Summary: The true nature of sin in our lives
Grace and peace be with you all.
One of my favorite books is titled, “On Being a Theologian of the Cross”. Many of you have heard me quote from it or reference it several times. As I was reading the Gospel for today, it reminded me of that very book in that Jesus is speaking on the Pharisee’s inability to distinguish between what man has determined to be good and right and what God has. The Pharisee’s created all these rules and regulations based on the notion that by observing them, that would remind every Jew that he was set apart That they were special. And that every Jew would be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven based on his or her faithful observance of those rules, or redefined traditions. But what it turned out to be was a set of rules that held everyone down rather than lift them up and when Jesus came on the scene, and His message was about lifting the individual up, well that didn’t sit very well with the established order.
But, sometimes we’re dead set on what we think we need to do because of some tradition or other rather than on what we should do. Sort of like the story I’m reminded of …
Two hunters got a pilot to fly them into the far north for elk hunting.
They were quite successful in their venture and bagged six big bucks.
The pilot came back, as arranged, to pick them up.
They started loading their gear into the plane, including the six elk. But the pilot objected and he said,
"The plane can only take four of your elk; you will have to leave two behind."
They argued with him; the year before they had shot six and the pilot had allowed them to put all aboard.
The plane was the same model and capacity. Reluctantly, the pilot finally permitted them to put all six
aboard. But when the attempted to take off and leave the valley, the little plane could not make it and
they crashed into the wilderness.
Climbing out of the wreckage, one hunter said to the other, "Do you know where we are?"
"I think so," replied the other hunter. "I think this is about the same place where we crashed last year."
Twenty plus years ago, Jane and I sat where you’re sitting today. We listened with intent what the preacher had to say. Watched as those around us rose and sat back down, rose again and sat back down again. Very confusing. We were watching an ordered set of traditions handed down and, coming from a Methodist church where all you did was simply sit and listen and then sing the obligatory three songs, we thought this whole Lutheran thing was a bit much. We learned to sit towards the back not because, as we all know, that’s where good Lutherans sit, but because that way we could tell when we were supposed to stand or sit back down from watching the others. But we were happy to be there with our friends and it was they that kept us coming back for more. Eventually, we decided that this new denomination was the one for us and we jumped right in. Jane a bit more forcefully than me. But neither of us understood what this meant. We just kept coming back and, eventually, the whole tradition thing became so normal that we wondered why everyone didn’t do it the same as us. Of course, we still didn’t know, or at least I didn’t know, about Martin Luther or the reformation – or saved by grace through Jesus Christ and not by works – or anything of that sort. What the preacher said was good enough and that was all we needed to know. Of course, after attending the morning service, I always turned on Joel Olsten to get happy again. To get my prosperity for the week. To feel good about myself again. Prosperity Gospel has a way of doing that. If I just believed enough. Were a mature Christian enough. Read enough Christian books. Listened to enough Christian music. Gave my tithe like I was told to. Gave to charity. On and on and on. THEN I’d be assured of getting through the doors of heaven. Wouldn’t I? Ask and it shall be received. Ever hear that one?
That’s what the Jews of Jesus’ day thought so too. Except, there was always this nagging feeling that maybe they weren’t measuring up. Not doing enough. Not sacrificing enough. Not praying enough times of the day. Etc. etc. etc. I sort of related to them. Don’t you? I mean, on the scale of 1 to 100 with 100 being the most idealistic person I could think of, like Mother Theresa and 1 being the worst I could imagine, like Jeffrey Dahmer, I kind of figured that I was at least above the 50% mark. I wasn’t so bad. Then it hit me. In God’s eyes, all are the same. Mother Theresa, Jeffrey Dahmer, you and me, we’re exactly the same because each of them, each of us here today, are NOT perfect people not because we don’t want to be but because of our nature. Our inability to do what we do with perfection and anything less than perfection was a sin. How depressing.