Dear Friends and Fellow Travelers,
For those of you old enough to remember the 1970’s, Texas Instruments came out with the first electronic calculator which promised salvation for those of us for whom math class was a pretty good euphemism for ‘Sheol.’
The problem was its price, which was, in todays dollars, around $300. Today, you can purchase a calculator at the dollar store. A once rare and expensive product became increasingly common and, consequently, less valuable.
Not long ago I was listening to an on-line broadcast in which the presiding minister repeatedly told the audience that Jesus came to ‘save us from sin.’ The problem with that statement was not it’s accuracy but it’s potency. Like the electronic calculator, the the term ‘sin’ has lost its value.
Why? Perhaps it’s because, to the devout, the term has effectively become what ‘ the ‘f’ bomb’ has become in less sanctified circles: Filler. So common as to become virtually meaningless. To the secular, the term has exactly the opposite problem: Unfamiliarity. Secular people have about as much understanding of ‘the 's’ word,’ as your average political science prof has with say, the art of welding.
One might as well say that ‘Jesus came to save us from our electronic calculators.’ What then, is a pastor or priest to do?
I’d recommend prying the term open and letting people see inside. Engage the imagination by painting a real-time picture what ‘sin’ looks like, feels like, tastes like.....what it does to us and to others.
How? Talk about how sin shows up in your day to day life. (Yes, that means you too, Rev/Father, and, dare I say it: If nothing immediately jumps to mind, you’re probably in greater peril than those in your congregation whose list is instantaneous).
What’s it look like at, say: the local Acme? / a youth soccer game? / in front of a computer? / on Twitter? / the office water cooler? / a parent-teacher conference? / in your car during rush hour while running late? / home watching an Eagles game? / a church committee meeting? / etc.
‘Jesus came to save us from sin’ is too theoretical, too blurry, too distant….too safe.
Try: 'Jesus came to save us from destroying ourselves.’ People get that. They’ve seen it happen to friends, to loved ones, to celebs and, if they’re honest, many have experienced it themselves.
Try: ‘Jesus came to forgive us for, and to free us from, a predatory life.’ After all, that’s essentially what sin does to us, does it not? We begin to view every setting with the question, 'How can this benefit me?' We view that which we encounter as ‘my precious,’ something or someone to be acquired and consumed. Why not turn ‘sin’ into an icon as Tolkien did with ‘the ring of power’ which transformed a once noble hobbit named ‘Sméagol’ into a pathetic, predatory and isolated being named ‘gollum?’
Sometimes ‘sin’ is better painted, than named, more potent in the hands of an artist than a theologian.