Saturday, 21 November 2015

Discussing Sin

Blog post for Nov. 22, 2015
Rev. 1:4-8, John 18:33-37, Ps. 93

This week I depart from the usual, I want to discuss a bit what we heard last week before I get to working on this Sunday.

Last week Dan Graber, our conference minister grappled with the topic “Is sin irrelevant?” I had called it the “uncomfortable” topic in my pre-service blog, and it certainly was! Sin is not a word we use much, it’s not a concept we define clearly, and it is uncomfortable to consider where we might be going wrong in our individual and corporate lives.

Dan didn’t make everyone happy, he said a few uncomfortable and controversial things. I agreed with some bits and took issue with others, however,  I love the conversations that came out of this sermon! There was great fodder for discussion for the young adult gathering around our fireplace that evening.
First, we tackled our definition of sin. Our general agreement was that sin separates us from good relationships with God, other people, and creation.  We don’t like the idea of a Victorian style list of sins. We agreed that situations matter. We were also agreed that complete relativism is also not the way to go. There are some things that are clearly sin, like murder and infidelity. These things ruin relationships.
Next we talked about Dan’s comment that the world is getting worse. He mentioned how each generation claims that the one following it is “going to pot”.  He didn’t think it was true in the past, but that it is true now, that today’s younger generations and society are treating sin as “irrelevant” and that we don’t take it seriously anymore.

The young adults at my home disagreed. It’s not that younger folks don’t talk about sin-but they talk about it differently. Many young adults are well informed world citizens, conversant and concerned about environmental, justice, and ethical issues. Their faith must be relevant to these issues and able to engage a multi-cultural society. They do talk about right and wrong, but they don’t use the vocabulary of sin because it feels archaic and exclusive to white, middle class culture. There is a reaction against sin language that seems to harken back to Victorian black and white values and list making. To a time when absolutes were publically unquestioned and those who didn’t fit the Christendom model of clean-shaven, untattoed, non-smoking, non-dancing, non-drinking, Sunday church goer, were labeled as the wrong crowd, the sinners.
If anything seems to define the emerging culture of engaged, faithful, young adults, I wonder if it might be the ability (and great need) to ask questions. They need to be able to creatively think through complex situations, very little is black and white. Issues are acknowledged as situational, context is crucial.

I think this is faithful and theologically consistent with the Bible. Jesus constantly challenged his cultures ideas of sin. He ate with the “sinners”, talked with outcasts, provided wine at a wedding…and yet constantly challenged the establishment with questions. He advocated for the poor and crippled, he enraged the establishment. His first allegiance truly was to God.

In my (long ago) Pauline studies, I learned that Paul was always situational. He responded to and counselled churches according to their needs and issues. Sometimes this means that he is inconsistent, that he gives conflicting advice to churches. He is frustratingly convoluted at times. This is both an infuriating problem and a gift to us later interpreters. Paul is hard to understand, to pull absolutes from, but his inconsistency and relativism is a gift in that it frees us to THINK! We are encouraged to apply new knowledge in faithful ways. We must always adapt and grow in our thinking and relevance to changing situations and issues.
Romans 7:14-25 (from last week) does exactly this!

Paul doesn’t make lists, but challenges himself to be better, to do what he knows is right. Then he rejoices in God’s grace-knowing that he won’t ever get it all right. He will always be a sinner and God is still able to redeem him.

Getting to the scripture for Nov.22, I love the piece in Rev. that affirms that God was, is, and is to come. No matter how badly humanity behaves, God is there, is in charge, always promises to be with us as we struggle. I don’t think we are necessarily getting any worse, or any better, we are just changing. Only by the grace of God will we ever be saved from ourselves. That is Amazing Grace!

 (I also enjoy reading the piece from John where Pilate is interogating Jesus. Pilate's question; "what is truth?" is particularly poignant. I always hear him saying it in a wistful, longing way. This is hard. Life is hard to figure out. We  can only do our best, and rely on God.)

Questions: How do you define sin? Do you feel the world is getting worse or better? Is discussing sin irrelevant or crucial to us as a people of faith?

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