Sin. It’s a three letter word that makes me so uncomfortable, that I rarely preach on it. In fact, going back through my previous sermons, I only ever preached on sin one other time...ever. I think I’m uncomfortable talking about sin because somehow to me it means that I’m a no good, very bad, terrible, horrible person. Yet, in our confession that we say each week, we say have sinned against God and our neighbor--that we have not loved God with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves, that we need forgiveness for things done and left undone. When we say it together, somehow, “sin” isn’t as uncomfortable. Somehow to me it means that I’ve made some bad choices, said things that I shouldn’t have said, that there are relationships that I need to reconcile. The “sin” in our corporate confession points me in the direction of working towards healing and forgiveness. But man oh man...to personally say that I have “sinned” or that I’m a “sinner” and my skin crawls. Perhaps that should be something I work on for Lent--next year, or maybe the year after--just not right now.
In the reading we have from the Book of Numbers today, we have a great story about sin. Here we have the early Israelites, the chosen people of God, wandering and complaining...again. If you’ve read the story of Exodus and Numbers, you know that wandering and complaining is part of the deal for these early post-Egypt followers of God. Even though God, working through the prophet Moses, has done pretty amazing things for these early Israelites--bringing about the 10 plagues, freeing them from the slavery of the Pharaoh, crossing the Red Sea on dry land, providing manna and quail for them to eat in the desert, and sheltering them from the attacks of other rulers and armies--during those 40 years in the wilderness, the people do a whole lot of complaining. Verse 5 reads, “The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” It would be easy for any of us to think “what a group of ungrateful people---don’t they get it? Don’t they understand that God has done some pretty awesome things for them?” We might even think of them like children or younger siblings (or even ourselves as children)...bratty, complaining, whining, and annoying.
And God’s response might seem like the response of a fed-up parent--God sends poisonous snakes in their direction to bite them, and according to the text, many die. But that’s not really what we’re supposed to learn from this story. The crux of this lesson is what happens after the snakes appear; the people acknowledge their sin and God provides an opportunity for healing and reconciliation. When we acknowledge our sin, there is an opportunity for forgiveness.
This is what Jesus is getting at in the Gospel of John as well. In the verses just before today’s readings, we learn that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisee leader Nicodemus, who is trying to understand how Jesus interprets the Kingdom of God. For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is one of immeasurable love for those who believe and who in faith, seek healing, reconciliation and forgiveness.
John 3:16 is probably the most well known of all bible verses: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. This is extravagant, immeasurable, self-sacrificing love. It is the love that was present in the creation, it is the love that brought the people out of Egypt, it is the love that became incarnate in Jesus, and it is the love of the crucified and resurrected Jesus that inspires all of us to go out into the world empowered by the Spirit.
But this love does require something of us--both as a community, and as individuals. It requires that we name and acknowledge our sin, and then ask for forgiveness. God’s love requires that our deeds be exposed to the light, so that we can be forgiven, healed, and renewed. To receive God’s love, we have to realize that we walk amongst snakes--some of which are of our own making.
Sin. It’s a three letter word that makes me uncomfortable...and yet, it’s something that I need to acknowledge so I can be brought into the light of God’s amazing love.
In keeping with my Lenten practice of sharing poems and prayers, I invite you to reflect on this prayer of confession that I adapted from Enriching Our Worship, volume 1.
Let us pray:
God of all mercy, I confess that I have sinned against you, opposing your will in my life. I have denied your goodness in the lives of others, in myself, and in the world you have created. I repent of the evil that enslaves me, the evil I have done, and the evil done on my behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen me through your incarnation, my Savior Jesus Christ, that I may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.