Isaiah 12: 1-6
Romans 5: 12-19
Call to Worship
Lent is no time for misery.
Lent is a time for careful self-reflection and re-connection with Christ.
For God is indeed my salvation. So I will trust and have no fear.
Lent is an opportunity for repentance.
A time for having God remake our hearts and reshape our aims.
In loving kindness, God’s anger turned from me.
I was drawn close again and comforted.
Lent is a season for joy abundant.
Exhilarated by defying sin, shattering indifference and turning our faces back to God.
I will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation!
I will sing to the Lord, who has done glorious things!
Once upon a time, sin came to earth…. That is story number two in our Bible.
Right after we delight in God the Creator, and marvel at the vast “goodness” of the earth… we are quickly introduced to the problem. The problem the rest of the book seeks to resolve. Once upon a time, sin came to earth.
In our passage from Romans, Paul recalls the story of Adam and Eve; a tale that has long been referred to as “The Fall of Mankind.” It’s one that we all know well. In Eden, God created a boundary for Adam and Eve to obey. But what are boundaries if not curious things just begging to be explored? And through the influence of sin, a creature of sin, Eve dared to defy that boundary. And (as thousands of years of “the patriarchy” have taught us…) she pulled Adam across that boundary with her. And together, they tumbled from Paradise. Tumbled into a world of shame and hardship/ pain and sin… tumbled into our reality.
The Genesis story of Adam and Eve is a metaphor, of course, describing what it means to belong to a humanity that is in broken relationship with God/ that is is broken relationship with the world. In Paradise, sin was this slithering tempter/ a creature that invaded God’s happy place to invite destruction. In reality, sin… just is… it’s rooted in each of us- it’s there in our self-serving evolutionary instincts, it’s in the disposition of our will to oppose God, sin is there when we push against our own well-being… sin is just there… it is deep and unavoidable and devastating.
But as Adam and Eve tell us, we are not meant for sin. We are not meant for a broken relationship with God. If you think back to the details of this story in Genesis, when Adam and Eve walked through the garden of Eden they walk side by side with God- naked and unashamed. When they took their tumble from Paradise, they were now naked and very ashamed, one of the first things God did (after giving them a talking to), was lean down and fashion clothes for them out of animal skin. Their shame was a testament to their sin- having defied God’s boundaries, and yet they are still loved by a God the wants their every need to be meet/ loved by a God who can’t stand to see them hiding away. A God of compassion and mercy.
Contrary to that old adage, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” To err is not human, to sin is not human. Sin opposes the goodness of God’s creation. Sin is very much not what God intended us for. It is not human- it is dehumanizing.
But thankfully, Paul tells us in Romans, God came up with a solution to this problem of sin. Grace.
That same God who bent low and sowed clothes together for his beloved, yet wayward, Adam and Eve… that same God bent low again in Jesus Christ. Taking on sin himself, he overcame its consequences! Death and shame are no more.
Grace is meant to reclaim us for relationship with God. Grace is meant to reclaim us for the goodness that we were made to be. The free gift of Grace is meant to reclaim us for a life of joy.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is perhaps one of the most directly translatable to the 21st Century church. The church in ancient Rome was at the heart of the empire- a cultural crossroads. Rome was a vital trading destination that saw people from all over the world, it was a place for the exchange of ideas, the birthplace of new movements. It was a city where the world felt very small. But the Romans were also a society of very indulgent people- where everything and everyone had a price.
The church of Rome was understandably focused on staying rooted in all the hustle and bustle around them/ staying grounded in a changeful world. Paul knew this, and so in his letter he offered them this reminder of their identity: They were a people of grace. In a world where sin… just is… Paul reminds them that sin does not have dominion over them.
And this is the truth that remains for us today.
This passage is for every Christian who has had to wrestle with sin; a sin that remains even after baptism. This is for the faithful church leader who has struggled with addiction to painkillers, or gambling, or internet porn. This is for the self-righteous bible thumper wracked by long-held hatred for certain sinners they condemn. This is even for the survivors of combat or domestic abuse, those who carry within their bodies the legacy of someone else’s sin. This passage is for them. It is also for the church member long enmeshed in the deadening comfort of privilege and for those long stuck in the webs of oppression. (Christopher Grundy, Feasting on the Word)
In a world where sin… just is… we are all reminded that sin does not have dominion over us. For we are a people of grace.
Thomas Merton once wrote, “This, then, is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the cross. To wage war against despair unceasingly. That war is our wilderness. If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side.” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts of Solitude)
To Merton, anything that brings despair has to be challenged. Even though sin remains a reality in our lives, it must not have our consent. We were made as part of God’s good creation, and if we are to honor that… then sin must be challenged. And when we do, it is in those attempts that we find Christ at our side: The great giver of second chances. Grace is meant to reclaim us, wash us, and remake us for a life as generous as the love that created us in the first place.
Our Lenten theme this year is “enjoyLENT: Fasting from fear, feasting on joy.” Lent is a season of reflection and confession. It’s a time of waging that war on all that is despairing with courage.
As we honor this season, may our hearts are set on the promises of Easter. That we are enlivened by joy/ a soul deep confidence in God’s love for us.
Litany of Confession
(From Walter Brueggemann’s poem, Revise Our Taking)
You, you giver! You have given light and life to the world;
You have given freedom from Pharaoh to your people Israel;
You have give you only Son for the sake of the world;
You have given yourself for us;
You have given and forgiven, and you remember our sins no more.
And we, in response, are takers:
We take eagerly what you give us;
We take for our neighbors near at hand as is acceptable;
We take from our unseen neighbors greedily and acquisitively;
We take from our weak neighbors thoughtlessly;
We take all that we can lay hands on.
It dawns on us that our taking does not match your giving.
In this Lenten season revise our taking,
That it may be grateful and disciplined,
even as you give in ways generous and overwhelming. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Friends, our sins are washed away in the Spring of Salvation.
Be assured today that God’s grace is multiplied for all.
A gift given through the work of the cross so that we may have life and joy abundant.