Summary: About Sin, about Lenten Preparation, most especially about the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) with a neat little prayer by Ephraem the Syrian (4th Century)
Sermon: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Luke 6:39-45
Given at St John the Evangelist, Rishworth, Diocese of Wakefield, 25th February 2001
“The log in your eye”
In the name of the +Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Nasty. Unpleasant. The last thing you want to hear preached about on a Sunday morning, but here it is; in all its discomforting, messy, not-in-front-of-the-children kind of starkness: Sin.
Of all the sins that Our Lord condemns, this is probably the sin which most deserves the title “The Christian Sin”; for it is that which we are quickest to do. This sin isn’t one of the biggies, railed against in the Old Testament, outlawed by the Ten Commandments, it doesn’t rank alongside murder, or theft or even important things like eating shellfish, wearing clothes made from two kinds of fabric or getting a tattoo (for those things are outlawed in the Old Testament).
It is the sin of judging others. It is the sin of believing that someone else is less than us. I label it the Christian sin, because I recognise, as so many have done before us that we can be so quick to judge others whilst failing to identify our own weaknesses, foibles and even sins: “I am a Christian, but the world is so sinful”, “I am a faithful Church-goer, but those living opposite have no morals whatsoever” or “I am a priest, and …”, well everything really.
Don’t you think it interesting that when we pray the Lord’s prayer, we ask Our Father to forgive us our sins – in the plural while we forgive those who sin against us, in the singular. I am quite convinced on my own part that the multiple sins I commit against others has to be compared against the meagre sin visited on me by others. Christ was crucified therefore, not for a single sin, not because of the single sin of betrayal by Judas Iscariot, not because of the evil plotting of a few Pharisees and the oppressive Roman Occupation, but for sins: my sins, your sins, the sin of the world, past, present and future.
One of the greatest gifts we can be given is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge sets us free, it allows us to take hold of the paradox that we are sinners who are loved and redeemed by God’s grace and mercy. To know ourselves well is to grasp deeply that we are sinners, that Christ died for us and that we need his grace. Christ told us that he died for sinners, not the righteous. As far as I can see (and from this you can tell I don’t know the congregation here that well) few of us fall into the category of the righteous, and most of us are part of that fraternity of the fallen.
Ash Wednesday is but a few days away, and we begin our time of preparation for the mystery that is Holy Week, the passion, the triumph of resurrection. The season of Lent is therefore one of preparation, of making right, of reassessing our sin and coming back to God in the sacrament of reconciliation: a sacrament perhaps better known in the wider church as ‘Confession’.
Lent is less about giving up chocolate and puddings and more about overcoming the log in our own eye; it is a chance to say sorry properly to God and to be properly forgiven and absolved, in the way that only a true sacrament can. The most touching part of the sacrament of reconciliation for me, is after absolution, when the priest asks that I should pray for him also, for he too is also a sinner: our fraternity of the fallen is recognised by the Church.
There is nothing particularly ‘catholic’ about the sacrament of reconciliation, for it has always been a key part of Anglican tradition, but is about approaching God. We do it collectively during each and every act of worship; but the true sacrament is a personal thing: between you and God. Of course, the priest is present to mediate, to give advice and to give absolution, but that is only because he is the tool of the Church; I’m sure Fr Dennis never expected to be referred to as a tool of any kind before, but still. Do not be afraid. Do not feel inhibited. This Lent, take the opportunity, and take up the sacrament of reconciliation, and through it, begin to remove the log from your own eye.
So, I would like to summarise with a prayer of one of the great Church Fathers, St Ephraem the Syrian, and I’ve printed this out on a card for you to take away with you this morning. It’s not often you get to take anything away with you from Church, least of all when I’m preaching, but have this prayer card, put it somewhere visible this week; on the fridge or the coffee table, and take a moment each day this week to pray this ancient and venerable prayer from the 4th Century. A few seconds each day to consider our relationship with God, and our relationships with others. It is the beginning of our journey through Lent, and like most journeys they are best experienced when you are encumbered with as little baggage as possible. The sacrament of reconciliation can enable us to rid ourselves of some of that baggage, and travel lighter without that log of wood: