Tag Archive | sin

First Sunday in Lent, 2017

First Sunday in Lent, year A (preached 3/5/17)

first reading:  Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Psalm 32

second reading:  Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11


I’ve never liked the story of the “Fall.”  It holds up an ugly mirror for me, and for us all.  One commentator I was listening to this week said he didn’t like calling this event the “Fall” because that makes it easier to let ourselves off the hook.  We see it as a one-time event rather than as a story unfolding throughout time, that includes US, indeed is fundamentally about US.

He preferred to call this a story about our ongoing rebellion against God.  THIS is the ugly mirror.

We are all Adam – following someone else’s actions without much thought, then blaming our behavior on that person.

We are all Eve – led astray by grand promises, without examining if they’re even feasible.  And then again, blaming our behavior on someone else.

This story is a mess of ugliness.  But it doesn’t start out that way.

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes that in verses 15-17 a perfect order is set up by God.  In verse 15 human beings are given work to do – a vocation – to “till” and “keep” the garden.  In verse 16 we are given permit.  God gives the man and woman permission to “freely eat.”  And in verse 17 there is prohibition – the one thing they cannot do.

Brueggemann states, “These three verses together provide a remarkable statement of anthropology. Human beings before God are characterized by vocation, permission and prohibition…. Any two of them without the third is surely to pervert life.”¹

Our rebellion comes about when we think we can have a healthy relationship with God while neglecting any of the three.

Each of us is given a vocation in this life.  It may not be our “job” necessarily – vocation is more than just what we do to make a living.  Vocation is what we do with our life.  How we go about operating in the world.  The kind of person we are in and out of the specific jobs we’ve been given.

For Adam and Eve, their vocation was to “till,” to work the land, but it was also to “keep,” or care for it, which is more than simply plowing the fields.

And each of us is given tremendous freedom by God in our lives – permission.  We are not puppets.  God is not some puppeteer manipulating us like marionettes.  The man and woman were permitted to eat from any tree in the garden, and free to “till” and “keep” the garden however they wanted.

And we all live with prohibition.  There are certain things which are not good for us or for the community. We all need boundaries to keep us safe.  We all know the prohibition faced by Adam and Eve.  That’s where we almost always focus our attention – on what they could NOT do.

When we go against the grain of our vocation, when we abuse our freedom, when we neglect to follow boundaries – we find trouble – SIN.

That certainly happened for the man and the woman.  Their rebellion against God’s prohibition caused disruption even in their freedom and vocation.  Instead of following their vocation to “keep” the garden, they tore up plants to make coverings for themselves.  Instead of enjoying their freedom, in verse 8 they’re hiding from God because of their nakedness.

What tempted them?  We can never know Adam’s motives, but for Eve it was knowledge and power.  “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Those seem like good things to me, but the truth remains that the act crossed a boundary they were not allowed to cross.  They had a relationship of trust and obedience with God, and now the trust and obedience were crushed.

Brueggemann writes, “They had wanted knowledge rather than trust.  And now they have it.  They now know more than they could have wanted to know.  And there is no place to run.”²

Have you ever done something, and the second you’ve done it, you regret it?  I know I have.  And I can imagine that’s how Adam and Eve felt, but there was no going back.

Adam and Eve committed no “special” sin that caused God to send them out of the garden.  Their sin was not unlike sin that you and I are tempted with every day.  And like them, we lose.  We act in ways that do NOT reflect God to whom we belong.

We betray our vocation as Christians every time we put someone or something before God, every time we pass by a person who needs help, every time we harbor negative thoughts about any race or class of person who God created.

God has given us permission to enjoy creation and our fellow creatures.  But often we are just lazy.  Not only that, we also abuse our freedom through our mistreatment of creation AND our fellow creatures.

And none of us like rules.  Any kind of prohibition makes us bristle.  We don’t like being told what we cannot do. Never mind that most of the time prohibitions are there for our safety and for the safety of others.

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy we are each invited to special repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love – the discipline of Lent.  Today’s reading from Genesis invites us to see in Adam and Eve’s rebellion, our own rebellion.

Adam and Eve call us to reflect upon the ways in which we rebel against the vocation, permission and prohibition that characterize our relationship with God.  And to repent.  Not to point blame.  But to stand naked before God and say, “I’m sorry.  I confess.”

And then we experience a new and amazing freedom.  A freedom so profound it defies words – but the closest word we have to describe it is – GRACE.

Amen.

