In recent weeks, we shared the anniversary of Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks as well as the birth and destruction of Isaac. In the days surrounding such events, everybody wants to talk about God, and the talk usually ends up blaming God for all the destruction. Everybody says the destruction must be punishment for some sort of sin.
Is God about to destroy our American way of life because so many no longer go to church? It seems such talking speaks volumes about what we believe about God. If we can figure out what God likes, we can do whatever it is that makes God smile and then we can get what we want from God. God and sin both become manageable.
Everybody talks about the dilemma differently. Some say sin looks like life lived without being in love with God. It is easily recognized by the absence of loving behaviors, the things lovers do – hanging out, spending time with each other, whispering, laughing. In church, we call it prayer, praise and a Pentecostal spirit. Sin is simply the notion that people are free to walk away from love. Creation is not perfect, but it is always on the road back to the perfection that is found when we are reunited, reconciled, put back into the bosom of the one who set us free. Others say, “Sin is breaking God’s laws. If we can write down the complete list of dos and do nots, then we can avoid sin.”
In our nation, we seem to say, “It is obvious our new world is what the Bible means when it talks about the holy land, the land of milk and honey. Here, we will work for the good of society. We will bring the Kingdom of Heaven into this place.” In the 1960s they called it the “social gospel.” Some folk rose up and pronounced the exclusion of African Americans from an equal share in American life anti-Christian. They added the war in Vietnam and poverty to the list of sin. Others shouted back, “No! God intended this place for the hard-working Anglo-Saxon Protestants so the Kingdom of Heaven can return to earth. Martin Luther King must be a communist. Poor people need to work hard, and they won’t be poor. It’s the American way of life.” And all that talking was happening in churches!
Jesus asks, “Everybody’s talking; who do they say I am?” Elijah reincarnated. John the Baptist resurrected.” He asked again, “Who do you say I am?” And Peter got it right, “The one anointed by God, the Messiah promised of old.” Then he admonished Peter, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things. Those who want to save their life will lose it, those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the good news that God loves you, those will save their life. There is nothing you can give or do in return for your life.” Love God and love neighbor. It is a way of living, not a law, not a moral principle. It’s a way of being connected to the spirit of God – not a political statement or slogan. It’s love that keeps the community safe from sin.
It is as though we only have one conversation, and we hold it through the ages. A letter from James says this, “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God tempts no one and cannot be tempted by evil. Rather one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed to take care of ‘self’ and not others. Then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” And about church teachings James says, “ If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Everybody’s talking. I think they always will. There are many voices. Voices from the Bible, from the world of our day, from the voices of many faithful people who are convinced their way is the only way. The early followers of Jesus were called “followers of the way,” which means they were going somewhere, not sitting still. Those who follow the way of Jesus today are still moving more than are talking. They move toward one another and, together, toward the heart of God, the source of all love. Everybody’s talking. May we become the ones who are talking about loving God and loving neighbors. Sin will not have a chance if everybody’s talking about love.