Sin and Spirituality

Second Sunday after Epiphany

Sunday, January 18 2009

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Psalm 139
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Preached by Vicar Anna C. Haugen

First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Greensburg, PA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This weekend was the council retreat at St. Emma’s retreat center, just outside of town.  It was the first time I’d ever seen a nun in a full black habit in person and not on TV, which was interesting.  I admit I was a bit freaked out by the crucifix in my room-instead of having Jesus flat against the cross like on most crucifixes, the one in my room had a Jesus who was hanging forward off the cross, head hanging down.  Given the position and size of the crucifix and the position of the bed, Jesus was staring right down at the pillow.  I slept on the other side of the bed.  I was glad I went.  It was a productive meeting, both in terms of what got accomplished and as a way of helping us come together as a group, so that the next year can continue to be productive.

What happens in Corinth, stays in Corinth.  It was the Las Vegas of the ancient world, the sin city of its day.  Everything was available in Corinth, one way or another, no matter how immoral or unethical it was.  And everyone knew it.  It’s no wonder that Paul had more problems with the Corinthians than any other church he founded.  Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them.  He told them that as Christians, all of our sins are forgiven and we have been saved by the cross of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.  The power of the law and sin and death have been broken, and we are free.  This is good news, indeed.

The Corinthians took this to mean that they could do whatever they wanted, and take advantage of all the things that Corinth had to offer.  They didn’t have to answer to the Law, any more; no worrying about consequences, it’s all been taken care of.  After all, God would forgive anything.  They wanted to do whatever they wanted, do what felt good and satisfied their cravings, what titillated them, and leave the mess and the consequences to God.  They wanted to be able to ignore God all week, come in for an hour Sunday morning, and go right back to ignoring everything that God was doing.  Surely, they said, it wasn’t like they were being that bad, was it?  Everyone ate meat sacrificed to idols, it was everywhere.  So were prostitutes.  So were a lot of other ways to sin.

I can just hear them saying it: everyone does it.  It’s not that big a deal.  It’s not that bad.  I enjoy it, so it must be good.  God doesn’t really mind that much.  God loves me anyway, so why should I care?  A thousand justifications for doing things all the things they knew they shouldn’t do.  It’s not so different from today, really.  There are so many things out there that we know we shouldn’t do, that seem so tempting.  Doing drugs, having affairs, cheating … it seems like everywhere we look, people are doing sinful things.  It makes it very easy to find excuses for our own behavior.  We are God’s people, but God seems very far away sometimes.  With all the terrible things happening in the world today, surely God has more important things to do than keep track of every little sin.  So why worry about it?

Paul didn’t accept those excuses, and neither should we.  The thing about sin is, it makes us focus in on ourselves to the exclusion of all else.  That’s what all sin has in common, at its heart-sin makes us concentrate on our own fears and pleasures, makes us concentrate so much on ourselves that we can’t truly see the people around us.  Sin blinds us to the pain we cause ourselves and others with our actions.  God wants us to be healthy, and happy, and whole, in right relationships with him and all of our fellow human beings.  Sin gets in the way.  Even little sins like jealousy can fray our relationships with those around us.

Our bodies were created as gifts from God.  God the Father created them, Jesus Christ redeemed them through his life, death, and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies us this day and always.  But like all of God’s gifts, our bodies can be used in sinful ways.  Addictions focus us inward, to the exclusion of all the people around us, harming our relationships with them and destroying the body God has given and redeemed.  Adultery exchanges momentary pleasure for a long-lasting breakdown of our relationships with those we are closest to while cheapening the gift God gave us.

There are so many ways to sin, so many ways to take God’s gifts and turn them to wrong uses.  Christ Jesus redeemed us from our sins, broke the power of sin, and still like the Corinthians we slip back into old habits, needing Christ’s presence and renewing forgiveness constantly in our lives.  Why do we do it?  What makes us unable to walk the straight and narrow path all our lives?  What makes us stumble, and choose to go astray?

Humans need God in our lives.  Every culture in history has had religion in one form or another.  We have a hunger to connect with the divine.  We want to be truly known and accepted, we want to feel transcendent joy.  We are afraid of being alone and depressed.  In seminary I read a book written in the 1950’s in which the author predicted that modernism and rationalism would mean the end of religion.  Boy, was he ever wrong.  In America today, many people are turning away from Christianity … but they’re turning towards psychics and paganism and new-age mysticism and other alternatives; some even make science into a religion.  They’re still looking for God, even if they don’t want Christianity.

Have you ever heard that song, “Looking for love in all the wrong places”?  When that hunger for the divine goes unfulfilled, that’s what we do.  We look for God in all the wrong places.  When we can’t see God where we look for him, when building relationships with God and our fellow human beings is too much effort, when we don’t want to put in the effort or don’t think it’s worth it, we turn to other things that we think can make us happy.  Sex, intoxicants, music, food, television and movies, anything that can entertain us, draw us out of ourselves, make us feel good, and distract ourselves from what’s really wrong, even if only for a little while.  We pursue them even at the cost of true and lasting relationships with our friends and family, even at the cost of the relationship with God we truly crave.  And so we tell ourselves comforting lies that it’s not really that bad, and everybody does it, and it doesn’t really matter anyway, and turn away from God’s love and salvation.  There are other reasons to sin, of course, but trying to fill the deep need for God’s grace is one of the main reasons.  And the problem is, nothing we do on our own to seek God or to distract ourselves from our spiritual emptiness can ever work.

You see, God is the one who searches us out, not the other way around.  Our Lord is the one who came to Samuel as he lay sleeping, to wake him up and give him the Word.  Our Lord is the one who found Phillip and commanded him to follow, who saw Nathaniel under the fig tree.  Our Lord is the one who searches us out and knows us, our sitting down and our rising up, our journeys and our resting places.  Our Lord is the one who created us, and knew us from conception to this moment now to all points in the future.  Our Lord is the one who knows all our deepest thoughts, who loves us even when we sin, and handed himself over to death on a cross to save us and make us clean and renewed.  Our Lord is the one who empties himself, that we might be filled.  Our Lord is the one who chose to manifest his grace through pain, and suffering.

The cross through which Christ comes to us is not a pretty sight.  It’s not glorious.  It’s not sweet and gentle.  It’s not comfortable.  It is, in fact, pretty freaky and disturbing when we really think about it.  At St. Emma’s two nights ago, I tried to avoid that big crucifix as best I could because it made me uncomfortable.  In a less literal way, we don’t want to have to think about what it means that God seeks us out, that God uses things like the cross to do his work, so we try and go out and find what God does that’s more comfortable to us, more appealing.

The problem is, when we go out looking for God, we sometimes get so caught up in what we think we want that we miss Christ’s presence and power in our lives.  We can’t see the God who created us and redeems us and knows us on the deepest level because we’re too busy looking for a God that looks like we want him to.  We turn inward to our own hopes and fears and try to find a god who matches them.  And we fill up the emptiness we feel by doing all the destructive things we know we shouldn’t, distracting ourselves with pleasures that bring a short time of enjoyment at the cost of our relationships with God and one another.

Yes, we have been freed from sin by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Yes, he forgives us all our sins.  But that doesn’t mean we have free reign to go out there and do whatever we want.  When Christ saved us, he made us whole at the cost of his own life.  That’s a precious, awesome gift, and one we shouldn’t take for granted.  We have been called to follow Christ.  We should do so in ways that glorify God, not our own appetites, trusting in Christ to catch us when we fall.

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