Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
My wife, Hope, and I started a hobby several years ago. It began even before we were married when the two of us would travel to visit her family or go on vacation. We decided that we would help pass the car rides by listening to audio books. It was really neat when we first started doing this. As we drove the trips seemed too short as the stories would really allow us to enter a new world.
When I was in seminary in Atlanta, Hope worked in Chattanooga. And as she commuted each week she would listen to an audio book. We would always try to pick out the best book for any trip that we were taking. Since I am the one that drives a lot now I’ve been listening to audio books more and more.
I have really been enjoying Stephen King lately—one book, The Stand, has really stood out. This isn’t a new book, by any means, it was originally published in 1978, and I am sure many of you have read this novel. As an audiobook I listened to the complete and uncut version, which was released in 1990 with an additional 500 pages. All in all, the audio book was 48 hours long. As you can imagine, it took me a couple of months to get through this. The premise of The Stand is frightening.
It begins at a US Army base that is working on germ warfare. They develop a weaponized flu known as Project Blue, and things go very wrong. There is a multisystem failure and the superbug is able to escape the underground lab. Before the whole base can be quarantined as is procedure, Charles Campion, a soldier working security, is able to escape the base by car. But Campion doesn’t get out alone, the flu virus escapes with him.
He drives to evacuate his wife and child in an attempt to save them. Only to infect them. This virus started so small, with one person. But it soon spread. All it took was being around an infected person to become infected yourself. Martial Law is employed in attempts to contain the outbreak, but nothing works. The virus takes over; 99.4% of world’s population is killed as result.
This is where the book starts, and the rest of the novel is about what happens to the survivors.
But it’s the power of this virus that is so hauntingly scary. What began as a rational thing, trying to escape a virus—to flee and save your life ended up taking over and destroying life. Instead of facing reality Campion tries to hide, but yet the virus takes over. Trying to hide from the virus just made things worse.
The way that the virus takes over reminds me of the way that much of the Bible talks about sin. When we try to hide from sin, it can just take over. We find this very sense in the Bible passage that we are going to look at today, Psalm 32.
Here these words penned many years ago in Psalm 32.
The one whose wrongdoing is forgiven,
whose sin is covered over, is truly happy!
2 The one the Lord doesn’t consider guilty--
in whose spirit there is no dishonesty--
that one is truly happy!
3 When I kept quiet, my bones wore out;
I was groaning all day long--
every day, every night!--
4 because your hand was heavy upon me.
My energy was sapped as if in a summer drought.
When I kept quiet about sin, my bones wore out. This causes, groaning and hurting inside. Sin in this light is seen as something like a virus that takes over, harms the body, and saps the energy.
Sin, like a virus or an addiction has the power to enslave us and keep us from experiencing all the goodness that life has to offer; all the goodness that God has to offer. This idea of sin as a virus, isn’t usually how people speak of sin.
Instead, too often when religious people talk about sin; it’s talked about in way that suggests that sin is something that humans do that upsets God. It’s this idea that God made some kind of law and then a person breaks that law, so that person has committed a sin. It’s this idea that sin is some act that keeps humans away from God because hates sin. God made these rules and wants people to be good and stay in line.
But you see, sin is so much more than rule breaking. If it where just about the rules, you wouldn’t be eating bacon for breakfast at the family diner, because God said don’t eat pork. There is something much more destructive about sin than the simplistic understanding of it as rule breaking.
Speaking about this very thing, Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist and author, writes this about God and sin:
“God hates sin, because God loves people and sin destroys us. So divorce is bad because it breaks people’s hearts and rips families apart—not just because we broke a law. God hurts when we hurt. God cannot stand to watch us hurt ourselves and others. Sin leads to death—it eats away our bodies and our souls like a cancer.”
Likewise, drinking is too much is sinful, not because having a beer or drink is bad, but in drinking too much, people hurt others and hurt themselves. People tear families apart, destroy careers, and the break the hearts of children when alcohol consumes them, this is a slow process, but it leads to death – as the psalmist said, it wears out the bones, eats the body.
It’s not just things like drinking too much or divorce (those are things that people pick on all the time). It’s those hurts that you keep locked up inside. It’s those careless words that you later regret. It’s that guilt you feel from not being the best mom. It’s something that triggers your anxiety that makes normal life impossible. What begins a small thing; what beings with one careless choice can take over and destroy, just as the psalmist cried.
The psalmist knew the hurt of holding on to this sin, but that’s not where he stopped. Because the Psalm continues, and we hear these words: (v.5-7)
So I admitted my sin to you;
I didn’t conceal my guilt.
“I’ll confess my sins to the Lord,” is what I said.
Then you removed the guilt of my sin.
6 That’s why all the faithful should pray to you during troubled times,[b]
so that a great flood of water won’t reach them.
7 You are my secret hideout!
You protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of rescue!
Sin takes over the body and destroys the soul, but the psalmist says that the first step in recovering life is confessing our sin to God. Acknowledging these sins to God brings psalmist much needed relief. He can begin to recover from the drought.
Too often when sin overtakes us we aren’t able to admit this to God, because we fail to even acknowledge our sins to ourselves. In Stephen King’s, The Stand, the whole pandemic could have been prevented had that one soldier acknowledged to himself his situation and turned it over to God.
In Jesus we already find forgiveness, and our forgiveness before God is not controlled by our confession. But our experience of forgiveness is contingent on our confession. We can only experience the relief of God’s forgiveness when we acknowledge to ourselves and God that we have sinned, when we acknowledge we are trapped in sin.
Step one in any 12 step recovery program builds on this fact from the psalms. Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction or compulsion and that our lives had become unmanageable.
It’s only from admitting our powerlessness and confessing our sinfulness that we are able to be free.
Today, as we have already talked about, is the first Sunday of Lent. This is the first Sunday of 40 day journey in the wilderness. A 40 day journey for our souls. During this journey we are going to explore a practice each week that can help your soul, and help you prepare to yourself to explore the celebratory joy of Easter.
As we each embark on this journey, I want you to know that confession is one of these practices. When we confess, we make ourselves vulnerable and allow God heal us and restore us to life. We have the promise that when we confess, God will do this very thing.
So to practice confession, I want all to enter into a time of confession. Take time to silently confess before God, then we will confess together. Then following our confession, we will move to a time of ashes. Usually, Christians mark the beginning of lent by receiving ashes on their foreheads. Because we feared the worst in the storms last week, we made the decision to cancel our Ash Wednesday service. But I have ashes this morning, and I will invite all that would like to come forward to receive the ashes to do so. May the ashes be a sign of our sinfulness, of our confession, of our repentance.
Confession prayer in silence
We confess to you, all-knowing God, what we are. We are not the people we like others to think we are. We are afraid to admit, even to ourselves, what lies in the depths of our souls. But we cannot hide our true selves from you. Help us not hide our sin from ourselves. Teach us to respect ourselves for your sake. Give us the courage to put our trust in your guiding power. Raise us out of the paralysis of guilt into the freedom and energy of forgiven people. And for those who through long habit find forgiveness hard to accept, we ask you to break their bondage and set them free; through Jesus Chrsit our Redeemer. Amen.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.