Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
March 24, 2019
Text: Luke 13:2, O.T.: Isaiah 55:1-9, N.T.: Luke 13:1-9
Sin. The little three letter word that is dividing the Church.
Some Christians complain it’s negative to talk about sin. Confessions of sin are downers. They don’t focus on the positive. Worship is better without the mention of sin. Let’s stay focused on the positive. People are basically good.
Others Christians say we’re avoiding the truth when we remove sin as a topic for worship. They say we’re guilty of recreating Christianity without Jesus Christ’s central act. His death was for a specific purpose – to save us from sin.
They say that focusing only on the positive of Jesus’ resurrection and God’s grace disregards why the resurrection occurred, and God’s grace is necessary. As Paul writes in Romans – who some believe is the author of Biblical negativism – “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Still others say if you don’t believe sin is central to the Bible – read it. The Old Testament is all about Israel and Judea’s struggle to be obedient to God. Disobedience is sin. God continually chastises Israel and Judea for their sin in the Jewish Scriptures. The Christian Scriptures are the early Church’s brave declaration about the meaning of Jesus Christ. He saved us from sin.
You can’t avoid sin as a topic in the Bible.
A third voice asks, if you stop talking about sin because its negative, how do you explain what happened in the twentieth century if people are good? More lives were lost in the twentieth century to wars, murders, and famines that were justified by people at the time, than in all of human history combined. How is this evidence that people are inherently good?
How else do we explain social problems that afflict families, neighborhoods, cities, and nations? How else can anyone explain the forces that try to destroy the moral foundation upon which a society remains civil and united?
The topic of sin does torment us. Yet, it mostly is unspoken. It’s absent from homes, minimized from pulpits, condoned by being a taboo topic that is closeted in the conscience.
In a land were talk about sin isn’t correct, how ought we read Luke 13:1-9? The same torment over sin with which we struggle was faced by Jesus. It divided Judaism. But it was a public debate then, not confined to silence. Two events stimulated Jesus in this passage.
A group of Galilean Jews were slaughtered by Pontius Pilate’s forces while making sacrifices outside the Temple of Jerusalem. Many Jews regarded their murder by Roman troops as God’s punishment for the sin of not making their sacrifices in the Temple. Their disobedience to God brought on them a death that was more brutal than for those with lesser sins.
The second event was a tower in Siloam fell on 18 Jews. Some speculated their deaths were the result of their sins. This implied others were less sinful.
Jesus’ response to each event was those who died were not greater sinners than anyone else. He warned His audience that just because some die untimely deaths, they weren’t more disobedient to God than anyone else.
Our Master, our Lord, then faced the unaddressed issue that was not in the public debate, but was the actual unspoken issue. He taught them through the Parable of the Fig Tree. What was His point? When people do come out of their private conscience’s closet to discuss sin, it’s almost always about someone else’s disobedience to God.
It’s easier to discuss another person’s sin than to struggle with our own disobedience to God. When we do this, we give the impression that others are greater sinners than we are. A lifetime of finger pointing cannot change what God sees – what God knows, about sin.
“All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.”
Because God’s knows this, He isn’t distracted by the earthly noise about some people being more sinful than others. God isn’t fooled. The chatter about others really ignores what finger-pointers ought to do to worship the Lord our God with all of their heart, all of their mind, and all of their body.
People who are complacent about their own relationship with God can be prone to the chatter of finger pointing. It distracts the finger pointer from his or her own inactivity in facing his or her personal sin.
Today, the Church is under attack by those who don’t want to hear about sin. Fingers are pointed at the Church as being intolerant. Both within and from outside the Church, the humble efforts by Christians to discuss sin and be accountable for their own sin, is being challenged.
The Church is the culprit behind intolerance. People are inherently good.
Jesus speaks clearly in the Parable of the Fig Tree. There’s too much finger pointing inside and outside the Church that tries to paint others as more sinful than everyone else. Slavery to finger pointing avoids the greater problem – “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Sin is a burden. Freedom from its burden is the goal. Freedom isn’t gained by avoiding talk about sin. We’re only free by what Christ has done for us on the cross. He made it possible for us to stand before God without sin’s burden.
Talking about sin is not a condemning task. It’s a mentoring process towards liberation. It offers hope that comes from God’s grace. But that hope doesn’t come from a vacuum. It comes because sin is a reality for all of us.
Liberation comes from admitting, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” There’s freedom through genuine repentance.
Freedom does not lie in defending the right to do anything or to avoid what is obvious – that we sin. True freedom comes from loving God so much that we admit when we don’t. Christ’s goal is to free us from slavery to sin. “For freedom, Christ has set us free. Don’t submit to a yoke of slavery.”
When we’re enslaved by sin, we can’t admit when we’re wrong. When we live in the prison of sin, we will never take responsibility for how we got in prison.
Sin cannot be something to avoid or cast into silence. When we can talk about sin freely we are showing that we have faith Christ has saved us from our sin. Our freedom to admit we sin comes from our embrace of Jesus’ grace!
Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us from our sin. When we believe He has saved us, then we will be free to admit that His death was necessary for our sin. Our appreciation for Jesus love for us frees us from the denial and avoidance that He died for our sin.
I once talked with elders during a session meeting, what would it take for our church to be a place where everyone was free to openly talk about their sin. What kind of trust, what kind of genuine love would need to be present so that church members felt free to talk about the darkest places in their relationship with God?
What it would take friends is congregation-wide humility and gratitude to Jesus that won’t let us judge others for their sins. The grace He has given us is so important to all of us that we give it to each other.
Christ’s offer of God’s grace frees us from the closet of silence about sin. Christ’s offer of God’s love liberates us to talk openly about our own failures before God and before others. Christ’s offer of freedom from sin is the goal of all conversation about sin.
Freedom is the great gift Jesus Christ has given us. It’s the experience of receiving God’s grace and mercy that overcomes our sin. It’s freedom to say “I’m sorry,” and ask for forgiveness.