Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this essay by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page.
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Right now we’re in the middle of a church season called Lent, a time that started with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. Now, the traditional purpose of Lent is preparation, a time when we focus on prayer, confession, repentance, and self-denial. Of course, as soon as we see the words “confession” and “repentance”, we’re looking at something that folks in our society try to ignore rather than avoid, and I’m talking about the concept of sin.
You see, sin, our separation from God that leads us to do things that are contrary to what he wants for us, well, it’s not exactly a popular concept within our world. And I think the reasons are fairly obvious. For example, sin suggests that our very understanding of right and wrong is flawed, and that’s the case regardless of what we claim to believe and who we think we follow. Now that’s what we may think. But sadly, for us, sinlessness is not a possibility; therefore, even when we’re sure that we’re the most spiritual, our perspectives are distorted by our need to impose our thoughts and values on God. And let’s get real, we don’t like to believe that we’re wrong. And we enjoy constructing religious systems that exonerate people like us and that that condemn people like them. As a matter of fact, I believe we all feel comfort worshiping gods that think like us and following saviors who move in the direction we want to go. That’s just who we are. And for those reasons, the kind of sin about which Paul wrote, the kind that effects us all and that separates us from the truth, this notion of sin has never been nor will ever be popular. In fact, if it’s considered at all, it’s reduced to violations of divine rules that we’ve interpreted so that they hammer others or petty misdemeanors for which God offers a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
But you know, just because it’s not popular, doesn’t make it untrue. As a matter of fact, our resistance to the very idea that sin is something we share with Hitler and Stalin as well as Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. may show, better than anything else, that sin is constantly distorting our view of self and others. No, sin is alive and well and living within each of us. That’s just the way it is.
And I’ll tell you, that’s why I think it’s crucial that we use this time to accept this reality, that sin affects every aspect of who we are. And then, with that acceptance, we can recognize those signs of sin we all exhibit in one way or another. I mean, for some, it may involve actions that are violent and cruel. For others, it may come out as words that cut and belittle. And for still others, it may be the willingness to ignore the very real opportunities we have to help others. But regardless of how it manifests itself, the sin behind it is very real and needs to be acknowledged. And this acknowledgment is called confession. And then, once recognized, we can choose to change our actions and words and attitudes. You see, even though we can’t change our nature, what and who we are, through the power and presence of God, we can change what we do and how we live. And this dedication to change is what we call repentance, an appropriate action for this season of Lent.
Now, I’m confident that the attitude of our world will probably never change and acknowledging our own sin will never be popular. But why should it? Sin has the uncanny ability to convince us that we’re not sinners. But I’ll tell you, if we can resist this insidious siren’s song and if we can make the decision to confess and repent, then we’ll discover that God still loves us and always will.