Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
Romans 8:18-23 and Luke 6:36-42
Jesus said to His disciples, "Be ye, therefore, merciful as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven."
My friends, it is true that we live in a society , which is so bent on destruction.
It would seem that the more we observe what is going on, sin more and more abounds and grace doesn't seem to be making much headway. Sin is a part and parcel of our human existence, we know. And the kinds of sin that we observe seem so awful and so brutal and so needless. And they seem to be escalating. What a strange society we live in.
I would speak to you this morning about sin, about forgiveness, and, of course, about our God. It is necessary for us to understand, first and foremost, what sin is. I am afraid that, if anything has lost favour in our society, it is the notion of sin. It is more than "Whoops! I made a mistake". Or, "Well, everybody's human and to err is human". We can excuse ourselves very easily and yet this is not what we are talking about when we are talking about those personal little “booboos” that we all commit. We are talking about sin.
Sin is, of its very nature, rebellion against God, rebellion against the Creator, rebellion against One who created us out of love; who has given us a law to live by. Not a law that would rankle us and so close us in, but a law that would give us what Saint Paul calls "the liberty of the children of God". Lawlessness seems to be a part of sin because of the rebellion of man against God. And it was so, says Scripture, from the very beginning: this was the very first sin. The temptation was, "You shall be like God, knowing good and evil." Something to aspire to. "I will rebel against what God has told me. And I will eat of the fruit".
The whole history of the Old Testament seems to be one story of rebellion against God after another Here is King David, one who should know better, who takes the wife of one of his officers, commits adultery with her and then sends that officer to the forefront of battle so that he will be killed. David repented as he understood the nature of his sin. He had sinned not only against Uriah the Hittite, he had sinned against his God and for this he sought forgiveness. His act of rebellion led to an act of pleading for mercy, pleading for forgiveness.
If sin is rebellion more than anything else in the Old Testament, in the New Testament it's the same. Just read Paul's letter to the Romans and you will read about what sin is. Read the first chapter, particularly, and you will read about rebellion.
But it's even more than rebellion, Jesus teaches us. In the greatest of all His parables, the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus describes sin in terms of the fragmentation of a relationship between the father and the prodigal. "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." The familial relationship between father and son had been attacked and destroyed by the prodigal's sin. And he, too, had to seek forgiveness. Rebellion, yes, rebellion with consequences always. All of our sins have consequences. There is no such thing as a sin in isolation. Cast a stone in a pond and observe the ripples. Sin has such a rippling effect.
If that is the nature of sin, how do we seek forgiveness for our sins? We first must realize the enormity, the gravity of sin. Then seek forgiveness. Strange it is, I believe that as we sin, as we rebel against him, we come to worship something other than God. We worship our own self-will at the expense of another. Mankind went off the gold standard of idolatry sometime back in Exodus. However, even though we don't set up our golden calves, sin involves something else: we sin against the image of God because when we commit sin against another person, we are sinning against someone who is created after the image and likeness of God. That is what sin is. And to make things right, we see the enormity of the sin and we must seek forgiveness.
So how do we seek forgiveness? Sin has many levels. There are sins that involve society. We know that. Think of the heinous crimes of the Nazis in World War II. I suppose I could forgive any Germans who may have been participants in all of that. I can forgive them Auschwitz and Dachau. Yes. That's easy. But when the sin is directed to us, when we are directly and deliberately injured by sin, then it's not so easy. Then it is much easier to seek subtle ways of getting revenge. Even if we forgive the individual, we will let him twist and turn in the wind for a while, suffer for a little bit. We will mete out our forgiveness in small doses. The closer the sin is to ourselves and to our own person, the more difficult it is to forgive. We all know that. You and I have experienced it many, many ways. That is what the human condition is about, unfortunately.
We also understand that to receive forgiveness from another is sometimes also very difficult. We ask the forgiveness of God in our prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." What an easy prayer to say and what a difficult prayer it is to live out! But when we ask God's forgiveness and we know that we receive it, that's one thing. When we have injured someone and we ask their forgiveness, and, with a wave of the hand, they say, "Oh, forget it, don't worry about it," maybe we can, maybe we can't forget about it. Unfortunately, so often we have memories. We may have received the forgiveness of God and the feeling of guilt is still there. A wise man once said, "Yes, God can forget in an instant, but our nervous system takes a lot longer." I think that's very true. That's part of what we are as human beings. It is difficult for us to receive forgiveness and be able to let that guilt go.
I was reading a commentary recently about our Book of Common Prayer. A criticism about the Book of Common Prayer was this, "It's so obsessed with sin. You read every prayer and all of the readings and you go through the communion service and it's just one reminder after another of our sinfulness. Can't we lighten up a little bit? Couldn't we have some dancing in the aisles and just celebrate the fact that we're having fun being Christians?" Well, our Christian faith wasn't intended to be grim. We aren't Puritans after all, but we are realistic and the realism is this - you and I are sinners; we need to seek the forgiveness of God; we need to do this on a regular basis, even daily.
St. John, in his first letter, wrote this about sin, about us. "If we say we are free of the guilt of sin, we deceive ourselves. The truth is not to be found in us" (I John 1:8). We are sinners. I don't mean that you and I are the kind of people that would toss an eight-month old baby across the yard. I don't mean that we would be direct participants in the holocaust of Auschwitz and Dachau. You and I seem to be smart enough not to involve ourselves in that kind of gross activity. Instead we walk a tight wire very, very carefully, being careful not to fall, not to involve ourselves in heinous and grievous sin and yet hedge a bit, fudge a bit on the law of God. Our rebellions are not with a capital “R”. Our rebellions are with a lower case “r”, little rebellions, because we set ourselves up against God. He seems so distant. We can get along with Him now and then. Or we can get along without Him now and then. And so we play games with ourselves. We have to realize that even these little sins, these lesser sins are still the second worst thing that you and I can commit, the worst being the heinous crimes, the second worst is any sin that we commit against our God, that we commit against one made in the image and likeness of God.
Those are the sins for which you and I need to seek forgiveness. How realistic our Church is; how realistic the Prayer Book is, saying over and over to us, "Let's face it, folks, we're sinners and we need the forgiveness of God. We must seek and receive it or we will die. Jesus came into the world, not to teach us a lot of neat moral maxims. He taught us what it really means to sin against an all-holy God. For that all-holy God took this sinful human nature of ours and it was nailed to a cross and it bled and it died in order that you and I could have life. That's the extent to which God would go to point out to us how heinous sin is and how we must seek forgiveness for the sin we commit.
For that individual who was criticizing our form of worship saying, "Can't we lighten up a little bit?" I think we should consider something that is part of our tradition. One of the ancient Fathers of the Church told us this - every Sunday is a “little Easter”. Now we had the big Easter a few weeks ago and we celebrated at that time the victory of Christ Jesus our Lord over sin. The fact that in Him and through His blood, we can seek forgiveness and reconciliation from our Father, made for a marvelous celebration. But each Sunday is a little Easter. Each time we get together, such as this morning, it is a time to understand that we are sinners; that we can, in Christ, seek the forgiveness of our Father; that we can pray like the prodigal, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not worthy to be called your child." And then receive the forgiving word of our Lord, words of absolution, "Your sins are blotted out. They're wiped out." What a time to celebrate! This is why we are here. We aren't here for any other reason.
This morning when we go to the altar together, let us acknowledge our sins to our Father. Let us receive the forgiving Lord in Holy Communion. Know that the familial ties that are so often weakened and smashed by sin can be rewoven. Our God is much more powerful than any sin that we could commit!
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania