We are all pretty obsessed with sin. Whether or not we believe that’s true, we are. Sin inspires us.
It inspires us to believe remarkable things about GOD and nature and all of creation. For some that it is all depraved and drenched in showers of evil. For some, it is to see creation through a lens of universal and metaphysical truth. Either way, we are doing mental gymnastics to make a view of sin identical to everyone; a sin template that could be used by anyone.
Stumbling Block (Day 30 of A Simple Lent) | Tuesday
I grew up hating a lot of churchy words. Words like blessing, faith, sin. I didn’t like the words because I always thought they meant much more than what people usually took them for. People’s use of them felt lazy to me. It was all
- being blessed by getting all green lights on the way home from work
- I just have so much faith that things are going to work out
- and really any time people talk about a thing being a sin.
Even as a teenager, I knew these words were bigger, more important than the careless way we describe them most of the time.
So I didn’t use them.
And I found that I needed to find other ways to describe those very concepts: of blessing and faith and sin. I found that I had to learn more about what we are actually talking about when we talk about this stuff. It was game-changing for me.
What I’m facing now is the idea that refraining from these words doesn’t change the words any. And often, it led me to abandon the concept altogether.
This is essentially what happened to me and sin.
Sin often seems like an irredeemable word. It is misunderstood. It is not the acts we do, but what comes of our actions. It isn’t alcohol or the consumption of alcohol that makes sin. It is how our lives can be destroyed through abuse that is sin.
When Scripture goes at drunkenness, for instance, we shouldn’t see it as an excuse to become teetotalers. That is one response. What Scripture is more interested in is the breaking of relationships with those around us and the breaking of our relationship with GOD which should concern us.
When alcohol becomes a stumbling block to us, we need to get rid of it. Not because alcohol is a stumbling block. But when it becomes one, it breaks us.
So when we talk about sin, we are really talking about a state of being, rather than the action or the vice that puts us there. We shouldn’t talk about alcohol as a sin or about drinking it as sinful; we should talk about alcoholism and drunk driving as putting us in a place of sin.
Explaining that to people over and over is exhausting, though. So I just often don’t. Or didn’t, I should say. But the problem is that when we stop talking about sin, we also stop talking about redemption.
Much like when we talk about the changelessness of GOD and the firmness of tradition, we stop talking about the gospel’s power to keep changing us, even as we take our final breath.
In other words, we stop revealing the true nature of GOD in Jesus.
Sin As the Stumbling Block
Unlike the gospel of John, in which Jesus gives the disciples the central teaching during the Last Supper, Jesus gives the disciples his most significant and extended teaching on the way to Jerusalem. He talks about relationship.
He has been talking about identity and then revealed his own true identity in the Transfiguration. He tells his followers what they are going to face in Jerusalem and yet they argue over who among them is the greatest. And Jesus makes it as plain as he can make it:
The most important to the kingdom of GOD are always the least important in our world.
And he puts a child in their midst. And while they are confused about this, he continues.
Don’t sin against children, against the weak, the poor, the small, those with nothing. Don’t abuse them. Don’t get in their way and cause them to fall down, because it is you that becomes the problem.
This is also an important teaching in Matthew’s gospel in the Sermon on the Mount. In that gospel text, a central problem for Jesus is when we cause another to be in sin. When we are the reason they are in trouble with GOD.
Don’t be stumbling block, he tells us here. Be salty instead.
Sin and Salt
So if the problem of sin is that our behavior puts us into a state of sin, Jesus turns to an active remedy: be salty. Have salt in you. Have the presence in you rather than the absence (separation) in you.
Personally, I love the graphic depictions in Mark 9 and the perfect phrase: stumbling block. He implores his followers to stop putting problems in the way of those trying to find GOD. Like the one healing and proclaiming the Good News without being one of them, how they tried to stop him, prevent him, keep him from doing the work of GOD.
This is their rebuke.
We have many stumbling blocks today.
- For the poor, trying to navigate systems to prove they really are poor.
- For the homeless, having to prove they literally have no place to stay to count as homeless.
- For the mentally ill, the physically and emotionally disabled who cannot work.
Not to mention the spikes some cities put under overpasses and outside of buildings to prevent the homeless from stopping; the cutting of feeding programs to families, which leave children hungry; and attempts to deprive equal rights to some persons and granting their oppressors the right to discriminate. All these legalized stumbling blocks for Christians to use to make all the little ones stumble.
Being salty, however, is so different. It isn’t just avoiding stumbling ourselves. It isn’t only helping others avoid stumbling. It is the presence of flavor, the adding of joy and thanksgiving. It is the living part of eternal life. It is getting out, not only to pick up those who have fallen or removing the stumbling blocks, but raising up the little ones. It is giving dignity and hope. It is giving thanks and spreading joy.
And perhaps we might say then, after we have found ourselves so full, that it is living like there’s no sin at all. Our lives as the sign of GOD’s continuous and unfailing transformative grace.
Daily Office Readings
Or visit the alternative Daily Office I often use.
This week’s homework is to find how to best embody our core values.
Download the worksheet: A Simple Lent-Handout 5!