01-26-2014 The Effects of Sin

The Effects of Sin

Genesis 6:5-8, Romans 3:9-20

        I want to begin today by telling you that you will want to return for the next part in this sermon series.  Next week we will have a guest preacher as I will be at the ROCK retreat with our youth and 7,000 others!!  But I encourage you to tune in because I will warn you that today’s message is not very upbeat.  We are talking about cause and effect. We introduced this series with Wesley’s sermon about the one thing needful. We are sinful beings that have strayed from God’s will for our lives, and we need to return to the image of God as we were created.  We are living as broken beings, apart from God – that seems to be our natural tendency.  The good news is we are not destined to stay that way.  God has extended a love for us that is beyond our comprehension.  There is hope in the midst of our fallen state.  There is a rainbow in the sky after the storm.

Lewis Carroll had quite a way with expression.  Perhaps you are familiar with his work, “Alice in Wonderland.”  Here is an encounter Alice has with the Cheshire Cat in the tale:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

If we don’t know where we are going, we can’t possibly look for a way to get there.  If we don’t understand the effects of sin in our lives, we cannot possibly respond to the wonderful grace God extends to each of us.  If we do not recognize our natural tendency to stray away from God, we cannot possibly understand the need to be in harmony with God.

Cause and effect. We are looking at a very basic principle of physics, but it is credited to a philosophical principle.  Causality (also referred to as causation[1]) is the relation between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first.[2]  In common usage, causality is also the relation between a set of factors (causes) and a phenomenon (the effect).

[Source: Wikipedia.com]

If you are a parent, you have had to teach your children, through sometimes difficult circumstances, this understanding of cause and effect.  There are consequences for our actions.  If we choose to disobey, there is usually some sort of penalty.  As adults we learn pretty quickly that if we neglect to pay a bill the next one includes the effect – a fee attached.  When we follow our natural tendency to stray from God’s will for our lives, we are setting ourselves up for the effect, the consequences of our actions.

What are the effects of sin?  Why do we need to care about this at all? As part of our 3-pronged focus on overall health, how can any of this possibly lead us to a betterment of our spiritual health?  Again, we are at that point where we may want to toss up our hands and basically say there is no point in trying to lead a Christian life.  Many in our society will agree with you.

The latest study finds that Protestant Christianity no longer constitutes the majority in the United States, declining from 53% to 48% since 2007 alone (for perspective, it was as high as two out of every three Americans in the 1960s).

So where did they go? They didn’t go anywhere.  There is no shift from Protestant Christianity to another religious brand.  Instead, there is simply the abandonment of a defined religion altogether.

Titled “Nones on the Rise,” the study finds that one in five Americans (19.3%) now claim no religious identity.  This is up markedly from the much-publicized American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), released in 2009, which documented “Nones” nearly doubling from 1990 from 8% to 15%.

The “Nones” now make up the nation’s second-largest category, second only to Catholics, outnumbering even Southern Baptists (the largest Protestant denomination).  So who are these “Nones”? Not who you might think.  They are not atheists.  Most still believe in God.  Almost half of them say they pray. They would consider themselves spiritual, or at least open to spirituality. And they are not in one particular demographic; they are young and old, spread among higher and lower incomes, both college educated and holding GEDs, living in rural and urban settings, and both male and female, [of all ethnic backgrounds.]

So perhaps it could be spelled out this way:

Spirituality? “Yes.”

God?  “Probably.”

A specific religion?  “Not for me.”

But at least seeking?  “No, not really.  Not a priority.”

The reason given by the “Nones” for their stance is not surprising: they believe religious organizations are “too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”  Translation: whatever the answer may be, it’s not there.  The breakdown could not be more complete.  It is akin to having a world full of people being open and even interested in hamburgers, but purposefully driving past McDonalds with disdain.  [Source: The Rise of the Nones and the Waking of the Ents – Church & Culture Blog]

Now, aren’t you glad you came to the worship service today?  Doesn’t that just leave you all warm and fuzzy inside?  We need to know where we are before we can fully realize the amazing gift of God’s grace for us.  Let’s review the scripture passage from Romans read for us: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”  Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death.  It is as simple as that.  There is no hope in the hereafter. There is no blessing beyond the grave. There are no angels singing and streets of gold. Just death.

But out of the ashes we rise. Out of despair we find hope.  Out of misery comes comfort.  Death does not have the final say on us.  The scripture continues from Romans 6:23 – “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  When you look at our translation, a lot hangs on that word ‘but.’  Your English teacher probably told you that whatever is stated before this word is negated by the statement made after it.  We do not have to fear death. We do not have to live with the dread of the coming of our end on this earth.  God recognizes our sinful nature, the cause, and God knows the effect, death.  BUT that is not the end of the story.  There is a Balm in Gilead!!! There is a hope beyond anything we can imagine.  There is the promise and gift of eternal life, made possible for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!!!  We are called by God, we are claimed as God’s people – let the church say AMEN!!!

Today, the picture is not pretty.  We are sinful beings, and that is a hard message to hear and receive.  We know we need to return to a right relationship with God, but there is this chasm between us and God created by our willful tendency to sin and stray from God’s guidance for us.  The picture is bleak at best, but never underestimate the power of the light.  Never underestimate God’s love for each of us.  The story doesn’t end with us wandering around lost and confused and hopeless.  Hope was born in Bethlehem. Hope was shining in the life and ministry of Jesus as he walked on earth, healing the sick and downhearted, feeding the masses and caring for the ones society had deemed worthless.  Hope was made manifest to us on the cross, as Jesus walked the criminal’s path to a cruel death in order to give life.  Hope is overflowing at the empty tomb.

The path may seem dark today.  Our trials may seem overwhelming.  The world is crashing in on all sides, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.

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