Summary: We struggle against sins (actions), sin (attitude), and evil (forces greater than ourselves). We must have Christ’s help to keep from falling. (Delivered by gradually stretching down the chancel steps).
Walking looks like the simplest thing in the world, unless and until.
Walking is something we do without even thinking about it, unless and until.
Unless you are a toddler, just learning to use your legs; then walking becomes a matter of holding on to the coffee table for dear life, taking two tentative steps out into nothing, and finding out how effective your Pampers padding is. At least, when you walk like this, everyone applauds and laughs, and makes it a real achievement.
Walking is easy and simple. Unless and until. Until you become a stroke victim, and teeter over the slightest barrier. Then people no longer applaud you. They baby you and tell you to take it easy.
Unless you are blind, and are never sure what is out there to stop you. Then they neither applaud you nor baby you, they just try to get out of your way. Walking is a piece of cake, unless and until.
Until you get a little farther along in years and a bit too heavy and find that it’s a lot more work than it used to be. Then they neither applaud you nor baby you nor get out of your way; they make caustic comments about your weight and tell you to power walk a little faster.
Walking is easy, simple, something you don’t give a second thought to unless and until. Unless and until the obstacles in the path are more than you expected and our abilities are impaired.
Suppose, for example, that I approach these platform stairs and take them one at a time. No real problem. Easy enough to do for a normally able-bodied person.
But, you know, as obvious and clear as these steps are, they are still obstacles. It is still possible to trip on them. All kinds of things could happen. I might get distracted and forget to watch where I’m going; I still remember the night my father was rushing into the ice cream shop to get us all a treat, and managed to walk right through a plate glass window. Never did get that ice cream! Or I might have a shoelace come untied and make me stumble and fall. And since a few years ago my eye doctor said I had something called "presbyopia", which is not a religious denomination but means "old eyes", I have been awarded bifocal lenses. Bifocals occasionally put things where they aren’t. And that could cause me to stumble and fall.
Walking is easy, simple, obvious, unless and until the obstacles get in the way. And then we stumble and fall.
The Bible, in fact, says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That means that every one of us has tripped and fallen, and we know it. We know it. We are fully aware that in our rushing through life, even though we know what is right, we don’t always do it. We’ve deliberately and with full knowledge violated God’s will. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Paul says too, "There is no one who is righteous, not even one." Every last one of us has tripped and will trip on the obstacle of sins.
Sins, plural, acts that are wrong and we know they are wrong. Sins are those things which we do, in full and conscious violation of God’s will. I will not waste breath and time this morning proving to you that all have sinned and fall short; I need not list for you the specifics to demonstrate that "There is no one who is righteous, not even one." We already know that that is true.
Sins are acts of defiance. Acts of disobedience, willful neglect. All have sinned and fall short; all will trip over that obstacle.
But that’s not the biggest obstacle on the course. Dealing with sins would be easy; anybody who goes to church is at least trying to do that. Dealing with sins committed on purpose is not too hard. And so just as in order to take this single step down I practice being careful, or I tie my shoelaces in double knots, or I figure out which part of my bifocal lenses to look through ... in the same way most of us learn to handle the normal, garden-variety, everyday sins in our lives. Dealing with sins committed on purpose is not too difficult.
But there is another level. And that is the level of sin. Not sins, plural, but sin, singular. Sin is an attitude. Sin is a life-stance. Sin is defying God but rationalizing it away. Sin is being so self-absorbed that we don’t even admit to seeing ourselves for what we are. Deeper far and much more difficult than sins is sin; worse than what we purposefully do is the attitude of sin, the stance of sin, permeating our very hearts.