Monday, March 26, 2007

The Way of Jesus: Knowing That You Are A Sinner

Isaiah 42:3
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

“There are saints in my religion. That’s just people that know they are sinners”. G. K. Chesterton

The distinction isn’t between sinners and non-sinners, but between those sinners that won’t acknowledge it and those sinners who in the depth of their soul know it to be true.

Some of you are in the process of tuning out. You don’t believe that there is something wrong in the world, hey?

An extract from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin who was among the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945:

I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men, women and children collapse as you walked by them . . . One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diphtheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it. One saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves . . . [a] dysentery tank in which the remains of a child floated.

Terrorism. Imperialism. Racism. It happens overseas. It happens in our backyards. It happens in my heart. And in your heart, too.

"Although my memory is failing, I remember two things quite clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great saviour." John Newton

Saints know that they are sinners. Surprisingly, God can use us to a greater extent when we fully accept this truth into all areas of our lives.

“I probably started to become an atheist in college. I saw a lot of people going to church, and all that. Then I’d see the same people making racist jokes, getting drunk and belligerent— but getting it all forgiven with a few Hail Mary’s. So I questioned the validity of their faith and, in turn, the validity of what I thought of as my faith.” Matt Casper

If we’re not careful, we can easily fall into a ‘happy-clappy spirituality’. That’s where we only focus on God’s love and goodness, forgetting that we are too self-focused to live that way on our own. The Bible does speak of sin, God’s judgment, and His anger. Can we look at any book, or even two pages where we do not face this truth in the Bible?

We need the wrath of God. It’s not an emotional outburst. God’s anger in the Bible is really His passion to set things right.

Mark 3:1-6
Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone."

Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Mark 9
A man out of the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought my mute son, made speechless by a demon, to you. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and goes stiff as a board. I told your disciples, hoping they could deliver him, but they couldn't."

Jesus said, "What a generation! No sense of God! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here." They brought him. When the demon saw Jesus, it threw the boy into a seizure, causing him to writhe on the ground and foam at the mouth.

The glory of God is a human being fully alive. Irenaeus

There is no contradiction between the love of God and the wrath of God. Saints are more aware of their own sin not less.

Ever notice at this time of year that you can wash your windshield, or at least get it good enough to drive for a while. Then you drive a couple of blocks, some particles settle on it, and then the sun comes out and you can’t see a thing!

At night there can be good visibility, even with stuff on the glass, but watch out in the daylight! You can’t see a thing- it’s totally opaque. Some early mornings I’d be driving for Timmy’s without scraping my window. I could see until I passed under a streetlamp then I wash functionally blind. I had visions of a tree jumping out in front of me!

John of the Cross said that the soul is like a pane of glass: when the light of God shines on it the imperfections are more, not less apparent.

Driving away form the light I’m okay. When I turn to the centre, where Jesus wants to make His home, I become more aware of my sin, not less.

Isaiah 6
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

Luke 5
Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon's and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.

When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, "Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch."

Simon said, "Master, we've been fishing hard all night and haven't caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I'll let out the nets." It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.

Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. "Master, leave. I'm a sinner and can't handle this holiness. Leave me to myself." When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee's sons, coworkers with Simon.

Jesus said to Simon, "There is nothing to fear. From now on you'll be fishing for men and women." They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.

Sixteen hundred years ago was written one of the great stories of coming to follow the Jesus Way. It was written by Augustine, and called Confessions. The word has a double meaning in Latin: it can be to confess sins; but it also means to profess praise, as in the confessions of the church.

When we confess our sins, it can become praise to God!

In Acts 9, we read of Saul who is utterly convinced that he’s doing God’s work. He is blinded by Gods light and asks this question, “"Who are you, Lord?" "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,"

Path one of being a saint is finding the centre. Don’t be afraid of this path, knowing that you are a sinner!

Flannery O’Connor writes a story set in the Deep South in the 1950’s. It’s called, Revelation.

Mrs. Turpin, a proud and overbearing woman, enters a doctor's waiting room with her husband. While they wait, Mrs. Turpin converses amiably with the rooms occupants while mentally judging them to be "pleasant", "common", or "white- trashy”. Her internal monologue is judging everyone. She even says at one point, “I’m really grateful that God has given me such a great disposition.” Her self-righteous comments seem to disturb "the ugly girl," a college student who keeps glaring at Mrs. Turpin in a menacing way. Enraged by one of Mrs. Turpin's pronouncements, the girl attacks Mrs. Turpin and insults her, calling her a "wart hog from hell" and throwing a book at her that knocks her down. Mrs. Turpin returns home, but her formerly cheerful demeanor is altered and she begins to feel angry, bitter, and confused about her experience. She is unable to understand how she can be both a saved, choice individual and a "wart hog from hell". Finally, Mrs. Turpin has a vision in which she sees "a vast horde of souls… rumbling toward heaven" in which white trash and lunatics come before dignified people whose "virtues were being burned away", giving Mrs. Turpin cause to reconsider her own opinion of herself and her virtues.

