June 25, 2017
The Second Sunday after Trinity
Today, we are going to talk about sin! Isn’t it exciting? (That was a test to see how many of you would agree!)
Bill Gates took the stage at the 2010 TED Talk session and said that there is no tolerable level of environmentally harmful waste and emissions, and that the human community must "innovate to zero." There's a theological analogy here. Usually, believers think that sin is something that, while not acceptable, is nevertheless inevitable. He called the talk, "Innovating to Zero.” Maybe we need to innovate to zero sin.
In 2010, Bill Gates stood on the TED stage to give one of those famous talks. He spoke not as the co-founder of Microsoft, but as a philanthropist and an innovator. He wanted to motivate some of the best and brightest minds in the world to a particular task.
There are times when zero is a bad number. No one wants to get a zero on a test or performance review. We don't want to see a zero balance in our bank account. We don't want to be stuck in traffic going 0 miles per hour.
Sometimes, however, zero is a great number! Like zero messages in your inbox. Zero payments left on the car loan. Zero balance on a student loan or house mortgage. Zero cancer cells detected. Zero interceptions (if you're a quarterback). Zero mistakes on a quiz, a project or just about anything else.
When we talk about negative things in life, zero is a very attractive number.
On the TED stage that day, Gates shared his dream of finding a way to produce energy for the planet with zero emissions and to eliminate types of waste that is harmful to the environment. Reduction, he said, isn't enough. There are no acceptable, tolerable levels. The goal must be total elimination. We need to innovate to zero, he said.
Soon after his talk, others began to take up this clarion call. Companies are working toward eliminating emissions during production. Take the car industry and our nation's cities, for example. Not only has the auto industry tackled zero emissions; it is also taking on accident fatalities. To achieve zero, it's developing cars with automatic braking and self-driving features. (Just ask me – I have that technology in my car and it was quite unnerving at first!)
As for towns and cities, many are innovating to zero poverty and zero hunger by housing and feeding those in need, and doing it in new and creative ways.
Other such projects exists, such as, zero people without clean drinking water; zero children without access to education; zero cases of preventable illness; zero domestic violence; zero waste; zero crime and zero bullying.
The world would be such a different place if we could eliminate those things that cause harm to ourselves and others.
This includes sin. While the apostle Paul does not use the phrase "innovating to zero" when writing to the Romans, he does say we should be working to eliminate sin from our lives.
Many, however, think differently about sin today. We try to manage it, to control it. We pretend that there is some acceptable, tolerable level of sin allowed within our lives. "We can't be perfect," we tell ourselves. "We're only human." In fact, we don't even like to use the word "sin." Instead we use words like, mistake, misstep, blunder, gaffe, error and so on. Hence, my opening line asking if the topic was exciting.
Sin is a powerful force that sometimes can be difficult to control. Sin is not just something we do; it's an active and controlling impulse that is deeply rooted in our hearts. In today's epistle text, Paul talks about "the flesh," our sinful selves, and argues that because of this disposition, we'll never be able fully and completely submit to the very high standards expressed in the law set forth from what we understand in the Scriptures.
This means that no matter how hard we try, we cannot control the sin in our lives. This is because our "sin actions" are generated by our "sin nature." To eliminate the former, we must eradicate the latter. Actually, the "sin nature" must be completely replaced with a new nature.
People in Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous know this very well. The first of the 12 steps is to admit to yourself that you are not in control of your addiction. "We admitted we were powerless over our addiction; that our lives had become unmanageable," people in recovery say.
The same is true of our sin.
When sin is in our lives, it takes over and we are powerless. Our lives soon become unmanageable. Yet, even when, as children of God, we embrace our "new nature" as new creations in Christ, the old sin nature lurks. We all know this to be true. It's like malware on our hard drive.
The Bible tells us, all sin leads to death. That sounds dramatic, but it is true.
As Gates talked about the environment on the TED stage that day, he told his audience of the effects of harmful emissions on the world. Even when we do not immediately see them, they are still there, doing harm.
He pointed to the irony that those who produce the least amount of harmful emissions feel their effects dramatically, while those who produce the most feel them hardly at all. The environmental changes Gates attributed to carbon dioxide emissions make it difficult for the poorest in the world to grow their food.
"Crops won't grow," Gates says. "There will be too much rain, not enough rain. Things will change in ways that their fragile environment simply can't support."
Sin in our lives also has unintended and destructive consequences. While we are the ones who most often feel the pain of those consequences, sometimes others are deeply affected by our mess-ups. Like family relationships. Our professional life at the office. Our friends. Our life at school or in the classroom. What we do affects other people. Sin can be dangerous.
The conundrum is this: The Bible says that we're sinners, and that to maintain that we are without sin makes us liars (1 John 1:7). On the other hand, Jesus tells us to be perfect "as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
So, what other discipline, what other organization, what other religion ... would tell us that we should work hard to achieve a goal which it also admits is impossible to achieve? That's crazy, isn’t it?
