Sunday, August 27, 2017

Focussing on Sin

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Which sin do you like to confess most?

That’s a silly question! As Christians, we should hate Sin more than Death; after all, Death simply separates our souls from our bodies: they will be reunited at the Resurrection. Sin separates us from God. How can we therefore have a favourite sin to confess?

Well then. Do you have sins that you’re glad you haven’t committed? You have only to gaze into the eyes of your spouse to be glad that you haven’t committed adultery. Looking at the state of those in our prisons, you’re glad that you haven’t murdered or stolen anything. That’s good. You haven’t sinned there, have you?

And then Jesus comes along and says things like:
“whosoever shall say , Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
“whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
And worse still:
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Do you think that you’re a murderer now? Do you think you’re an adulterer?


We know that sin is a desperately uncomfortable thing to live with. The way that the world deals with it is either to forget that it exists entirely or to translate it to something rather vague like “not being open-minded” or “not being true to yourself”. Yet, Jesus is quite clear on what sin is and where it comes from. Sin occurs every time we fail to love God and love our neighbour. Sin occurs every time we try to change the meaning of the word “love” to suit ourselves.

This means that, potentially, we have, each one of us, committed an uncountable number of sins. Yet we’re only ever aware of a few.

Listen to what the Pharisee says:
“God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican: I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”
This is fine! He’s generous, and pious, and fair, and faithful to his wife, and he’s proud of it! Why is that such a bad thing? But then if we think, not many of us go to bed at night thinking, “hooray! I didn’t commit adultery today!” This man is content with himself as he is. He doesn’t feel the need to be transformed.

Yet, he’s only aware of a few sins. He’s focussed on six sins that he hasn’t committed and has been blinded to the rest.

This is a very clever trick of the Devil. He gets us to focus on a few sins so that we forget that there are others that we might commit and then forget. Even when we do confess our sins, we always remember the big ones – or rather the ones that seem big to us – and forget to confess the little ones. Yet, all sin separates us in some way from God!

Ouch! Who then can be saved?


All the Publican can say is
“God be merciful to me a sinner.”
We have to remember that we cannot save ourselves. This is why the Cross of Christ is vitally, vitally important. Our salvation from sin, our reconciliation with God only comes about through the Death of Our Lord. The more we live in Him, the more we pray, the more we seek first His Kingdom, the more adept we become at spotting all the sins in our lives. We have no need to despair of being sinners, though we must learn to prefer to die than to sin.

Even with this simple little prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” the Publican goes home justified. Remember that “justified” means “made righteous”, “put right” – his sins are washed away. Why? Well, St John says,
“If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins.”

This is why we have to be so ready to forgive others: we’re all in the same boat, we’ve all sinned and sometimes in ways that we become ignorant of, though perhaps others can see. The Psalmist asks, “Who can tell how oft he offendeth?” In response, we have to be ready to pray to Our Lord Jesus Christ saying,
O cleanse thou me from my secret faults. Keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins, lest they get the dominion over me: so shall I be undefiled, and innocent from the great offence. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart: be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord : my strength, and my redeemer.
Then we really can relax with Him knowing that all our sins, even the ones we’ve forgotten, can and will be destroyed by His blood.

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