Adam and Eve, by Deeda

Adam and Eve, by Deeda


¹Genesis.  Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.  Walter Brueggemann.  John Knox Press, Atlanta; 1982, p. 46

²ibid, p. 49.

19th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

19th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 9/25/16

first reading:  Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Psalm 146

second reading:  1 Timothy 6:6-19

gospel reading:  Luke 16:19-31

*I was guest preaching at a congregation with three Sunday services, the middle service omitting the second reading and psalm – so while I could’ve commented on those readings as well, I did not.


As a Lutheran seminary student, at least when I was there 20+ years ago, we didn’t have to learn a lot of Latin.  But there were a few Latin phrases that we absolutely had to learn.  One of them was “Incurvatus in se.”  And I think it applies very well in ALL our scriptures today, because they are DARK.

They offer us warning of judgment, which on the surface revolve around one thing – the dangers of wealth.

Money is an idol for most of us, me included, and we need to be regularly shaken awake from the delusion that money brings real happiness or eternal security.  But even more than that, our readings are also about another one of our sins, the sin of not seeing our neighbors – of Israel not caring about the ruin of Joseph” and the rich man not caring for Lazarus, MISERABLE at his doorstep.

THIS is “incurvatus in se” – which means being turned in, CURVED IN on ourselves.

narcissus-by-caravaggio

  • When we believe the world revolves around us, around our desires; when our opinions are the most important and our “feeling good” is the greatest pursuit, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • When we don’t even think about the color of our skin, but get offended when others try to tell us that they suffer because of the color of theirs, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • As we mourn over yet another mass shooting on Friday – when we think (for any reason) we have the right to blow away the life of another, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • When we have a roof over our heads and food on our tables, but do not see or care about the hunger and health of our neighbors next door or in New York City or Syria, we are “incarvatus in se.”

And the more resources WE have, the easier it is to be curved in on ourselves.  When we close the doors to our nice houses, have tinted windows in our cars to protect us from what’s outside – when we surround ourselves only with people in the same social, economic and political world as we, we are indeed headed down a slippery slope.

Amos and Jesus warn us that this is self-destructive on many different levels.

When we are curved in on ourselves, we fail, like the rich man, to see the desperate needs of our neighbors.  When we lie on beds of ivory” and anoint [ourselves] with the finest oils” it becomes easy to forget that the gas station attendant, the cashier, the pizza delivery guy, and the hotel maid are people too.

It becomes easy to forget that the homeless person sleeping in the cold is a person too, and loved and valued by God just as much as we are.  It becomes easy to forget that ultimately we are all connected to one another – with every other person through our common humanity, and intimately with other Christians through our baptism into Christ.

When Cain asked God way back in Genesis, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  God’s answer was, “Yes.”

Over and over throughout scripture, and most especially in the teaching of Jesus we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Because in loving our neighbor we DO love ourselves, in the healthiest of ways.

And when we are turned in on ourselves, not only do we fail to see our neighbor, we fail to see GOD.

And because most of us have a desire for a relationship with a higher power, we will find something to fill that void. When we’re curved in on ourselves, chances are we will fill that void WITH ourselves.

WE become our god, or money does, or work, or sports, or whatever we use to fill the hole in our hearts, minds or souls, so that even when confronted face to face with the real thing, we won’t see.

Abraham said as much to the rich man in our gospel today.  “If they (the rich man’s brothers) do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The One who rose from the dead, warns us that if we do not turn OUTWARD to see, we will miss HIM.

The good news here, is that in the middle of the dire warning, we have grace.

It is a grace that proclaims to us we are loved – not for how well we do in the world, not for how much money we make or how much power we have or how healthy we are.  Worldly signs of success are NOT signs of God’s love. Wealth cannot buy heaven, and poverty does not deserve hell.  Health does not earn paradise, and sickness is not a sign of sin.

The parable was meant to shake people awake, who believed then and believe now that those outward characteristics were signs of divine favor.

Truth be told, “incurvatus in se” isn’t something we can completely shake.  It’s part of human nature to think “me first.”  But it is our call, once we know it, when we see ourselves getting caught in it, to break it – or rather to have God break it for us; which is why we begin worship with confession – by admitting that we ARE curved in – and asking God to free us.

And God DOES indeed free us.  Through Jesus, the One who indeed rose from the dead, we are freed from our curved in selves – freed to be curved OUT –

out to love God who first loved us, and out to love our neighbors near and far, as we love ourselves.

AMEN.

