Summary: Sin is real. So is salvation. But we can’t really understand the joy of salvation until we understand the depths of sin from which we have been saved.
We Have a Problem Called Pride
February 6, 2005
In 1994, I was the Annual Conference Secretary of Global Ministries. It was in that capacity that I joined a survey team to Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. Three of us went down to determine how best our Annual Conference could respond to the incredible devastation that was brought by that storm.
An RV dealer in Merrillville was gracious enough to lend us a 27 foot motor home for the trip. So my friend Greig and I took off from Crown Point, picked up another friend, also named Greg down in Wabash, and headed south. We needed to be self-contained with our own food, water, and power because we weren’t sure what facilities would be available once we arrived on the scene. As it turned out, we lived much more comfortably than did those to whom we went to minister. The mayor of Baldwin, Louisiana invited us over to his house for a fish fry one night. His house was relatively untouched by the storm and we enjoyed a wonderful evening of deep-fried Red Snapper fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. I still feel a little guilty about that when so many people were eating out of a Red Cross truck.
On the way down, we stopped for a night at a campground in Mississippi. This particular campground had a resident swan. This bird was the largest winged creature I have ever seen. What made it even worse was that he wasn’t yet ready to concede that the south lost the war of northern aggression.
As I was walking up to get a shower in the morning, this swan decided that the park was not big enough for the two of us. It must have looked really funny, but I was running for my life with this great white monster in hot pursuit. I knew that he didn’t have teeth, but I still didn’t want to find out what that flapping beak could do to my backside. I know you can’t ascribe human emotions to animals, but this creature was obviously very proud of his status as the alpha male of the campground.
I read a story in "The Workbook on the 7 Deadly Sins" by Maxie Dunnam and Kimberly Dunnam Reisman. It concerned Vince Lombardi when when he was the coach of the Green Bay Packers. His team won a playoff game that almost no one thought they could win. For some reason, his wife had been unable to attend the game. It was late when he got home that evening, and so he tried to climb into bed without waking her, but he brushed his feet up against her leg. “God, your feet are cold,” she said. He replied, “When we are in bed, just call me Vince.”
Today, we begin a series on the seven deadly sins. I thought that it would be a good topic for our Lenten sermons, and even though Lent doesn’t begin for three days, I thought we would get a head start. This first sermon is obviously on pride.
Lent is the time when we attempt to be honest with ourselves and with God about our sins. I fully realize that we really don’t want to talk about our sins. It is much too painful or embarrassing. It causes us to remember things that we would prefer remain hidden. It forces us to dredge up old memories which remind us that we are not as virtuous as we would have ourselves and others believe.
But, like it or not, sin is real. Grace, love, forgiveness, and salvation are real as well, but we can’t fully enjoy them unless we realize how far we have come. We are making our way to Easter and the empty tomb, but we can’t experience the tremendous joy in that event without first considering the depths of sin from which we have been saved. Coming face-to-face with our sins helps us understand that we have a choice. We can choose to remain mired in our sin or we can choose the way of Jesus, the path of righteousness, the road of salvation.
Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century catalogued the deadliest sins as being seven in number: pride, avarice (greed), lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. These sins are deeply rooted in our nature and not only affect us individually, but spill out and target the society around us as well. These are not private sins. They may be personal, but they are far from private.
I don’t know what your personal theology of sin might be, but our faith tradition has always traced the advent of sin back to Adam and Eve. Eve was beguiled by the Serpent, ate the fruit, gave a bite to Adam, and the rest is history. We all share this original stain of sin; this rebellion against God; this attempt to set ourselves up as the final authority in matters of right and wrong; this missing the mark of God’s high calling; this predisposition to offend God at every opportunity. Perhaps what is worse than any of that, is our inability to take responsibility for ourselves; our refusal to acknowledge the ways we have sinned; our inclination to deny that we have a problem.