As we begin this Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, you may wonder why I've suggested we are beginning a season of celebration. After all, Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day to remind us of the ways in which we are not living fully into our relationship with God, to remind us of our own humanity and our eternal need for God, and to remind us of that word we dread so much – to remind us of our sinfulness. As Protestants – and especially as Disciples – the word "SIN" scares most of us. It scares most of us because it requires that we admit we are not fully capable of always doing the right thing, of not always putting God first in our lives, that we have failed at fully embracing the mystery of God in our lives. I also don't like the word sin – because it implies that something is out of my control – and yes I'm a bit of a control freak. I think mostly though it scares us, because as we admit sin, we feel like we have to admit consequence as well. And while I feel comfortable admitting my own faults, my own sins, and pointing out the sins of our culture and the world around us – I would be lying if I said I wasn't troubled by the notion of consequence.
We live in a culture with strong notions of "justice," (the notion of justice is for another blog) and full of equations in which if a wrong-doing is committed – a consequence or a price of equal value must be paid. There are TV shows that thrive off this notion – Miami Vice, Columbo, NYPD Blue, Law and Order (all 14 versions), CSI (all 5 versions), Bones, Without a Trace – I could go on and on. Someone commits an offense and the show is dedicated to making sure that someone pays a price.
We've lived in this culture for a long, long time, and it's hard push our minds out of that culture and wrap our minds around a God whose eternal love no longer demands a price (of death or anything else) to be paid for our sin. While there are many definitions of sin: transgression of divine law, a reprehensible or regrettable action or behavior, offense against principle or standard, deliberate disobedience to the known will of God, a condition of estrangement from God resulting from disobedience, something regarded as shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong, I would like to offer my favorite description of sin. It comes from a book called, "Crazy Talk: A Not-so-stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms." Crazy Talk identifies sin as two things: 1. Why people suck, and 2. How people suck.
Sin is what is at work in the background of all the reasons we as humans suck, and how we suck, it is the background of the universal human condition known variously as self-centeredness, ego, or other more or less clinical, casual or caustic term. In short: we suck.
People suck at being human the way God intends humans to be because we are sinful. It is the state of who we are, the condition we are stuck in.
I'm not going to resort to saying that sin entered the world when two beings ate a piece of fruit from a tree. But I also won't say that God made us sinful. I will say that God made us human, made us mortal, and made us imperfect. Yes, God created all things, including humans, and called it all GOOD, but God never called us all perfect. If we were perfect, wouldn't we be God?
Because we are human, because we are mortal, because we are imperfect by the nature of our being, by the nature of our NOT being divine and eternal, we must deal with and resist this condition of sin. As our root problem, as our biggest sin, I argue that we are constantly denying the presence of our God who is fully present, who has been fully present in our past, who continues to be in our present time, and who will continue to be present in our future, throughout all eternity. Hence that steadfastness and eternal part about God. J The cause of all our individual sins, is that we continually fail to acknowledge God's presence, refuse to see God's presence, and act accordingly. We commit individual sins when we continually deny God's presence in our lives. We live as if God were not with us every moment of every day, and live as if we could hide from God. Did Jonah and the whale teach us nothing?!
As this favorite book of mine continues, we use SIN – or some derivative thereof because we are afraid of that actual word – "to describe the individual moments in which we all go about our sucking. Because of sin (the condition of sucking), we sin (we do things that suck). We commit individual sins in thousands of ways every day."
So again Laura – how is this ever so uplifting blog supposed to remind us that we are entering a season of celebration?
Because as we acknowledge our own sinfulness, or for those who are afraid to say the word SIN – our own suckingness – we also allow God to enter our lives. While we acknowledge our own mortality, our on inabilities, our own imperfections, we are also admitting and acknowledging the eternity of God, the infiniteness of God, the perfection of God. Thank you Plato, the duality of our lives helps us to recognize the opposite side of the coin. While we are imperfect, God is perfect, while we are finite, God is infinite. While we are temporary, God is eternal. While we are apathetic, God is love. While we are indifferent, God is faithful.
We don't start out this season of Lent reminding ourselves of all our problems and all the bad things about ourselves just to make us feel terrible and depressed. We acknowledge these things, because it helps to remind us of the flip side of the coin. In death there is resurrection. In a desolate winter, there is a lively spring. In intense sorrow, joy patiently waits. In pain, healing breaks through. From despair, hope arises.
We are not entering a season of punishment, but rather a season of healing, in which we celebrate the many things God brings to our lives, and the many ways in which we need God in our lives. We celebrate the healing that will occur. As we expose our wounds and our scars, we are making room for God's healing love and healing presence in our lives. As we make ourselves vulnerable through confession and repentance, we cast off those things and make room for God's Spirit to move within us. As we see one side of the coin, let us turn it over. Let us celebrate.