University Congregational Church
March 20, 2016
“Faith after Certainty: The 7 Deadly Myths about Sin”
I Corinthians 18-25
Next week is Easter. The sanctuary will be full of people ready to hear the good news and smell the lilies and hunt eggs and celebrate resurrection. We all love Easter and talking about new life and celebrating spring. It will be glorious!
There’s only one slight problem. And it’s not good news. In order to have resurrection, there has to be a death. And this is not only a death. This is gruesome, unjust, profoundly sad death. If you’re like me, avoiding this week seems more prudent. It’s like turning the TV channel when they are about to talk about an execution in Texas. It’s like avoiding the hospital when someone you love is very ill. It’s like lamenting that we haven’t had any snow, but celebrating spring anyway.
And so here it is – the 2nd worst Sunday of the year… it’s time to talk about sin, betrayal, denial, and death. How could any topic be worse than that? If this isn’t the worst, what is the absolute worst Sunday of the year, you ask? You know! It’s the day I talk about stewardship and money!
One of the problems of progressive Christianity is that we don’t really like to focus on things like sin and death. You might think we avoid talking about sin because we consider it irrelevant, uncouth, tasteless, and antiquated. Surely we have evolved beyond a doctrine of sin in this church. We don’t want to trigger anyone’s shame and guilt or moral superiority, after all.
We’re not being honest, though, if we don’t include in our faith some words, images, and stories that name the sin that is a part of our lives and our world. What good is faith if it cannot name the violence, apathy and darkness that inhabits the human condition?
So, I want to talk about sin and death on this Palm & Passion Sunday. Easter will come soon enough. But we cannot have an Easter until we fully understand the cross of Jesus. I am continuing to use 51% Christian; Finding Faith After Certainty by Mark Stenberg as a guide for these sermons.
Stenberg debunks our cultural ideas of sin with his 7 deadly myths about sin.
1. The first myth is “you were born a sinner”. I’ve preached about this before. This theology came from Augustine in the late 4th century and led the church by the late Middle Ages to baptize infants to remove the curse of sin.
2. The second myth about sin goes along with the first and tells us that “our bodies are sinful”. This idea came alongside the original sin doctrine and is based on Greek philosophy. The Greeks held up dualism of mind vs. body and spirit vs. matter. Our bodies are not sinful… but when we create destructive relationships with others and with the creation, we are sinning.
3. The third deadly myth about sin is that “sex is sinful”. Again, we can thank Augustine for this idea – that the very act of procreation was the means by which original sin was transmitted. The problem is that when you equate sex with sin, you suddenly have no ethic of sexuality. All sex becomes suspect. Instead, sex is creative expression of shared intimacy and pleasure between two people who love and trust one another. When we believe this, the result is that we can identify mutual relationships and manipulative ones – the latter of which can lead to sin.
4. Another deadly myth about sin is that “it is somehow is tied to gender.” In church history, theologians, priests, and most officials of the church have been male. This has lead to our inherited beliefs and definitions of sin over the centuries, including that Eve was the first person to sin and coerced Adam (against his will) to sin too.
5. I think #5 myth is one of the most pervasive – but wrong – ideas we have about sin. It is that “sin is committed by individual persons”. This myth makes sin a matter of personal decision, will, and action. It’s as if what we do does not affect others, as if there is no great web of relationship, as if each one of us is an island. Much more subtle (and yet more diabolical) is sin and evil done by our human constructs… social institutions and businesses and governments and economic structures. The sin perpetuated by our social institutions take on a life of their own and operate as systems of economic exploitation and racism. And this even includes the church and charitable institutions. These structures have an uncanny power to get ahold of us and radically distort our collective vision.
6. At the same time, we cannot pass our personal responsibility off and simply say that sin is a product of the world. Myth 6 is that sin is “out there while we are personally innocent”. Within each of us is the capacity for wrong doing.
