Collective Sin & Trinitarian Unity
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
Sermon #188 St. James the Less #95 6/7/20
Well my friends, there’s no doubt that we’ve been watching history this past week. So much has happened in our country and around the world since we were here seven days ago. People of every race and creed have flooded into the streets, most of the time peacefully, but we have also seen disturbing moments of chaos and violence.
I think most of us have been watching the news intently, seeing how these protests have played out. We likely have some different opinions represented here about everything that is going on in our country, we may have even been uncomfortable at times this week, BUT HOPEFULLY we’ve all taken some time to listen to one another. To set aside political agendas and just listen to our brothers and sisters as valued human beings who are loved by God.
I would be failing you as your pastor and priest if I didn’t speak for a moment about our present circumstances.
Believe it or not, we don’t come to the church to escape the realities of the world. Rather we come to this sacred space because of everything that is happening.
We come first and foremost to worship, and through the act of worshiping God we are invited to pause our daily routines, to put down our cell phones and turn off our email, and to reflect on everything we’ve seen and experienced over the past week, and think about how God was working in us and forming us through these experiences. We come to this place to wrestle with the values we see in society and how they match up with the values of the Kingdom of God.
This week has forced all of us, whether we’ve thought about it before or not, to consider our own place in American society, but more importantly to consider each person’s place in this society.
And while we are here worshiping God, it’s important that we wrestle with our present circumstances biblically and theologically. Our faith actually has something important to add to this national conversation.
I believe one of the most important things the church can talk about right now is the nature of sin.
A phrase we’ve heard a lot about in the past, and especially this last week and a half, is the term “systemic racism.” At its simplest it means that even if we as individuals do not consider ourselves racists, we are nonetheless a part of a society that inherently holds racial biases (things like slavery and Jim Crow laws have played a major part in forming the society).
But when we ask, “What can I do to improve this situation?” we quickly realize the problem is so much bigger than just one person, it permeates throughout our society and institutions. One person cannot change the entire system, the problem is too big.
But because we as individuals are a part of this society, we have some form of responsibility, whether we’ve made a racist remark or not. This has been difficult and uncomfortable for me to think about, I’m not a racist, don’t put that label on me.
But let’s think for a moment about how systemic racism is connected to the biblical understanding of Sin.
Typically, in the church we’ll talk about sins committed by individuals. I stole something, I told a lie, I cheated on a test…we almost always talk about these kinds of sins that are focused on one particular person. We shouldn’t be surprised because we live in such an individualistic society.
But in the Bible, Sin has its grip on all of humanity. The concept of Sin is not only personal but also communal. The Apostle Paul time and again talks about the original sin of Adam, and he says, “In Adam all die.”
Now you and I didn’t take the fruit from the tree in the garden, we didn’t commit that individual sin, AND YET we as the human family are marred by that sin, we are all captives to Sin and it’s reign in the world. Adam’s sin has a universal effect on all of us.
The writer Fleming Rutledge talked about the corporate, collective nature of sin like this, “Human solidarity in bondage to the power of Sin is one of the most important concepts for Christians to grasp.”
She continues, “But it is not enough to say that we are in bondage to Sin. A result of that bondage is the we have become active, conscripted agents of Sin” (178-179).
The writers of the Bible show time and again that we are not only captive to Sin, but that we are actively complicit in it, individually but more importantly, as a collective whole…
You and I as Episcopalians affirm this belief every time that we confess our sins in corporate worship. Our confession doesn’t say, “Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you.” No, we confess that we have sinned collectively “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”
The whole prayer is centered on the fact that the human system as a whole is broken, that it is not just “I” who sin, but “we” together. One individual sin affects the whole Body of Christ. We really have to throw out our notion of individualism if we are going to take this confession in our Prayer Book seriously.
We are saying as a whole that “In Adam all die.” Though I didn’t commit Adam’s sin, I am still affected, even complicit in his sin. But Paul reminds us that our story does not end with our sin, he goes on to say that “all will be made alive in Christ.”
It is God Himself who addresses our collective problem, and God is calling us out of the world of Sin and darkness and into His glorious Kingdom.
And I think it is quite appropriate that today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. The Holy Trinity, after all, is somehow three and yet one. Distinctive as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet the One True God revealed in Scripture.
Even though we can look across our country, and across the world, and see how the human family is divided, the Trinitarian God is united. And He calls us into His Unity, that divine love of the God shared by the three persons of the Trinity.
Many and yet one. Separate yet undivided. Distinctive yet united.
And it is this God who has called us to be agents of reconciliation as we have been reconciled to God through Christ Jesus. As these agents, sent into the world by the grace of our baptism, we are called to build bridges where there are divisions, and to point others towards the unity we ultimately find in God.
This kind of work cannot be done in a Facebook post, and it can’t be fully accomplished at a protest either. The work of reconciliation is incarnational at its core. Like the building of any good relationship, it takes time, trust, and a lot of love.
And that’s exactly what the church rooted in a community can do. The church is in it for the long haul, through patience and perseverance, it has the ability to be a conversation partner for the community, but also a shining example of what the Kingdom of God stands for.
As the writer Lisa Sharon Harper said, “The good news [is] both about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the character of [that] Kingdom” (6).
We can show those around us what the character of this Kingdom is truly like through our work of reconciliation.
The world needs to hear about this gospel of reconciliation more than ever, and they need to hear it from us, they need to hear it from you.
Photo by Merch HÜSEY on Unsplash
Trinity Sunday. Year A. Mt. 28:16-20. The Crucifixion, Rutledge. The Very Good Gospel, Harper.