Sermon 2nd July 2023

Readings Matthew 10 40-42, Romans6, 12-23

Almighty God….we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, against thy divine majesty… we do earnestly repent…..

So our confessional prayers begin today, and every week.

Sin. Paul has quite a bit to say about sin in our reading today, and elsewhere in his writings. The church too, in every denomination often  puts sin in the spotlight, (rarher than love), and in the past has even used it as a tool to control its members, subjugating them with the fear of guilt and death.

We ask for forgiveness of sins in our prayers, we say we earnestly repent, but I wonder quite how deep our understanding of the concept of sin informs our thinking, our prayers and indeed our actions and lives.

Sin in Christianity, as in Judaism is seen as a deliberate act against God, or God’s will, a result of humanities pride, self-centredness and defiance or disobedience of God’s will or laws. The Old Testament regarded failures, misfortunes, defeat in war, disaster and all manner of things to be God’s punishment for the sins of individuals or of peoples, and sacrifice a way of appeasing God. The world isn’t thought to be inherently evil, but humanity’s turning away from God, as exemplified in the story of Adam and Eve introduces the concept of original sin, the sin of humanity as a people, in Christianity, interpreted as abusing the gift of free will, by freely choosing against God.

I’m sure you know all that and we can think further of deliberate sin  being when a conscious choice to do wrong is made, like murder, or stealing, known as mortal sin.

Or the sort of sin where a less conscious choice is made, or a thoughtless act leads to wrongdoing,  like causing injury through careless driving for instance.

Interestingly, for the ancient Greeks, of whom many of the people Paul preached to would have been descendants, sin was more a failure of a person’s ability to achieve their true self-expression, their true relationship to the world, a mark of someone’s ignorance which sitting alongside our Christian understanding of sin and God perhaps gives us additional insight in our humanity’s failures.

So why think about sin? After all, we know what it is, and if we ask we’re forgiven- so we can forget about it, surely.

Jesus came because God loves us so much, and sin was getting in the way of that love, so God fixed it. By dying- the actual wages of sin, as Paul says, taking on all the sin of the world in the death of Christ, giving forgiveness forever, destroying the power of death, the result of sin, and giving the hope of eternal life.

So what’s the problem. For us, for Christians everywhere, for the church for the world. Surely, God’s sorted it.

Yes, God has. But we still haven’t. Enough.

We’re good Christians, we read our Bibles we come to church we pray for others we ask for forgiveness and God freely gives it. But, as Paul asks in our reading, are we living under the law, or under grace?

Paul used his contemporary example of being a slave to sin- not too relevant for our society as slaves were acceptable then, but the concept of sin being the master, of our self will being the master of our lives, or of being under the law,  of a strict set of religious guidelines set prayers and liturgies being our supposed escape from sin, is as relevant to our society and our church today as it was to the early Roman church. Paul says that being under grace, that receiving that free gift of forgiveness, of regained purity and perfected love before God although offered freely requires obedience to God’s will, because only then are we not sinful, (which, if you remember is acting against God’s will.) And that obedience leads to righteousness, that is, being put right with God again.

How earnestly do we repent as we recite our confessions week in week out? Do we go from this place feeling freed from the bonds of  the slavery of sin, feeling purified, feeling right with God, feeling the desire to do God’s will, to suppress our own will? To always try to do the right thing, say the pleasant thing, thank and bless even when it may not be really deserved, supress the hurtful word, or thought, avoid spreading the gossip, treating everyone equally, loving everyone, even those who are difficult to like, promoting good and happiness and joy, encouraging, and giving without counting the cost, not being angry, or resentful, not harbouring grudges. Living according to God’s will, not our own selfish thoughts or ambitions

To love our neighbour as ourselves? To love God with all our being?

No, we don’t do we? Because we are human, part of the human race, because we have free will, and continue to abuse it, and although we live under that amazing grace of God through Jesus Christ, we often continue to live as slaves to our selfish ways, our selfish thoughts and so often fail to love our neighbours without prejudice, no matter who they are. Which isn’t God’s will.

But if we truly believe, if we wish to be “slaves of righteousness” and thus freed from sin, then we can ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our desire to be freed from the bonds of sin and to try to live the way God would have us live.

And if we truly and earnestly pray that as we pray for forgiveness in a few minutes and as we come purified again at the Lord’s table, then we have the potential to be part of the change of humanity, the change of our society to one that lives closer to the will of God, that is a community of love, joy, peace and hope.

And as we heard from Jesus’ teaching we this morning from Matthew’s Gospel, community where the smallest, most vulnerable amongst us is offered a cup of cold water as if offering it to Christ himself, and where our welcome to others, is a welcome to Christ and thus a welcome to the One who sent him.

As I preached last week, a community which comes close to being God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

And it starts when we truly pray “we do earnestly repent”.