Sunday, March 4, 2018

By the forgiveness of our sins

As Episcopalians we live deeply into the mystery of God who is Trinity in Unity. Our faith allows us to rest in the truth of it, even though we can’t think our way into understanding it.

This is also one of the two dogmas of our denomination: that God is Trinity in Unity. The other dogma is that Jesus, who is the Christ, is the second person of that Trinity in Unity, is the savior of the world. Everything else, as we often say, is up for discussion.

We believe that Jesus Christ, reconciled us back to God by the forgiveness of our sins. We acknowledge “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” each Sunday when we pray the Nicene Creed together (BCP, 358). After praying a corporate confession the priest prays a blessing of absolution over us “for the forgiveness of our sins.” (BCP, 361) We hear, say, and pray about forgiveness of sins so often - but what do we make of this statement?

So many people hear this as referring to our behavior. We did/do a bad thing and God forgives it. The truth is, it’s so much more than that.

Think about the creation story in Genesis. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (1:31) All that God creates, including us, is good. That’s where we begin. The Garden of Eden is an illustration of what perfect harmony and communion with God looks like. Enter humans, with our gifts of intellect, visioning, and community as embodied in Adam (Hebrew for “human”) and Eve (Hebrew for “first”), and also our weaknesses of hubris, short-sightedness, and self-centeredness.

The story of the fall of Adam and Eve from grace into sin illustrates why our salvation is about forgiveness of our sins. Sin disrupts the perfect harmony and communion created from the beginning – the “dream of God” as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls it. By the way, ++Michael is using a term coined by Verna Dozier who wrote a book by that title.

In his book, The Shaking of the Foundations, theologian Paul Tillich describes sin as a three-fold separation: from God, from each other, and from ourselves. This separation, which is caused by the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, distorts all of our relationships. It is only by God’s grace and our willingness to repent that our relationships are restored and we are returned to righteousness, that is, right relationship with God, one another, and creation.

When we choose to repent, we may find ourselves “struck by grace,” as Tillich says, the way St. Paul was on the road to Damascus, knowing deeply the truth that God loves us with an incomprehensible love, even though we are thoroughly unworthy of that love. Suddenly, “a light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted…accepted by that which is greater than you…’ After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe better than before, but everything is transformed.” Repentance, therefore, opens the way for all of our relationships to be changed, reconciled. Repentance empowers us through the grace of God’s acceptance."

Jesus speaks plainly to us about this when he says, “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish” (Lk 13:3) and he goes on to explain what he means in the parable of the fig tree. In this parable, the lord of the vineyard sees a fig tree that isn’t producing fruit, judges it as useless, and cuts it down. In Jesus’ re-telling of this popular near-Eastern story, however, the owner of the garden shows mercy, giving the tree one more chance. In order to live the tree and the tree’s community (the gardener) must change how they’re doing things… which is the point in this parable: repent, change how you and your community are living together, or you will die… not because God will punish you, but because the way you are living is not life-giving… it leads to death.

Trusting in the steadfast love of God who is always faithful, we can always choose to repent, to change the way we’re doing things. We can choose to live.

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