Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Sin Boldly" Really?!?

       In the Dave Matthew’s Band hit song, Tripping Billies, Dave sings the refrain, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we’ll die.”  Dave is, of course, quoting a notable verse in one of the parables in Luke’s Gospel. 
          And at this point you might be wondering why is our preacher subjecting us to cruel and unusual punishment by quoting a song that says, “eat, drink, and be merry” on the 1st Sunday in Lent, a season of fasting and self-denial, a season of repentance.
          Well, as much as I love Dave Matthews, he is doing what many of us are prone to do and that is taking a piece of scripture from one context and trying to apply it to a completely different context and in the process the meaning gets lost in translation.
          Misapplying scripture is not the only thing that gets Christians in trouble but also misapplying the teachings of the Church.  Take the teachings of Martin Luther for example.  Yes, he is that guy who posted the 95 thesis as a corrective for the Catholic Church. 
          In a letter to one of his colleagues Luther says, “Let your sins be bold (Sin Boldly).”  As you might imagine, like the “eat, drink, and be merry” verse, people have taken this “sin boldly” phrase to live every day like it is Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Well, sad news, this is not what Luther intended for his colleague to take away from this letter.
          We have to remember that Luther’s work was primarily a response to a medieval Catholic “works-righteousness” theology.  This kind of theology leads us to believe that our own good work can absolve our sins and make us holy.  We are convinced that if we pray hard enough, work hard enough, serve hard enough, and stay away from notorious sinners long enough then we can stamp our own ticket to heaven.   
(Martin Luther)
          Imagine what this way of living might look like to God or even to non-church people.  Think about that person who tries just a little too hard.  Think about that person who can’t help but to embarrass themselves by pretending to be something they are not. I believe God and non-church people see the same thing when looking at people who prescribe to a “works-righteousness” theology.
          I believe God is trying to tell us “Stop trying so hard!  Be who I made you to be.” In other words, recognize your sin not as a measure of your self-worth.  Instead, look at your sin with boldness, look at your sin with the hope that God is making all things new through Jesus Christ.  Look at your sin and trust that God is making something beautiful with the mess you have made—not because God is OCD but because God loves you and the world he created perfectly.
           If one applies “works-righteousness” to everyday living, what happens when one sins?  It might be tempting to say, “Well, at least I didn’t break the law.  I only committed a small sin.  God can handle that one.”  As if God sent Jesus to die a shameful and terrible death on the cross for only the small sins. The bad news is that all sin, no matter how big or small, no matter if we get jail time or not, diminishes the truth that all people are made in the image of God.   
          The writer of 1st John says, “If we say we have no sin, we make him a liar and the word is not in us.”  While it is one thing to believe this on an intellectual or theological level, it is another thing to live our lives like we believe God’s saving help saves us from our sin. 
Wonder with me for a minute.  Do our lives reflect the truth that Gods grace is far greater than even the worst human sin?  Do we believe that the path to salvation is about bringing our sins, both big and small, to the light of God trusting that God absolves all sinners through Christ? 
Or do we try as hard as we can to avoid sin trusting in our own righteousness?  Do we sometimes fall into the temptation of believing that “A little sin never hurt anybody.  At least I didn’t murder anybody or commit adultery.  I just told a white lie.  Gossiping is just fun and games. No one will find out!” 
Are we choosing to live according to the law, measuring our self-worth, our identity, our salvation by how “good” or “bad” we are, measuring the salvation of others based on their “goodness” or “badness”?  Or are we choosing to live according to the gift of grace? Can we accept the truth that no matter how “good” or “bad” you are, your identity, you self-worth, your salvation is totally and completely wrapped up in the righteousness of Jesus Christ?
The medieval Catholic Church is not the only church to get trapped by this “works-righteousness" theology.  I believe every Church in every generation is tempted to live by this moralistic adherence to a law.  In fact, every other religion, except for Christianity is about following a moral code. But Christianity is not about following a set of rules. 
Instead, Christianity is about taking on the life of Christ by consuming his Word, by being immersed in his death and resurrection in Baptism, by taking on his flesh through his body and blood at the Lord’s Table. 
Christianity is about putting away the old life of sin by taking on the new life of Christ, by taking on the life of the One who knew no sin.  Christianity is about taking on the salvation story of Christ, a salvation story that we are given not through our own good efforts but a story we are given by the mercy and grace of God.
I am about to say something that might startle some of you.  Christianity’s primary function is not to make you a better person.  There I said it.  Some of you might be thinking, “But if Church isnt about making me a better person, then what is the point?  Why am I even here?” 
Beloved, you are here to grow in grace.  You are here because of all places the Church should be the place where you are free to admit that you are a sinful creature, of all places the Church should be the place where you let go of the burden of trying to be good all the time.  Of all places, the Church should be the place where broken and wounded sinners can come to find refreshment and renewal in a love that is far heavier than even the worst kind of sin. 
For this reason, many people who attend AA meetings say that those gatherings are more like Church than any church they have ever attended.
When you kneel before God in Church, you are not met with the consequences of your sin—Jesus, the one who knew no sin, has already experienced the destruction of your sin and the sin of the world on the cross.  Instead, in Church you kneel before a God whose property is always to have mercy.  You are met with a God who says again and again, “Your sins are forgiven you.  Go in peace, you are free to live again.” 
Todays Gospel lesson, the three temptations of Christ, isnt simply a story that reminds us how strong and good Jesus is in the face of temptation.  This is not a story that ends by saying, “go and do what Jesus did.”  When we read this story, we are reminded of our great weakness in the face of temptation. 
We are reminded that when are given the choice we are weak to take the easy road, a road that is masked with the lies of Satan, a road that is glittered with false propaganda, propaganda that is full of empty promises.  We are weak to take the more convenient road only to find that the easy road leads to a dead end.
When we read this story, we are also reminded of the One who was tempted in every way as we are but did not sin.  We are reminded that Jesus took the more difficult road for us. We are reminded that while the more difficult road may lead to pain, lead to a hostile world, lead even to death, that is the only road that will lead to eternal truth and eternal life, a road that is ultimately paved in a love that never ends.    
During Lent, the Church drives her people out into the wilderness.  We aren’t not driven into the wilderness to prove to ourselves and to others that we can overcome even the strongest of temptations.  Instead, we are driven out into the wilderness to discover how weak we really are.  We are driven out into the wilderness to discover that the only possible way to choose the road to eternal life is by choosing to consume the life of Jesus. 
The eternal truth of Gods love in Christ is the only vehicle that can navigate the wilderness.  The eternal truth of Gods love is the only power in this world that can overcome the temptation of taking the easy road, the road of lies. 
And believing in the boldness of your sin is the only way that you can find the grace to believe in the boldness of the road that Christ’s paves in the wilderness, a road that is wide enough for even the most notorious of sinners, a road that is wide enough for you, a road that leads to abundant life.  Amen

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