity has pushed us away from God and faith completely. It is too formulaic to make any sense. But for others of us, in spite of having this type of Christianity in our past and upbringing, something keeps drawing us back. Something about Jesus or this tradition or this faith or the very mystery of God keeps calling to us. and draws us to keep searching for places that speak truth into the mystery and avoids easy answers.
And so, I think some of the “It’s as easy as ABC” began with our early church fathers and mothers as they developed doctrine for this new faith they called Christianity. And early church father Augustine, despite some opposition from his contemporaries, penned the doctrine of original sin.
I’m sure you heard of it or at least are familiar with it rather you know it or not.
It takes us all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Augustine essentially stated that Adam and Eve originally in the garden of Eden were created in a state of perfection, which included immortality. Death was not God’s original intent according to Augustine. But then Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, sinning against God with their pride.
So, God punishes them, imposing a bookend, death. And, according to Augustine, as the first parents of all humans, this imprinted that sin biologically. So, it passed down to the children of Adam and Eve who then passed it down to their children and so on eventually impacting all of humanity. All humans, then are born into sin until comes Jesus who, is the answer to that sin because he is the perfect human, the one without sin who will be sacrificed on the cross as the perfect sacrifice so that our sins will be forgiven.
Does this all sound familiar?
Augustine’s doctrine of original sin gains immense popularity. So much so that is sometimes difficult to separate the doctrine from the text.
But Augustine’s doctrine asks us to accept some pretty bold claims. Namely, that all of humanity descended from two original parents. It requires a literal reading of Genesis 3 and asks Christians to choose between creationism and modern science.
And asking questions of the Bible does not mean that we don’t take the Bible seriously. There are some who say you have to read the Bible literally. But I really think that asks us to put our heads in the sand about things like science and anthropology.
Just yesterday for earth day there were marches across the us celebrating science and urging our political leaders to continue to protect science and the environment. We’ve learned a lot in The thousands of years since the Bible was written. And there’s no reason to put our heads in the sand about all of it.
And Augustine’s doctrine is just fuel for literal creationism. Can we believe in a Creator God and evolution? I think so.
If you’ve read much of the Old Testament, you’ll know that the ancient Israelites were great storytellers.
Noah builds a huge ark to save all of created beings during a massive flood.
Moses stands up to the most powerful leader in history and says “Let My People Go!”
Jonah gets swallowed up by a whale because he ignores God’s instructions.
Little Shepherd boy David takes down the biggest fighter in the land, Goliath.
The ancient Israelites were story tellers. Like native Americans have stories for why things are the way they are. The Israelites passed their stories down orally from generation to generation and much of the Bible wasn’t even written until their culture was threatened so they wrote it down so it wasn’t forever lost.
Story tellers. And they, like their Mesopotamian neighbors, had a rich story for how the world came into being and also had a story for why the world was so messed up. For why humans could be so awful to other humans. And the Israelite story for that is Genesis 3.
God played in the dirt and made a human, “A-dam”, which literally translates dirt creature. And out of the rib of that dirt creature, he created an equal partner. Adam and Eve. And God put them in a garden to tend it. And they had everything they needed. But God planted one tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the only tree they were told not to touch. Everything else was theirs.
And then one day a talking serpent used half-truths to convince the woman to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She thinks, “What is God keeping from us?” She eats the fruit and immediately everything changes.
Eve denies that anything is her fault and blames the snake. Adam deflects and blames Eve. They both hide from God not owning what they’ve done. They all of a sudden recognize their nakedness and cover themselves.
This is the human condition. This is the description of sin. Sin that permeates our world like a network of nerves. Sin that infuses like tea leaves in hot water. This underlies all of our human interactions and interactions with the created world.
Sin. Our tendency is to deflect, to blame, to hide, to be ashamed of who we are, to not own up to our mistakes, to deny that we were in the wrong, and to not trust that God has our best interest at heart.
Sin is not being open and vulnerable and honest- with ourselves. With God. And with others.
So, while Augustine’s doctrine of original sin doesn’t take into account the narrative qualities of the text, his conclusions aren’t necessarily all wrong. I just don’t like the way he gets there. I worry when we necessitate death on a cross for the forgiveness of sins, like giving god an ultimatum. I worry when we make golden calves out of doctrine, but nevertheless, Gen 3 this is our story of how sin came into the world and our story includes Jesus.
Jesus unravels conventional wisdom that says to “look out for number one” and instead says “the first shall be made last and the last shall be made first”. Jesus opens his arms wide to the outcasts. Jesus shares meals and experiences in vulnerability with friends. Jesus sees systemic injustice that harms the least of these and calls into question the powers that be. Jesus does not control with force or might, but is compliant to love.
When asked about what God’s kingdom is like, he shares stories: a shepherd who will do anything to find one lost sheep, of a son and father’s vulnerable reunion, he points to the lilies of the field and the innocence of children. These things- this is what God intends for the world.
Jesus says when you pray, pray forgive us our trespasses and help us to forgive those who trespass against us. When asked how many times you should forgive someone who has wronged you, Jesus responds with 70 time 7. And when Jesus hangs on the cross he says, “forgive them, God, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus is the answer to the human condition. The way of Jesus negates sin.
So, today’s Gospel lesson is the famous doubting Thomas passage that is always preached the first Sunday following Easter Sunday. Thomas, who wasn’t around when the risen Jesus appears to the disciples needs physical proof. Let me put my hand in your side, Oh Lord!
And while the story of Thomas is intriguing and always makes for a good sermon, I sort of feel like the other disciples get the short end of the stick. In John’s Gospel, after Jesus has been crucified, the disciples are gathered in the evening with the doors lock. They are afraid.
Their leader has just been silenced and killed by the state and they were afraid for what would come next. And without opening a door, a window, Jesus stands among them and to their fear he says, “Peace.”
Peace be with you.
Jesus shows them his side and his hands to prove that it’s really him. And he says to them: “Just as I was sent, so now I send you. Continue on the way I’ve set before you. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
If you forgive sins they are forgiven. If you retain sins they are retained.
In John’s Gospel, this is the closest we get to a commissioning. Jesus stands among them and tells them to forgive people. The heart of Jesus’ message, life, and teaching… to return to the way of God’s intent, to bring about God’s kingdom is grounded in forgiveness.
So much of forgiveness is about healing brokenness. Forgiveness is touching the sin and offering healing. And Jesus essentially says to the disciples, “it’s up to you. You can choose to allow sin to continue to permeate lives, or you can choose to forgive people.”
The sometimes irreverent Anne Lamott rightly wrote, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison, and then waiting around for the rat to die.”
If we are really about bringing about the Kingdom, then we can’t stand around drinking rat poison. Jesus gives the disciples a choice. We have a choice. You can retain sin if you wish. Or—you can lean into the vulnerability of God’s Kingdom and forgive sin.
There is a problem with the human condition. And we can choose to remain in the cycle of deflecting, blaming, denying, and hiding. We can choose to remain in sin.
Or we can choose another way. Because there is a cure for the sin-sick soul. We can choose to be vulnerable. We can choose to be fully seen. We can choose to forgive and choose to be forgiven. We can choose to lean into the mystery of God. And in that way, you will be transformed by love of God and the way of Jesus.