From Wreck to Restoration: We Commit Sin

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 2:4-13.

A congregant once said to me, “Pastor, I’ve never heard a preacher talk about sin as much as you do!”

I remember laughing as he said this…and then I was quite struck as his words washed over me. If pastors are not talking about sin, then how will people in our congregations know how to talk about sin? How will people in the world know how to talk about sin?

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite authors, advises that we need language about sin as much as we need language about salvation. In her book, Speaking of Sin, she writes,

Abandoning the language of sin will not make sin go away. Human beings will continue to experience alienation, deformation, damnation, and death no matter what we call them. Abandoning the language will simply leave us speechless before them, and increase our denial of their presence in our lives. Ironically, it will also weaken the language of grace, since the full impact of forgiveness cannot be felt apart form the full impact of what has been forgiven.*

It is not easy to talk about sin. Why dwell on the bad stuff, especially when God has promised to forgive the bad stuff and absolve us of it? I believe we need to talk about our sin, not so we carry the guilt and shame of it with us always, but so that we know the weight of our sin, and therefore the magnanimity of God’s amazing grace.

An essential component of John Wesley’s Class and Band structure was to have members of the bands sit before one another and answer the question, “How is it with your soul?” In responding to this question the band members would share where they excelled, struggled, and out right failed in their lives – personal, professional, and of faith – since the last band gathering. (Wesley would say the life of faith pervades all spheres of life.) It was not enough for band members to say that they sinned; they would have to name the sin specifically and articulate how that sin had harmed God, their neighbors, and themselves. Some might consider this method a severe form of behavior modification, but it worked for the Early Methodists and it continues to work for many today that participate in a covenant or accountability group.

Developing a language to discuss sin draws us into intentional thinking about our sinful acts as well as their consequences and repercussions. From this sort of reflection I am led to

  1. Repent of my sin and seek forgiveness and reconciliation and
  2. Make note of the circumstances, my actions, and my reactions, so that my behavior will be different the next time I encounter the same or similar circumstances.

I talk about sin and I talk about my sin as a way of letting people around me know that I am  a safe place to talk about sin. And maybe one day, if they would like, we could talk about their sin together. And when that conversation begins it will most surely end with the affirmation that our God forgives our sin, that Jesus removes the guilt of sin, that the Holy Spirit breaks the power sin has over us, so that we will indeed live as the forgiven and the redeemed.

Prayer: “In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin 4.

**”The Old Rugged Cross,” The United Methodist Hymnal 504.

God Never Said That: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 38:3-8 and I Corinthians 10:1-13.

This morning I received this text message from my dear friend, Dan:

Sarah! We were just called out by our seminary professor!

It may surprise some of you, but this is not new for Dan and me…we were known to meddle quite a bit during our Candler Days. Since it has been a while since we have been called out by a seminary professor, I was immediately curious. What was happening?

Dan is attending a continuing education event at Epworth by the Sea in St. Simon’s, Georgia and our pastoral care professor, Dr. Karen Scheib, was the plenary speaker this morning. Her plenary subject was the importance of covenant groups – groups that connect electronically, over the phone, and/or in person to share the highs, lows, and happenings of life. Dan and I are in such a covenant group. We make a point to connect several times throughout the week via text message, call one another at least once a month, and see one another a minimum of once a year.

During our interactions, whether texting, talking, or in person, we laugh; we cry; we share ministry resources; we challenge one another; we build up one another.

I cannot imagine my life without Dan or Brenda. My life is better because they are in it.

When I experience moments where I feel like that last piece of straw is about to break the camel’s back – meaning my back! – I am so grateful for friends like Dan. God did not say this life would be easy; God did say that we would not live this life alone. Our loved ones, family, and friends are such gifts to us throughout our lives as they lend their perspective, advice, hands, feet, presence, and faith to our benefit and aid.

Are you a member of a covenant group? I would venture to say you probably are, even if you do not call your group a covenant group. When you are in need, afraid, worried, or sick – who do you call? When you have had an incredibly joyful experience – who do you call? When you need to check in about what is going on in your life – the highs, the lows, and the happenings – who do you call? The persons that come to mind as you answer these questions constitute your covenant group.

In addition to your check-ins, consider how you might grow in relationship with God alongside your covenant group members. Perhaps you

  • Begin or end or begin and end your conversations with prayer.
  • Participate in a Bible Study together.
  • Serve on a day-long or extended service project together.
  • Eat together.
  • Fellowship together.

I have found that being intentional – that making my covenant group a priority in my life – is central to my faith development. My covenant group is central to reminding me that even when I do not think I can handle one more thing that God provides a way forward. Thanks be to God that the members of my covenant group are part of that way forward.

Prayer: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul), it is well, it is well with my soul.* Amen.

*”It Is Well With My Soul,” The United Methodist Church 377.