For those of my calling (local church pastor) who may still be waiting for divine inspiration, here is a friendly alert. It is Saturday, you are not ready and God does not work on the Sabbath. So, take this exposition, find your own text (think sin), brown and serve.
Introduction-The Bible has tons of stuff to say about sin. God is anti-sin, we have that figured, the hard part is figuring out just what is sin in each given circumstance, how can we be consistent with our views from conception (the start of life) to the reception (when God welcomes us home). Yes, sin is always rebellion against God, but just what is that? Abraham argues with God (bargains) and still cannot save the cities of the plains. God wears out the cities of the plains but spares Vegas. Go figure.
So, we are left with hundreds of bits of data, out of which we try to protect humankind from our own preferences, lest we remake God in our own image. What can we say about sin, fairly, from Scripture, church history, secular history and personal experience?
We can say that, since all of us sin, we cannot condemn any sinner. Jesus touches lepers, consorts with harlots, cherishes children and just generally stands every one of the religious standards of His culture on its respective head. A woman taken in adultery (No, the story is not in the better texts and I am stuck with just thinking it sounds like He would do) is forgiven, while her accusers leave feeling, well, accused.
In fact, the only people Jesus comes down hard on are religious people who turn religion into a burden rather than a joy-giver. His heart is burdened when He sees people loaded down, so He announces He is a rest-giver (a big deal in a labor intensive age). His yoke is easy (fits right and does not chafe) and his burden is light. He is one who lifts a heavy load off our back.
Jesus is the kind of God who can look up from a Cross and ask forgiveness for His murderers. He recognizes sin, He condemns sin (mostly sin done in the name of religion) but He never really seems to get to condemning the sinful person, though He finds them in various stages of repentance and some, frankly, don’t seem repentant at all where Jesus finds them.
All of us sin. We lie and make God a liar if we say otherwise. Euclid helps here. His first general rule is that things that are equal to different things are equal to each other. That is, if a=c and b=c, then a=b, whether or not that is part of the original equation. Since all sin is equal (a) and since all sin offends God (b) and since all humans sin (c), then all humans have equality before God in the matter of sinfulness. So, none of us who claim religion as a major part of our life experience differ from the least of these, our brothers, in the matter of sin.
Therefore, we are unwarranted in condemnation of any person, no matter how repugnant our senses may find their “sin.” Do not throw out the cliche, love the sinner, hate the sin, a cliche which seems sadly reassuring and oddly self-excusing to its invariably religious users. Look at the person, see the sin, absolve without condemnation. Remember your formula.
Since all of us sin, we can none of us condemn the sinner, for he is just like me.
Then, since all of us sin, we must all condemn the sin. This is where human emotions get tricky, because we all make judgments. Some are deeply inbred, others are just silly, and most are somewhere in between somber and silly.
Let me tell you one of my silly judgments. We just had Halloween, which brings a whole evening of costumed trick or treaters to your door.
Here is my judgment. If you come to my door and you are bigger than me, you have a deeper voice than me and you have a full beard, you are too old to be trick or treating. Too old. Give it up. Buy your own fun-size Snickers.
Don’t shake your Wal-Mart bag at me on my porch. Don’t stand there waiting. I don’t care what the neighbors gave you. Twenty year olds get nothing from at my house. I don’t care about the exaggerated unemployment figures for that age group. Don’t get me lost in your loop of circular logic. I will not give you candy, not even the cheap, hard Dollar General candy I save for the end of the evening. Nothing. Zip. Zilcho.
So, that is one of my silly judgments. We all have them.
Look at some others. People who abuse children or women or the old or anyone who cannot defend themselves. We condemn this sin, most of us, whenever we find it, though most of us limit our judgment to our own hemisphere. We think the hungry should be fed, the sick should be healed, the naked clothed. No child should be beaten or burned or starved. No old person should have his bones broken or her back beaten. We judge.
Understand, we join God in judgment here. God hates sin; the act of sin, the habits of sins, the active element in sin itself. God hates sin.
And, we who are the people of God (we claim) must actively oppose sin in its particulars and evil in general. When Saddam Hussein dips his foes in vats of acid to watch them dissolve, we are the answer to “Where is God?” When Adolph Hitler gasses 6,000,000 humans beings, we are the reply to the question, “What is God doing when great evil occurs?”
The Christian standard is this; we oppose evil. Genocides in Sub-Saharan Africa, government imposed starvation in North Korea, humanitarian outrages in the Balkans, food shortages in Greece, abasement of women and children (and now men) in pornography, torture, massive white collar theft and on and on and on. We oppose evil in the name of God, we condemn sin from the heart of God and so stand at great risk and personal cost for God in the face of human evil.
Our opposition to sin and sins must be active and actual, not theoretical and vicarious only. We are God’s agents in this world against the active element of sin. In our actions we must be the answer to the question, “Where is God and what is God doing when people suffer the inhumanity of other humans and the natural dangers of this world?”
Then, about sin, we might say that God goes to extravagant lengths to forgive the sinner of the sin and so make Heaven available to the sinner. I don’t know what you think about death and the soul, about the intermediate state of the dead or the final disposition of the soul. There is a lot of available material for your study, so go and take a look, if you really care to know.
For me, I am stricken with this thought. If sinfulness has no effect on humankind in this life or the next, then the Cross seems a bit excessive.
Why bother with the Cross if it is no matter, anyway?
What is God doing, if you want to ask a real question with impact, if unnoticed good is not rewarded anytime, anywhere and unrequited evil is never indicted?
So, God, who is reputed to have a good handle on these eternal issues, better than you, better than me, better than your smart, bearded friend at the coffee shop, better than the latest anti-God British atheist come to America for our religious liberty, God, who seems to know there is something going on here, goes to extravagant lengths to deal with the sin issue in our race.
No, not to condemn, but to redeem. Condemnation is easy; a flood here, a giant dust cloud there and poof, it is all gone and we start over at X. No, God, from the start, goes to some lengths, then to great lengths, then, finally, to the ultimate sacrifice of His Son, Himself, to rescue and pardon and just generally remake humankind, all of which God does without neglecting the ability of humankind to study out things for themselves.
Extravagant lengths, I say. Amazing operations of grace, mercy, compassion, long-suffering, forbearance; forgotten words now, long dusty images, but all of which become all the more important to a race trapped on a planet daily growing hotter, flatter and more crowded.
Don’t condemn the sinner. Do not harm.
Condemn the sin. Do good.
Live in the extravagant acts of grace. Continue to develop a relationship with God.
Three simple rules.
And there is your sermon for tomorrow, or the next time you get to Saturday without one.