This past weekend I spoke about sin. We rehearsed the story of the woman with the alabaster jar in the Gospel according to Luke. Jesus reminds us that “the one who is forgiven little loves little.” What I read here is that the more aware that we become of our need for divine grace, the more that we recognize that often our desires are disordered, that we are dis-eased, that we are a broken people, that on a good day we are bound by gods of our own making, that as the prayer of confession tells us we have “rebelled against [God’s] love,” the more that we open our hearts and minds to the image of God in others and their own capacity to experience healing, wholeness, restoration, redemption, new life, and salvation.
Often once a sermon is over my brain keeps on ticking. I read over the preparation notes, look at the parts of the sermon edited out due to time constraints, rabbit hole avoidance, or uncooked ideas, and through this exercise the sermon is still doing its work in me. Sometimes I can easily shake it off and move on to the following week but then there are the other times, times like this week, when my soul is working in parallel thinking about last week’s word, it’s rhythms still simmering slowly, while at the same time bringing up the heat on the word that is coming.
Sermons are living things. Often they take a life of their own and begin to shine a light on what is happening around us. Now a word of warning here: I alongside many other pastors often stay silent about the things happening in our world for fear of being rejected, demeaned, misunderstood, and/or attacked. That too begins to mess with your soul for often I am reminded that the good news of Jesus Christ has an edge and if we are unwilling to speak to how the good news of Jesus is or is not seen in the world around us then, what are doing?
We are living interesting days in our country and in the world. This week we have had racially charged remarks by a president (and as one who has been told to “go back where you came from!” I can tell you it is racial and demeaning and sinful), we continue to argue about immigration while at the same time seeing images of human beings in overcrowded cages robbed of their agency and used as political pawns (by all political parties), and in my home country of Puerto Rico we have seen the people go to the streets to demand that the corrupt and morally bankrupt government of Dr. Ricardo Rosello Navarro is put to an end.
Through all of this I’ve been in conversations with friends, colleagues, and church folks. We have faced the aftermath of a storm that could have been much worst, death of loved ones from illness, newly diagnosed terminal illness, vocational questions, spiritual surprises, and struggles of day to day lives. In the midst of all of this one common theme emerges: SIN is very real, it is systemic and it personal, communal and individual, its tentacles are far reaching and it settles in our soul bringing about self-deception, do goodism, and a personal God complex (some things never change in millennia of human development). Sin as condition also makes us comfortable with making our primary identity ANYTHING other than Jesus Christ - here’s when a full read of both Exodus and Romans might do us some good. Idolatry is alive and well and its often expressed in us by the primary identities we choose to claim.
In our baptismal covenant we are asked: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
The Baptismal Covenant I - The United Methodist Hymnal
In baptism we are grafted into a new kinship. The bounds of flesh and blood, nationality and geographical boundaries no longer the primary identity. We sisters and brothers with other baptized one, we sharing a common renewed reality, we now empowered by the Holy Spirit to be Jesus in the world. We also driven by that same Spirit to healthy patterns of re-ordering our lives, of repentance, confession, and forgiveness. We in community developing a new imagination that allows us to rehearse God’s will on EARTH as it is in heaven.
This means that our being American is not most important.
This means that we call out the explicit and implicit racism that continues to infect our society, including but not limited to any ideology that implies that one segment of humanity is superior than an other, a nation not just great but better, a language not just ours but better, a culture, way of doing things, ways of thinking not just ours but better.
This means that we call our leaders of nations to the common good for ALL people and work even harder at protecting the God image bearing identity of those that we ideologically disagree with. This includes but is not limited to, a decision that we do not separate children from their parents, we do not mass incarcerate people for attempting to exercise their human right, and we demand that our immigration policy is both clear and just.
This means that we reject our idolatry of political parties in the United States and the sinful and harmful ideology that if the “right” party rises to power that the kingdom of God will be made known; that God has a preferential option for conservatives or liberals (remember that Jesus’ preference is for the poor, forgotten, marginalized, and oppressed - see Matthew 5); that a different political ideology makes the other your enemy, or non-Christian, or __________________ . That my “party right or wrong” just like “my country right or wrong” are ideologies of idolatry and must be rejected and free us from the important role that we have to be prophets who call our community back to the ways of God’s kingdom - healing, wholeness, shalom, common good, interconnection, and one people.
This means that Christian communities across this nation are at the forefront of the practice of repentance, confession, and forgiveness. As Desmond Tutu so aptly teaches us in The Book of Forgiving, a community committed to a cycle of reconciliation is a community willing to name and hear the difficult stories of harm doing without defensiveness, protectiveness, and blaming (remember that lack of taking ownership and blaming are key markers of the human condition that keep us from God’s transformative love as Genesis 3 clearly shows us).
This means that we practice humility. The Christian community itself is divided ideologically, theologically, doctrinally, racially, ethnically. Many of the horrors inflicted upon other communities have been committed in the name of Jesus (e.g. colonialism, ethnic cleansing, slavery) and the remnants of these ways of thinking about God (like being male, being white, being American, etc.) still haunt us.
This means that we tell the stories and are willing to be uncomfortable. After all God is with us ready to forgive, transform, and make a way. Jesus often tells us to not be afraid for God is with us, especially in discord. Unfortunately as I pastor my observation is that our unwillingness to be made uncomfortable is keeping us from enjoying the fruits of sanctifying grace of becoming a kindom people, a light and a life to all that we encounter.
I’ve already filled my cheeks with crumbs so I’ll stop here. I will confess that I am an idealist. I believe that we can live in difference, we can treat all of humanity with dignity and respect, we can disagree and still see Jesus in each other, we can work together across difference for the common good. I believe that our nation and world can be better places for all people and that the way of Jesus calls us to work towards that reality until Christ returns to make all things right. I also believe that confession is essential, that often I fail to live into my own standards, that I need the community to help me find Jesus again and again, and that my fear has often kept me quiet too long.
I know lean on God’s mercy and grace as I continue to think about these things as I do so I mediate on the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians:
Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.