Our Lenten Worship Series from Sunday March 10 through Palm Sunday, April 14 is based upon the Seven Deadly Sins. Not only will Judy and I preach on the sins and their corresponding virtues, but the choir will sing on them as well. Wait ’til you hear, for instance, the choir’s musical take on sloth, lust and wrath!
There is a certain abandonment of the language of sin that marks our contemporary culture and particularly our progressive Christian churches. Possibly this is due to the battering and beating that the Christian faithful have taken from religious leaders who themselves have been purveyors of the sins they rail against. How many of us have walked away from church because it made us feel ashamed of who we are? But since few of us would deny that something is in fact “off” and in need of correcting in ourselves individually and collectively we’ve turned to the sickness-health paradigm as a way to explain it. We are not bad, we are sick. We are not in need of repentance but of healing. We are not sinners but broken people.
With a more nuanced understanding in the modern era of the human being and the diseases of mind and spirit, this paradigm shift makes sense in certain instances. However, it is not sufficient. We are still free beings capable of choice with the unfortunate penchant towards the wrong choices, ones that lead to isolation, diminishment and division within us and around us. When we choose against love, against God, the Christian tradition names it sin and rightly warns of the consequences. The remedy for sin is not medicine or surgery or therapy, but rather confession and repentance – a willful turning back towards God when we’ve found ourselves having turned away once again.
This has traditionally been the core practice of the season of Lent, the penitential season, when we examine ourselves, lay it out before God and commit to turning in a new and better direction. But first we must see and acknowledge where we’ve gotten off course, because one of the characteristics of sin is often it’s slippery hiddenness from the eyes of the sinner. So to help in the effort to see what we’d rather not see, the 5th century desert fathers and mothers articulated seven qualities in us that turn a human person or collective away from life and God and towards separation and death. The seven deadly sins are greed, gluttony, lust, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. A rather intimidating, albeit all-too-familiar, list to say the least.
Doubling up on two sins – greed and gluttony – for the first Sunday, we will address each sin during the six weeks of Lent and invite you to consider how they intersect (or infect) your own life. None of us are free of any of them and the ways we each struggle with and manifest the seven deadly sins are endlessly and creatively various. The point is not to guilt or shame – although sometimes a little shame is not such a bad thing, is it? – but the point is to locate the disordered areas and the troubling forces in our lives that separate us from God and our own truest selves so we can then consciously turn back toward God, to what is good and right in our lives. It’s ultimately about restoring the beautiful image of God that is within each of us, which, for some reason inevitably becomes distorted.
I hope, after this description, that you won’t choose to stay home from worship for the next six weeks! I hope you will take up the challenge of the penitential season of Lent to dig into the rich soil of your inner life, both the beautiful and the ugly of it. It’s a gift that the church offers to us to make us conscious of our sin and invite us to return to God again for our good and for the good of the world. The church also reminds us that we are by no means alone in having turned away from God and that together we can walk a deeper more faithful and light-filled path to life in Jesus’ name, amen!