“A Sin…Is a Sin!”
(From Luke 13: 1-9)
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
When Jesus was fulfilling his earthly ministry, a rich young man approached him wanting to know what he needed to do to have eternal life. It seems that the concern for our eternal lives and souls is an age-old one that has been on the minds of many people throughout the generations. I received this same question from a gentleman in the congregation of the first church I served. He came to me wanting to know if he would “make it” into heaven. Unlike the rich young man in the Bible, who asked Jesus what he should do and waited for Jesus to respond, this man shared a laundry list with me of the many reasons he should be allowed to enter through the pearly gates into heaven. He regularly attended church service, supported the church with his time, talents, and finances, worked hard to support his family, and never cheated on his wife, stole anything, or killed anyone, like some people have done in their lifetime.
Listening to this man’s life story, I realized that he was very focused on his works in life and a comparison of them to the life activities and “sins” of other people. Some of Jesus’ followers, from our Gospel lesson today, were also of the mind that certain people’s sins were worse than others, causing the various tragedies that had befallen them. Jesus’ words about this matter of comparing and judging the sins of others’ lives to our own was very clear–don’t do it. Instead, Jesus called his Disciples and followers to turn and repent of their own sins. As hard as it may be for us to understand, all acts of human sin separate us from God, and from God’s desire for our good. The equally important truth that accompanies this understanding of sin is that our good works do not, in fact cannot, save us from our sin. No matter how many good deeds we can perform or how they may compare to others, if we are completely honest with ourselves, we know that we are not perfect people 24/7/365. We may not cheat, steal or kill, but we most certainly do harbor anger, resentment or harsh judgment of others in our hearts and minds. Jesus said in his famous Sermon in the Mount, “Whoever is angry with a brother without a cause is in danger of judgment; whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his mind.” Given Jesus’ interpretation of the commandments of the Law, we realize that we are all deep into a state of sin. It is hard for us to always follow Jesus’ commandments to “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, ‘That you may be sons of your Father in Heaven.’” When we fail, dear Church, we give way to sin; and a sin…is a sin. Isaiah 55: 6-9 says: “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” What we need, is a fool-proof plan for our salvation and eternal life, one that does not rest upon our own ability to perform good works and live spotlessly under the Law. God provided that very way for us in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.
John 3: 16-17 is one of my favorite verses of scripture, and I have shared it with you on many occasions. Today, during this season of Lent when we are honestly assessing our life’s journey in the Spirit against the example of Christ Jesus, these words may be particularly meaningful to remember. It proclaims to us that “God so loved the world that [he] God gave [his] the only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” You see, brothers and sisters in Christ, everyone who believes in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, shall be saved through him. It is not a Gospel of works, but of faith. We do not have to do good works to be good enough for the eternal kingdom of God, we must believe in the good work of God’s grace-filled plan of salvation that Jesus accomplished for us. Jesus conquered and atoned once and for all the sin—all sin, of all who believe in him.
So, Church, we are now free to live an eternal life in God’s kingdom. And, we can do whatever we want—right? Well, that is not the life God intends for us, and certainly not in line with the teachings of our Methodist tradition under our forefather, John Wesley. Wesley contended that our good works were the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work within us, perfecting us, as we walk in the newness of life our salvation from sin creates. Works are not the reason for our salvation, but our joyful response to God’s grace in sending Jesus to fulfill the plan for our salvation. We are now called into a new life of love and service because God first loved us, and God sent Jesus to be our servant Savior and Lord. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th Century Pastor and author, called following this path “costly grace.” Cheap grace, for him, is grace we impart to ourselves without true repentance for sin or life changes; but, costly grace remembers how costly our grace was for Jesus. What cost Jesus so much cannot be cheap grace for us. It is, however, the grace that gives us the only real and eternal life we can ever truly have. So, let us now look at our world through new lenses, ones that see our sin-sick world and its need for love and grace as Jesus sees it. Not because we must do this as work for our salvation, but because we may do it, as we see the world by virtue of his grace, and the work of the Spirit in and through us. Just look around, and you will be convinced of the world’s need for our acts of love and grace. We are living in an age of God’s grace. It is the grace to overcome the world’s sin; and all sin is sin in need of God’s loving, forgiving, life-changing grace. Amen.