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
My friends, if you have read the newspaper or watched the news the last
couple of days, you are aware that a very tragic incident happened in South
Minneapolis a few days ago. A little eight month old baby boy was severely
and deliberately beaten and tossed about. Suffering from severe head and
internal injuries, he was brought to the hospital and yesterday afternoon
the little boy died. It is a tragedy that happens, unfortunately, all too
frequently in this society of ours that seems 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 favor 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 my German relatives 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
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Dunstan’s Church and Fr. Sisterman.