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We don’t talk about sin often in the mainline churches. Probably because so many of us grew up with an idea of sentiment we can and can’t do. It was sin that told us following the passions of our bodies we’re going to send us to hell. We don’t talk much about sin in the mainline churches because so many other people and other churches and other communities and other pastors have used it as a weapon against people.
In this helpful book of sermon stories, which I guess I’m using so… In a sermon on “sin,” a preacher announced that there were seven hundred eighty-nine different sins. A few days later the mail person delivered messages from members asking for a list of each one. Many, most, have made “sin” a list of wrong things that you can hold as a list and go through at the end of the day and check off if you didn’t do them… or if you did.
In that way, many have made sin only a choice, labeled them a sinner, and used that label as a means to exclude people from community AND to make claims about who gets to be close to God or not. To make claims that they are beyond grace because their list has too many red check marks or the wrong ones.
So, we don’t talk about sin. We will talk about grace. We will talk about amazing and abundant grace but we scootch right past sin like a nice Wisconsiner trying to get by you at a grocery store.
Every Sunday we come into this space and we do have a prayer of our assurance of grace we remember the whole and complete forgiveness of sins. So it’s important that when we have these words, that we include church language, that our part of the Christian world for good or for ill that we have an understanding of what they mean.
On other Sunday mornings, I have referred to the definition of sin as that which damages The relationships one has with God each other creation or themselves, whether it’s Systemic or individual.
This week I heard somebody refer to sin as that which breaks God’s created shalom. Which means we have to define the word shalom. The simplest and most often used translated is “peace.” Shalom is used as both a greeting and a farewell. You’d say shalom when you meet with somebody and shalom before you go it is both a greeting and affair well of peace. You’ll find The word in our hymnal in the section of songs called Closing of worship shalom to you peace to you as you go forth from this place.
But shalom is more than that and different than that. Shalom is also about completeness and wholeness. The world is always trying to tell us how to achieve wholeness: Whether it is through the perfect relationship filling our lives with rom-coms and fairy tales. Or the right job with the best pay. Or the best biggest home tells us we have made it. Or the right look that our lives are all put together. Or staying busy because then we are useful. Mostly what the world tells us about wholeness is that we have to earn or scrape or spend our fight our way to it.
And I don’t think that is what God means.
I’ve thought about what this means and last week a new season of Queer Eye was released. One could think that Queer Eye is a makeover show, but there is always something more. The current Queer Eye is a show where 5 queer folks support folks in a community. They call them their heroes, they are educators, helping those leaving prison, running restaurants that care for communities, they run non-profits, and occasionally a pastor, many of them lost their way, have lost relationships, have lost their confidence, have lost years. There is always a moment when they come face to face with their lives, their pasts, their futures, their fears and hopes. This was the last episode when they sat down to talk about why he is so afraid.
They are set up to continue growing in the future.
And there is a moment where it seems like they have found some wholeness. Yes, there is new hair and home makeover, but also, there is a confidence, there is the start of integration of their pasts and presents and futures. There is a moment where you can see that the person is stepping into wholeness: the integration of all of their parts into who they are.
But Shalom is the way God created us to be until they have been this world With the wholeness of who we are and celebrating all of our uniqueness.
Shalom is the way God created the world to be. Integrated, honoring gifts, filled with people living in their wholeness and making room for all of creation, all creatures to live in their wholeness. This God-created way of the world is about peace and harmony and interconnection of all living well.
Evil is that which disrupts shalom–what disrupts the way that God created this world. And sin are things that we do that disrupt shalom. Where God’s intended shalom for the world is expansive, evil and sin build walls. Where God’s intended shalom for the world makes us all siblings with each human and creature, evil and sin pit creation and creatures against each other, using each other, violating each other, killing each other. Where God’s intended shalom for the world is compassion and healing, evil and sin bring oppression and pain.
Where God’s intended shalom for the world we are already whole and enough; and evil and sin, the world of the empire, the powers, the world of isms that reminds us we are incomplete and try to sell us what we need to be whole, that there are no costs too great to buy what they are selling, our welling being or someone else’s.
And we are going to be formed and shaped by one of these worlds.
We are either formed by the kin-dom of God that says we are beloved by God, image bearers of God, called to live in harmony with all of creation.
Or we are either shaped by a world that tells us we are not enough, incomplete, and we can buy, sell, take, fight or kill our way to completeness–and it will never be enough, that world will always be telling us we need more.
And that is what Baptism is for Paul, dying to the world that of empire, world that tells you you are not enough, that people are expendable and tools to find ways to meet our shalom, at the expense of their own. In baptism, early church baptism in waters that were deep and you were dunked under, we would go into the waters of baptism and we rise from the water like Christ resurrected, free from the powers of the world, freed from the power of sin that only bring death.
In baptism we are dying to that way of living and when we come up from the water we take a first gasping breath in a new world. A world of enough, of abundance, of belovedness, of shalom.
It’s coming out of one way of living and waking up every day in the world God created it to be and struggling to spread shalom to all of creation, so that we might all live in creation instead of the way of the world.
It’s coming out of addiction when one starts to feel well and healthy after years of feeling like crap and self-medicating be it chemicals or compulsions or consumptions. It’s letting go of the people and places that fed your addiction and taking a breath in a new world of freedom.
It’s being free of abusive relationships, free of self-hatred, free of judgment, free of darkness, and stepping into the light of a new day.
THAT is what Paul, in all these words is talking about.
AND it’s always in the context of Grace. God’s grace is boundless and where there is sin there is grace, and where there is more sin there is more grace, God pours shalom, love, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion on every situation where shalom is disrupted to bring the world back into it’s created intent. So it’s ok when we struggle and fail. It’s ok when we try and don’t succeed. It’s ok if we slip into the way of the world because that’s language, the way of being that we were taught first. There is grace, abundant grace, more than enough grace to remind us we are enough and to give us courage and love to try again, and again, and again.
You do not have to live in this world by the rules it gives us. You do not have to be under it’s control. You can live in a new way, in God’s way, in a way that leads to life abundant for all. Like learning a new language to live in a new country, it takes time, maybe even a whole lifetime, but there is grace to keep trying. Living in this way, this shalom, this God-created intent for the world and ourselves takes time and energy. Living integrated in ourselves often means doing some hard work on our own past. Living this way means believing that it is possible for even you. And then for our families of birth or of choice, and for our neighborhoods, and for our world. We invite people into this way of living where each person is enough and whole, where the world can be healed and connected, where it is imperfect but there is grace, where there is God’s created shalom.
Beloveds, take a breath of God’s kingdom. Feel the freedom deep in your body. Know you are loved, enough, complete. Take a breath, You are on our way to healing and shalom. And living shalom means allowing others to take that gasp in new and free shalom living as well.