February 18, 2013

Lenten Journey: Sin

For Reflection...

Having reflected that which tempts us, we have no choice but to consider a concept at which our modern world tends to turn up its nose -- that is, sin.  We live in an era, in our western world, that has little use for the idea of sin.  We are told that I'm okay and you're okay and that, if we feel we might not be, a diet of self-help is all we need to improve.

Any suggestion that there is a right and a wrong, is seen as moralizing -- which is seen as unhealthy and exclusive.  We don't want to judge, many of us.  And those who are quite comfortable judging, declaring who is "in" and who is "out" of God's good graces, nearly always judge themselves to be in and someone with whom they disagree or who they don't understand to be out.

It is tempting to abandon the whole conversation.  The problem is, we know that there is something in us that is not right.  As we embark on a journey of prayer and self-reflection, that knowledge begins to loom larger. When I am living unconsciously, perhaps I can ignore what I know.  I can watch another episode of something, have another drink, send another text -- whatever it takes to distract me.  But as soon as I start to tune in to my own soul and to God's presence there, it becomes impossible to ignore the sense of my own unworthiness.

God is good.  We can get lost in the weeds of the world, looking at cancer and war and abuse and question God's goodness, but when we become present to God in our own souls, we know in a deeper place than our rational thoughts that God is good -- and that we are not.  Now, I am no Calvinist, nor even a good Lutheran; I believe that there is good in us -- because God has made it so.  Still, it is clear that we are not as good as we might be, as we long to be, and not good as God is good.  As we draw near to God, we become painfully aware of our own failings, our sin.

I have sat through many a sermon, particularly Lenten sermons, where I have been instructed in how to be better.  Call it pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps theology.  It is not, however Christian theology.  Self-help, doing better, is not the answer.  That is the culture talking.  Is it so very difficult to see that if we could be better on our own, we would be better already?  Paul says it famously in Romans 7:15ff:  

I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law [what God wills] is good.  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh [as opposed to my spirit].  I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.
Paul continues, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?"  Because I cannot rescue myself.

For Entering In...

Spend a few moments in the quiet becoming present to yourself.  Notice how it feels to be in your body to be here, now.

Invite God to be present with you.  Notice what it feels like to be in God's presence.

Reflect on these questions:
  • How do you understand the idea of sin?  Have you learned something about sin from your childhood?  Your church?  What are the associations that the word sin conjures up for you?
  • What is your personal moral code?  What actions or behaviors do you think of as "good" or "bad"?  How does your personal sense of morality compare with that of your family of origin?  Your church?  Your social circle?  Society at large?
  • How does it feel when you are out of step with the professed or implied moral code of someone else or the culture?  How does it feel when you judge you have violated your own moral standards?
  • Have you tried to reform something you don't like about yourself?  How did you go about it?  What happened?
  • Notice as you enter into prayer this week whether you are becoming more aware of your own failings.  What does that feel like?  Can you sit with that feeling, without judging it, just noticing it, in the presence of God?  

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