Monday, June 11, 2012
Lost in sin... found by grace...
People talk all about our heart language as if it were a language of love and grace. The truth is that the voice of grace is an alien language to our ears and hears. The language of grace is not natural to us at all but must be learned. What has become natural to us, the language of our hearts, is the language of sin. What is it we just confessed? That we are by nature sinful and unclean. Sin may not be comfortable but it is surely familiar territory to us. We are lost in the language of sin, caught up in its ways, and living in a world permeated by sin. Grace seems sheer madness to us. We cannot under stand it. How can you trust the most important thing in life to something or someone other than yourself? How can you trust a Word to be saved instead of your own desire, effort, and accomplishment?
This is the context of the lessons for today. From Genesis and its story of where sin and death came from, to the amazing situation in which Jesus' demonstration of grace prompted His own family to wonder if He had lost His mind. Jesus is the strong man who comes into sin's domain, binds the strong man, and teaches our heart the new language of grace, of faith, and of mercy.
We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. In other words, we don't have a choice in it. The choice was made for us, without our consent but it does not matter. We are bound by its consequence regardless of our choice. We live a life not at all like Eden. We are born with no real choice. We bear the burden of a choice made long before we were born. In Eden's garden freedom was exchanged for bondage, goodness for sin, and life for death. We can protest or complain but we cannot undo it.
So our lives bear the fruit of thoughts, words, and deeds which proceed from sinful hearts. We are immersed in sin. It is not a matter of will power or the right motivation. Like an infection with no antibiotic to control it, we are the victims of sin. But we are also its accessories. We are not guilty only of the sin we were born into. Our every thought, word, and deed has been soiled with sin and rendered worthless as a work pleasing to God and powerless to earn us any step up on the ladder of holiness.
The result of this all is that we are dead – dead even while we live. This body ages and wears out. This mind becomes weak and fragile. Sooner or later death snuffs out whatever life is left in us. This might not be so bad except that sin also isolated us from our Creator. Cut off from the source of life, there is only death, eternal death, to follow the mortal death when this body gives way. We are both the victim and the cause of sin and its death. If we could keep from committing any sin, there is enough original sin to kill us. If we could avoid the burden of our inheritance from Adam and Eve, we have committed enough sins to kill us. There is no life or health in us.
But into this despair God first uttered words of grace. Adam and Eve did not under stand this in Eden. So caught up in the strangeness of guilt, wary of God's punishment, and fearful of the banishment from the garden, they did not hear what God was saying. Even so, the voice of grace was strange to ears made deaf by sin. Yet there it is; in the midst of the Fall was a promise of redemption. This hope would come not from us figuring out an answer but from God intervening and raising up His own Son as our Savior.
Like a seed of hope planted in sinful soil, God nurtured this hope. The prophets kept this hope alive through the ages. They did not speak as those who saw the future or understood it but as those who trusted the Lord. Like us they waited in hope and trust for God to make clear the confusion. Like looking into a foggy mirror, we have hoped in that which we did not see.
When Christ was born, Mary pondered it all in her heart. The first Christian, she saw in glimpses what the world would see unfold in the footsteps of Jesus. Hidden in flesh is the Son of God. Like us in every way but sin, He is come to be sin for us. He was born to die, the innocent for the guilty and the holy for the sinner. He gives us life by taking on the full force of our death. He vanquishes death by dying, by laying in the tomb, and then rising again. Now hope comes in the unlikely shape of a cross, speaking the foreign tongue of grace. The Spirit was given so our ears could hear, our minds receive, and our hearts believe in the strange sound of grace.
In the Garden of Eden, grace was our native tongue until sin stole the language of God and left us with the language of sin, failure, disappointment, and death. In order to teach us the language of God, our Lord came and breathed our poisoned air and wore the fragile frame of our mortality. In the Word made flesh, grace entered our vocabulary again. We saw how the banishment from Eden was an act of mercy, how the prophets' promise is fulfilled in Jesus, how He is the only one who can be called Savior, Redeemer, and Lord. The strong man of sin has been bound, his house plundered. We are sons and daughters of God again.
Every sin is forgiven but one – the one that rejects the Savior and refused His grace. The language of the heart, the language of sin, still calls to us even though we are the forgiven and freed in Christ. We keep coming back here because we know the power of temptation and the old language of sin still beckons us. We come here to have our past forgiven and to be refreshed in the language of grace. We come here so that we will not squander this gift of freedom in the pursuit of the moment. We live eternally so we may live fully now this life, without fear. God dwells in us by baptism and faith. His Spirit equips us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives. What God has bound, let us not unbind with unbelief, rejection, or the refusal of His grace. The old language may still call to us, we are made new in Christ and, by the grace of His Spirit, the language of grace becomes our mother tongue . His Word is our hope and we are here to exchange the perfect reasonableness of sin and death for the irrational but wonderful hope born of grace, known by faith, in Christ alone. Amen.