March 17, 2019
A young man received a parrot as a gift, but was distressed to discover that the parrot had a bad attitude and a vulgar vocabulary. After trying every disciplinary measure the man could think of he finally – out of sheer exasperation – stuck the bird in the freezer hoping that the cold air might wake him up. Initially the parrot squawked, kicked, and screamed; but suddenly there was total quiet. Panicking over what he had done, the young man quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto the young man’s outstretched arm and said, “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language & behavior. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions & I fully intend to do all I can to correct my attitude.” Just as the young man was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird said in a soft, sweet tone, “May I ask what the turkey did?”
I share this story with you today, partly because I know we’re all missing Rod and thought that beginning with a humorous note might be appreciated in the midst of this Lenten, desert time; but mainly because the message it conveys offer a stark contrast to the role of repentance within the teachings of our faith. The parrot turned his behavior around for fear of freezing to death (interesting contrast to burning in hell). Christians repent because through Jesus’ death & resurrection, God has entered into our sinful state (it was human sin that put Jesus on the cross), and through the resurrection has made it possible for us to turn that sin around and rise beyond it.
Philip Yancey says, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.” We repent, not because we’re afraid of what God might do to us if we don’t, or because we want to make God love us more; we repent because we are human; we do sin; and through Jesus, God longs for us to repent and return to Him, over and over again.
The covenant made at our baptism lays this out beautifully. Soon after the candidates have been presented, the presider sets the stage for living a Christian life by asking the following questions:
(1) Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
(2) Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
(3) Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
To which the candidates respond: I renounce them.
(4) Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Saviour?
(5) Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
(6) Do you promise to obey him as your Lord?
To which the candidates respond: I do.
So there you go. These questions clearly identify the expectations for living a Christian life; for living as a follower of Jesus. But what’s interesting, is that later within the liturgy, when we are collectively asked to renew our baptismal covenant, we are asked, “Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” Response: “I will, with God’s help.” The question is not, “IF you fall into sin;” it is, “WHEN you fall into sin.” Because we are human, it is a foregone conclusion that we WILL sin. Baptism calls us, with God’s help, to focus our attention on God, not ourselves. And baptism calls us to repent and return to the Lord whenever we lose our way. It is like returning to google maps when we find ourselves on the wrong road.
So how might we define sin? I believe that, at this moment in history within the western world, the focus on the individual, the elevation of the self lies at the heart of much of our sin. To believe that it is, “all about me” runs contrary to the covenant made at our baptism, which affirms that it is all about the Trinitarian Godhead; it is NOT all about me.
Church tradition captures the heart of this through identifying the 7 deadly sins:
(1) Gluttony. This goes way beyond simply food; when we habitually feed our desires beyond what we need we are guilty of this sin.
(2) Greed. True greed involves insatiable obsessions so that we are willing to cheat, steal, exploit others in order to get far more than we could ever need. Here in Canada we are in the process of coming to terms with a history that is rooted in greed; where European settlers stole the land from the original settlers and proceeded to exploit those original settlers as history unfolded.
(3) Lust. This is when the beauty of a God-given sexual pleasure becomes an obsession, or undermines the dignity of others.
(4) Sloth. Generally sloth means being lazy, but in the Judeo-Christian tradition, sloth refers to spiritual apathy – a lack of concern for oneself, others, the community, the society and the kingdom of God. I believe that we live in a culture that is deeply insidious in promoting this sin.
(5) Vanity. Excessive self-love and/or excessive desire to be loved and recognized by others.
(6) Anger. Anger must never be acted upon in ways that are harmful to others; anger must always be a stepping stone toward the good habit and discipline of forgiveness.
(7) Pride. Egocentric behaviour that leads not only to self-absorption but also the need to be superior; perhaps to the point of being the center of power.
Robert Spitzer, Jesuit priest, philosopher, author, and teacher, summarizes his work with the 7 deadly sins as he writes, “Wherever we see restless hearts, human discontent, bias, disrespect, marginalization, oppression and every form of injustice and hatred, there we may also see the seeds of the 7 deadly sins – the interior attitudes that form the heart of darkness and the antithesis to generosity, compassion and self-sacrificial love.”
So, through our baptism, we are called to focus, not on ourselves but on the Triune Godhead – Jesus, sent by God, sustained within and among us through the Holy Spirit. When we fall short of this focus, we repent and return to the Lord. The season of Lent is a time to discern where we have lost our way, and get back on track, with God’s help.
Jesus, in our Gospel reading this morning, has something to say about sin where he says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” At this point in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is moving steadily toward Jerusalem, toward his death on the cross. And as he does, seemingly without any consideration of his own fate, he takes a moment to warn Jerusalem about theirs, and by extension, to warm us about ours. He takes a moment to weep for humanity’s habitual sinful state, and to call us to repent.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, the place where we discover that our sin is destructive and serious. The self-serving, sinful behavior that committed the Son of God to a horrible, terrifying, excruciatingly painful death on a cross is the same sinful behavior we find in ourselves. And indeed, it was a whole host of self-serving, sinful acts that put him there. His friends betrayed him; fell asleep when he needed them; denied they even knew him. Evil persisted because good people – his own friends – said nothing. He was put there for daring to challenge the political and religious authorities of the day. And he was put there, not only for the things that we usually identify as ugly and evil, but also for the things that we often think of as good. Jesus was nailed to a cross by religious people who thought they were following scripture, doing the will of God. So Jesus’ cross confronts the sinfulness intrinsic within the human condition and warns us of the perils/consequences of our sin, as it destroys life: that is, the lives of those who commit the sin, and those who are affected by it.
Yet, by the grace of God, the cross serves as a sign that God forgives, that Christ takes our sin on himself, bears it, shoulders it, embodies it, and forgives. Jesus embodies (carries with him) all the sin that put him on the cross, and with his resurrection that human sinful state never again will have the last word. The cross is where we find our hope; our only hope in the midst of our own sinful state.
Jesus moves toward Jerusalem, not to punish but to call us to repentance. He offers the promise of forgiveness and new life to a people who have a long history of becoming lost, and with God’s help, returning to the right path. So, during this Lenten season, Jesus urges each & every one of us to an honest examination of our lives: especially those corners of our life that we would rather not see.
During this Lenten season we are called to ask ourselves, “How might the 7 deadly sins help inform and guide my own self examination?” “How have I wandered away from the path that God calls me to follow?” “What are those habits, inclinations, propensities that need to be changed; need to be turned around?” In his book, ‘No Man Is An Island’, Thomas Merton writes: “…the person who is not afraid to admit everything that he/she sees to be wrong with him/herself, and yet recognizes that he/she may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his/her shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His/her sincerity is based on confidence, not in his/her own illusions about him/herself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”
During this Lenten season we are called to repent and return to the Lord, because THIS is where we discover the gift of God’s forgiveness and grace.