Sermon on Second Sunday in Lent. By Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, Rector, Christ Episcopal, Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin


This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1Timothy 1:15

Whatever Became of Sin? In the Penitential order which we use primarily in Lent we begin our service by confessing our sins unto Almighty God with these words: Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, spare thou those who confess their faults, restore thou those who are penitent. In the Church of England this phrase is still included: But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. (BCP. 320) How many of us feel like miserable offenders? Are we turning our liturgy into a therapy session? Are we are being asked to put down our psychological defenses and expose our stress/trauma, guilt and the burdens we carry in our lives? Do you realize in this age of enlightenment of the twenty-first century we do not use such language? Many modern people, including some psychotherapists, take the view that the church is out of touch with the present culture. Even for some theologians talk about sin is dirty theology. Notice that in the prayer we used earlier, the word “sin” is absent. And while the British may do so, we do not talk about people as miserable offenders or sinners. Times have changed. Talk about sin belongs to a bygone era, an era of Puritanism. Did you know that the editors of New York Magazine now use the word “Calvinism” to describe a fashion trend initiated by clothing designer Calvin Klein?) Old puritans like John Calvin preached that one finds eternity in repentance from one’s sins. Now Eternity is found in Calvin Klein cologne bottles. A few years ago, I read an ad about a computer game called SIN (in big letters!). It said: Prepare yourself for a whole new type of action game. Always expect the unexpected. With levels and characters that change depending on the decisions you make and the path that you choose. Never before has a 3D action game ever been produced with this level of reactive technology and innovation. Get ready for a new era in 3D action gaming. Get ready for SIN. Now there is widespread loss of a sense of sin and, if people feel guilty, those feelings are buried pretty deep. T. S. Eliot in his play, The Cocktail Party has a character, Sir Harcourt-Reilley who is a psychiatrist and soul-doctor. He asked another character, a woman named Celia Coplestone a question: How she had been raised with regard to matters of sin and punishment and guilt and forgiveness. Celia answered, “I have always been taught to disbelieve in sin. Oh, I don’t mean that it was never mentioned, but anything wrong, from our point of view, was either ‘bad form’ or psychological.” An American psychiatrist Karl Menninger has written a book Whatever Became of Sin? He mentions that our society today is hesitant to mention the word sin. He wrote, “It was a word once in everyone’s mind, but is now rarely if ever heard. Does it mean that no sin is involved in all our troubles….? Has no one committed any sin? Where, indeed, did sin go? What became of it?” Dr. Menninger notes first that ‘many former sins have become crimes’, so that the responsibility for dealing with them has passed from church to state, from priest to police man. Other sins have dissipated into sicknesses or at least into symptoms of sickness, so that in their case punishment has been replaced by treatment. A third convenient device called ‘collective irresponsibility’ has enabled us to transfer the blame for some of our deviant behavior from ourselves as individuals to society as a whole or to one of its many groupings.[1] So the question for us this morning is ‘whatever became of sin?’ Is it still relevant to talk about sin? May I say that although we are enlightened, progressive, affluent, and the most technologically advanced nation in the history of the world. Sin has not gone on vacation to the Bahamas. Sin is just as real today as it was I the days of David when he offered this confession before God in Psalm 51: Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight. Have mercy on me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a new and right spirit within me. To confess sin means to accept one’s own responsibility and not to shift blame. Confessing one’s own wrong doings, our sins, is seeking healing. In the process of healing we give up our psychological defenses. This helps us expose and deal with both the traumatic memories and the sin in our lives. The healing begins when we let go of our carefully-crafted and repressed self-deceptions and face the truth about when and where and how we fall short of God’s image. The prodigal son when realized how he had hurt his father and wasted his life came back home to accept his responsibility. He said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Do you notice here, as soon as this young person came to his senses and stepped out of the pigpen, the healing began. He repented from his acts through which he had hurt his father and the rest of his family. The first step to spiritual sanity and health is the acceptance of personal responsibility. When we come to our senses, it is then the grace of God is made available as reparative therapy to heal us, to create us again in the image of God, to renew a right spirit within us. Nietzsche, a German Philosopher in his book The Anti Christ (pp.167-168) bitterly criticized that the act of confession of sins, which induces in others a sense of guilt. Nietzche said, “Christianity needs sickness…. Making sick is the true hidden objective of the Church’s whole system of salvation procedures…. One is not “converted” to Christianity – one must be sufficiently sick for it.” I believe that Nietzsche was partly correct in his assessment of the Christian faith. Because, the Gospel of Christ offers hope, medicine and cure for the sin-sick. The message of the Christian Gospel is: There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul. We also learn it from Jesus who reached out to ‘tax collectors and sinners’ by saying ‘it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’ I have not come to call the righteous,’ he added, ‘but sinners (Mark 2:17). Christian gospel is not obsessed by sin to induce guilt in humanity but the gospel is the good news about the forgiveness of sin. Psychologist, Dr. William Glasser, would call it ‘Reality Therapy’ that we are responsible for our behavior. The Bible takes sin seriously because God who created male and female in His own image takes us seriously. When a sinner repents God and His angles, Cherubim and Seraphim, and the glorious company of apostles, and prophets throw a feast in heaven in honor of a sinner, now a sister and brother in the kingdom of God. Bishop Tutu likes to say, ‘God loves each one of us as though we were the only person in the world.’ As people of God we gather here not as isolated individuals but in solidarity with the whole of humanity for which Christ lived, and died and rose again. When in the liturgy we say: ‘O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.’ Please remember here we are praying for our own sins and the sins our shared humanity--the sin of Rawanda…the sin of Sundanese government in Darfur…the sin of a world in which the poorest countries are exploited and kept poor by international debt… the sin of economic disparity which keeps over a billion people living in starvation as a result of the greed and injustice of rich nations. We bring our individual failings and our corporate sins before God saying: ‘We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep and we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.’ Have mercy on us. Heal us, cleanse us, restore us in your image that we may walk in your light. Amen.

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