Hello, dear family. Another day, another lesson. We discover, we connect, we move forward.
So I’m not a huge fan of devotionals. (*Gasp in Christian*) When I was a kid, my mother and a bunch of other women from the churches I grew up in would gather in all of their puffy-haired, Charlie perfume wearing glory with covered Bibles in tow and discuss it. My mother and father both collectively had countless books of “devotionals” written by numerous authors on our bookshelves. I never saw my parents as consistent in their practice of them, though, and I was no different as I got older. I find it incredibly difficult to connect with what someone else is saying about the scripture, especially in such brevity.
When I began attending an Episcopal church and fell in love with liturgy, I couldn’t get enough of it. The beauty of it all was that it was scripture presented to the people. The homily of course (what non-denom evangelicals call the “sermon” or “message”) is a matter of a person’s interpretation, but the rest of the Eucharist Rite is hymn and scripture, prayer and response. In its simplicity, I found restoration, and I was hooked.
In a discussion with the Rector (read: “senior pastor” in evangelical-ese), I was told of an app for my iPhone that are called Offices, these are provided daily and taken from the Book of Common Prayer. I was elated, here was all that I loved about attending church in a format I could access every morning and every evening.
Full disclosure: There is nothing brief about these Offices, especially not in comparison with typical evangelical devotions, most of which can be completed in less than ten minutes. I’m a slow reader, but with hymns these usually take me about twenty minutes, sometimes more if I take my time. Also, if you’re interested you can find the ones I use by going to your App Store and searching “Mission St. Clare”.
All of this is merely the pretext for what I want to discuss today, because as I was going through this morning’s Daily Office, I was reading a portion of Galatians 2 that I know well enough, and always makes me laugh a little on the inside. This is the passage beginning at verse 11 in which Paul opposes Cephas (Peter) and essentially calls him a hypocrite. My brain puts it like this:
Uh, hey man. Like, you ate with these people the other day. Why not now?
Oh yeah, bruh. I mean, I just sorta need to–
Save face? Dude, you’re such a hypocrite.
What did you say?
You’re trying to keep some law that isn’t even relevant anymore. What are you, a Pharisee?
*gasp* How dare you?!
Look, my brain is its own special place, okay? I almost always reword passages of scripture in a way that makes me laugh, because trust me there’s plenty to laugh about as you make your way through the Bible. (People who can’t laugh at the Bible annoy me something fierce.)
In Galatians 2:21, Paul hits us with this gem: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Er, that’s NIV translation by the way, which isn’t my favorite but it’s what I had nearby.)
Oh, Paul. You have to love him. (Me in my head: Do I, though?! DO I?!) The mental gymnastics he puts us through while reading his work is unbelievable. My poor ADHD-addled brain usually has to read what he says at least four times before it starts to come into focus. So many people quote the passage just before this verse: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This verse is important, too, but in my view it absolutely MUST be put in tandem with verse 21 that follows it and in the context of this passage as a whole.
(CONTEXT IS SO IMPORTANT WHEN YOU READ THE BIBLE, OKAY?! OKAY.)
The death of Jesus is arguably the most pivotal moment of human existence. I believe in the Big Bang (*gasp*), I believe in evolution (*clutches pearls, sweats*), and I believe in the expansion of the universe (*faints*), all of these are critical moments in science and the history of mankind. All of these events are contingent upon one another for us to inhabit the natural world in which we live. But the SOUL of a man, the intangible stuff of his being, it all hinges on this moment.
Jesus walks the earth, he is condemned, he is hung on a cross as a criminal, and he dies. Before he dies, he utters some pretty freaking important words:
IT IS FINISHED.
Let’s stop. Take stock. What is exactly finished here? For so long, I think the shallow interpretation of this passage that I was left to by neglectful spiritual leaders was the interpretation that Jesus was speaking of the tribulations of the final days of his life– the anxieties, the cruelties, the pain, and the suffering. This would make sense, right? Only Jesus never really considers himself in terms of his own pain and suffering. We see human emotion from him quite frequently– compassion, temptation, even anger. Rarely though, does he seem concerned with his own welfare, merely with his message. (Jesus: A Two on the Enneagram?? Discuss!)
Why then, would it logically follow that Jesus was uttering a phrase of thankfulness for his death and the ending of his suffering upon his last breath? Answer: It doesn’t!
The Greek word used in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus’ last words is “tetelestai”, a form of the Greek verb “teleo” which means “to bring to an end or complete”. Again, I think it’s patently false to infer that what Jesus is bringing to an end or completing here is his own life. No, in his own words while he was still alive, Jesus speaks of a “ransom” (Greek word “lutron” which is translated as “to loose”, found in Matthew and Mark).
What Jesus is accomplishing here is the abolition of sin. The complete and total erasure of it, from every human who has ever lived or will ever live. In the moment of his death, we are taught that Jesus becomes sin itself, so much so that even God cannot look at him. Upon his death, sin is finished. It has been conquered, once and for all.
THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS WE TALK ABOUT.
Why then, do so many congregations today continue to teach that a humans inherent nature is “sinful”? How do we define sin? Through the law? Through OUR law? Through a socially defined moral law? What is the law in a post-crucifixion world? Is it what government determines it to be? What happens when governments change or shift? If we are unbound from Old Testament law exquisitely and painstakingly detailed throughout the Old Testament, why are moral parameters constructed by biblical authors like Paul and not put forth by God himself?
Therefore if we cannot define sin as a breach of the law because law is man made and therefore subjective and in flux, and if sin was abolished upon Christ’s death and a breach of human law or social morality does not constitute sin, then what is sin and where does it exist, how is it defined?
Reader, it is now that I would like to posit that “sin” is a condition of the mind and not of the heart or the spirit. Jesus, in his life’s work, repeatedly says phrases such as “you deceive yourself/yourselves” and “do not be deceived”. What is the great deceit here?
The great deceit is the belief that sin is a present and active condition rather than a dead and absolved one.
We continue to believe we are sinners, even after Christ uttered his final words, and so we spend a life struggling for purity and absolution when it has already been provided.
It has already been done.
But we keep striving, trying to do something that’s already been done.
It’s like trying to knead bread dough after it’s already been baked.
My loves, my beautiful friends, sin does not mar you, and there is no law against which you struggle, no action that can separate you from the love of God. Rather than torturing yourself into compliance, believe in the depths of you that your redemption does not want for any stringent obedience. It exists, no matter what.
Your sin is loosed. You are free.
That is the gospel truth. And it’s worth dying for.