17th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

17th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 9/20/15)

first reading:  Jeremiah 11:18-20

Psalm 54

second reading:  James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

gospel reading:  Mark 9:30-37


When I was growing up I often heard the phrase, “Children are to be seen and not heard.”  Usually this was said to me because I had appeared to someone to overstep my bounds.

I always hated that phrase.  As a child I felt like it shushed me – shut me out of the conversation.  As an adult I know phrases like that are all about de-valuing.  As a child, my opinion didn’t count.

I know the adults around me loved me, and they didn’t consciously mean me harm, but they counted my thoughts and words as UNWORTHY.

But at least my presence was acknowledged and valued.  In the ancient world in which Jesus walked and preached, children were NOTHING.  Forget about “seen and not heard,” they weren’t even supposed to be “seen.”  Children had no status, and were viewed as little more than property.

Now, even since my childhood, the place of children in our society is much greater.  One could argue that we’ve become “child-centric.”  It seems for parents now, that the world revolves around our children.  Our lives are planned around their activities and needs.

Sometimes, I must say, their desires supercede our values.  Worship and faith community life take a back seat too often to sports or clubs.  Or when our need to have our kids think we’re cool us takes precedence over common sense – like parents who allow their kids to have alcohol at a party at their house.

So in our child-centric culture, Jesus’ act in our gospel reading today can lose its punch.

Remember the status of children in the world in which he lived.  Nobodies.  Nothings.

He uses a child to illustrate his point – that the one who wants to be first must be last – must be a SERVANT (the Greek equivalent of a waiter).

The disciples were oblivious to almost everything that Jesus was trying to them.  He was preaching about suffering.  They were arguing about who was the greatest.  Jesus, as with everything else he said and did TURNED THINGS UPSIDE DOWN.

“You want to be great?  Then be last.  Do you need a visual for what that looks like?  Take this worthless child, and welcome him or her IN MY NAME.”

If we look at this reading too quickly we think it’s just a quaint picture of Jesus telling the disciples that children are important.  We need to get back to the SHOCK the disciples must have felt at that moment.

They still wouldn’t get it, not until after the resurrection.  After all, don’t we say, “hindsight is 20/20.”  But we, brothers and sisters, have the advantage that they didn’t.  We can ONLY read this knowing what came after.

So Jesus tells us to welcome the worthless, the nobodies, the powerless.  Ok, so he doesn’t directly command us to do so, but he baits us.

“Whoever welcomes such a person in my name welcomes ME – and whoever welcomes me… welcomes the one who sent me.”

When we welcome the worthless, we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus we welcome God who sent Jesus into the world for you and me.

Who among us doesn’t want to welcome Jesus?  Who doesn’t want to welcome God?

Well, since we’re gathered HERE, in this place this morning, my guess is that most of us DO want to welcome Jesus and God – into our community, and into our hearts.

So what does that look like?  What does Jesus putting a child in his arms THEN, look like for us NOW

I’ll talk about who the “children” are, but first I want us to focus on ourselves as welcomers – and then bring it back to the children.

Number one, ego has no place among us.  Let there be no arguments among believers about who is the greatest.  There is only ONE greatest, and he washed his friends’ ugly dirty feet on Maundy Thursday, and died on a cross as a despised criminal on Good Friday.

Two, Judgment also has no place among us.  If we want to welcome Jesus among us we welcome ALL those who society as deemed unworthy – the nobodies, the worthless.  If we want to welcome Jesus among us, we welcome those who WE also have deemed unworthy – because for as much as I might say judgment has no place, we still do it, me included.

It’s sin – this compulsion we have to look down on others, to rate ourselves as better than some.  We’re bound to it. We can only confess it, and cling to Jesus’ grace for us, unworthy as WE are.

Because, in the end, that is OUR relationship with Jesus.  In the end, WE are that child Jesus took in his arms.  WE are the nobodies, the unworthy, the worthless.  In bondage to sin, unable to free ourselves.

None of us like to think of ourselves in that way, but there it is.  Between what we have done, and what we have left undone, we’ve got nothing to bring to God.  We’ve got NO case for deserving GOD’S welcome to US.  We’re guilty.   We may not look like it.  Our worthlessness may be hidden by nice clothes or a fancy car.  But we can’t hide it from God.

It’s a radical, shocking thing this love of God.

We have received tremendous immeasurable grace from Jesus – grace that takes us from hell to heaven, grace that welcomes us and gives us the courage AND humility to welcome others.

This is the life Jesus has given us.  His love breaks down every wall our sin puts up.  His love calls us to love others, and welcome them into this wonderful broken community of grace.

