by Deacon Bob Olsen
It has only taken 70 years to get a grasp on sin & redemption. Well maybe that is a stretch as the first 4-5 years of my life I probably only had a vague appreciation for right and wrong, simply knowing what I got a swat for and what I didn’t and no idea about what sin was or wasn’t. Then came Sunday school, where I’m sure during my confirmation class we read and discussed the Catechism.
However, in the 1928 prayer book there was no discussion of sin, rather the Ten Commandments and our inability to follow them without God’s grace, very vague concepts for a 10-year old. The 1979 Prayer Book remedied this short coming, giving us on page 848 a series of questions and answers that lay things out more clearly, for the 10- year old or 70-year old mind.
Rather than “My good child, know this; that thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God…” Here is how the Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer puts it:
Q. What is the Purpose of the Ten Commandments?
A. The ten Commandments were given to define our relationship with God and our neighbors.
Q. Since we do not fully obey them, are they useful at all?
A. Since we do not fully obey them, we see more clearly our sin and our need for redemption.
Q. What is sin?
A. Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.
I got to thinking about this sin and redemption business while preparing my sermon for October 1st. The Gospel, that Sunday, is Matthew 21:23-32, where the chief priests and the elders ask Jesus by what authority he does the things he had been doing and who gave him that authority. Jesus replies he’ll answer their question, if they answer his question first, did the baptism of John [the Baptist] come from heaven or was it of human origin? The chief priests and elders found themselves in a jam, they couldn’t say heaven, because they didn’t believe John and certainly hadn’t taken him up on repenting. But, they couldn’t say from human origin because the people regarded John as a prophet, even if they didn’t.
I had always seen this as just another attempt of the leaders of the Jewish church to discredit Jesus, only to once again come up short. But reading it this time, it dawned on me the point the Chief Priests were trying to make was they were the religious “authority”, they were the righteous before God. As such, how could John tell them they needed to repent and even more absurd was this small-town carpenter questioning their authority and righteousness.
And there is the stumbling block, thinking you are righteous or in more modern terms “a good person”, and therefore can’t possibly have sinned or be in need of repentance. The cold hard truth is it is way too easy to fall into sin, that distortion of our relationship with God and our neighbor. Jesus told us we are to love God and our neighbors with all our heart, mind and soul. We are to be loving in all we do and say. Now I’m sure we’d have no problem understanding we sinned if we murdered someone or mugged someone for their wallet, clearly not loving acts, and knowing the Ten Commandments are against such behavior. But how often have we used the Lord’s name in vain, wishing the fiery pit for one of our fellow motorists. Or been jealous of a friend or neighbor’s new car or recent vacation?
The Ten Commandments don’t differentiate between big and little sins, simply you have or haven’t broken one. The point is we need to recognize our sins and need of repentance for them.
The Good News is that by recognizing that we continually need to ask for forgiveness and repent, and by such we receive forgiveness, not because we deserve it, but because God loves us.