Does Sin Matters? Sermon by Rev. Canon Dr. Patrick P Augustine on Second Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2009, at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin


It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for justification. Romans 4: 13-25

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take their cross and follow me.Mk:8:31-38 Does Sin Matters? In the gospel reading today we hear the call from Jesus that if we want to be his disciple then to take up our cross and to follow him. In the appointed epistle St. Paul writes to the church in Rome about Jesus, “Who was handed over to death (hung on the cross) for our trespasses (sins). On the cross of Jesus there is cure from the toxic impact of sin on human soul and whole of creation. Paradoxically, the doctrine of sin can be seen as the negative presupposition of the whole of Christian faith and theology. At the same it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world. According to Christianity our biggest problem is sin. Yet, the concept of “sin” is offensive or ludicrous to many. Many have the impression that the Christian doctrine of sin is bleak and pessimistic about human nature.# The truth is when it is properly understood in the light of the scripture, it can be a great resource for human hope. What is sin then? Sin is primarily a religious and theological term and not a moral term. Sinning is not breaking the moral law, but rather breaking the relationship with God. In the Old Testament there is no special word which explains the concept of sin, although there are three words in particular which are important to consider: Hattat, which means to ‘miss the mark’ or ‘to go astray’, and describes the sinner as one who strays from the right pathway and is lost. We can appreciate that this word picture would have been most vivid for a rural community: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray.” (Isa. 53:6). Awon, meaning to ‘leave the right path’, suggest that the offender does so deliberately, quite aware that this choice goes against his conscience. Pesha, often translated ‘rebellion’, should not be understood in the political sense but rather as the breakdown of the relationship between a loving parent and child. “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight.” (Ps. 51: 4)# In St. Paul’s teaching the word sin occurs sixty times in his letters and was therefore a dominating idea in his teachings. The New Testament uses five main Greek words for sin, which together portray its various aspects, both passive and active. The commonest is hamartia, which depicts sin as a missing of the target, the failure to attain a goal. Adikia is ‘unrighteousness’ or ‘iniquity’ Poneria is evil of a vicious or degenerate kind. Both of these terms Seem to speak of an inward corruption or perversion of character. Parabasis or Paraptoma, a ‘trespass’ or ‘transgression’, the stepping over a known boundary. Anomia, ‘lawlessness’, the disregard or violation of a known law. Jesus, himself, explained sin is a breach of the first commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22: 37). It is not just by failing to love God with all our being, but by actively refusing to acknowledge and obey him as our Creator and Lord. It is an act of hostility to put ourselves in his place in a haughty spirit of ‘God Almightiness’. Emil Brunner sums it up well: “Sin is defiance, arrogance, the desire to be equal with God …the constitution of the autonomous reason, morality and culture.’ It is appropriate that he titled the book from which this quotation is taken Man in Revolt (p. 129).# During the Middle Ages and the Reformation, when congregations were not as well educated and informed as we are now, the Christian faith could be preached as deliverance from sin and guilt. It is more difficult to do that today when there has been a widespread loss of a sense of what is sinful. Even if people manage to feel guilty, those feelings are buried pretty deep. [1] We are embarrassed to talk about sin unless we are in church. Outside these doors, we're just dysfunctional people who make mistakes and have problems. We use words like short-comings and hang-ups. So the question remains - ‘Does sin still matter?’ I must say sin has not gone on vacation to the Bahamas. Sin is just as real today as it was in the days of Moses, David, Job, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Jesus. The evangelist Billy Sunday used to say that “one reason that sin flourishes is that it is treated like a cream-puff instead of a rattle snake.” We do not have to look much further than our newspapers or televisions to be aware of how sin the rattle snake has spread its poison and made our society sin-sick. On any day we can read and watch acts of evil – rape, stealing, murder, terrorism, greed and violence. Just let me show two examples: First, let us look at the greed of bankers and brokers on Wall Street, how their sin of greed has caused misery and suffering to millions of Americans and this has spread to millions more around the globe. This is the sin which diminishes us as people who are created in the image of God. We are supposed to love God and treat our fellow human beings with dignity. The second example is the President of Sudan. After months of deliberation, the judges of the International Criminal Court charged Mr. Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, with war crimes and crimes against humanity for playing an “essential role” in the murdering, raping, torturing, pillaging and displacement of innocent citizens of Darfur and Southern Sudan. For twenty five years he caused misery and death for millions of people. One wonders how a human being can be that callous. After the announcement of his crime, President Bashir was still not remorseful or repentant but was seen dancing proudly on the Television screens. Sin is like a cancer that has eaten any part of goodness God created in this man. On the cross of Jesus we find the healing of the sin-sick soul of humanity where Jesus, the Son of the Living God, intercedes for President Bashir of Sudan and for greedy Bankers and brokers of Wall Street and for you and me. He pleads “Father forgive them as they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 24). The gospel brings Good News that, through his sacrifice, Jesus has delivered us from the bondage of sin and restored our relationship with God and our fellow human beings. Because of what Christ has done for us, we are called to share the good news of the amazing grace with the world and to help heal the nations. There is for each of us a cross to be borne and a discipline to be accepted, all in glad obedience to Jesus who came not be served but to serve. He gave His life as ransom for us all. Tertullian, an early church theologian and a lawyer in North Africa, wrote this about the cross, our symbol of salvation: “At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign[the cross]. As it is on the cross the power of sin is broken and crushed.” If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take their cross and follow me.

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