ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AUGUST 11, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
1 Timothy 6: 3 – 16; Luke 7: 36 -50
Today we’re going to talk about sin. Sin is an uncomfortable topic, one which is often treated flippantly. In our culture, and even within the Church, we spend a lot of energy worrying and praying about sickness, stock markets, travelling, safety, politics, happiness, the environment and the Kardashians. Most of which are important, but none of which is as important as sin. The most dangerous force in the world is not terrorism, poverty or a potential pandemic. The most dangerous force is still sin. And yet, we treat it so lightly.
Sin is the deadliest force because it takes us out of the flow of the Holy Spirit. It creates the problems listed above. Imagine the consequences if we had no word for depression or if we smirked and winked when we spoke of cancer or if we deemed concern for the oppressed as a cute, antiquated notion or if we advertised starvation lipstick as if starving were risqué and cool. In order to flourish, we need to identify, understand and take seriously the things which threaten us. Sin is the only thing that keeps us from becoming the person God wants us to be. If we go through financial devastation, grief, even war, living with integrity in the flow of the Spirit. All those challenges are external. Sin comes from within, as Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Luke 7:45). All other powers affect us in this life, only sin impacts us for eternity.
The concept of “original sin” has been debated for centuries. The Bible doesn’t use that term. While the Jews have always recognized human sin, they don’t acknowledge “original sin”. The first person to use the phrase was St. Augustine who drew from Paul’s teaching In Romans 5, “You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God.” Paul and Augustine said there is a fundamental moral defect which every person inherits like they do their DNA. It’s been passed on from Adam and its inescapable. Calvin agreed. On the other side of the argument was Pelagius who believed that people were made in the image of God and were born with a morally blank slate; we were free agents with the potential for complete innocence. Whichever side you lean towards, the fact is that no one has fulfilled their potential for complete innocence, we all manage to sin. We are remarkably prone to doing things we know are wrong. Even more, we have a great capacity for denying our sin – for self-deception and self-justification.
Sin isn’t quite as simplistic and superficial as the Church has made it out to be. We’ve turned sin into a shopping list of “thou shalt nots”; good verses bad; black verses white. “Sexual sins are bad; chaste people are good. Divorced people are bad; married people good. Laziness is bad; working is good. The world, and by this we mistakenly mean people who don’t go to Church, is bad; we are good.” We haven’t considered that chaste people can be equally as broken as promiscuous ones; that some lasting marriages are filled with indifference or even scorn; that working can be as much an addiction as alcoholism. And when scripture refers to “the world” it doesn’t mean us and them, it means the broken reality that everyone lives in. We’re all sinners – people who live in the grey corridors of life; capable of horrible hatred and of deep love. Sin isn’t only in our actions, it’s also in our attitudes. Jesus understood this. In our gospel reading, a woman identified as “a sinner” comes into the house of Simon the Pharisee and starts to wash Jesus feet. Like us, all the guests around the table knew : “Woman bad; Simon good”. Except Jesus knew that “huge” sinners can have deep love for God and can show their gratitude in humble acts of devotion, while spiritual “giants” can be self-righteous and judgemental. He also knew that gratitude, humility, love and repentance are of more value in the eyes of God than the arrogance of thinking we’re righteous and owe God nothing, “If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal” (Luke 7: 47). We can do “the right thing” and still sin. We can be a sinner and love God. Original or not, no one escapes sinning.
When the comedian, Eddie Izzard first heard the term “original sin”, he thought the priest in the confessional was bored with the same old stuff and wanted to hear something unique. Instead of greed or lust, Eddie confessed “I poke badgers with spoons”. He wasn’t completely off base. Sin doesn’t look exactly the same from one person to the next. Your sin is somewhat unique to you. It’s intimately connected to your personality and passions, your weaknesses and ways of being. Like your fingerprints, your iris, your signature or your voice, your sin patterns are original to you. The wonderful wiring that God used to create you as a unique being, is the same wiring that’s at play when we sin. We are rarely tempted by things that are disconnected to our personality. We’re more likely to give into a temptation that twists the wholesome needs and desires God has wired into us. Things that repulse us are easy to resist, but things we are attracted to entice us. We only need to be pulled a few degrees to end up off course. We know that a few degrees with a long trajectory take us far from our goal and far from our true self. A subtle deviation is enough to disrupt the flow of the Spirit in our lives. So, it’s important to know our own strengths and weaknesses and the patterns we are prone to fall into. These are called our “signature sins.” Just as my character is prone to certain patterns, relationships, temperaments and gifts – so is my sin. In fact, our strength is often our weakness; our light casts our shadows. The pattern of your gifts is valuable in anticipating the pattern of your sin. Home run hitters also strike out a lot. Socially connected people are also prone to gossip. Intellectuals can talk down to others. Spontaneous people have difficulty with impulse control. Good listeners can be passive enablers. Optimists easily fall into denial. The best version of you contains the seed of the worst version of you. We’re going to look quickly at 9 personality types to identify their strengths and their pitfalls. All people sin. No personality is better than another. We’re not in a position to judge others nor do we need to envy them. These categories aren’t hard and fast. We’re all capable of any sin. This gives us a framework to know ourselves. Listen for yours.
Personality Values Fear Temptation Sin Example
Reformer Perfection, improvement Defective Judgemental
Care-giver Serving, helping
Love in action Being unwanted & unlovable Enable
Manipulate Pride Martha
Inspiring Being worthless
“fake” Need validation
Serve self Self-deception Simon Magnus
Vanity King David
Knowledge Incompetence Lack humility
Never enough King Solomon
Security Self-reliance Rebellion
Cynicism Fear Elisha
Experiences Deprivation Avoid pain
Seek attention Gluttony
Want it all Peter
Leadership Being controlled Power
Calm Separation Avoid conflict
Lack initiative Passivity Abram
It’s important to know ourselves. We cannot become our best self, if we don’t know who we are – both our strengths and weaknesses. Our signature sin is the plank Jesus told us to remove from our eyes. It’s so close, we are apt to miss it. If we know what tempts us and why, then we can monitor ourselves to avoid falling into sin’s snare. We can be awake to the sin that is lying in wait, ready to pounce. We can pray about our weaknesses, asking God to keep us from particular temptations. We can recognize, name our sin and repent.
It’s also important to know our strengths so that we know when we’re in the flow of the Spirit and what will help us to be most fully alive. We will feel God’s presence most fully, when we are doing what we are wired to do. When we live out of our strengths in healthy ways, we feel free, act with love and serve with joyful contentment.
Finally, knowing these patterns can help us to build up our community of faith. We can encourage each other’s gifts and strengths. We can gently warn one another when we see someone’s best self slipping away or when they’re volunteering for something that’s going to suck the life out of them, or when they’re trying to be someone they’re not . We can help someone name for themselves when they have fallen into sin.
You were not made to have or indulge a signature sin. You are God’s handiwork. God’s unique, beloved, hand-signed Child. You are made to bear his signature and isn’t that the one you really want?