It’s often said of Methodists, all we like to talk about is grace, we don’t bring up sin. I can see why many might say that, we are a grace-forward people. We believe in grace, and we believe grace is available to all.
In 1517, Martin Luther wrote a letter to his collaborator Philip Melanchthon from which his famous quote comes; “Love God and sin boldly.” This sounds as if Luther is telling us sinning is not something we should worry about. The quote actually comes from a fragment of a letter Luther wrote to Melanchthon, to read it in context maybe makes it clearer. The English translation says…“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [or sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13), are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”
What I hear Luther saying is not that we should not try to refrain from our sinning, or that sinning is acceptable, but rather that because God is so good, so forgiving, so full of grace, our sins are nothing when stacked up against the power of God’s grace and forgiveness.
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, has his own brush with grace and finds it sufficient for him as well. Just yesterday, we celebrated Aldersgate Day. On May 24, 1738 John Wesley was at a meeting in the Moravian Chapel in Aldersgate. He was listening to someone read Luther’s Preface to Romans when he says he felt his heart strangely warmed. Wesley writes in his journal…”I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Wesley is clearly having a profound experience of grace in his life, and no longer believes sin has any power over God’s immense grace.
John Newton, the old slave ship captain who lived from 1725-1807, repented of his sins and became an abolitionist. Nearing the end of his life Newton is quoted as saying…”Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”
Newton knew all too well the weight of his own sins and repented of them every day. But what he also came to know was there is no sin greater than the grace of God.
Okay, enough of the history lesson, back to this thing called sin. I’ve been thinking a bit about sin and what does it all mean. There are those who like to categorize sins from least offensive to the utter worst. I don’t believe that’s the way God sees our sins, I believe anything we allow to separate us from God’s love has the same affect on us.
Having said this about sin, I do propose one of the least talked about or considered sins is the sin of neglect. “What? What are you talking about, neglect?” When we neglect those around us, it serves to add to the weight of what they themselves are carrying. When we neglect to pay attention to our children, aren’t we neglecting the image of God in them? Same would hold true with our parents, our neighbors, our co-workers. What about neglecting to address the problems of the homeless, the uninsured, the poor? When we neglect to see them, to address the problems they are facing, aren’t we neglecting God? What about those who are seeking justice? Those who have been denied justice because of what they look like, what they sound like, what political position they take, are we neglecting to see God in them?
Are we neglecting the mandate of God? In Micah 6: 8 we are shown the connection between our faith and actions, how we are to care for those in need as we go through our daily lives. The prophet says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”. When we do what Micah instructs, we will neglect no one.
This idea of the sin of neglect slapped me full in the face yesterday with the news of the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen children and two teachers dead because “I” have neglected to do all “I” can a citizen, as a person of faith, as an influencer, to work for common sense legislation to prevent this and other gun related atrocities. I have neglected to step forward and do all I can to address this ever increasing, ever widening pandemic of violence that is rolling across our country. The blood of innocent persons is on “My” head. I feel the weight of the sin of neglect today. Yes, God’s grace is greater than any sin I may commit, but that does not absolve me of what is required of me, to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”
My friends, the sin of neglect is clinging closely to me today. I’m tired of praying prayers for those whose lives have been lost. I’m tired of praying prayers asking God to change the actions of our legislators. I’m tired of wringing my hands in desperation. I spoke with a former church member of mine last night. She’s always been quite the character. She told me she called the Governor and left him a “hot” message. I can’t quote all she told me, the language would be a little more colorful than these few lines could bear. The gist of her message however, was she told the Governor his actions, his bowing to the pressure of gun lobbyists, makes him complicit in the murder of those children and adults in Uvalde. She told me, she knew he would probably never hear it, and it would be be tossed aside. She’s 83 years old and said it made her feel better to at least let someone know how she feels.
I’m repenting today of my sin of neglect on the issue of gun violence. Its time my friends, past time, we lobby, we cajole, we march, we organize to force our elected legislators to address this issue in a comprehensive way. This must happen. We can no longer sit by and shake our heads at these tragedies. The sin of neglect is clinging too closely to us. By God’s grace our sin will be forgiven, but by God’s urging we will no longer neglect to do what we know is right. “May God’s love and grace cover us, and may the fire of God’s Holy Spirit propel us into action to no longer neglect the image of God we see in each person.”
Your fellow traveler on the Way,