Every year, some of us make New Year's resolutions. The conventional wisdom is that these resolutions should be achievable and measurable. Good advice.
Yet the Bible says that we should be perfect, even though the Bible also says that such perfection is impossible. Like I said, it sounds crazy.
Or is it ... crazy? Maybe not.
If we break down our daily lives into sections, events or relationship transactions, we then understand that if we're mindful and "in the moment," we can act in those moments in a sin-free manner. Imagine some situation. You have a choice in terms of how you're going to respond. In that moment, it is absolutely possible for you to be perfect and sin-free!
From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., let's say, it's possible to live sin-free. In some specific encounter with an employer, employee or co-worker, it's possible to be sin-free.
In truth then, it’s possible in a 16-hour day, therefore, to live sin-free ... i.e. without an unkind thought, or an unkind action. You lived your day one moment at a time, and succeeded every time! You innovated to zero!
Maybe yesterday was not so good. Maybe tomorrow, your sin nature will get the better of you. The miracle is that we have a new nature, and by "practicing," we will find that our "perfect" hours, our "perfect" days, become more frequent.
By honoring our "Spirit" nature rather than what Paul calls our "flesh" nature, we can indeed innovate to zero sin! So, the more we can fill ourselves with the Spirit, the less room there is for the flesh, the sin.
In today’s Gospel reading we read, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
But, before I connect this to the lesson I hope to convey to all of you, let’s look at a couple other passages. From Mark 3:1-6. “He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.”
Matthew 22:35-40 “And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘you shall love thy lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ ‘This is the great and foremost commandment. ‘The second is like it, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’”
What is Jesus trying to tell us in these passages? He’s actually giving us the same type of message in each of them, even though some people at that time did not understand what he was saying in each instance.
Jesus continues to challenge the tendency toward legalism. Should we allow laws to inhibit our treating those with sin (or perceived sin) with love? Mercy should prevail at all times. Jesus tells us that those who are burdened by the laws as expounded by the scribes and Pharisees, need to place upon themselves His yoke - for His yoke is easy and the burden light. In place of the yoke of the law, complicated by scribal interpretation (and I say in the modern age - by those conservative interpreters also), Jesus invites the burdened to take the yoke of obedience to His word under which they will find rest. He was saying that few could live a sinless life even unto today, because of the manner of interpretation and implication of the laws as taught by the scribes and Pharisees. They have made them too difficult to follow.
As Liberal Catholics, we don’t look at some things the way some other more conservative churches would. The reason we don’t is because we believe we follow the true message of Christ. Our understanding of Jesus’s message is that the way we treat our fellow man and the way in which we put God first in our lives, is of far more importance than troubling ourselves with the interpretation of the 613 laws as listed in the original Torah. Jesus essentially says that if we love God with all our hearts and our souls with all our minds and if we love our neighbor as ourselves all of these laws are incorporated into those two commandments and we will be worthy as children of God.
To put it another way, each of us lives here in San Diego. Is there any one of us here present who could list every single law as put forth in the city? The state? How about by the United States Legislature? Very doubtful. Yet, each and every one of us is able to carry on with our lives and not be arrested by any of those authorities. How is that possible if we are not aware and following those thousands of laws that are in place from those three agencies? How is it we are not all thrown in jail for some infraction, fore surely we all have broken some law??!!
It is because, like the situations I have read from the Gospels, if we follow Jesus’ direction of the two most important commandments we cannot go wrong. It is the same in our earthly lives and our various government agencies; we know enough of the most important laws, and by following them, we are compliant with them all. Of course, I’ve simplified it, but I am sure you understand. Makes living a sinless life sound easier, doesn’t it?
All we need to help us live less sinful lives is we need to pray for more Jesus. For more of the Spirit.
As we listen to Jesus and walk in the Spirit, we will find that moment by moment, day by day, we can, indeed, be sin-free!
Zero is a great number!
Let us pray.
That all those who are set apart to preach, to teach, or to minister in the church will witness to Jesus Christ fearlessly and without compromise. We pray to the Lord.
That those who govern nations will protect human rights, further the work of justice, and advance the freedom of those in their charge. We pray to the Lord.
For refugees and exiles; that they may be given welcome and hope to find a new home. We pray to the Lord. (R. Lord, hear our prayer.)
For those who are trapped in lives of sin; that the gift of Jesus Christ will free them from their bonds. We pray to the Lord.
For those who struggle with depression, addictions, or mental illness; that the Lord in His kindness will be their constant help. We pray to the Lord.
For grace and wisdom as we begin and structure our new third order, the Knights of Christ and the Temple. We pray to the Lord.
For those members of our parish and for friends and family of our parish members who are ill in body or spirit; we ask that you give them and their caregivers peace, comfort and healing in this time of need. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, we offer You our prayers with ardent faith. Strengthen that faith and keep us true to You. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis
San Diego, Ca.