Posts Tagged ‘sin’

A willingness to “own our crap”

July 7, 2011

I’ve been thinking, writing, and preaching a lot recently about sin, wrath, and our need for forgiveness. In part it’s because I’m doing this sermon series on the Letter to the Romans, and, let’s face it, Paul spills a lot of ink on these subjects. Acknowledgement of our sin is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without understanding the enormity of our sin problem—and the ways in which sin damages us, our relationship with others, and our relationship with God—the gospel is incomprehensible and irrelevant. If we acknowledge our problem with sin, then we see that we need to be forgiven—and, with God’s help, change.

My focus on sin is also, I suspect, personal: I am increasingly mindful of my own sin. When I say this, I’m not beating myself up about it (although I have at various times in the past); I’m not suffering from a temporary bout of low self-esteem (it’s actually pretty good at the moment); I’m not depressed about it. In fact, I actually feel better, spiritually speaking, with this increased awareness of my sin. The last thing I want is for someone to say, “Aw, Brent, you’re not so bad!” Because I really am. I am, in fact, a terrible sinner. I’m not too proud to say it. I happily pray the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

I think I’m experiencing something that John Wesley describes in a sermon entitled “The Repentance of Believers.” In it, Wesley talks about the kind of repentance that believers normally do through the process of sanctification (the grace by which the Holy Spirit changes us inwardly after we experience justification and new birth in Christ). Repentance as Wesley describes it is almost a new kind of self-awareness: even as we consciously sin less often (we hope!), we become more conscious of the sin that remains in our lives. And we trust the Spirit to change us. Read the rest of this entry »

The inadequacy of confessing sin

March 21, 2011

Confessing sin, as good and necessary as it is, is also inadequate, as C.S. Lewis warns in this passage from The Problem of Pain.

We may confess ugly facts—the meanest cowardice or the shabbiest and most prosaic impurity—but the tone is false. The very act of confessing—an infinitesimally hypocritical glance—a dash of humour—all this contrives to dissociate the facts from your very self. No one could guess how familiar and, in a sense, congenial to your soul these things were, how much of a piece with all the rest: down there, in the dreaming inner warmth, they struck no such discordant note, were not nearly so odd and detachable from the rest of you, as they seem when they are turned into words. We imply, and often believe, that habitual vices are exceptional single acts, and make the opposite mistake about our virtues—like the bad tennis player who calls his normal form his “bad days” and mistakes his rare successes for his normal. I do not think it is our fault that we cannot tell the real truth about ourselves; the persistent, life-long, inner murmur of spite, jealousy, prurience, greed and self complacence, simply will not go into words. But the important thing is that we should not mistake our inevitably limited utterances for a full account of the worst that is inside.

C.S. Lewis in The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 136.

Do we only sin in our hearts?

February 28, 2011

In my sermon on the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” I focused on “adultery of the heart.” I said that I wanted to focus on this kind of adultery—the kind that Jimmy Carter famously confessed to in a 1976 Playboy interview—because this is the kind of adultery to which most of us fall victim most of the time. And we don’t even have to be married to commit this kind of adultery. In my view, this is in keeping with the spirit of Jesus’ words about the commandment in the Sermon on the Mount.

But do you see a possible danger with focusing on sin in our hearts? It can start to seem as if sin is an intangible thing that only happens in our heart (or mind or soul). And before long, we imagine that what we do with our bodies doesn’t really matter to God.

Many of us Christians have internalized this false kind of “heart/body” dualism. Maybe this explains why we often take such a casual attitude toward sex. For example, we might think, “We can’t sin by merely having sex with someone to whom we’re not married. Whether it’s sin or not depends on the condition of our hearts.”

If so, we are deceiving ourselves. Jesus’ focus in the Sermon on the Mount on the state of our hearts should not be construed to mean that the external action doesn’t matter. Besides, how can we—self-justifying sinners that we are—begin to judge the purity or quality or motives of our hearts in the first place?

We can safely assume that if we’re justifying our actions in these terms, our heart is wrong, too.

The myth of progress and Christianity

September 22, 2010

Creepy animatronic dad, who looks frighteningly like Saturday Night Live's Will Forte, talks about how great life is in the 1940s. Never mind the Nazis, I guess.

In my sermon this past Sunday, I cast grave doubt on the idea that our world was becoming a better place. To be sure, science and technology advance, new political and economic solutions are implemented, and some people in in the world experience gains in their standards of living and life expectancy, but it’s not clear at all that we—as a species—are making “progress.” The success of the Enlightenment project over the past three centuries, with its emphasis on reason and science, is at best a mixed bag.

This may not be news to anyone, but it does go against the propaganda that we learned in school and was fed to us through popular culture. As I pointed out in my sermon, the implicit promise of Disney World’s “Carousel of Progress” never came to pass. Our world continues to be mired in sin and evil. Everything else may change, but humanity’s capacity for and inclination toward evil hasn’t.

Does this mean that Christianity failed—or the gospel of Jesus Christ failed? Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 01-31-10: “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us, Part 4: Forgive Us Our Trespasses”

February 4, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:12

Click this link to download an .mp3 or press the play button below.

The following is my original manuscript of the sermon., a British Christian humor magazine, sponsored a contest asking its readers to compress the Lord’s Prayer into the size of a single text message. The regular Lord’s Prayer is 372 characters long; a text message is 160, so this takes some creativity. The winning entry was the following: [display on screen] “dad@hvn,ur spshl.we want wot u want&urth2b like hvn.giv us food&4giv r sins lyk we 4giv uvaz.don’t test us!save us!bcos we kno ur boss,ur tuf&ur cool 4 eva!ok?” [Read it aloud.] I like that. I also like the third place entry:, You rule, up and down. We need grub and a break. Will pass it on. Keep us focused. You totally rule, long term. Amen. Read the rest of this entry »

Tough Texts Part 6: The Unpardonable Sin

October 27, 2009

Sermon Text: Mark 3:19b-30

Every once in a while on the TV show “The Office,” an I.T. guy from corporate visits the Scranton branch. If you’ll recall, this young man is of the Sikh religion, and he wears a turban on his head. In one episode, Michael calls one of his many time-wasting meetings in the conference room. The I.T. guy is there. The subject of religion comes up. Michael asks everyone to say what their religion is. He turns to the I.T. guy: “What are you?” The I.T. guy says, “Well, if you’re going to reduce my identity to my religion, then I’m Sikh. But I also like hip-hop and NPR. And I’m restoring 1967 Corvette in my spare time.” Michael says, “O.K. One Sikh, and…”

Read the rest of this entry »