I recently read a story told about a pastor who advertised his sermon titles several weeks in advance. One title was “How To Be Poor” and no one showed up. But one week, he advertised that the sermon would be “The 752 Worst Sins”. Surprisingly, on that Sunday, he arrived to find the parking lot packed and every seat in the sanctuary taken. Some people came to find out which sins were in the top five, and some wanted to find out which sins they were missing out on in their quest to have a complete list!
The truth is that we are used to evaluating our world in stages. We receive(d) grades in divisions, from A to B to C… and maybe a few Ds and Fs. Our legal system assigns certain weight to various crimes, including whether these crimes were committed knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally. And the way that we blend our situations, the metaphors of our lives together, all in one mentality – we apply the same thing to sin.
In 1973, comedian Don Novello created a character that looked at what it means to sin; some of you know him as Father Guido Sarducci of Saturday Night Live. Sarducci explained that when we arrived in heaven, God would hand out our ‘pay,’ the amount of money we had earned – everyone would receive the same amount of money for each day that they had lived. But then things would get interesting.
Sarducci, in Novello’s skit, would propose that God would then open a roll of the many sins we had committed, and collect back an amount of money assigned for each crime. Murder? $10,000. Lying? $5. Hilarious? Yes. But the faulty factors in our math open us up to seeing life through the lens of the first servant in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35).
Jesus tells the story of a servant who goes to his king with a debt of a lot of money. He is told that he, his wife, and all of his children would be sold into slavery so that his debt to the king would be paid. But the servant begged the king to be patient and his debt would be paid. In an act of great mercy, the king forgave his debt and sent him on his way.
Leaving the palace, the servant found another servant outside, who owed him much less. He threatened the man, no, he took it a step further and had him imprisoned until he could pay back the debt. The other servant’s cries went unheard.
Other servants watch the two servants interact, recognize that the first servant has failed to pass on the grace he received, and report back to the king. So the first servant is brought before the king again – and this time he is handed over to be tortured until he could pay back the debt. This is the final word on that first servant – he is condemned to lifelong imprisonment and pain, because he judged himself to be better than another human being, another servant.
Today, in our look at Things Jesus Never Said, we look at “Some Sins Are Worse Than Others.” We arrive here in our human look at how things operate. We recognize that we would place murder with the loss of life above stealing a candy bar. We wouldn’t worry about lying to the degree that we would embezzling millions of dollars.
But Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Everyone’s sin has them short of what God wants, what God expects, what God desires for our lives.
This isn’t a new idea. Ecclesiastes 7:20 states that “there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Of course, that was before Jesus, but it’s beside the point.)
The truth is that when we acknowledge that we’re all separate from God, it changes how we see sin.
A sin is a sin is a sin if we tweak Gloria Steinem a little.
When we recognize that we have done is the sin that Jesus died on the cross for, it kind of takes the luster off of gauging someone else’s sins. But too often, we assume that if we’ve never broken the ‘big ones,’ the Ten Commandments or something similar, that we’re really doing okay.
Check out those Ten Commandments again – not the Ten Best Options – but what God based the whole rule of life for the Israelites in Exodus 20. They’re basically establishing guidelines for God/human relationships and human/human relationships.
Keep the Sabbath and honor the name of God.
Honor your parents to engage in strong family dynamics
Don’t murder, don’t take what’s not yours, don’t break marital bonds, don’t be deceptive.
These were serious guidelines for people who had spent generations as slaves and were now facing a freedom they didn’t understand.
This was God’s way of laying out what would help them grow as a society, and as the people of God. This would help them stay in “okay.”
But with God, it’s not a matter of okay. God wants the best for us, so he sent Jesus. Jesus said over and over again, “you have heard it said but I say…” when he took the laws of the Old Testament a step further.
Don’t murder became don’t hate anyone in your heart.
Don’t steal became broader than taking the cookie out of the cookie jar, and embraced a life of sharing what we had with those in need.
Don’t sleep with your neighbor’s spouse became don’t look at a person with lust in your heart.
God’s Ten Commandments had told the people how to live, but Jesus showed them that the law was just the baseline, not the best.
Jesus showed them that even the best of them broke these laws all of the time, and that they couldn’t be made right by what they did.
That being right, being the best, took grace.
It’s a matter of repentance and forgiveness. It’s a matter of acknowledging that God is God, and we are not, that to be more like Jesus, we need God’s grace.
We can’t do this on our own.
Before this sounds like doom and gloom, consider this breath of positive fresh air from I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
That’s the good news here. No matter what you’ve done, you can be forgiven. No matter what you’ve forgotten to do, failed to do, or even done intentionally, you can be made faultless by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It does say that we must confess what we’ve done.
So what does that look like? What does confession really look like?
None of us know, apparently. I recently read about a situation where a new priest was trying to get his mind wrapped around confession.
The new priest is nervous about hearing confessions, so he asks an older priest to sit in on his sessions. The new priest hears a couple confessions, then the old priest asks him to step out of the confessional for a few suggestions.
The old priest suggests, “Cross you arms over your chest, and rub your chin with one hand.”
The new priest tries this.
The old priest suggests, “Try saying things like, ‘I see, yes, go on, and I understand. How did you feel about that?'”
The new priest says those things.
The old priest says, “Now, don’t you think that’s a little better than slapping your knee and saying ‘No kiddin’?!? What happened next?'”
Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about receiving confessions because of the Protestant Reformation – you can ask me about that later! But we do have to acknowledge our reality.
Too often, we want forgiveness without acknowledging our fault. We want to gloss things over and ignore that there’s real hurt in a broken relationship, too often, we don’t face our real reality about our own decisions. But God knows that we need to acknowledge who we are and what we’ve done.
God wants us to acknowledge that we need forgiveness ourselves – and that should open up the well of forgiveness we can share with others.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss forgiveness with a man named Chris Williams. His story was being made into a movie called Just Let Go. His wife and several of his children were killed in a drunk driving accident, and standing up in court, Williams forgave the killer. In explaining why he forgave this young man, he shared that as a teenager, he’d been involved in a fatal automobile accident. Williams forgave because he knew that he had once needed the same forgiveness.
Williams confessed his mistake and was forgiven, and then he forgave what seemed to many to be unforgivable.
We need to confess – and too often, we fail to stop and reflect over our day and our decisions. Too often, we fail to recognize the way our past impacts our present.
I want to encourage you, actually all of us, to take a moment and consider the sins we’ve left unacknowledged. Write it down, pray over it, and then… confess it to God.
And let it go.
Today, I want to encourage you to leave judgment to God. Judgment of yourself, and judgment of each other. Today, I hope you’ll recognize that no matter what –
No matter how serious –
No matter how frequent –
No matter how hurtful –
If you confess your sins, you are made whole, and forgiven.
That’s the good news. No math required.