See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called God’s children. †
A group of us were discussing today’s lessons and decided that I should preach on sin and keep it light. Essentially that means that I should say I’m against it and sit down. I googled “jokes about sin” and found a lot of them. An old priest, for example, was very sick and thought he might die so he sent for two long time parishioners. When they arrived at his bedside, he weakly held out a hand for each to take. So they sat on either side of the priest’s bed through the night. The next morning he started regaining his strength, the crisis had passed. He thanked them and said they could go. The men told everyone how honored they were that their priest wanted them at his bedside but when someone asked the convalesced priest why he chose those two particular parishioners, he said that he wanted to die as our Lord had, between two thieves.
The problem with jokes about sin is their punch lines are particularly pungent, a bit caustic and sarcastic. Like this one: a couple went to a church one Sunday and were not made to feel welcome. When they left after the service they ran into Jesus outside. When they told our Lord they were not welcome in the church he said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m not welcome there either.”
I’ve been thinking about John the Apostle and Evangelist a lot lately. He was a great influence on the early Church, at least parts of it, and I believe his message is perfectly timed for the Church in our time. The letter attributed to John says, “See what love the One Jesus calls Father has for us! We are called the God’s sons and daughters, God’s children!”
I am convinced the biggest failure of professionally trained priests in the past fifty years is that we have failed summarily to teach the importance of baptism. We’ve done a great job recovering the Eucharist as the principal weekly event in the life of a congregation but without a good baptismal theology, we can never fully appreciate Communion. They are two sides of the same coin. When we share the bread and wine, heaven comes down and we are nourished spiritually by the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. When we were baptized, heaven’s waters broke and we were born from on high, born again, spiritually.
So once the author of this letter had reminded the congregation hearing it that they were the sons and daughters of God, he brought up sin. “Little children”, he wrote, “let no one deceive you. No one who abides in him sins. When you do what is right, you are righteous.”
When you started dating or when you left home for college or the military, did your parents tell you to remember who you are? Mine did. The message was that if we remember who we are, we would not act like someone else. We would not be easily led astray. It’s the same with our spiritual family. If we remember who we are by virtue of our baptisms, our behavior will reflect high moral standards. Virtue grows out of identity which is formed sacramentally. We are formed by the outward and visible signed of God’s inward and spiritual grace. We are in the world but not of it.
When we travel to foreign countries, we are in their world, their culture, but we take our identity with us. When I was in Japan with the military, for example, the people there were generous and gracious but different. They spoke a different language and wrote with different characters so our ability to communicate was limited. They ate things that don’t appeal to me and they ate their strange food sitting on pillows rather than chairs. When we can back to the base the signs were in English and tables had chairs and the food we were served was familiar.
That’s how it is for Christians. We go out there. We have to. But we are only genuinely at home in here. We speak a different language—a language of grace. The food we crave is spiritual. Our identity is being formed here, not out there.
So back to sin. We are against it. We understand sin in terms of relationships—the baptismal covenant. We strive to do the right thing based on who we are, the children of God. We leave whatever separates us from the love of God out there. Whether in here or out there, whether in the church or in the world, we are never alone. With our sisters and brothers, we know God’s great love for us and that nothing can separate us from that love. So we strive not to sin because we are only true to ourselves when we walk humble with our Lord and with our spiritual siblings (whom God also loves!).