September 10, 2017
Sin. That's a word that is not very popular in churches today. We are much more comfortable talking about God's grace without dwelling too much on sin. But really, what is grace if there is no understanding of sin preceding it? I want to look at sin today but only as the precursor to the marvelous forgiveness that God offers us all.
I begin with two basic classifications of sin—sins of commission and sins of omission. Commission is the act of disobedience. You know you shouldn’t do it, you maybe even try talking yourself out of it, but you disobey God's good plan for your life. You decide to do things your own way. These sins are usually pretty easy to recognize. Sins of omission on the other hand...well this came up in a Sunday School class. The teacher asked her students, what are sins of omission? After some thought one little fellow said, “They are the sins we should have committed but didn't get around to.” Close...they are the good things we should have done but didn't do.
Up in heaven, St. Peter nudged God and said, “You see your servant down there Lord? You see what she's doing?” God replied, “Mm-mm.” “Well, aren't you going to do anything about it?” God replied, “Don't worry, I will take care of her.”
Meanwhile, the pastor got to the first tee...a beautiful, sunny morning, nice little breeze and she felt great. She teed up the ball and uncorked a marvelous shot. The best she'd ever hit. She watched as it bounced short of the green, hopped up on the lip and rolled and rolled and dropped in the hole. Her first hole-in-one!
Well, St. Peter didn't like that one bit. He went back to God and accused him of going too easy on the pastor. God replied, “So. who can she tell?”
I have a book on my desk, The Doctrine of Sin. I have gotten about one half of the way through it in the 4 or 5 years since Richard gave it to me. Sin has a lot of attractions, but reading about the doctrine is not quite as attractive as the real thing can seem to be. For instance, pages 96-98 you can read a list of 42 summary statements on the reformed doctrine of sin. Let me share no. 26: “There are divisions of sins, such as inward/outward, omission/commission, sins per se (prohibited by God's law) and per accidens (not prohibited but not good), sins deliberate and accidental etc.”
It is possible to get so caught up in the concept of defining sin that we fail to realize that sin separates us from God. We don't need to know the definition of sins per se to know when we are not acting the way God would have us act. When I preached on Genesis, in the story of Jacob wrestling with God I said this, “maybe wrestling with God for control is the real root of sin and separation from God...it was Adam and Eve in the garden, It was David and Bathsheba, it was the Jewish leaders who determined to put Jesus to death. If we are wrestling to be free of God's control, that is probably a good definition of sin.”
Our question today then, are there areas of your life that you struggle to give control of to God, are there parts of your psyche that you are keeping total control over; refusing to turn over to God? Those are the areas I want us to consider this morning and determine to relinquish control to the Lord.
A couple of years ago we were out here at the lake. I spoke about sin that day and I took stones and threw them into the water. I want to do that again as I've heard it was meaningful to some. But I'm going to take a little more time with it this time. I've got a collection of rocks here and I want to look at them and see if they in some way represent an impulse toward sin or an attitude or desire that we might be facing. For instance, look at this rock:
-beautiful-attraction of sin;
-flat-a skipping stone, it affects time and time again;
-concrete-man-made sins like cheating on taxes;
-sharp edged-hurt others;
-hidden features-hiding our sins from others;
-broken-broken relationships from our sins;
I'd like you to notice I didn't differentiate between big rocks and small ones, just as it is not right to differentiate our sins into big and little; or in my faith tradition, mortal and venial sins. Anything we do that separates us from God's perfect love is a serious sin. And we don't need a mediator to present our offering of repentance to God—we just tell God that we are sorry.
And that brings us to our Old Testament lesson from Micah. It's a bit confusing as Micah switches back and forth in this passage, first taking to God then about God then to God. So understand that all this is about God. “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity...he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” This is the heart of our message today; our sins are figuratively thrown into the sea, and as holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom adds, “Then God puts up a no fishing sign!” The point is that when God forgives sins, they are cast away and God does not hold them against us any longer.
Here is where my bucket of rocks comes in. I'm going to pass these around and you reach in and grab one. Look it over, decide what kind of sin, attitude, control issue you have or are struggling with God over. The rock may correspond with sins as I suggested earlier; it may not. But whatever is is that you are viewing as a separation issue with God, consciously pass it onto or into that rock in your hand.
Pass bucket: talk about—my point will be that god forgets our sins. Not like husband and wife. At home communions I suggested this difference; Rhonda caught on right away.
Now watch and listen as I throw our sins into the depths of the lake. There is no comparison to the depths of the sea but we get the point I think. They are out of sight and there is no fishing them back out. I invite you to offer up prayers of confession and thanksgiving as we do this.
I began saying this sermon was about sin. The late President Calvin Coolidge returned home from attending church early one Sunday afternoon. His wife had been unable to attend but she was interested in what the pastor spoke about. Coolidge told her he talked about sin. She pressed him for a few words of explanation. And being a man of few words he responded, “Well, I think he was against it.”
I want you to know that I am against sin, but again, today's message really isn't about sin, it's about forgiveness of sins. The greatest demonstration of God's love is the forgiveness of sin. Why do we need forgiveness? Because all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. Why does God offer this gift? Micah tells us, “(God) does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency.” Other translations say God delights in mercy or in faithful love. God delights in showing us mercy! Wow.
And the good news continues, our sins past, present and future are covered when we put our faith in Jesus. In Hebrews 10 we read “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and the Holy Spirit adds this, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” We confess because we seek to do better, but the sacrifice on the cross was sufficient for all time. Wow again.
I conclude with some words from our next hymn, a new hymn for us but a familiar tune. The third stanza says, “Forgive our wrongs, reshape our lives, make firm our trust in you.” Jesus has forgiven our wrongs, once for all, done and cast in the sea. Then we seek to follow God's leading to reshape our lives to look more like Jesus And we live in trust that God's grace is sufficient. “And turn our heart to human need.” This is one thing that comes through over and over in our scriptures. While these promises are wonderful, good news for us; we are called to, in obedience, turn our heart to human needs. It is not enough to simply accept God's grace and live to ourselves. We live out God's grace when we love our neighbor as our self. When we share our gifts with others. When we fight for justice and equality. These are right from our reading in Romans today: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Let us accept the wonderful gift of forgiveness; your sins have been thrown into the depths of the sea. And then love others and fulfill God's law. Amen.
Hymn: Creator God the Holy One