A tough minded CEO was touring one his company’s factories when he came upon a young man leaning against a filing cabinet, humming a song and just watching the action around him. The CEO went up to him and asked him how much he got paid. The young man said, “About seven hundred and fifty dollars a week.” “Well here’s two weeks’ pay,” the CEO said, stuffing fifteen one hundred dollar notes into the man’s pocket. “Now get out of here and don’t ever come back.” As soon as the young man had gone, the CEO turned to the department manager and shouted, “Who hired that bludger?” To which the manger responded “We didn’t hire him, he was just here from the courier company waiting to pick up a package.”
Sometimes it helps to ask and listen first in order to and understand what’s really going on behind what may appear and as Christians, as the Church-the gathering of those around Christ we too grapple with our instinct of taking our pre-conceived ideals to scripture rather than letting scripture form our ideals.
One of the things that happened in past ages in the church is that people got hung up on sin. They felt guilty all the time about everything – even about things that were not sinful at all and unfortunately they laid this burden on others too. Maybe some of you grew up in times when the thought of a bit of fun or jovial banter within the gathering of the faithful was not only frowned upon but maybe even heretical.
This sin-driven thinking is unbiblical and I would think both unhealthy for those in the church and by way of extension, unhealthy for those yet to have met the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Those who already know self and others judgments and don’t need it re-in forced to further guilt, but rather acknowledged that they see not the Law condemning and restricting, but the Gospel absolving and freeing.
In more recent times there has been an equal and opposite reaction to this sin-conscious kind of Christianity. Naturally enough, when there’s a reaction the pendulum does not stop back in the middle, where it achieves a balance, but swings to the opposite end.
And so today there is a tendency to not only down play the idea of sin, but sometimes deny the reality of it altogether. It is seen as offensive. The thought of being personally, morally responsible before God, and confessing a sin is uncomfortable and some Christians including pastors and church leaders do not even like to hear the word mentioned.
This denial of sin is also unbiblical and just as unhealthy as being sin-obsessed and guilt ridden.
This is where we turn back to the scriptures, for their correcting and balancing influence in our lives, in particular today’s readings. Because here we find that they are not hung up on sin. Nor are they hung up on denying sin. They are hung up on something quite different – grace!
In today’s Genesis reading we have that old story we know so well – the story that describes the way human beings rebel against God and, in their fear and insecurity and pride, seek to be God themselves.
This story is powerful because it touches our conscience. It holds up a mirror to us, and shows us that our lives are not as perfect as we maybe thought they were, and that deep in our own nature is that same tendency to push God away.
The Romans reading today describes how this story touches us all.
Yet that is not the end as in today’s Gospel, Matthew describes the ministry of Jesus, who has sometimes been called the second Adam. He is the one who, out in the desert as he was being tempted and tested by Satan, did not fall when he was given the choice between going for glory and power or staying with God. And because he, unlike the first Adam, did not fall into that trap, because he was obedient to His Father, because he lived a life of true self-giving love, because he gave his life as a redeeming sacrifice, he is able to undo the effects of sin, able to blot our all our guilt and take it from us completely, able to undo the curse of death and give us back what God always wanted for us, eternal life with him. As Paul says in Romans 5:15:
“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.”
This is grace. Grace does not deny sin or its seriousness or its power. God’s grace, in Jesus Christ overcomes sin and defeats death. And this is yours for the asking, freely and with no strings attached.
This is the message of the Scriptures and these three readings for the first Sunday in Lent really summarise the whole core message. They are not hung up on sin and death and on living in guilt and shame and neither do they deny sin.
They are gloriously and endlessly pointing to, hung upon and relying on the Grace of God’s plan to save all humanity from sin and death, and bring them into the abundance of life that is joyful and free.
The time of Lent is a pronounced time of reconnecting and renewing of our faith. A time for us to acknowledge that yes we are not perfect, not to deepen the guilt but to see that guilt washed away through a man named Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ who left the confines and majesty of His heavenly home to come among the muck of our sin to see and taste it playing out in our lives and His Fathers once perfect creation. Jesus Christ the Son of God who reduced himself that he feel the pain of thirst, hunger and physical infliction. The Son of God who reduced himself that He know first-hand the alluring temptations of Satan’s lies and manipulations that he places before us and the world. Jesus Christ, not remote, unknowing and judging from some far- away place. But Jesus Christ with us now who as He once felt everything sin can dish up as He walked this earth, still feels through us those same bumps, bruises, doubts and hurts as we still walk this earth.
Jesus Christ the Savior walked this earth and knows the deal down here and Jesus Christ our Saviour who walked this earth that we know the deal up there and in lent we focus on the deal that went down on that first Easter where in nothing other than to turn towards and believe in Jesus Christ our Saviour have our sins been forgiven and though while still on our walk we need to acknowledge the sins we carry, we need not be downcast and desponded, but up cast and of joyful hearts and minds as we hear His message given to bystanders some 2,000 years ago that while he hang dying on a cross, the same message He gives to us today as the resurrected Lord, that “it is finished” and so no longer do we need concern ourselves with earthly death in sin, but look to Him and be assured of eternal life in His righteousness.
American actor Roy Rogers was once asked “if he had only 48 hours to live, how would he live it?” To which he responded “one hour at a time”.
Yes we carry sin, but we are carried by a much greater power and that is the truth of the Gospel in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who found us when we knew Him not, carries us when we see Him not and gave His life when we deserved Him not, that most assuredly in trust in Him and in Him alone we will be re-united with those that have gone before and those with us now, and in that sure knowledge do we carry on today, living with and serving our Lord, living with and serving His people and living our lives in the peace of His promise, one hour at a time. Amen.