ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AUGUST 18, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Colossians 3: 1 – 10; Luke 24: 28 – 35
A man lost his house keys and was searching for them under a streetlight. A policeman approached and asked what he is doing. The man replied “Looking for my keys, I lost them over there.” And he pointed down the street. “So why are you looking for them here?’’ “Because the light here is so much better.” While the lack of logic is glaringly obvious to everyone, to the man it made perfect sense. He was blind to his own flawed thinking. He has what’s called “a blind spot”. Anyone who drives is aware there’s a blind spot at the side of the vehicle where the driver is unable to see the car next to him. Failing to check one’s blind spot can have a deadly outcome. We all have blind spots. In the book, Mistakes were made, (but not by me) the authors chart the blind spots which many people share. One is that our memories are faulty in favour of our ego. People remember not only voting in elections they didn’t vote in, but also voting for whomever won. They remember their children walking and talking at ages earlier than they did. They remember giving money to charities to which they never gave. Generally, people take too much credit and too little blame. Most people in car crashes where they were at fault, rate themselves as above average drivers. When we see bad behaviour in another, we attribute it to their flawed character, but we excuse our own behaviour due to difficult circumstances. We judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. 83% of people believe they make good decisions, while only 27% believe their colleagues make good decisions. And we have all condemned in another the same sin we’ve committed. We have many, sophisticated blind spots.
In counselling there are 3 types of verbal exchanges: what the counsellor knows because the person tells them; what the person knows but isn’t telling the counsellor, and what the counsellor knows that the person doesn’t know – their blind spot. Usually when the counsellor raises the consequences of the blind spot, the person is stunned, like the emperor who’s just discovered he has no clothes. They may feel side-swiped by something they didn’t see coming. Not only are they stunned to realize they’ve been stripped bare, but they’re stunned someone else could see it. It’s not just individuals who have blind spots, whole groups of people, including congregations, have them. A blatant example is Nazi Germany where, many Christians (not all, of course, but too many) closed their eyes and did nothing to aid the Jews, and others. I’m outraged by that but wonder what I’d have done. Then I think of all the needs in the world to which I close my eyes. We have a vast capacity to ignore our sin. If we were as insensitive to pain as we are to sin, we’d die. And, spiritually, we are dying.
We can’t get past our blind spots on our own, so the Holy Spirit assists us. I have a glass-topped table in my living room. At night, in the dark, it always looks sparkling clean. But in the sunshine, it’s often covered in dust. I have two choices. I can clean up the table, or I can keep it in a dark place. So it is with sin, “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God” (John 3:19). We prefer to sit in our blind spots rather than clean up the mess and stand in the light. We need God’s light to reveal our shadows. Apart from the flow of the Spirit, we can’t see our own sin.
As with all things, our reaction to sin is to try harder. Trying harder isn’t effective. People don’t have to try harder to hate cancer. They just need to love life. If you love life, you’ll oppose anything which can destroy it. Sin destroys life. It destroys our inner peace, our bodies, our relationships and families, our ability to function, and our freedom. It destroys life now and for eternity. The good news is that we aren’t left to overcome sin on our own. Jesus died so we can have abundant life. The Holy Spirit is at work in us, but she can’t work if we ignore her promptings. On the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, two men walked the Emmaus road with a stranger. They discussed the events of the weekend – Jesus’ crucifixion and the scriptures. Both men felt a burning in their hearts which they ignored until finally, Jesus revealed himself by breaking bread with them. Only then did they compare notes and discover they had both felt the stirring of the Spirit as they walked with Jesus. The Spirit is at work. Our job is to listen and respond.
