Uncover Your Sin – Lectionary 03/01/2020

Psalm 32

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,  and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away, through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.

Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Genesis 3:1-7

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Sermon Text

Sin is absolutely poisonous. It is that illness deep within our hearts that constantly leeches out and attacks every system within us. The goodness of God, the untouchable image imprinted on us at birth, it cannot be removed. Yet the cancer of sin has covered it up. The deepest darkness of chaos, the primordial ocean which covered the world before creation, exists in each and everyone of us. It covers that image of God, and it keeps us from living the life God has set up for us.

Sin is a mystery. No one has ever been able to completely explain its presence in the world. We all know the story of the first transgression humanity ever committed. Genesis gives us the story of two people, the first two people, and their inability to listen. They do not listen to each other, not to God, even the Serpent that courts them is not listened to fully. The Serpent does not provide any rationale for why what it says is true, there is no interrogation of its words, but both humans rush to believe it. The implication then is that, given enough time, the two would have found an excuse to eat the fruit with or without the words of the Serpent.

Often when we discuss this story we look for culprits to blame. The snake for tempting humanity. Eve for listening to the Snake. Adam for not stopping Eve. The reality of the text is that it does not invite us to put blame on any one party. In the following chapters the serpent, the woman, and the man are punished. They each leave Eden with something having been taken away from them and with many new problems added to them. The blame game that the three parties take part in later in Chapter 3 is not an invitation for us to do the same.

Yet, the Bible does not say why Sin was present in the hearts of humanity, it never says what the Serpents end game was in tempting humanity. We see in later commentaries all sorts of explanations provided. The write of Revelation connected the Serpent of the Garden with Satan, an interpretation that persisted in the Church. Some people began to look for Sin as something predating the temptation of the Serpent. Somehow something living within us, ready to take advantage and rule over us. Some people even began to suggest that God created us with Sin within us already, giving us an opponent from the very beginning.

However, we do not have to hold to any of these ideas fully. Revelation tying Satan to, “that ancient serpent,” is not necessarily a description of the snake in the garden. In fact, it is more likely modifying the word before it  – “The dragon, that ancient serpent,” as both Greek and Hebrew sources imagined dragons to look like anacondas or boa constrictors. There is no indication in the text that Sin was present before this first transgression, the only thing declared wrong up until this point was Adam being alone.

We do ourselves a disservice when we turn to this passage and try to find an explanation of Sin and its place in the world. The story is not trying to provide us a window into the secrets of how God made the world, it is not trying to present us with an explanation of why Sin came to exist at all. It is simply making clear how the first instance of it came to be, how the sickness took hold and began to corrupt the image of God within our hearts, moving us further and further from God’s light and love and goodness.

The reality of Sin is known to every person who ever walked this earth. We know Sin because we see what it does. The anger that has become the most basic emotion we feel regularly anymore. The brokenness that our careless treatment of one another has produced time and time again. The entire history of humanity, from Eden to today is marred by the work of Sin, and our personal history likewise shows the sign of its work. We can never escape the reality of Sin, because it more often than not defines the world we live in. More than this though, our acknowledgement of Sin, our comfort in discussing it honestly, this is what allows transformation in us. Sin is a paradox, and as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “Sin is our only hope, the fire alarm that wakes us up to the possibility of true repentance.”[1]

The fact is that we are sinners. The fact is that we daily transgress God’s instructions in our lives. Not one of us is exempt from it. Not one of us freed from its consequences. Not one of us is given special privilege to do as we like. We must acknowledge sin, we must flee from it, because it is a disease like no other. It is a sickness that we choose whether or not we give into, the only cure is in denying it any purchase in our hearts.

Honesty is therefore necessary. We cannot act as though we do not have a problem. Even the smallest harm that we cause to those around us, even the littlest purchase we give for our wrongdoings, can grow out of control. We must starve it, we must cast it away from ourselves, and we must open up about what it has done to us. We must confess our sin to God, we must confess our sin to one another, we must confess.

When we open up to one another and acknowledge the wrong we do, especially if it is a wrong that we have committed against the person we confess to, then we begin to allow for healing. We become contrite, we feel deep in our heart the weight of our sin and desire liberation from it. We confess it to those we have hurt, those of us who hear the confession forgive it freely and openly, and we who have done wrong must then do more than just say we are sorry but begin the necessary work to be better, to fix the relationship we have broken. Only then can we be reconciled back to one another.

This pattern is as Biblical as can be. Jesus teaches us to make amends before we ever think of worshipping publicly. The Psalm we read today makes clear the great riddle of God. That we wither away when we hide our sin. When we let the darkness cover up the image of the divine within us it will gnaw away and destroy our humanity. But the moment we begin to let the air in, to admit all that is within us, then God comes in. God “Covers our sin,” literally, “gives refuge to it.” We are allowed space to grow, to recover from Sin and to begin practicing righteousness rather than wickedness.

Even as we return to Eden, our initial discussion today, we see this pattern. That God comes into the Garden and shouts to us, “Where are you?” We should not deceive ourselves in thinking God only asked this once. God asks it again and again, “Where are you?” God does not seek to find us to punish us, not to destroy us. Our actions are not without consequences, God is not mocked, make no mistake. However, God does not seek us out as a destroyer, God is not a lion waiting to pounce on you for having transgressed.

Instead God offers to all who confess, all who come forward and name their Sin, to them is given a covering. For Adam and Eve a covering of leather to replace theirs of leaves. For us it is a covering of righteousness to replace our sin. Slowly but surely, out in the open, we will transform, but only if we are willing to take the step forward, to uncover our sin, and to live into righteousness truly in the here and now.

As we gather for the feast of Christ’s grace – listen and find that ancient pattern once more. As we gather at the invitation of God, confess our Sins, are forgiven, and we declare the Peace of God to one another. Only after all these things happen, can we truly gather together and give thanks to God for the work of Christ. In this bread, in this cup, we meet a story as ancient as Eden, one of a God who will meet us where we are and bring us out of the pit. Take hold now of this grace, let us drink deep of a new fruit which brings redemption. Let us come now before the Lord our God. – Amen

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor. “Sin is our Only Hope.” In Speaking of Sin. (Plymouth, United Kingdom: Cowley Publication. 2000.) 48. Taylor provides an orthodox presentation of penance in the same text, which is the basis for the model discussed today.

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