We welcome because Jesus welcomes us.  We welcome, knowing that as we do, we welcome God.  And it starts and ends with God’s shocking grace.

AMEN.

15th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 9/6/2015)

first reading:  Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146

second reading:  James 2:1-17

gospel reading:  Mark 7:24-37


For vacation this year I spent two weeks traveling around the western area of our country.  I saw some amazing sights – marvels of God, the power of water, the genius of the Native people in living with their environment.

But I also witnessed evil genius.  I also witnessed the power of self-destruction.  I also witnessed greed and egotism on one of the grandest scales I’ve ever seen.

My family experienced the Grand Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde, and Bryce Canyon National Parks among many other places – and our journey ended in Las Vegas.

I could go on and on about feeling God’s power and majesty in creation – but my thoughts after pondering the readings for this morning are more with Las Vegas.  And those thoughts aren’t near as nice or clean or beautiful.

What we have in our readings this morning are hypocrisy, beggars, and not listening to what Jesus says.  That seems to sum up Las Vegas pretty well.  Except it’s not that easy.

The nickname most of us know for Vegas is “Sin City.”  But after being there a mere two days I came to see it more as “SAD City.”  There were people, including me, who walked past homeless folks on the streets.  There were people bent on self-destruction.  Activities that given the right frame of mind and context are fun and life-giving, but are taken to such extremes that one can only wonder why more people don’t DIE there.

At first I wondered why the pool was only four feet deep and closed at 8pm, then I saw how people were behaving at the pool at 6pm and I knew.  The casinos are open 24 hours.  I only saw them by 9am, but even at that hour they were filled with people staring at their machines with desperation as their cigarettes burned in their fingers.

All in all I felt an overwhelming sadness for these folks, and ANGER too – at the “higher ups” who were benefiting from people’s addictions and desperation.  Evil geniuses that profit from our greed and compulsion to stake it all for the chance to win big.  Anger at the old women who were trying to push “baseball cards” of young “girls for hire” into my husband’s hand as the two of us walked past.

But I only saw there on a grand scale what I see around me in my daily life on a regular basis.

James, in our second reading, calls out our hypocrisy.  Our tendency to play to the money crowd, our accumulation of things, our hoarding of stuff, while we see our neighbors suffering around us.  Jesus himself acknowledges our baser instincts, our attraction to exclusion, our need to think of ourselves as better than others, when he calls the Syrophoenician woman a “dog.”

And we, like the crowds in Jesus’ time, are just as incapable of listening to his words.  To them he said, “don’t tell anyone,” but they couldn’t contain themselves and told EVERYONE.  To us he gives the new commandment to “love one another,” and the mission to “teach all nations,” and what do we do?  We keep it to ourselves, happier to share the latest gossip than our faith, insulted by the instruction of the Church to give of ourselves, our time, and our possessions.

What are we to do when confronted with our sin?  What are we to do when we realize what a mess the world is – and OUR part in making it and keeping it that way?  What are we to do?

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

We’re stuck.  We are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves.

WE ARE THE SYROPHOENICIAN WOMAN – unworthy of anything, even the smallest crumb that falls from the table – from THAT table [pointing to the altar] especially.

Depressing isn’t it.  In our “do it yourself” culture, none of us want to hear that we “can’t.”  But there it is, like it or not.

Well, as much as I might not “like” it, I’m also eternally grateful that I’m not left to work out the mess of my life, or anyone else’s, on my own.  I’m grateful I don’t have to rely on my own strength of character or righteousness to get on God’s good side.

Jesus has done all that and more on the cross.

He didn’t give his life for us because we’re good or noble.  He went to the cross for us precisely because we’re NOT. We don’t deserve a place at his table, we don’t even deserve the crumbs from it – yet he invites us, every one of us, to feast on his love and forgiveness.

We are beggars – yet he lifts us up and gives us a place of honor.  We are beggars – yet he carries us through our deepest pains.  We are beggars – yet he gives us hope beyond this life.  We are beggars – yet he gives us strength to meet the day ahead.

We may not be able to do anything to save ourselves, thank God.  But now that we ARE saved, we beggars have a LOT of work to do.  Sure we screw it up.  We fail.  Sometimes we make a real mess of things.  But it doesn’t keep us from working – because we are FREED from the bondage of all our mistakes.  Jesus sees us fall, picks us up, and sends us out again.

That freedom is tremendous, indescribable.  Jesus may have healed the woman’s daughter, he may have healed the deaf man – but how much MORE has he healed and given to you and me?

