What do we mean by SIN? (invite suggestions)
What do we mean by forgiveness?
In my childhood, I was raised in the Catholic Church and as such confession was a regular occurrence. Most of the time I didn’t really know what to say, so offered a measly collection of lying, winding up a sibling etc. On reflection, I feel a bit sorry for the priest, who must have sat there listening to a litany of material that perhaps didn’t really mean anything. And those were the days before Ipods, and the like so he really had nowhere to escape to. When I was preparing to write this message, I started to wonder why I didn’t really know what to confess to. Was it a lack of imagination? Unikely, as I never had problems with imagining myself in all sorts of situations and crises, always of course as the hero. Was it because I didn’t sin? Definitely NO. I am the same as anyone else. No, on reflection, whatever one’s views on the place or value of the confessional; I think the problem for me what that I didn’t really have a true understanding of what Sin actually was. Is that really important I hear you ask? But you see, if we don’t understand sin, how can we truly acknowledge ourself as being a sinner? As a person in need of forgiveness, and then how can we realise that through the cross we have actually been forgiven, we have been freed from Sin.
I am going to repeat that last bit because it is important. If we don’t fully grasp what sin really is, then we can’t fully grasp the nature of freedom from sin
Listening to our scripture readings today, there is plenty of scope to investigate and understand better the concept of sin and therefore forgiveness.
Matthew’s Gospel reading is a continuation of the so-called Sermon on the Mount. I say so-called because the traditional view is of Jesus speaking to the multitudes and delivering a more radical set of rules and regulations than had ever existed in the Torah. As a consequence, we sometimes view what he said as unobtainable, as just something to aim for but something that is impossible. If we continue to look at it that way, we will sadly end up being sorely disenchanted, and that is dangerous and unnecessary.
If we go back to the end of Chapter 4 and the beginning of Chapter 5, we may get a slightly different picture. A great crowd is following Jesus, who then climbs a mountain. What happens is we link the two images in our minds, but that is not what I think Matthew is trying to portray here. A great crowd was following Jesus so when he saw the crowds he went up the mountain. This is normal Jesus behaviour to be alone, to spend time in prayer and solitude. His disciples, as usual, catch up with him, and it is to them that he addressed what has become termed the Sermon on the Mount. He is essentially letting them know what being a follower of his way is going to be like. This is the no holds barred session on the hill. You want to follow me? Well great, this is how it is going to be, because everything is changing.
vv 21-37 look at behaviour, this is explicitly the behaviour that is to be expected of those who are living as part of the new Kingdom, this is the way of life in the Kingdom of Heaven, that is the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
We need to be as careful of someone’s emotional health as their physical health. It is just as unacceptable in the new Kingdom to destroy someone emotionally as it is to destroy someone physically. How has the Church fared with that?
V 23 urges against hypocrisy. How can we really be worshipping God at the altar if our love for our own ego is too great to seek reconciliation with another. The one who refuses to reconcile is sinning against God because they are in effect turning away from God. The price of exclusion from the Kingdom is to be seen as a measure until that person turns back which is the literal meaning of the word repent.
How do men fare with v 27. Isn’t this unattainable? Doesn’t this mean that Jesus is actually saying that in the new Kingdom, gender should not be used for the purposes of power and betterment of self. Rather it should be that men and women should value each other as equal children of God. The use of the words -“to Lust” – indicates an uneven power relationship where a person is being forced to fit into the fantasies of another. This leads to a warping of God’s initial work, and so instead of a reflection of God’s love, we get an outcome that is out of balance and normally ends up with suffering and pain somewhere.
The new Kingdom therefore reflects relationship put right. Relationship is put right when God is the true focus of our worship, our true worship and not something that is of our own creation.
The Church in Corinth was falling into the trap of creating their own idols. There were followers of Paul, or Apollos or Jesus. Yes, even when we worship Jesus or God, we need to be careful that we are not worshipping our own created image of God, in other words just another worthless Golden calf. Worthless, because it is not real and therefore it is quite dead. Paul reminds the church to turn back from this error, to repent. To turn back from this sin, and to turn back to God, as perfectly illustrated in the life of Jesus.
When we create our own image of God, or when we allow ourselves to worship other gods, such as fame, money, sex or power, we sin against God. We voluntarily enchain ourselves again with the very chains that God has set us free from!
We don’t have to do this now as there is a new creation, a new Kingdom in which no one is greater than anyone else. There is no Jew, no Greek, no slave; there are in other words no boxes we need to be enslaved by. There are no republicans or democrats; no tory or labour or liberal; no black or white; no gay or straight or trans.
There are only people living out the true purpose of being an image of God, worshipping the one true God and reflecting God to the whole of creation.
If we worship God in truth and in spirit, then we will live in freedom, because the power of sin has been destroyed for us by God.
Yes, we can still fall, and we can still be hurt, both physically and emotionally, but we will never again be destroyed by evil or bound by evil. We have been set free from sin and WE ARE FREE. So we should act live free people and should not act like slaves any more.
In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit