First Lent, Sunday, February 21, 2021

By Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar

“Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” 1 Peter 3:18

   This passage, from this Sunday’s scriptures, is another example of often-overlooked, highly significant verses which carries with it almost the entire weight of soteriology — the doctrine of salvation. It is perhaps no coincidence that this verse is both often overlooked AND so very substantial. At once, it declares Jesus’ act on the cross as the ultimate and last sacrifice needed for the forgiveness of all sin — and it stands against the conviction that we can earn God’s forgiveness by doing something to earn it.

It is so human to fall into sin and to be wracked with shame. Equally human is to believe we can control all of our weaknesses, e.g., “If I set my mind to it, I can stop that behavior whenever I want.” While it may be true that occasionally we can master a passion or two, for the most part we know that when we fall into a pattern of sinning — of failing to live as free children of God — it is nearly impossible for us to wend our way out of it.

Shame can be healthy for us, and shame can be a destructive driver. If we have available the tools to manage our shame (like the counsel of a spiritual adviser, a life of prayer, the skill of contemplation, and a life marked by frequent joy), shame can help to heal and to strengthen us. Without these tools, shame can push us into a deathly spiral that always starts and ends with, “I am worthless.”

A pattern of shame followed by a mistaken capacity for mastery over our passions leads some to believe that they have found the way to earn God’s forgiveness. “If I perform certain rituals, say precise prayers, and muster enough contrition that God is convinced that I really mean it this time, I’ll be in the clear with God.” You see, there’s comfort in this belief. There’s an impression that we can control the consequences of our sinfulness by doing some proscribed actions and in doing so, gain God’s pardon. This belief offers a sort of reassuring because it adopts the biased belief that, ‘I am a good person because I asked for pardon.’

There are two huge problems with this approach to sinfulness and to God:

  1. This relationship between our sins and the performance of rituals and prayer to earn God’s forgiveness implies — no, insists upon — a principle that ‘I can control God!’ When God’s forgiveness is dependent upon my performance of ‘acts of contrition,’ then by withholding my contrition God is helpless but to withhold forgiveness. Get it? I am controlling when God will forgive me. Ouch.
  2. The second problem with this approach is that we are staring down the tunnel of a transactional relationship with God and God’s grace. This problem begins with an implied, “I will earn God’s grace ONLY when God sees me do certain things to get that grace.” Tit-for-tat, simple as that. Or, to put it another way, God will only extend grace after I have ‘paid the price.’
     When reduced to these statements, can you understand how ridiculous it is to maintain these beliefs?
We cannot control God!
God is not conditional!

There is great freedom to be had in this passage from 1 Peter, and in discovering that our sinfulness has already been accounted for. Jesus’ death, once and for all, makes available to everyone the release of control and primacy which sin has over our lives and in the world.

Sin is in every cell of my being. It is a large part of who I am. Rather than becoming inured or overwhelmed by sin, the acts of suffering and death endured by Jesus can be transforming to me; I am suddenly confronted by the unconditional and eternal love God has for me and that love makes me want to change.

As we start the Season of Lent, I encourage us to start with an understanding that we are first and foremost God’s children. Listen for Rev. Karen’s exploration of this on Sunday morning! As such, we are not perfect; we are chosen; chosen to live in freedom from anything that means to imprison us — personally or communally.

This is at the heart of 1 Peter and of the Gospels as well. We are all God’s children trying to live into and with the consequences of being liberated from the tyranny of sin and sinfulness of every kind and sort.

                                                    ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~
Our online regular online services for this week — Sunday, February 21 through Saturday, February 27 — are below. If you aren’t on my Saturday e-blast that contains the worship links, email me and I’ll add you.
• Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday Morning Prayer, 9 a.m. Here’s the worship bulletin for Sunday, February 21.
• Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday Evening Prayer, 8 p.m.
• Bible Fellowship Wednesdays, 6 p.m.

My Zoom office hours are Tuesdays at 10 a.m. Here’s my Zoom link.

Rev. Karen’s Zoom office hours are Thursdays at 10 a.m. Here’s Rev. Karen’s Zoom link.

In the name of Jesus,
Christopher+