We go to the casino empty handed.  Not one coin to put in the slot, and yet the owner himself comes up to us and says, “You’ve broken the bank.  You get it all.”  What would we do?  Jump for joy!  Hug everyone around us!  Drinks for everyone!

Jesus does so much more than that.  We get MORE than money – we get our LIVES.  We get LOVE.  We get to SHARE that love without losing any for ourselves.  We get HEAVEN.

HOW can we keep that to ourselves?

Let’s not.

AMEN.

 

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (year B), 2015 (preached 6/7/15)

first reading:  Genesis 3:8-15

Psalm 130

second reading:  2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

gospel reading:  Mark 3:20-35


There’s an old saying that I’m sure most of us have heard before – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Our world has changed remarkably in the past one hundred years.  There have been amazing life-changing advancements – we’ve gone from riding on horses to speeding in cars and flying in planes, to sending people into space.

We have cures for diseases that used to threaten and kill.  Technology allows us to see our insides without a doctor having to make a single cut.  Encyclopedias and dictionaries are just about obsolete – if you want to know about something, just google it.

The world is indeed a different place, a changed place, from where it was just a hundred years ago.  And it is most certainly different than it was in the time when Jesus taught the crowds in parables.  And it is almost a completely different world than the one in which Adam and Eve lived.

But – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Raffaello (1483-1520)

Raffaello (1483-1520)

It is true that our outer lives, the stuff that surrounds us, differs dramatically from the time of the first people, but INSIDE, we see in our reading from Genesis, that since the beginning of the world itself, we have NOT changed very much.

All the technology and comforts that surround us have not been able to fix our human, instinctive desire to shirk from responsibility for our bad behavior.

Those of us who are parents, or who have cared for children, know this.  We “catch” children in a “wrong” activity, and one child says, “It’s not my fault, SHE made me do it!”  And the other says, “No, HE made me do it!”  Sound familiar?  Sounds an awful lot like Adam and Eve.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What do most adults in our day and age do when they are confronted with a fault within themselves, or something they shouldn’t have done?  We try to shift the blame off of ourselves, to move the responsibility for our bad behavior onto another person, or create some reason to excuse ourselves.

Adam – had the ultimate audacity.  He not only pointed the finger at Eve, he point his finger at GOD.

He didn’t just say, “The woman made me do it.”  He said, “The woman, whom YOU gave to be with me made me do it.”  In other words, “If you hadn’t given her to me Lord, I wouldn’t be in this trouble – so it’s really YOUR fault.” Sounds an awful lot like my son!  He also tries to make it MY fault when he does something wrong.

Eve doesn’t do much better.  She may not blame God for her mistake, but she also tries to point the blame elsewhere. “The serpent tricked me.”  “Don’t look at me Lord.  It’s not my fault.  It’s the serpent’s fault.”  Adam and Eve point the finger of blame at everyone but themselves.

But does it work?  Does God excuse Adam because Eve “made” him eat of the tree?  Does God excuse Eve because the serpent tricked her into eating from the tree?  Nope.  God holds all of them, even the serpent, responsible for their behavior, and the role they played in acting out the first sin:  disobedience – going against the direct command of God.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Human nature has changed very little over these thousands of years.  We still do the same, in our society, and even with God – even though we don’t have to.

Why are we so prone to running from our sins, trying to hide them, deny them even to ourselves and to God – when we have a God that is ready and wanting to forgive us?

None of us are without sin, without thoughts and actions we regret, things we wish we hadn’t done.  We confess this every Sunday at the beginning of worship.  “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” taken from the first letter of John.

But do we allow the deep meaning of those words to enter our hearts?  Do we use those words to confront ourselves, to humble ourselves before one another and before the Lord?  Or do we say those words and try not to think about it too much, or run from them altogether?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Adam and Eve learned the hard way that we can’t hide from God, and it’s impossible to run from ourselves.  I wonder why, age after age, we have to remind ourselves of this? Why do we run and hide, when through Jesus Christ we have forgiveness of ALL our sins and the gift of eternal life?

As we heard in our second reading, “we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” And, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

What wonderful words.  What wonderful promises.

They should make us unafraid to say, “Yes, I made this mistake.  I was WRONG.  I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.”

But just because the promises should make us unafraid, doesn’t mean they do.  Because – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When most of us think of the story of The Fall, we think of disobedience – the first sin – but perhaps a large part of it is also DENIAL.

