Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Church Needs to Hear About Sin and Repentance

Matthew 3:1-12

Last week I had a conversation with a good friend, who also happens to be one of my teachers. We spent most of our time talking about some of the problems facing the United Methodist Church today. When he was asked “What are some things that need to change?” one of his answers surprised me. He said, “We need to preach about sin.” My friend went on to explain that he’s not talking about sermons about our mistakes and character flaws. When he says we need to preach sin he means the big stuff, the sins that resulted in the death of God’s Son: pride, indifference, fanaticism, lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy, , , etc. If we take the cross the suffering that Christ endured there seriously we need to be truthful about ourselves and the church’s complicity in Christ’s suffering today.

At first I was puzzled by my friends comment. But as I thought about what he said, the more I recognized his wisdom. I cannot remember the last time I heard a sermon about sin from a United Methodist pulpit. I’ve heard countless sermons on how much God loves me and how God want the best for me and how good I really am in God’s eyes; but not a single word about the reality of the human condition and the reason for the cross.

The second Sunday of Advent presents an excellent opportunity to preach about sin and part of its cure, repentance. The preaching could talk about John and his ministry of calling the people to repentance as a way to prepare the way for One coming after him. John understood that the people needed to confront and repent of their sins before they could follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. But I’m not holding my breath that I’m going to hear anything even approaching that.

Last week I also had an opportunity to meet Dr. Donald Messer, Executive Director of the Center for the Church and Global AIDS. He gave a presentation on his work of pulling the church into action on the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. He told the group gathered to hear him about the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund administered by the General Board of Global Ministries. The goal is to raise $8 million by the end of 2008. That’s $1 for every member of the UMC in North America. The fund was organized after the 2004 General Conference.

The Fund is well short of its goal largely because most United Methodists in North America have not heard about it. I’m one of them. For example, last Sunday (December 2) was Global AIDS Sunday. HIV/AIDS was never mentioned during the worship, in announcements or in the bulletin. There was no mention in the newsletter. Nothing! Dr. Messer believes that United Methodists have not given to the Fund simply because they have not been asked.

One of the sins the global church, which includes the UMC, needs to repent is its indifference to the suffering and death of countless millions in Africa, south Asia, Latin America, and the USA from AIDS. On that day when Christ returns he will look at the North American church and say “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. … Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

I suspect this is one of the reasons most North American congregations choose to ignore Advent with its relentless emphasis on the coming again of Christ in favor of jumping right into Christmas. We don’t want to deal with things like repentance and judgment. We’d rather not contemplate our complicity in the suffering of Christ in the world that we can see, if we bother to look, in the faces of AIDS orphans.

I agree with my friend. We need to hear the truth about ourselves (sin) in this culture of over-indulgence, entertainment, gluttony, and individualism. Only then will our hearts ever be truly open to the one who can heal our disease and set us free for holiness of heart and life.


Blogger PamBG said...

When I saw the title of this post, I wanted to groan.

This is the first post I've read on the subject of 'we need to preach about sin' that I want to stand up and shout 'Amen! Preach it, brother!'

I agree with you 100%. And, I suspect that if we talk about these sorts of hard-to-solve, can't-scapegoat-any-individual, it's-a-problem-with-our-values-and-not-our-willpower sins, that we'll learn more about God's grace too.

Thank you for this.

6:10 AM

Blogger PamBG said...

It looks like your blog doesn't show links, so this is just to say that I've linked to this.

6:20 AM

Blogger John said...

I've learned that it's perfectly acceptable in church to preach against sin, so as long as you don't preach about specific sins.

By the way -- that was a very good article in Interpreter.

10:50 AM

Blogger Martin said...

fantastic... and thanks Pam for alerting me to this great blog

3:35 AM

Blogger Peaches said...

I attend a UMC for many years and never heard a sermon on sin and repentance. It's like they don't want to offend the congregation. They are not preaching the whole gospel of Jesus Christ, and the penalty He paid in our stead. The modern church would rather be complacent and preachers should be more convicted on the responsibility they have in Christ. But it's like Jesus said....not everyone who says Lord Lord will be a true followers of Him.

3:43 PM


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