7. While we hold personal responsibility for sin, we can’t know about it by simply looking in the mirror. That’s the 7th myth: that “we can know what sin is by simply looking within”. Remember recently when I have spoken of God as relationship? If God is found in relationships, then sin is defined as anything that tarnishes or interferes with relationship. Sin is a violation of relationship; a violation of trust. That means that sin can’t really be defined by looking within. It is only understood through the lens of the God who loves us.
This is the week when we remember that Jesus was sentenced to die and was executed. He was, according to tradition, in his 30’s when he died. He was executed by the Roman government in order to maintain the peace that government wanted. Jesus seemed to be a threat, a disturber of the peace, a gatherer of peasant people with some false notions, and it was expedient that he die.
When we realize that this is what happened to Jesus – a beautiful, gentle, kind and caring man – some people will walk away.
• Why can’t we leave that part out?
• Why can’t we just tell the good stories about Jesus healing and touching and teaching and preaching?
I, myself, have thought that the stories of Jesus preach much better than the story of his death. This was a senseless killing, like the ones we hear of in Hesston, or in drive by shootings, or in schools and movie theaters. It is absolutely senseless. The Apostle Paul addresses those from his time who said similar things.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. I Cor. 1:18-25
I did one of those funerals last week… a death of a 40 year old that made no sense. Her husband took his own life last year. And she hadn’t found any peace after. So, she took a car and buckled her two young children in. But she was drunk or high or un-hinged. And she wrecked the car without wearing a seatbelt. The kids are okay; but she died and now they are orphans. It made no sense. Her family asked the “why” questions and they knew there were no answers.
Jesus’ death makes no sense either. The Apostle Paul says that to some, the cross is foolishness and to others it is the very power of God. In fact, several contemporary ministers have noted that “any church or any preacher who keeps preaching on the cross is not going to grow. In our culture, what we are interested in is success, not sacrifice.”
I wonder if the cross is a reminder – and I am sorry we have to have it – of the cruelty and violence and sin in the world that affects people who had nothing to do with it. There is a lot of ugly, cruel, evil power that crushes and hurts.
In today’s Jerusalem, you can walk Jesus’ last walk on the Via Delarosa – the way of the cross; the way of suffering. It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the pungent spices and the crowds. There are pomegranate juicers and silk scarves, artisans, and tapestries, Mediterranean food, and people – lots of people. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher – the place where Rome executed thousands of people, including Jesus – is shared by the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Egyptian Copts, Syrians and Ethiopians. With all the priests and liturgies and candles and people, the dark church can seem chaotic. Yet, the place itself has a reverence. It is holy. It reminds us that today, in that very land, are people who are persecuted, oppressed, homeless, orphaned, and refugees.
The primary reason pilgrims go to these places by the hundreds of thousands is because the cross tells us something profound about God. God identifies with human suffering. God comes to us when we are hurting. God’s own tears mingle with ours when tragedy comes into our lives.
• When a loved one takes his own life,
• When a child suffers illness,
• When a depressed or chronically ill person loses hope,
• When peace is not found between friends or family members,
• When we are not sure where to turn,
God comes to us and suffers with us.
When I saw my child – or another’s child – get hurt, my immediate response was to pick that child up and to love that child. Moms and dads offer to kiss the boo-boo, as if we have magic saliva or something. We hold the child on our laps and offer comfort. Sometimes the adult has a tear or two in sympathy. “Mom,” why are you crying? I’m the one who fell and scraped my knee.” “Because you hurt,” the mother says, “I hurt.” This does more for the child than all the medicine in the world, just sitting on the lap.
What is the cross? Can I say it this way? It is to sit for a few minutes on the lap of God, who hurts because you hurt.
Sin – our personal wrong doings and our systemic failures to protect one another – causes broken relationship. Our relationships are fractured and our spirits are broken. The cross reminds us of this. That’s what this week is about. But it is in our brokenness that we find God.
Craddock, Fred B. The Cherry Log Sermons. Westminster John Knox Press. 2001.
Stenberg, Mark. 51% Christian; Finding Faith after Certainty. Fortress Press, 2015.