Not the kind of denial that is the deep psychological inability to see something – the denial that is the cover up of what we know is wrong.

Political careers, stardom, and even everyday relationships are killed by that kind of denial – it’s been happening since Adam and Eve.

And it’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be.

For just as “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” is true of our fallen nature – the more things stay the same is also true of God’s natureforgiveness, given to us through Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

2nd Sunday of Advent, 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent, year B, 2014 (preached December 7, 2014)

first reading:  Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

second reading:  2 Peter 3:8-15a

gospel reading:  Mark 1:1-8


In our gospel reading this morning we hear, “I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.”  St. Mark tells us that this messenger is John the Baptizer.

Through his preaching and baptizing, he made people ready to receive the One who would come after him, about whom he says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”  John is the baptizer, the announcer, the preparer – sent by God to make the way for Jesus the Christ.

The word “Advent” means arrival.  This reading tells us about Advent in the past tense – how John prepared the people for the arrival and ministry of Jesus.  But how can this reading apply to Advent in the present?

What does it say to us, who in this season of meditation and anticipation, are trying to find new ways of inviting the Lord into our life today?

Scholar Reginald Fuller states, “The Church must allow John the Baptist to perform his distinctive ministry of forerunner in its midst today.  How is he to do this?  By the preaching of repentance.  Unless people are first convicted of sin, they cannot know the need for a Savior.” (Preaching the Lectionary, 2006. p. 208)

Have we been convicted of our sin?  Have we come to the realization that we are far from perfect creatures, and NOT the Creator?

As Christians we need to be constantly aware of our sinfulness and brokenness.  That was the calling of John the Baptist.  He held up a mirror for each person to look at to see their true selves – the kind of mirror that strips away all the makeup, all the images we put on to make ourselves look better on the outside.

And what needed to be done 2,000 years ago still needs to be done today.

In some churches there is little talk of sin.  But how can God’s grace mean anything to us unless we recognize how much we are utterly dependent upon that grace?

Confronting our sin is not popular, it doesn’t make us feel good.  It strips us of all “holier than thou” pretenses, all notions that we’re better than anyone else.

This is so necessary for a life of faith, this is why confession is SO important, to strip ourselves bare before God, who sees us naked anyway, so that we can experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness.

Because we’re called to repentance, not so God can lord it over us, hold our sins against us and keep us down.  John the Baptist called the people to repentance for the FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

We need to confront and confess our sinfulness, come to repentance, so that we can experience in a profound way, the love and forgiveness that God offers to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is the good news – not our sinfulness, but God’s boundless, all-encompassing love for you and me.

In our Old Testament reading we have a wonderful image of God – and the last two verses are quite meaningful.  Isaiah gives us an image of God’s awesome power and how it’s used.

“See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”  God sounds like a real tough guy.  Watch out for this God – he means business.

But that’s not the end.  In the very next verse Isaiah explains how God uses this power – the power of his arm.  We read, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

God has the power to crush us – but loves us in spite of all the mistakes we have made and will make in the future.  God is loving, forgiving, merciful, kind and gentle to all the sheep.  This can give us comfort and strength as we examine ourselves, as we realize our sin and how much we need the grace of God.

I’d probably be negligent if I didn’t mention the unrest and protests that have occurred across the country in light of the events in Missouri and New York.  Hard to look at God’s model of power and NOT think of it.

God uses God’s power, not to crush, but to bring love – this is the ultimate example of the use of power for us – whether we are in law enforcement, involved in protest, or watching and wondering how to respond.

I think if all sides could come together and acknowledge their mutual sinfulness, both institutional and individual – if WE could each examine OUR hearts and how we treat one another – it would go a long way toward bringing real peace and justice to all our communities.

When John the Baptist says, “The One who is more powerful than I is coming,” he means the One who uses his power for love.

When John the Baptist says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals,” he is talking about the One who stooped down and untied the disciples’ sandals, and even washed their feet.  God’s love for you and me knows no bounds, it goes the extra mile and beyond our greatest expectations – and this isn’t just good news, it’s the best news of all.

But how will people know this best of all news?  How will the ministry of John the Baptist be carried out today?  How can people come to confession and repentance so that they can know how far God has gone to love them?

Through you and me.  WE are the Church.  WE have the mission to carry on where John left off.

But not to talk about sin so that we can beat people down.  Not to talk about sin so that we can pass judgement.

But to talk about sin, to acknowledge it, so that we can experience the awesome forgiveness of God that is waiting for each one of us, to make us free.

AMEN.