Martin Luther defined sin as the turning inward on oneself. I think that’s a pretty good definition. When we turn in on ourselves, we turn away from God and from everyone else. By Luther’s definition, sin is narcissistic in nature, which is pretty fitting actually.
When we talk about sin, we often think of it in terms of individual actions. And those can definitely be sins. We sin when we do certain things to other people. But I wonder if we get the full extent of sin when we limit sin to just some things that we do to other people.
When sin is limited to some actions that we do that we shouldn’t, doesn’t that marginalize sin?
As Christians, we claim that sin is more pervasive and dangerous than that – Sin is something we are in bondage to. But if sin is only based on what we are doing, are we really in bondage to it?
But what if sin were bigger than that? What if sin was also the things we didn’t do? What if sin went beyond human relationships? What if sin went beyond our own individual actions? Well, it does.
In the Lutheran tradition, we say a Confession at the beginning of worship. It goes like this:
“Most merciful God, We confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.”
This isn’t just an individual confession. It is corporate in nature. We confess this together in worship. It speaks to the individual sins that we commit, but also to the larger corporate sin that we are a part of. When I say corporate, I’m not talking about business. I’m talking about people as a whole. Too often we want to forget about this type of sin. I think part of the reason is because we think we have some kind of control over our individual sin – even though our confession says otherwise.
But corporate sin is different – we know we don’t have control over it. We are victims of it, whether we are committing the sin or not. In some circles, we call this type of sin systemic sin. It’s the sin that shows up in our systems – often buried deep beyond our touch. Racism is a systemic sin. But there are others – just as pernicious, just as dangerous, just as deadly.
I think we would be better off if we stopped pretending we could control sin and instead took the words of the confession to heart – we are captive to it and cannot free ourselves. Do you know how freeing that is?
Sin, at its core, is about a broken relationship – with God, with others, with ourselves, with the rest of creation. And only God can fix it. Again, that is freeing. The pressure is off. The stress is off too. The confession and forgiveness of sins may be the most important part of worship as far as I’m concerned because it frees us from the bondage to sin. It frees us to we can hear the Good News. It frees us so we can be in community together. It frees us so we can eat the meal together. It frees us so we can be sent out into the world with the Good News and to serve. It frees us. Thank God for that freedom.