On Sunday we are starting a brand new series on the book of Hebrews. This is probably one of the most neglected books of the New Testament because a lot of its context is far from ours. We don’t know what to quite do with the language of blood, goats, sacrifice, and covenant. But we hope to change some of that through this series: that we might learn the language of Hebrews and through that grow deeper with God.
Often in the prophets we read of God’s anger and his wrath. I know a lot of people for whom the language of God’s wrath makes them uncomfortable. I know it often makes me uncomfortable sometimes. Sometimes we seek to explain it away, put it into context, or find more gracious interpretations for it. I think that’s all fine and good as far as it goes, but sometimes I think we need to sit with the language and read and understand the depth that God cares about some things.
God’s anger in the prophets is because of the injustice around Israel. God is standing up for the hurting, oppressed, and those seeking hope. I actually think our uncomfort with some of God’s strong language reveals our more passive feelings to injustice around us.
While studying the prophets recently I read this from Abraham Joshua Heschel. I found it brilliant, true…and very convicting. He says this:
The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor; to God, it is a disaster. Our reaction is disapproval; God’s reaction is something no language can convey. It is a sign of cruelty that God’s anger is aroused when the rights of the poor are violated, when widows and orphans are oppressed? (The Prophets, 65)
His point for us is that we do not take the exploitation of the poor nearly as seriously as God does. Our uncomfort with the strong language of God in the prophets may be an indication of our passive acceptance of the exploitation around us.
So for me what this means is this. Have I become indifferent to the suffering I see around me, and around the world? Am I active in seeking to stand up for those who are hurting, and having the same passion God does about injustice?
I think these are important questions to think about, and even more important questions to act on.
I recently listened to a sermon that made an interesting comment. While this wasn’t the whole focus of the sermon the point was this: we’ve moved from a culture of confession of sins, to managing mistakes.
And I think this is true. We often no longer think of ourselves as “sinning” but instead we make a mistake. We made a poor choice, which we are sure to improve upon next time. We made an error in judgment but we will improve. We have a problem that needs a little alignment. We have virtually removed the language of sin from our vocabulary.
Now this is probably in response to a very poor understanding of what sin really is. Sin is not a moral term, it is not a term that means you don’t have value or worth. Sin is a theological term that reminds us that our relationship with God has been broken and needs fixing.
And here is why I think we need to keep the language of sin in our vocabulary (as misunderstood and abused as it has been). The reason is this: I never take my mistakes to God. I acknowledge them, recognize them, and even give reasons for them. But I don’t take them to God.
With the language of sin we are reminded of the need of confession, and confession is a practice we need to keep. Confession invites God into our lives for transformation. Confession is where we acknowledge our weakness and limits and ask God to do something miraculous. Confession is where we often start to see God work. The problem with the language of “mistakes” is that we never take them to God. And therefore, we don’t invite God into our lives to do a powerful, transformative, and redemptive work.
So while I surely make mistakes, I also sin. And lately I’ve been realizing the importance of naming what is really happening in my life. Because when I honestly name what is happening, and call something in my life sin, I am also simultaneously inviting God in. And I just think that’s important.
Through the past few weeks I’ve started to notice something about myself. There are certain Sundays where I come away from speaking and don’t feel that I’ve done my best. I feel like I’ve missed the mark and messed up. And then I started to notice a pattern. The Sundays where I felt like I struggled, and where I lost confidence were all sermons related to conviction and challenge. The sermons where I lost confidence and left feeling a bit shaken were all related to sin, sacrifice, and conviction. Through some reflection I realized that I find it easy to preach a sermon on grace and gift, and difficult to preach a sermon on sin and challenge.
The struggle I face is maybe one you face in your own relationships. I know it is important to talk about sin. I know it is important to challenge people and let the Spirit do his work of convicting. I know this is important because I need it personally. I need to be challenged to give up greed, hate, unforgiveness, lust, and all sorts of sinful things. The struggle I have is in how to do it. How to share in a way that is convicting but not condemning, that is challenging but not judging.
What is even more disturbing to me is a growing realization that I may not feel confident in this type of sharing because of a lack of practice. What I mean by that is perhaps I struggle because I am unaccustomed to sharing about sin. This is concerning to me because Jesus talks about sin, the Bible talks about sin, and sin, we are told, leads to death. Therefore, sin isn’t something I should avoid or struggle speaking about. I should share honestly with the dangers of consumerism, violence, greed, and lust. I should share openly with the temptations and struggles I face. And I shouldn’t ever shy away reminding people that sin leads to death while following Jesus leads to life. And this is something we know deep down. We know that hate kills relationships. We know that lust destroys marriages. We know that unforgiveness wrecks families. So we need to learn to speak about sin in such a way that it leads to life not death.
So I’ve made a personal decision. I will grow and learn in how to share about sin in such as way that conviction without condemnation happens. To share about it in such a way that challenges someone, but doesn’t lead to damnation. To share in such a way that, like Jesus, people who are broken and struggling feel freed; and people who are haughty, prideful, and oppressive to others sees their need.
In essence, I’m going to work on struggling to speak of sin a little less…