Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-13, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33
We don’t usually talk much about sin, but if we are going to, Lent is a good season for it, and today is the day. For several weeks, the Sunday morning discussion group has been talking about the nature of sin and whether it is possible to be human and not sin. As we approach Holy Week and the central mysteries of our faith, the lessons today challenge us to spend some time thinking about sin 0and its place, if any, in our lives.
Creation is the direct result of God’s self-giving love within the Trinity. As the three persons of God pour themselves out in love for one another the result is an astonishing creativity which has resulted in the creation of the universe as we know it, and may, for all we know, have resulted in multiple universes. All of creation is a demonstration and revelation of God’s love. It’s easy to think that when we look at the goats munching away in this beautiful green valley. It’s less easy to think that when we view the devastation of an earthquake or see the remains of an animal who has been killed to be eaten by a predator.
There is no doubt that mortal life for both animal and human has times of delight and times of great suffering. It is difficult to see any reason or Great Plan in the unequal distribution of joy and sorrow. The solution of the ancients was to imagine a beautiful garden from which humanity - and with us the rest of creation - was excluded after the first humans made the mistake of listening to the lies of the serpent. Which of course begs the question, where did the serpent come from?
It seems that God must have wanted to create a world with creatures free to relate to God, or not, as they choose. So Creation has a flaw. If it was perfect there would be no opportunity for anything but compliance with God – we would be automatically swept up in Trinitarian love and all would be sweetness and light. The flaw gives us the opportunity to relate to God, to participate in the life of the Trinity in the way we were intended to, but we don’t have to.
The flaw in creation is what Christianity calls sin.
At the core of sin is the desire to be independent of God. The desire to stand on our own two feet without acknowledging that in everything we do we are dependent upon the whole web of creation, and ultimately on the Creator. Sin is so entwined in the fabric of our lives and society that we cannot get free of it by our own efforts. As this morning’s collect says,
‘Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise…’
Desire is a God given gift. Without desire we would be stunted and non-human. The distortion comes in when our desire takes us away from right relationship with God - when we become self-centered and forget our dependence upon God. That is sin.
Today’s psalm certainly doesn’t sit well with most of us - ‘Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother's womb.’ We are certainly are not wicked like Batman’s arch-enemy, the Joker, like Aslan’s enemy, the White Witch of Narnia, or even like the Wicked Witch of the West. I think the psalmist is grappling with the sense that at the very core of being human is the tendency to turn away rather than toward God.
Turning toward God is the meaning of conversion. When we turn towards God instead of away from God we are refusing sin. Every time we turn towards God we are choosing dependence on God rather than independence.
Sin is so insidious and so pervasive that over the centuries people have imaged a malevolent serpentine being who is Satan, the Devil, the ultimate Wickedness. He has been called the ruler of this world in contrast to the ruler of the heavenly world. I don’t know if there is actually a Devil or an army of devils of various ranks. It is easier for most of us today to think of evil or sin as an impersonal force, but in Jesus’ time it made more sense to think of a personal force, the Devil, locked in combat with God.
In this morning’s Gospel reading Jesus said ‘Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out’. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection the world was judged and seen in its true light, and the power of the Devil or the all–persuasive power of sin was broken. That allows us to identify sin in a way that hadn’t been possible before. It isn’t hidden away... it’s out in the open. And with every succeeding generation we understand more about sin and how it works – we see more clearly the way injustice permeates our society – we deal with one major problem only to find another that needs attention.
Sin is not just an individual thing. Sin is part of the very foundation of how society works. Our calling is not just to turn away from our own private sin and turn towards God but to turn away from our corporate sin and find new ways of living together in the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.
That is the true calling of the Church. We are called to find new ways of living together and to work for a just and peaceful society for all beings. In the process we will develop new understandings of sin. We will go through ugly times and good times, we will have to repent and turn back to God again and again and again. It isn’t easy.
Our calling is to assist one another in learning what it means to live the resurrection life. What it means to live every day knowing that God truly loves us and longs to be in close joyful relationship with us. Jesus is our model not so much in what he did but in how he related to his Abba and to his friends. His life was one of total loving obedience to God the Creator, his human relationships were filled with loving self-giving compassion.
God’s love for us is extravagant and freely given. It is available to everyone. Sin gets in the way, sin is the flaw in the universe which means that we have freedom, just as God has freedom, but which also means that we have to consciously and frequently turn towards God instead of away from God. Turning towards God and towards love is difficult spiritual work but it is the path of freedom and new life. That is our hope and our joy – that we will be united with the God who created us and no longer separated by the consequences of sin.