Sin is not well understood. It is one of those words that is thrown around a lot in Christian circles, sometimes it is even hurled between people, served with a heavy helping of guilt, stamped all over the accused who end up looking like a well traveled package. Sin. It is a concept so feared that we want to avoid talking about it all together and it becomes an idea, even a joke without physical reality. But the Bible won’t let us ignore sin this morning. No, it just won’t. So I want to talk about it and only ask that you consider sin anew, as something real, something serious and something completely within the power of God to overcome. Note that I said the power of God to overcome, not your power or mine.
While there are many definitions of sin, the best I know of, given the greek, is distance, namely distance from the heart of God. Distance from God’s voice, God’s guidance, God’s touch. Indeed, our lifetime is a spiritual conversation with God, sometimes God’s speaks and we hear him clearly.
At other times we cannot understand God’s voice, and in the darkest times, we perceive only silence. Those things we have done and left undone carry us away from the heart of God, God’s voice, creating distance between us and the divine communication in which we were conceived.
Though we can recognize some sins which weigh heavy upon us; sins like pride, anger and resentment, we are not able to identify the fullness of their layered effects upon our the entirety of our bodies and souls. If left unchecked, the souls of the deeply sinful grow dried and parched like a desert landscape, rendering the lost soul dead to the life-giving stream of God’s love.
In the gospel, Jesus watched as the sinful condemned others as if they themselves were free of sin. Men who had long gone deaf to the word of God, were working on memory and their own sense of reality, a reality distorted by their distance from God. So in reaction to this hypocrisy, Jesus called the publicly condemned to share his meals, receive his healing and join him in heaven. Jesus understood better than everyone that all people struggle with the distortion of sin. God in Jesus came to embrace humanity, sufferings and all, with the greatest suffering of all being sin, that which causes distance btween us and God.
Now it is at this point in the sermon where I hear my Preaching professor shouting, Good news Whitney, “Gimme the good news! Don’t gimme 5 pages of hell and 1 paragraph of redemption” he’s saying. “Don’t lead me down the path and not show me the light,” he’d say.
“Good news, gimme good news!”
To which I would reply, But there is good news, wonderful news!
The good news is that while sin is not just a theory, neither is God’s redemption. The Good News is that God so loved the world he sent his only son that all who believe in Him may have everlasting life in Him.”(John 3:16) The good news is that you all, many of whom are powerful leaders in circles of business, government, society and education, successful in so many ways, you are not in charge of your salvation. The good news is that if you let him, the one who is without sin will lift you and carry you from the perils of sin as a shepherd does his sheep.
In this morning’s gospel, Jesus tells us of the lost; the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost among us. It is of the nature of coins to be lost. Check any sofa or sidewalk and you will know it is true. A few here, another there…they drop from our purses and pockets too easily.
Visit a sheep farm and see the difficulty of corralling those dear animals as they wander about. Not the brightest of God’s creatures, sheep are quite vulnerable. So helpless they are, that, when they fall over, they are often unable to get up on their own, and when finally found have to be slung over the shoulders of their caretakers in order to be brought home. Seek out the hearts of the most faithful believers, search the monasteries and churches of your tradition, and you will find people who struggle with sin. For it is not in faith that we are made sinless, it is in faith that sin does not overcome us.
God says in Ezekiel “I will search for them, I will seek them out. I will rescue my sheep when they have been scattered on days of cloud and thick darkness…I will seek the lost.” While we can lose our way in the thick darkness of sin we still have the ability to turn, away from the life of the lost and towards Him who seeks us. Would that we want to be found, lifted up, carried. Repentance is, brothers and sisters, not a quick apology and an empty if well-meaning promise to change. It is the recognition that along with food, water and air, life needs to be lived near to God, God’s voice, God’s love. Life suffers in distance from God.
Just as it is in the nature of life on earth to struggle with sin, it is the nature of divine love to seek us in both our sufferings and our joys, God does not differentiate. Regardless of who the sinner is and what they have done to be driven far from God’s voice, God’s touch, they are valued by God and sought after. God seeks after each of us with such love, reaching for us, wanting nothing more than to draw us into Himself, in his intimacy and love.
I have been in prison ministry for 7 years. Many people wonder why it has held my attention for so long. I have met the worst offenders in Virginia. Men and women who committed crimes that are hardly imaginable, making choices that only destroyed people. They are the publically condemned who the Pharisees so openly scorn in the gospel. These are men and women who never before imagined they were worth anything, let alone the attention of God himself. I have seen the sins of these offenders and I have watched the love of God overcome them. A love so incredible that even the sin of their self-hate did not stand a chance. Sometimes just the smallest opening is allowed in the hard shells of men and women infected by in their sins, the shells of pain and anger melt in the power of the grace of God and they find themselves on their knees in spite of their sins.
And that transformation that occurs is why I went into the ministry, because it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Repentance is like watching a pat of yeast, small and inedible turned into a warm fat loaf of bread waiting to be broken and shared. It is the drought cracked land exploding with life after a refreshing rain. The good news in today’s gospel lesson is that Jesus calls out to us, his lost. He has searched for us from the moment we were born, calling to us, so that he might lift us up onto the strength of his shoulders and carry us home.