The insidious nature of sin and brokenness in communities of faith.
Epistle Reading: Romans 7:15-25
For Sunday, July 3, 2011: Year A – Ordinary 14
Oh boy, proof that some people just can’t help being bad. Better yet, now we each have an excuse for messing up when we should know better. “Hallelujah, the Devil DID make me do it!”
Not so fast there, Skippy.
Contrary to what most of us would see on a first read, many scholars believe that Paul was not addressing individuals, but the larger human condition. Yes, he uses individualist language, but Paul is challenging us to take the bigger and wider view of sin—in this case, the proclivity for communities to sin even when we may know better.
Gathered to Mess Up
The reality is that faithful people with good intentions gathered together to mess up. We sin, sometimes intentionally, but more often without even realizing it. When we look at issues facing the United States today such as the incarceration rate of African American males, the growing disparity between socio-economic classes and the disproportionate amount of money that we spend on military, there is not doubt in my mind that we as a gathered group of people, who mean well, have made bad choices for generations.
As Paul pushed, most of the time people knew better. We know that we have made choices that have created situations of pain and brokeness. He reminds us that even when we do the right thing, evil is right there ready to steer us wrong. Read this passage repeatedly and, wow, making consistent and good choices is hard work—and even when we do make good ones on occasion, we are not out of the woods.
Not Cool, Paul.
Man, Paul is kind of a downer. In this short passage, he take all the fun out of being a person of faith. Not cool. Not fair. As my momma used to say to us all the time—and much to my chagrin—I find myself saying now to my own children, “Life is not fair.”
As we know God never promised a life that was easy or free from persecution and struggle. Now most of us figured that most of the pressures would come from the outside, but here Paul says, nope. Part of our faithfulness and grateful response to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is to commit to remaining diligent, introspective and humble. Having this kind of integrity is hard enough to maintain as individuals, but try doing that together seems darn near impossible.
But communities must remain as diligent and aware of brokenness for the very reason that we gather, to experience and express the power and transformation of the Body Christ. When healthy and self-aware a community can do amazing things in the world to be part of God’s healing, far more than any of us could to individually. In the same way, sin unchecked in the Body of Christ quickly becomes a sickness that destroys the body and takes us away from doing the good work that we are called to do.
So while we each must certainly be diligent about the individual choices we make, we must also pay the same attention to the communities in which we gather, because left unchecked we will turn away from what God intends for our lives. Hard work, yes, but knowing that we are following God’s call on our life from the inside out should bring us enough joy and lead us to a deeper understanding of Christ’s reconciling work to God.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ indeed!
The Hardest Question
Being faithful as a person is hard enough, why should I bother worrying about the sinfulness of my community?
Bruce is a native Northern Californian and third generation Chinese/Filipino who has been living in San Francisco since 1998. From January 2000-May 2011 he was the founding pastor of Mission Bay Community Church, a church of 20/30-somethings in San Francisco, CA and from 2008-2010 was Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He is currently one of those “consultant” types who makes his way, writing, speaking, teaching and drinking coffee. An avid social networker and blogger, he is committed to expressing a Christian faith that is beautifully complex, unimaginably just and excruciatingly gracious. He usually blogs and tweets on issues of faith, culture, technology, race, politics, parenting and urban living. When he isn’t on Twitter, Facebook or blogging for Patheos, SFGate and The Huffington Post you can usually find him riding his motorcycle, hanging out in a local cafe or chauffeuring his three daughters around beautiful San Francisco.