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SPEAKING THE “S” WORD

6July2011

Following a recent sermon, I received several comments that were somewhat out of the ordinary.  I had folks telling me that they were almost in tears during the sermon.  Folks said that they felt bad for me because I wasn’t as horrible a person as I made myself out to be, I was “just human.”  In the sermon I was using my own tendencies to sinfulness as an example.  While I appreciated their confidence in me, I was mighty puzzled because it wasn’t a case of serious true confessions.  It was just common, ordinary human sinfulness like impatience, neglect of my relationships, getting snappy and sarcastic when I am tired or hungry, and my ability to hang on to a grudge when I deem it necessary. 

That got me thinking about the way we speak of sin.  Sadly, I think most of the time that we do not speak of sin much at all.  We dance all around it.  We speak of human ‘brokenness’ or our ‘wrongs’ and ‘failings’, but we seem to be very uncomfortable with using the ‘s’ word.  Now if we break one of the Ten Commandments, then we are a little more comfortable with the “s’ word.  When we speak of sin, we are usually talking about major moral missteps and frequently other peoples’ moral missteps at that, not our own.

I think that part of our reclaiming the faith in a way that is significant and world-changing in the 21st century necessitates learning to use the ‘s’ word and start speaking of sin and our own tendencies to human sinfulness.  That means that we must learn to recognize our failings, brokenness, and wrongs and name them for exactly what they are – sins.  Whenever we turn in on ourselves to the detriment of God’s world and our fellow human beings we sin.  Those sins – just as surely as breaking one of the Ten Commandments – separate us from God and neighbor and need confession and forgiveness.

You may wonder at my fascination with these “little” sins.  After all, they are not much compared to murder, thievery, adultery, right?  Yet at the root of all that murder, adultery, and thievery is nothing more than the weeds of being turned in on self that have become overgrown and choked out conscience and reason.  I cannot stop murderers, thieves, or adulterers, but I most assuredly can and need to ask that the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit keep me in touch with my own sinfulness however small and insignificant it may seem.

In the most upside down way, speaking of sin allows us to better witness to the Gospel and be participants in what God is up to in the world.  It is only when we are able to speak the ‘s’ word that we are able to authentically speak boldly and joyfully of God’s grace.  It is out of our joyful experience of God’s grace that we find ourselves free to serve others and participate in the missio Dei.

The way I see it, the sooner we all stop worrying about everyone else’s sins and shortcomings and name our own sins, confess them and receive forgiveness, and learn to delight in the grace of God, the sooner we will find our witness to and participation in God’s mission in the world blossoming.  The sooner that happens, the more the church’s role in the world will take on a new significance as an agent of change and bearer of God’s grace.

 

KMS @ CCD

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Andrea Starn permalink
    6July2011 17:37

    Excellent commentary. I remember first using the word brokenness back in Seminary some 20 years ago, because the word ‘sin’ had become one of those words that was such ‘insider’ language in the church that peopl either didn’t hear it anymore, or when they heard it, it had such baggage they couldn’t hear anything after the word ‘sin’– certainly not reconcilition or forgiveness. After 20 years, it may very well be time to reclaim the word.

    I appreciate very much the challenge to look at the log in our own eye when we speak of sin, and stop worrying about the speck in others’ eyes. If we do not take St. Paul’s admonition to ‘work out our own salvation with fear and trembling’ then our usage of te word ‘sin’ will become just another way to distract from our own need for God’s saving work, and the word will become a weapon of our self-justification.

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