3.9.14 Sin Boldly
1 Lent A, March 9, 2014
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A priest friend of mine says she hates this gospel we have today. She thinks it’s a terrible way to start Lent—by showing us what it is impossible for us to become—namely God, in all God’s perfection. She’s frustrated that Jesus can withstand all these various temptations to various kinds of power but that we cannot. It’s as if we fail before we’ve even been given a chance.
My friend does not like the goody-two-shoes Jesus, and she wishes we had instead a gospel that shows the cranky moods that Jesus could have now and then.
I hear that. I think she has a point. But I think as well that all our readings today can bring us a measure of comfort, even in our frustrating sinfulness, if we let them.
The first reading—which is the second creation story from the book of Genesis—can give us some comfort. Here we have Adam and Eve trying to resist the Snake’s temptations—but finally caving in and having a bite of that forbidden fruit, anyway. I think the point of having this story is that it’s a reminder that we cannot resist temptation much more than they did. We need each other to remind us of what we could be doing and how we could be living. We need God’s Word to remind us to be on the straight and narrow.
Now, Adam and Eve disobeyed God in their quest for power, didn’t they? And God’s response was really pretty loving, given this overt violation of God’s initial command. So they were turned out of the garden. But our reading stops short: if we read further in the text we see that God himself made them garments of animal skins to keep them warm and to replace those flimsy, leafy loincloths they threw together for themselves. God cared for them in their sinful state.
As I said earlier, we cannot well resist temptation, either. Martin Luther, the great Father of the Reformation, remarked that given this truth about humankind, we should go and sin boldly.
What did he mean—sin boldly? He meant that he knew we’d still sin, as much as we tried not to. But that we could live our lives in the boldness that comes from faith in God’s never-ending store of forgiveness.
Luther was someone who in his earlier life doubted that he was worthy of God’s love and forgiveness. He was neurotic about his sins and failings, obsessing about them all the time. But then he had a breakthrough. When he was studying the letters to the Galatians and the Romans he saw clearly that St Paul wrote about how we are all sinners. But that the life and death of Jesus covered our sins as a free gift, much as those animal skin clothes that God made covered Adam and Eve. There was no longer any doubt in his mind that God forgives us and covers us.
This first Sunday of Lent we look at our frailty and our tendency to mess up our lives, especially in light of how uncertain our lives are. This last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. I spoke about how short our lives are and how we really cannot know how much time we have left. We recalled how at the end of our lives we know we will be judged by Jesus: our Judge, our Redeemer, our Teacher, our Friend. Given all these realities, now is the time to come clean with God. Now is the time to take inventory of who we are and how we have lived. Now is the time to repent—to turn our lives around. To quote St. Paul, “Now is the day of salvation.”
Every day is the day of salvation.
Listen to the words of Anglican priest and poet George Herbert. He wrote this poem called “Lent” some 400 years ago. He talks about how we cannot be as good as Jesus—how we cannot perform like God during our lives on earth. But he looks at the issue with a great deal of insight and compassion. It speaks to my friend’s concern about goody-two-shoes Jesus. Listen to how George Herbert got it right:
It's true, we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior’s purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev’n as he.
In both let’s do our best.
So take heart and encouragement from George Herbert. May we do our best to walk with Jesus as far as we can this Lent. May we strive to be holy and to emulate him, even though we know—and God knows—we’ll never do it perfectly.
And may we trust in the mercy of God, which is unbounded and eternal. When we come to the part of our service where we confess our sins, may we turn ourselves inside out and ask forgiveness for all those things that rise to trouble us.
May we always take heart and know that God is so much bigger than who we are or than anything we can do or anything we’ve done.
Two mystics who lived in the 14th century in England can give us a little comfort here. William of Langland wrote that “All the wickedness in the world which man might do or say [is] no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.” All our sin from all our history is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea. How wonderful.
And I close with that other wonderful mystic from England around that time, Julian of Norwich. She wrote of the words of God given to her in several times of revelation. She asked her Lord why God allows sin to be in the world. And Jesus responded that God allows sin because it brings people to deeper understanding of themselves and, then, on to repentance. Her famous assertion of Jesus’ words rings through the centuries:
“Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”
So be fearless in your confessions. Be courageous in turning course as you seek to emulate Jesus more and more closely. And lean back onto God’s mercy. It’s always there.