Monday, January 16, 2017

Sin Boldly!

You have heard this many times from me, and you will hear it many more.
This year we are celebrating the 500 anniversary of the Reformation.
All this year I am going to be using the anniversary in my preaching a lot.
 And I am going to reminding us that the reformation is not just a distant historical event, but an ongoing reality within the Church.
There is an important link between what happened 500 years ago in Wittenberg Germany and today.
This weekend we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. the 20th century civil rights advocate was named after Martin Luther the German monk from the 16th century.
MLK’s father was also a pastor and loved the theology of the Martin Luther and named his son after him.
All these years later what still survives more than anything else is Martin Luther’s theological idea.
It is what makes us Lutheran.
Not our liturgy.
Not our great pot luck suppers.
Not how we take communion.
What makes us Lutheran is our theology.
I would offer this morning that the theology of Martin Luther is still unique within Christianity.
Most of what Christianity has become in America is some version of self-help and get rich quick schemes.
Christianity has become about making everyone feel good.
God has become our therapist.
What some people call therapeutic deism.
God is a man who floats around on a cloud making everything works out for the best.

Luther’s theology was simple.
It is based in scripture that all of us are sinful and need the saving power of Jesus Christ.
Consider our Gospel reading for this morning.
It has in it the central message of the Reformation.
“Here is the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world.”
Jesus takes away the sin of the world.
This seems simple enough.
But we have missed the message.
Because this is MLK weekend, and because he shared Martin Luther’s name, I want to use as an example this morning our discussions we have about race.
I want to start by saying that this is maybe one of the more complicated discussions we have in our society.
And that I have never had one of these discussions end well.
But this morning I am going to talk about it anyway.

Most of the conversations I have with white people about race I hear people say, “I am not racists.”
I think what people want to convey in saying that is that they are good people, that they don’t see “race”.
But I think we can agree that racism still exists.
The problem is that we see it only in a few people that live in the south, you know the people who join the KKK or the Nazi party.
Those are the racists, and I am not one of those people.

The first thing is that we are people who know we are sinners.
We know we sin.
I don’t understand why we have such trouble confessing actual sin.
I hear it from people a lot lately.
They’ll say something like, “I know I am sinner. I know I am not perfect.”
And yet when confronted with an actual sin they have done they will be defensive about it.
They will make excuses.
The same thing happens when we talk about race.
We admit that we are not perfect on the subject; we admit that there is racism, and yet we get very defensive about it.
If we are going to have these difficult discussions about race we have to be willing to listen.
We have to be willing to say that there are things we don’t know.
There are people who experience the world in different ways then we do.

We will never know what it is like to be a black person in America.
You will never know what it is like to walk into a store and have security follow you around.
You will never know what it is like to be told that people like you don’t belong here.
You will never know what it is like to fear the police.
You will never know what it is like to be judged based simply on the color of your skin and nothing else.
And that is the experience of many people of color in our country.
In New Hampshire, in Concord!
Why would we say that they are wrong?
It is their experience, not ours.
That is the start of understanding is to listen to someone else’s story without judgment and have empathy for them and what they struggle through.

I really believe that is the only way we will be able to live on the same planet.
We have to talk to each other.
We have to listen to one another.
We have to have difficult uncomfortable conversations.
Because that is how we are saved.
Through the acknowledgement of sin, and the giving it away to Jesus!

Jesus comes to take away the sin of the world.
What if we won’t give him our sin?
What if we refuse to acknowledge it?
How can Jesus take it away?

Notice also, that in the Gospel, it doesn’t say just your sin.
It says the sin of the world.
Racism is bigger than you.
It includes you, but the problem is bigger than any one of us.
It includes generations of teaching on how people of color are inferior.
It includes generations of television, movies, and images of how much better whites are than blacks.
Even if you wanted to it is too big for you to overcome.
And that is the lie of our age.
That individually we can overcome all hatred and violence.
It can only be overcome through Jesus Christ!
Only Jesus can take away the sin of the world.
So why can’t we admit it.
Why can’t we give it over to Jesus?
Only when we do will we feel the power of God’s grace.

Let us confess together that the sin of the world holds us in it’s grasp.
Let us confess that we have failed to love our neighbors as our selves.
That we are too defenses when we talk about race.
That we have failed to listen to the suffering of others.
That we have failed to take into account our privilege and position.
And then let us hear the sweet sound of grace.

Let us remember that my kids go to school with people from all races.
Let us remember that we work with and make friends with people from all races.
Let us remember that we live in community with people of all races.
Let us remember that we elected a black president twice.
Let us remember that there is no such thing as race.
There is no black and white, only children of God.
That a white guy from the 16th century changed the course history 500 years ago by reminding us that it is through grace that God takes away the sin of the world.
As Luther wrote in the Heidelberg disputation, “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.”
That a black man from the 20th century who shared the same name reminded us of that grace, and that we are all the same under God’s eye.
Martin Luther King once said in his Christmas sermon on Peace, “Every man is somebody because he is a child of God”.
We are all sinners who are set free by God’s grace.
“Behold the lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world”
Thanks be to God for God’s grace that saves us from sin!
We should never be afraid to confess that sin, because then we are reminded that we are saved from it!

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