Sermon October 30th, 2022: "Reformation Sunday"
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O God”
On Reformation Sunday we usually talk about Luther, his background, his theology and of course the Protestant Reformation that he is created with initiating.
We could share the story of the theses being nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral or perhaps Luther’s trial. We could talk about the revolution of translating the Bible into German. There is a lot of material on Reformation Sunday!
But today I would like to talk about sin. And in particular the idea of original sin. This doctrine says that we are all bearing the sin and pain of our original ancestor Adam. That, because of Adam and his decision to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil we cannot escape being sinful beings.
Luther struggled with sin and the Catholic Church’s theology about it. Luther continually berated himself for his sinful nature. He was able to say that he was both saint and sinner at the same time. Luther addressed sin in his commentary on Romans. This is what he had to say.
“But what, then, is original sin? According to the Apostle it is not only the lack of a good quality in the will, nor merely the loss of man’s righteousness and ability. It is rather the loss of all his powers of body and soul, of his whole outward and inward perfections. In addition to this, it is his inclination to all that is evil, his aversion against that which is good… his flight from and his loathing of good works, and his seeking after that which is sinful…..But original enters into us; we do not commit it, but we suffer it. We are sinners because we are the sons of a sinner….”
When we talk about original sin we go back to Genesis and Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden and we think that this is where it all began. But does it? I have been reading John Dominic Crossan’s book “ How To Read The Bible & Still Be a Christian.”
So what happened in that garden?
Crossan makes a strong argument that sin did not start in the garden. That when Adam ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil it was not a “fall” as we have come to call it. It was a choice and there were human consequences. Humans would be mortal. However, this choice did give us something else. Humans would now be guided by conscience not just instinct. We are the only species that is. Genesis gives us the message that our humanity is distinguished by being moral and that is a responsibility.
Crossan says “humankind had chosen to live with the challenge of conscience rather than the delusion of immortality. Realities are not penalties and human consequences are not divine punishments.”
As we continue to look at Genesis we come to the first mention of sin. It happens when we come to civilization in Genesis 4. This is where we find the story of Cain and Abel. Cain the tiller of the ground and Abel the keeper of sheep. The first mention of sin is in Gen 4:6-7. God tells Cain that he will rule over sin (notice it is sin not sins!). But Cain does not rule over sin, it rules over him. He murderers his brother. Sin comes with civilization and violence. The original sin is fratricide.
Humans are not natural born killers. But we have become very good at it. Our history is one of escalating violence and the ability to kill more efficiently or “better”. But it is not only our history that is violent - it is our present. The question is - will it be our future?
In Genesis we have a God who said sin was not inevitable and that it could be overcome.
Unfortunately we are not doing very well at overcoming violence. We see it on a large scale with the war in Ukraine, China’s military exercises, North Korea’s threats. And we see it on smaller scales as Governments turn against their citizens and citizens against each other. We see it in the mass shootings or violent acts. We see it in our neighbourhoods. Gun violence has increased significantly over the past couple of years. There are incidents of road rage and attacks against ethnic groups. There are hateful messages spread through social media and graffiti.
It often feels that our world is more violent, more angry. And it is a choice. This is sin. It is not our nature - it is a decision not an unavoidable destiny.
Over the past few weeks the discussion group has been pursuing personal devotions by reading Bishop Susan’s book “Praying the Catechism”. As you know - when you follow Luther’s catechism you must examine the 10 commandments. And what is the 5th commandment? You shall not murder. If humans were not murdering each other there would be no need to tell them not to!
In “Praying the Catechism” the commandment not to murder comes on day 9. There is the commandment and then what Martin Luther said - directly from the small catechism and then Bishop Susan expanded in the pause and reflect section.
In our time killing is not just about murder. There are many many ways to kill. And we are guilty of them and this is our sin.
Here is what Bishop Susan says:
Toxic waste is a way of killing.
Hunger is a way of killing.
Poverty is a way of killing.
War is a way of killing.
Racial discrimmination is a way of killing.
Putting resources into excessive armaments, and not into health, is a way of killing.
O Lord, we have devised so many ways of killing.
Exploiting the environment is a way of killing.
Abuse (sexual, physical, and emotional) is a way of killing.
Addictive substances are a way of killing.
Drinking and driving can be a way of killing.
Selling expired medicine to the poor can be a way of killing.
Withholding health care is a way of killing.
Unemployment is a way of killing.
Selling powdered formula to people without clean water can be a way of killing.
But also telling someone they are ugly is a way of killing.
Making fun of people is a way of killing.
Racial slurs are a way of killing.
So many ways of killing.
We are not getting more evil or more sinful, we are just more competent and efficient at what we do. So we are better and better at violence. And we have come to the point in our evolution of willed violence that our skills now threaten our very planet and human life.
Let’s turn back to Crossan for a moment to summarize his thoughts on original sin.
Original sin did not occur in the garden of Eden in Gen 2 but in the human field of Gen 4.
“SIN” in Gen 4 is not a flaw in creation but in civilization, a fault in culture not in nature.
Original sin is not about individuals and sex but about communities and violence.
Sin is not inescapable or irresistible. God said you will rule over it.
And what about Luther? As he worked out his theology and his thoughts on salvation and redemption he was constantly concerned with sin. He focused a great deal on his own. Luther said that we are saved and sinners at the same time. That what takes us away from God, what separates us from God’s love is sin. Luther moved away from despair with the belief that God’s gift of grace is one freely given. That each day we start anew with a renewal of our baptism.
The Good news is that we are beloved children of God - who have a choice to love God and neighbour and ourselves. To choose love over hate and life over death.