Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Encourage Faith, Not Sin

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21B, preached on Sunday, September 26, 2021, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

                Jesus spoke some pretty serious words in our Gospel reading today.  It’s one of those readings that’s odd to say “This is the Gospel of the Lord,” afterwards.  Tying a millstone around someone’s neck and then throwing them into the sea to drown doesn’t sound like Gospel.  Cutting off hands and feet, tearing out eyes, that’s not good news.  These are heavy and serious words because Jesus is talking about a heavy and serious thing: sin. 

Sin is no small thing.   We must guard ourselves from it.  We must watch out so that we don’t fall into temptation, and we must watch out so that we don’t lead others into temptation as well, especially our littlest brothers and sisters in Christ. 

                Sin is no joke.  It’s no laughing matter.  Sin isn’t something that we should treat lightly or casually, and yet, that’s exactly what we do every day.  We treat sin casually.  What’s the first thing we say when someone has wronged us and apologizes for their sin?  What do we say?  “That’s okay.  No big deal.  Don’t worry about it.” But that’s the opposite of what we should say.  Sin isn’t okay.   It is a big deal.  And we should worry about it.   But when we respond to confessions of sin in that way, we don’t treat it as such.  We treat sin as if it doesn’t have any real consequence; as if it’s no different from accidentally mispronouncing someone’s name. 

                I wish I could say that we only mistreat sin by treating it casually.  But reality is so much worse; because we don’t just brush sin off as if it was no big deal, we actually celebrate it.  We celebrate sin.

At one time we celebrated virtue: humility, charity, chastity, gratitude, temperance, patience, and diligence.  We worked to cultivate these and live by them.  But now we celebrate pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.  If you don’t believe me, just turn on the TV.  There’s very little humility in the professional athletes and celebrities that we admire and look up to.  We’ve dedicated the whole month of June to pride, pride associated with living by our lustful desires, whatever they may be.  Greed is praised as a good thing, motivated by our envy and jealousy, because it drives us to get what we want, even if that means ignoring the needs of others.  Our wrath is heard when we yell at each other and punish those whose views are different from ours.  We take joy in seeing people getting canceled, getting what they deserve, wishing we could be the ones delivering that final blow.  Sex sells, and because of our lust, the most popular TV shows are filled pornographic scenes and lewd jokes and innuendos.  Instead of valuing work, we become gluttonous and slothful and lazy, always wanting instead to be entertained.  These are the things that we value and celebrate.   

But don’t think this celebration is just outside of the church, because it’s not.  How many churches have adopted the LGBTQ movement?  How many preach a prosperity Gospel that satisfies our greedy wants and desires?  And how do we, individuals, sitting in these pews this morning, how do you celebrate and casually treated your sin?  Are you worried about that gossip you’ve helped to spread?   Do those rude and quarrelsome words that you’ve spoken concern you?  And what about those envious thoughts, wishing you had what your neighbor had?  Or your laziness, or lustful desires, your self-righteous pride, or your unwillingness to forgive?  For these, and for all of your sin, you need to repent.  I need to repent. 

Unrepentant sin that is celebrated and treated casually is dangerous.  It leads us away from faith and God to everlasting death.  The wages of sin is death.  That’s why Jesus’ words are so serious.  When we become comfortable with sin, thinking it’s no big deal, that it’s okay and that we don’t have to worry about it, we turn away from God.  We ignore His life giving words and we begin to walk that wide path to unbelief and hell.  When we treat sin casually we’re saying we don’t need Jesus and His forgiveness.  But that’s exactly what you need.

When someone apologizes and confesses their sin to us, what we should say is “I forgive you,” because forgiveness is the only thing that treats sin seriously. God didn’t say “That’s okay.  No big deal. Don’t worry about it.” to your sin.  He answered the seriousness of your sin with the seriousness of His Son's death.  If sin wasn’t a big deal, then Christ wouldn’t have had to die on the cross; but He did.  He did for you.  Jesus gave up His life so that you’d be forgiven, so that you wouldn’t suffer the eternal death of hell but receive His everlasting life of heaven.  And because of that we can’t mess around with sin.

                Jesus was speaking hyperbole when He said to cut off your hands and feet and tear out your eyes, but His message is clear.  If something leads you into temptation and causes you to sin, don’t go near it; because the more you’re near it, the more comfortable you get with it, and the more comfortable you get with it, the less serious you take it. 

We all know what our pet sins are and we all know the temptations that lead us to them.  So stay away.  Don’t go near them.  Physically remove those temptations from your life.  If you gossip when you're around certain people, don’t hang out with them.  If you become jealous watching “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” turn off the TV.  If your phone is a cause of temptation, a distraction that leads to laziness and sloth, a catalyst for your wrath as you read comments, or a means by which you satisfy your lustful thoughts, put it away.  Lock it in a drawer.  It’s better to enter heaven without your phone than to enter hell scrolling through Facebook and Twitter.  Do all that you can to remove temptation; and do all that you can not to be a temptation for others.

Strive to be an encouragement in the faith.  Point people to Jesus and His forgiveness.  Be an example to your brothers and sisters in Christ and to those outside this family.  Your whole life is a witness to your Savior.  What kind of witness are you giving then when you treat sin casually; when you celebrate it?  Instead, live the faith by treating sin seriously.  Repent of it.  Confess it.  Literally ask for forgiveness from those whom you’ve sinned against.  And if they say “That’s okay.  No big deal. Don’t worry about it.”, say, “No it isn’t okay.  It is a big deal.  And I am worried about it.  I need forgiveness, because forgiveness is the only thing that takes the guilt of sin away.”  That’s why Jesus died, for the forgiveness of sins. 

We can’t mess around with sin.  Sin is a life and death matter.  We need to avoid temptation to sin.  And when we do sin, we need to repent and confess it, seeking Christ’s forgiveness and salvation.  And we need to encourage others to do the same.  Jesus didn’t treat sin casually.  He died on the cross so that you might be forgiven.  So come and receive the forgiveness that you need.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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