Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sundays and Sabbaths . . . and Sin

Much of my theological musing is in a still on-going conversation with friends from an old cohort. Back when I was at Furman I was active in several campus ministry groups but attended a house church. For Sunday mornings to be what I had grown to believe they should I had to find some place to worship. None of the big churches near campus appealed to me and I wasn’t yet an Episcopalian so there were no nearby small churches that appealed either.
 That house church group was made of a great mix of students and hangers-on. We were serious about our spiritual lives and were in constant dialogue about predestination, free will, works righteousness, cheap grace, moral certainty, the incarnation, social justice, and on and on. Out of that group that started largely as cast off Southern Baptists came three Episcopal clergy, one Presbyterian, one PCA Presbyterian, three or four Southern Baptist ministers and some who are still in leadership in another non-denominational house church world.
 One of those who became an Episcopal priest – who could do the BEST Bob Dylan imitation ever! -- has since found his way to the priesthood in the Orthodox Church. He and I are friends on FaceBook and will often share comments on different topics, mostly religious. Recently he posted an article about the impossibility of “moral progress.” In short saying that its not that humans can’t change their behavior for the good but that sin as a condition of the human experience is never abated by what humans do.
 “Sin as a condition”
 A world of ideas and questions opened up again for me when I saw that phrase. It just so happened that Paul’s letter to the Romans was in the lectionary for the lesser feast of Karl Barth that same day. Paul was lamenting the omnipresence of sin in his life such that he did what he didn’t want and didn’t do what he wanted. Finally crying, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”(Rom. 7:24)
 We can talk more about sin as a condition later but I want to tie it to the ideas about Sabbaths and Sundays that I’ve been sharing for the last several weeks. If we accept that sin is a condition then what do we do? I think Sabbaths AND Sundays are part of an answer. Since both are meant to provide moments for focus and clarity in our relationship with God we could highlight the rest and refreshment that come from removing life’s busyness and obstructions and regularly setting aside a time and place to be in God’s presence.
 That is what Sundays and Sabbaths have in common: the intent of being more fully present with God. Going to church on Sunday doesn’t make someone LESS sinful, even if they are easily distracted. Making a Sabbath out of some “free” time will also not save you from your sin. The best anyone can hope for through Sabbath or Sunday is some sort of “focus and clarity” in one’s relationship with God. God’s mercy is what deals with our condition. Like Paul says later in Romans, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:39)
 We are not divided by our varied practices as much as we are joined. Whether in Sabbath or on Sunday we all yearn for that moment of clarity and focus, of hope, of trust, of thanksgiving, of praise, of refreshment and of rest because God’s presence is the best antidote for sin.

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