Sin, sin, sin!

Romans 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

preacherWhen I was starting out, in my first full time parish, I served the church in what was largely a seasonal community. We had, in other words, a fair number of attendees who only made it to worship during one particular season, when they were enjoying the benefits of lakeside cottages and the like. As a Lectionary preacher I routinely followed the three year cycle of scripture readings as the jumping off point for my sermons. Like clockwork the prescribed texts made it inevitable that some topics got treated at least once per year, and often in the same seasons. This is to say that at least once a year I had to contend with issues like divorce, or hell, or sin, whether it appealed to me or not. I often recall the encounter I had with one of our regular seasonal visitors, after I had preached what was undoubtedly my annual sermon on Sin. “Sin, sin, sin!” he grumbled as he stomped out of church after worship, “all you ever preach about is sin!”

Sin is hardly ever an agreeable topic in Progressive Church circles, and I do understand why. It has been so regularly used from the pulpit, or in the Sunday School for that matter, to make us feel loathsome before God. It can leave us feeling, not just unworthy, but singled out for our perceived misbehaviors and the accidents of merely being human. It is a shame that so many Christians have routinely turned the topic into a discussion of judgment rather than a discussion of grace, as Jesus intended.

Here the apostle Paul is useful. Paul points out in Romans that while the Law was intended to help human beings deal with the consequences of sinful behavior, it has made things worse by adding that layer of judgment and encouraging us to compare ourselves to each other. Jesus wants to remind us that whatever the psychic load we find ourselves carrying as a result, God does not condemn us, that isn’t what God is about. According to Paul, Jesus came in fact simply to demonstrate the depth of God’s love for humanity, not a judgment of it.

Confession is no doubt good for us from a spiritual and psychological standpoint. It can help us avoid, in honest contemplation, the tendency to pretend that every choice we make is innocent of negative consequences. Yet it isn’t necessary from the divine perspective since God loves us and accepts us just fine regardless of circumstance. We are, in the promise of deepening spiritual practice, truly free to be the most creative and passionate versions of ourselves, without apology, without fear of error. That you are truly and deeply loved is the whole of the story.

About revjtomgough

In the more than 30 years I have spent in parish ministry, I have held a wide range of related interests and theological foci. From Process Theology, Creation Theology, and Liberation Theology, to spiritual practices, Celtic Christianity, and World Religious Traditions. I have learned a great deal about a very few things. Otherwise, I'm not especially interesting.
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