Trinity Sunday 2017
We continue the word of the week series. I’m preaching each week on a word from scripture or faith that seems imperative to our understanding of what it means to be a disciple. The word for today is, “Sin.”
So listen to Paul’s words from the third chapter:
“But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of god has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of god through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The Word of the Lord.
“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
Can’t hide from that, can you!
Do you know what kudzu is? Not, the comic strip, but the pesky vine that grows everywhere. It covers tress, shrubs and everything in its path. And it kills the living things it covers. Sin is like kudzu. It spreads into everything and can choke to death whatever it touches.
Can you think of any place where sin has not been?
Colleges and universities; banks and businesses; technology; medicine and healthcare; Sports; Wall Street; government; marriage and parenting; public & private schools; crime and addictions; religion.
Sin is like kudzu. It spreads its tentacles into everything, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
We know what sin looks like, but where does it come from?? In the Creation account, there’s this “tree.”
Most likely the “tree” is a metaphor, nevertheless, the tree tells us a lot about ourselves. Remember what it was called, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
You can’t find that tree growing today, but it is ever present. To eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is our attempt to be as God is. There is no knowledge outside of all “good and evil.” It is the fruit of omnipotence. To eat of this fruit is to bring a division between Creator and the creature. It is our ego-centricity that is at the core of all sin.
This fruit is forbidden, which tells you right there why we want it so badly. Everything else in the garden is good for us, but not that one. That tree lures you in to wanting all knowledge, all power, a higher status and control. It is a quest to use one’s freedom for self-aggrandizement. Can you think of anything we call sin that does not stem from the root of this tree?
It is the problem the Bible has been trying to fix since the beginning. Sin runs like kudzu through the stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, the judges, the kings and prophets, the disciples and the early church.
…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And there in the midst of all of it has been the relentless, persistent grace of God – what poet Frances Thomas called, “The Hound of Heaven.” God is chasing humanity through the scriptures, trying to redeem us, over and over again.
So pervasive is this sin, this desire for status that is not our own, that when God came to us in Christ for our salvation, we crucified him. That’s how hungry humanity is for the fruit of this tree. Yet, so unrelenting is the grace of God, that God raised Christ from the dead. Sin doesn’t win, even when it looks like it does. And that is the core of Christian faith! Paul said it this way:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rms. 6:23)
Our task, as Christians, is making disciples, but you can’t make one unless they are aware of this grace of God that overcomes sin and death. That’s the motive behind the Christian life.
We’re not humanists. We’re not doing this because we’re nice people, (though at times we are nice!)
We’re not doing this because we are social activists on a mission. Though at times we are called to be socially active.
We’re not leaders plotting the course to save the world or build up the Church, though we do lead. Leadership is not our salvation.
Above all these things and our identities, we are a people who have been forgiven. We have been redeemed, saved, salvaged, reconciled from a destructive life of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – God’s ultimate act of redemption. Yet, we continue to battle with this sinful nature within us, an addiction to the taste of that fruit of omnipotence.
Again, Paul puts it this way:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate. 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, 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.” (Rms. 7:14-20)
Then he continues:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rms. 7:24-25)
Does that struggle sound familiar? Sin is like kudzu, choking the life out of whatever it touches. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with it. Everyone struggles with it!
…”since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
The mission of Jesus was to save us from Sin. He didn’t come to eradicate poverty or to eliminate homelessness. Maybe, when we are free from sin, from our own ego-centricity, those are things we would do as a result.
Jesus didn’t come to increase church attendance or make sure everyone knew the Scriptures. Maybe those things would also be a result of our freedom from sin.
Jesus Christ came to overcome our sin, to defeat it, once and for all. He came to get us away from the tree!
What would the world look like if you took this tree out of it? I suspect it would look like the Kingdom of God! Think of the things that would disappear if we would stop eating this fruit. Think of the “seven deadly sins;” lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride; Boom! Gone! That would solve a lot of problems, wouldn’t it?
If we were to resist seeking the status and power that doesn’t belong to us anyway, how could we be: greedy, unfaithful, fraudulent, abusive, discriminating, deceptive, judgmental, self-serving, addicted or rude?
Think about it, what do we have to be egotistical about anyway? You can’t even see us from 30,000 feet. That’s how significant we are. We have no real power. We can only see and hear so far. Our knowledge is limited. We only live X amount of years. So why is it we seek to be more than God created us to be? Such ego-centricity is almost laughable. We are creatures, totally dependent upon the Creator! If we were to live as God’s creatures, wouldn’t it be enough? All else in the garden is good! But then there’s that tree!
It seems cruel to put such a tree in our midst and then tell us not to eat of it. But if the tree were not there, if the freedom to choose were not before us, then we would be mere puppets. There would be no choice to love God – it would be our only option. There would be no other choice but to love our neighbor as ourselves. And that’s not love. Love is a choice above all other options.
The tree is always there! The temptation to eat of its fruit is always before us. It’s not just a religious thing; it is a life thing. Like kudzu, its everywhere. And yet, so is the grace and love of God.
Paul also wrote this:
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness,, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rms. 8:35, 37-39)
That’s a powerful statement of faith.
There’s no question that sin is powerful, but the message of the Church is that the love and grace of God have overcome sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord. You can crucify that love but it won’t stay down. As dark as the sin may be, there is always light with Christ. There is always a way out of even the darkest place. It’s not a self-help program, its divine intervention.
Like kudzu, sin spreads into everything, everywhere, in everyone. Yet right alongside sin, is the astounding, persistent love and grace of God poured out in Jesus Christ, who frees us from sin and death. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!