Pam Kramer: Just the title is a lot to chew on! I’ve been thinking about those concepts lately. There has been conversation concerning the issue of confession during worship. Some people don’t like reading the same words aloud each week. On Sunday, Aug 14, Pastor Justin tried a different approach, reminding us that we are all both saints and sinners. That got me to thinking about sin. What is sin? What do we confess? And what does grace have to do with it all.
First, what is sin? That depends. In a religious context, it is a disobedience to God’s law. But every culture has its own interpretation of what it means to commit a sin. Remember the seven deadly sins that will lead us immediately to Dante’s Inferno? Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth. In today’s world we would all be headed to the fires. Scholars might say there are sins of commission (what we do that we shouldn’t) and sins of omission (what we didn’t do that we should have) and disposition (having bad feelings in your heart). We can plug in the seven deadly sins into these scholarly categories.
I have three categories of my own: Egregious, Culpable, and Unmindful. So, what is an egregious sin? Murder, torture, and abuse of any human being, but particularly the murder, torture and abuse of children and animals. Recently it has been a ruthless war in Ukraine and genocide in Africa and Myanmar, not to ignore violence on the streets of our cities and towns. Can one confess? Yes! Can one be forgiven? Not sure? Societies have set rules. What does God do?
Then what’s a culpable sin? Reviewing the seven deadly sins of old, I would put all of them here except wrath which leads often to egregious sins. I like the word “accountability.” Yes, culpable sins do hurt individuals and others. They may indeed rise to the egregious level. But in our society, we eat well, need to be prideful in a good way, and we aren’t generally slothful. BUT each of them is in our hearts. Poverty IS NOT SLOTH; ignoring it is culpable. Being greedy and not sharing is culpable. Can one confess? Yes! Can one be forgiven? Probably! What does God do?
My last category is unmindful. We all have times when we are careless, inattentive, neglectful, thoughtless, unobservant. We do things that make us realize we may have missed our mark of living in a virtuous, considerate, and humane manner. Did you forget a birthday, or not notice that someone needed help getting groceries in the door? For me, it is often not taking my dog on the longest walk because I am running late for a meeting, appointment, or I am tired. Can I confess? Yes. Can I be forgiven? Yes! What does God do?
SO, WHAT DOES GOD DO? WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED GRACE?
Pastor Justin: Let’s pull back a bit. Within Lutheran Theology, sin is understood as a condition of the heart – Incurvatus in Se – the heart turned in on itself. For Luther, this was central to understanding the power of grace in our lives. Because sin is just as much a part of our being as is our saintliness, it is only by the grace of God in Christ that a person is forgiven. Since this is the case, to categorize and list our sins as actions we do or not do cheapens grace…the whole thing becomes an “if/then.” “IF I confess that I stole AC/DC cassette tape in fifth grade, THEN I will be forgiven.” To be mindful of sins committed (“forgive me for the things done and left undone”) is good and is a necessary part of redemption, but it is not necessary for forgiveness to be effective.
Luther argued to numerate one’s sins would only add to the list and cause further anxiety about one’s sinful nature, distracting from the joy that is found in God’s good grace. We are freed from bondage to sin and death in order to be free to be Christ in the world.
This is hard stuff to grasp. We are consumers. We expect “if/then” relationships. And to be honest, when a person commits a violent act against another human being it is REALLY hard to understand how in the world God forgives such action. Lucky for us we don’t have to understand it, and perhaps that is why God is God. It is beyond our comprehension.
One of the reasons I believe so deeply in the power of Christ in the world is because IF grace and forgiveness were given out by MY standard, THEN we’re in deep trouble. I don’t want a Messiah that functions like I do! The amazing thing about grace and forgiveness is that it is for everyone. Even the people who I struggle with. So, when I forgive, be it in individual confession, Sunday Morning services, or Tuesday afternoon, I do so because it is God’s work….and since God has forgiven me, who am I to say otherwise?!
Thank you Jesus!