There was an instant when she was certain that she was to be in an earthquake. All at once her vision narrowed and she saw everything as if it were happening in a small room far away, or as if she were looking at it through the wrong end of the telescope…The girl fell with a thud and Mrs. Turpin’s vision suddenly reversed itself and she saw everything large instead of small.

The girls name in the corner, the college student? Why Mary Grace of course. Grace doesn’t tickle. The book she threw? Human Development.

Mrs. Turpin, a native southerner, a terrapin, a turtle, hard exterior, and then something called Grace breaks the shell.

U2 says, “Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything
Grace, she's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

A quarter of a century after he had the encounter with Jesus on the road to Tarsus, Paul writes to the followers of the Jesus way in Rome:

Romans 7:15-25
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

He’s writing in the middle of the tension. He’s a mature follower of the Jesus Way. He’s a saint and a sinner too.

Fellow sinners, we all know the tension of Romans 7. I do, and I’m sure you do, too.

It’s not a matter of mind! Sin is a state of inner tension, of wanting our way. Who will deliver me from this, wretched man that I am?

We sang at Christmas, “Oh come oh come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.”

The prison is inside of us. If the problem is our will, the will is not the solution! Thanks be to God.

Part of what it means to be a saint is to know that you’re in this situation- this predicament. When we seek solutions strictly through own will, through our sin, we won’t find out way out.

Light needs to shine on us. Mary Grace needs to show up.

In Dante’s Divine Comedy,
“Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
For I had wandered off from the straight path.

How hard it is to tell what it was like,
This wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn
(The thought of it brings back all my old fears),

A bitter place! Death could scarce be bitterer.
But if I would show the good that came of it
I must talk about things other than the good.”

Dante was a leader in his city, Florence. He was confident; perhaps some might have even called him cocky. At mid-life we often awaken to realize all is not well, all is not right with ourselves.

Dante begins to know that he is a sinner and cries out to God. In the story the roman poet Virgil is sent to accompany Dante on this journey.

Essentially Virgil says “I’ve got good news and bad news for you. I can lead you out, but we have to go to hell first.”

Dante is being compelled to see what sin is really like. In his story it is an inverted cone, spiraling lower and lower and smaller and smaller. Augustine said sin was "curvatus in se", being curved in on yourself, captive to selfish thinking.

The topography of the journey in The Divine Comedy mirrors the topography of the soul. Seeing the effects of sin on himself he faints! Virgil picks him up and says, “Look, see!”

As they go lower it gets colder. The flames of hell are only at the surface in his version. At the bottom people are frozen in place.

When we are “In Christ”, we are linked to each other to the creator of the Universe. In Dante’s hell we are cold, isolated, and frozen from contact. Satan is stuck in the ice.

An angel with giant bat wings, unable to fly. We’re meant for flight- for the fullness of life that Jesus spoke of. We’re meant to fly out of our self, our will, and our dreams, to soar where God would take us. To help usher His kingdom in, not our own.

As Satan flaps his wings, he serves to make it colder. This is the meteorology of hell. Satan has three faces- a weird sort of parody of God. Trapped in ourselves, we think that we’re the centre of the universe. In the three mouths of Satan he chews Cassius, Brutus and Judas, chewing on the betrayers but never swallowing them. Sin is shown to lock us in place, keeping us stuck in our own pathetic kingdom. Through it we make the world colder, not warmer. We constantly chew on past mistakes, making us even bitterer. And ultimately we‘re sad.

The opposite of this is the reality of joy. G. K. Chesterton said angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. Dante’s Satan is an angel who takes himself too seriously.

“There is not a sin which I cannot commit. If I thought there were I couldn’t love the person who committed it.”

So what then is sin? Julian of Norwich said sin was evil because it ultimately prevents us from seeing ourselves the way God sees us.

Come forward to become part of something, what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ - the reconciliation of all men and women with himself, each other and all of creation, which BTW inextricably includes my own personal reconciliation with God. David Fitch

In communion we are invited to enter a relationship with Christ that changes everything.

"When our depravity meets His Divinity, it is a beautiful collision.” Here is our king.

1 Timothy 1:15
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.


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