(Modified 2021-12-12: Added audio recording of this sermon)
Dec 12, 2021
St. Mary’s Regina
I want to begin with a list of words this morning. These words aren’t often heard outside of a religious context, but since we’re in church I think it’s appropriate to introduce them this morning. How we understand the meaning of each of these words, influences or drives our spiritual journeys. So, I believe Advent is the perfect time to ponder these words. Ready? Here they are: Sin, Repentance, Confession and Forgiveness. What we think or believe about ourselves and others through the use of these words can be helpful or destructive for us.
I’ll begin with SIN. Sin, as defined in the New World Dictionary of the American Language, is the breaking of religious law or moral principal especially through a willful act; or to commit an offense or fault of any kind, or to do wrong.
The meaning of Repentance is to feel sorry or self- reproachful for what one has done or failed to do, to be conscience-stricken or contrite, to feel such regret or dissatisfaction over some past action or intension as to change one’s ways.
Forgiveness means to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; to stop being angry with; to pardon. These definitions are pretty straight forward but I’m going to unpack them just a bit.
We don’t really like the word Sin. We would prefer to call it something else, perhaps a poor decision, a stumbling block or an “issue”. Sin is definitely not “in”. It’s a word that makes us feel uncomfortable and most of us squirm when the word is mentioned. But the fact that we cannot or will not talk about sin is one of biggest barriers to living within the abundant grace of God. We want to hide our sinfulness from ourselves, from other people and from God. We are reluctant to name the reality of sin and our part in it for what it really is, but when we are able to call sin what it really is…SIN, then some of the power of sin is taken away and we can begin to deal with it. Make no mistake: Sin is powerful. When we name our personal sinfulness, and believe me, we all have pockets of sinfulness tucked away inside our hearts, we can begin to move back to where we belong: Within a right relationship with God.
I’ve been reading a book entitled Speaking of Sin by Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor. She writes and I quote, “In theological language, the choice to remain in wrecked relationship with God and other human beings is called sin. The choice to enter into the process of repair is called repentance. What is important to remember is that the essence of sin is not the violation of laws, but the violation of relationships. Restoration of relationship is what we seek…and naming sin is our only hope, because the recognition that something is wrong is the first step towards setting it right.” (end of quote) That’s not saying that calling things the way they really are totally eliminates the pain caused by the sin. That would be an unrealistic expectation for us because the consequences of sin may have to be lived with and worked through for a long time. But God always gives us a way back. Our lives can be really messed up by sin. Sin separates us from God, from one another, from the beauty of creation and even from our own true selves. It destroys the relationships that nurture and support us, leaving us estranged and lonely. We may want to be reunited, reconciled, but we don’t always know how to make that happen. (pause)
Our baptismal liturgy encourages us to “repent and return to the Lord.” Repentance means to turn around or turn away from and go in a different direction.
Repentance means more than simply saying “I’m sorry”. Repentance leads to forgiveness and the advent of a new relationship between individuals and with God. Repentance is using our freedom of choice to say, “ I choose to turn from what I have been doing or have done…and come back to God.” I choose to live the way God would have me live. By repenting and confessing our sins, we open ourselves to God’s forgiveness and grace.
Confessing our sins can be intimidating, even frightening. Years ago, I spent a Lenten season asking God to show me my sinfulness. Frankly, I thought it would be easier than giving up chocolate because I’m basically a good person. I was shocked at the things that were brought to my heart as sins. But knowing that I am loved by God, I trusted that through confession, I am not judged BUT forgiven. Remember how Jesus not only forgave Peter for denying him three times, but made him the rock on which He built His church. God has high hopes for all of us; and our confession and repentance can open the way for some of those hopes to be realized. I take great comfort in that knowledge because a forgiven life is a renewed life.
John the Baptist cried out “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight.” When we are living a renewed life, our lives will be different; we will be different in ways that others will notice. Using biblical language, we will bear fruit worthy of repentance. What that means is that we will be known for our gentleness, kindness, mercy, generosity, truthfulness and forgiveness towards others. It will become the way of life for us and noticed by those around us; our children, friends, neighbours, co-workers.
We will celebrate the birth of Jesus in two weeks. Take some time to prepare your hearts to receive this precious gift from God, his Son, Jesus, the One who saves us from our sin.