Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dealing with Sin

That's what I have been doing for the last two weeks in my "Retreat in Daily Life"
And of course, that's what I have been doing for my whole life.  We all do.

Last week the topic was "The Disorder of Sin - Appalling Rebellion." The retreat guide says:
 Why do we go here this week? We want to see, to taste, what sin is — an appalling rebellion against God. This is not to look at some vague sense of social evil, without any responsible villains. Our intention is to spend this week more consciously aware of the sheer arrogance and outrageous opposition to God’s grace that exists in our world. 

And so as I spent time  reflecting on the way in which we hurt each other and the earth, I found myself reading the newspaper and watching TV news in a different way.  One image that struck me - and many, many people - was the school officer who forcibly dragged a student out of the classroom. And my thought was that this was "sin" in response to "sin." The student's disrespect touched something in him that led to this overreaction.  And then surely this young woman's behavior probably reflected the "sin" of her life.  I know it is not a new idea that our thoughts and actions are often in reaction to events in our lives.  And it all can go back generations.

What I found myself recognizing was that looking back in history or in this day and age we see violence, inhumanity, injustice, abuse, greed and lust for power.  That is almost the backdrop to our lives that "is what it is." We get so used to it.  And that was last week.

This week, we are looking at our own lives and our own personal sin.  Here are some of the questions I have spent time with

What have I done? What have I failed to do? Habitually? Almost instinctively? At each stage of my life? When, through­out my life, to this very day, have I acted independently of God? When did I make up my own rules? How have I been dishonest — to others, to myself? When was I cruel or abusive? Lustful and greedy in my desires for power, control, consump­tion, self-gratification? To what degree have I rationalized and made excuses? How have I let my heart become cool to God and to others? 

This is really heavy stuff and it has been daunting to look back through my own life and see choices I have made that have led me away from God, away from others and from my best self. You cannot start a retreat with these questions - it is only in the context of knowing and resting in our loving God that we have the courage to really look back.  And explore God's presence in every moment of our lives.

It has been illuminating and ultimately life giving.  Because of my faith and my experience of God's love through it all. There is a famous sermon  by Jonathon Edwards called "Sinners in the hands of an angry God."  And I reject that entirely.  What I keep learning in a more real and deeper way is that I am - and we are - sinners in the hands of a loving and gracious God.  That is what I see every time I go back to the cross and the eyes of Jesus who said, "Father Forgive them, they know not what they do."  

When you are a pastor, people want to put you up on a pedestal as if you have "conquered" sin and now are able to live this perfect and peaceful life.  The truth is that our "conquering" sin is really about seeing it, confessing it and trusting in God's grace and mercy.   I come as I am broken, wounded, wounding, unconscious, hypocritical, rebellious, faithful, caring, critical, gifted and loved and continue to marvel at our God who offers grace and mercy to me and to all.

Here is a prayer that has been prayed by the faithful for centuries.  It speaks to me today.

Father of mercy,
like the prodigal son
I return to you and say:
"I have sinned against you
and am no longer worthy to be called your son."
Christ Jesus, Savior of the world,
I pray with the repentant thief
to whom you promised Paradise:
"Lord, remember me in your kingdom."
Holy Spirit, fountain of love,
I call on you with trust:
"Purify my heart,
and help me to walk as a child of light."
 Lord Jesus,
you opened the eyes of the blind,
healed the sick,
forgave the sinful woman,
and after Peter's denial confirmed him in your love.
Listen to my prayer:
forgive all my sins,
renew your love in my heart,
help me to live in perfect unity with my fellow Christians
that I may proclaim your saving power to all the world.
 Lord Jesus, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.
 Prayer of the Penitent, The Rite of the Sacrament of Reconciliation


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