We’ve all done it. The smoke alarm goes off beeping at 85 decibels. It’s loud. It’s hurting our ears. So, we climb on a chair and pull out the battery. Problem solved. At our house we heat with wood. One night the Carbon-monoxide detector went off disturbing our sleep. I told Terry we should get out of the house. He said it was likely the battery dying. I said we should at least open the windows. He said he’d remove the battery and we should just go back to sleep. At this point, I was beeping more loudly than the detector. I had all the windows open and was googling death by CM poisoning. I figured if he wouldn’t listen to the detector or me, he might listen to the oracle of all knowledge. Finally, he agreed that the detector wasn’t the enemy, the odorless, deadly gas in the air was our enemy. Imagine what would have happened if we’d ignored the beeping or removed the battery? You’d be missing a great sermon! Yet, when the Holy Spirit beeps, when the Spirit is trying to get our attention, we’d rather ignore it or metaphorically “take the battery out” than address the root of the problem. Have you ever heard the Spirit beeping? A man who is stressed by his wife’s illness and unable to cope dumps his anger on the people around him. Beep, beep. He goes home and pours a drink; the battery is removed. Problem solved. A woman sees an ad for World Vision and feels a twinge of guilt. Beep, beep. She turns to the shopping channel. Battery removed. Problem solved. A parent has a child who is in full rebellion. Beep, beep. Instead of speaking to the child or seeing a counsellor, the parent spends more time at work. Battery removed. But the problem really isn’t solved. Guilt, pain, shame, and sadness are not the enemy. The people around you aren’t the enemy. The beeping isn’t the enemy – it’s a gift. Sin is the enemy. The Holy Spirit wants to convict you of sin, so you can be set free to live life to the fullest.
Conviction isn’t the same as getting caught. We all have speeding ticket stories. You speed. You get caught. Beep, beep. You’re annoyed with the Policeman, with yourself, and by the fine. You say you’ll be more careful and then speed away. You’re not convicted, you’re just more determined not to be caught. When it comes to sin – pain, embarrassment, shame, or fear of punishment are not the same as conviction. Conviction is the fruit of self-examination. What am I doing? How reckless and thoughtless am I being? How did I become a person who could do this? A person who cheats on tests, or on my spouse? A person who lies to avoid responsibility? A person who takes advantage of others? A person who puts my needs first? A coward? Resentful? Fearful? Greedy? Superior? Conviction is internal. Conviction happens when we see our deeds from God’s perspective and that of those we’ve hurt. It’s about who I am and who God wants me to be. When we’re truly convicted, we pray: Lord, turn on the light. Let me face the dirt. Cleanse me. Fortunately for us, the Holy Spirit’s goal isn’t pain or shame or punishment. It’s a changed heart and a fresh start. It’s repentance.
We may think we need to repent because God is mad at us and needs some time to cool off. We may think if we punish ourselves, God will go lighter on us. God gives us the gift of repentance for our sake, not his. Repenting doesn’t amplify God’s love for us; it displays our love for God. It doesn’t increase God’s desire to be with us. It increases our capacity to be with him. Repentance isn’t self-flagellation. We don’t repent because we’re worthless, we repent because we are of worth to God. Repentance prepares the way for the Spirit to mend the damage sin has done to our minds, hearts and lives. But repentance isn’t “cheap grace”; repentance leads to change. Imagine going to an AA meeting and being told, “Welcome. We’re glad you came. You are loved and forgiven. You don’t need to change and really, don’t expect to. Keep drinking. Sobriety isn’t possible or necessary. It’ll just make you arrogant. Here’s a bumper sticker, “Twelve steppers are not sober, just forgiven.” The point of AA is not to let the alcoholic off the hook, it’s to free people from a spiritual power that is destroying their life. As Paul says in Colossians, “Sin is like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete” (3: 10). We are to take off our old self and put on a new one. We’re to give up our earthly ways – lust, anger, lying, meanness and irritability; and bear the image of our Creator – humility, patience, quiet strength, forgiveness and love. Repentance requires change and leads to growth. God wants you to change and grow so you’ll be free to live; free to bless the world. Repentance is a hope-filled process.
The hope we cling to is not our own goodness, but God’s. God in his goodness promises that if we confess our sin, he will forgive us. God’s capacity to forgive is limitless. At a university graduation, the president pulled 3 graduating students into an alumni reception. He explained that after graduation, they were going to do mission work, for several years, with no pay, serving people in impoverished areas. Then he told the students, “An anonymous donor who is aware of your work wants you to go without impediments. He has given you a gift.” He turned to the first student and said, “Your school debt of $80,000 has been paid.” It took a few minutes to sink in. She began to cry at the sheer unexpected generosity of a stranger. To the next he said, “Your debt of $ 55,000 has been paid.” He too shed tears of gratitude and joy. The last student was shaking before he spoke, “Your debt of $75,000”. All three students were trembling. The president beamed and announced, “All your debt is forgiven!” Their lives had been changed in the twinkling of an eye. An unpayable debt. An unseen donor. An unforgettable gift. The freedom of the debtors became a blessing to the world. We all have a debt of sin. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. We know what’s coming, yet we need to hear the words, “Your debt is forgiven.” Forgiven.