>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, September 27, 2009. The text for this week’s message is Mark 9:38-50.

I want to spend some time this morning talking about something that we touch on from time to time, but realistically, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about it. Primarily, I want to focus on the second half of today’s passage, and look at sin and grace from a Wesleyan perspective. The simple truth is, sin is a subject that we have to look at from time to time. It is going to be slightly uncomfortable because, we all sin, we all know we sin, we all know that everyone else sins, and in some cases, we like to focus a whole lot more on everyone else’s sin because it makes us feel a little better. At the end of the morning, I don’t want anyone to be thinking, “Oh that was a great message, but it doesn’t really apply to my life.” Because that is baloney, and we all know it. I want to start off our conversation this morning by talking about sin in the most logically way possible – my car.
As long as it’s not too hot outside, I like to drive with windows down. There’s just something about the wind blowing through the car that is relaxing to me. One day, as I was driving, I went to put the window down, and there was this absolutely horrible sound coming from the inside of my door. I remember a rattle, a rattle, a clunk and a whirrrrrr. And then my window wouldn’t budge. It was already down a few inches, but it wouldn’t down any further, and it wouldn’t go up.
Because I am such a fantastic amateur mechanic, when I got home, I took out the mailing tape, pulled the glass to the top and taped it together. It actually worked fairly well, unless it rained, and then the rain would leak onto the driver’s seat and I’d have to replace the tape. And because I am such an amazing amateur mechanic, I kept a towel and extra tape in the car for just such an occasion. I’m pretty easy-going, and cheap, and it was almost winter, so I let this cycle continue for quite some time. Finally in the spring, I decided to open up the car door and see what actually happened. So, I pulled the car into the garage, got out my tools and took the car door apart to find out what was going on. I’m going to pause the story there, keep you in suspense and come back to it in a little bit.
John Wesley believed that in order for us to properly deal with sin, we have to understand what it is. In his sermon entitled “Original Sin,” Wesley compared sin to a disease. It was something that made us sick, infected us and affected us in negative ways. In order to get the right medicine, it is important for the doctor to have the right diagnosis. One of the television shows that Katie and I watch is called House. The main character is a cranky, mean-spirited doctor who gets away with things simply because he is good at what he does, and perhaps that is another issue for another time. But anyway, he is a diagnostician specialist, which means, when nobody else can figure out what is wrong with a patient, House is the one who figures it out. Invariably, by the end of the show, he gets the correct diagnosis and the patient gets along just fine. But the key is the diagnosis. The diagnosis has to be right in order to get the right treatment.
For example, you cannot cure a sinus infection with Pepto Bismol. It just doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about alternative uses for pharmaceutical drugs that actually work, I’m talking about targeting the wrong thing in the first place. You don’t use a bandage to stop a headache, and you don’t use Tylenol to stop the bleeding of a cut on your arm. You have to get the right diagnosis, and then you get the right treatment. The same is true for a car.
I really don’t know all that much about cars. It’s one of the many things in this life that I have never taken the time to learn. You want to learn how to calculate a pitcher’s earned run average? I can teach you that. You want to know how to change your oil? I’m clueless. I do have one of those books that show a complete breakdown and build up of a car, so I can figure out a few relatively simple things. But I’m no more a mechanic than I am a baseball player. However, I knew that there was something going on inside the driver’s side door, and that is where I started looking.
If I had started out by looking under the hood or in the trunk, people would have thought that I was crazy and completely wasting my time. If you start by looking in the right place, you are already putting yourself in a good position to find some of the right answers. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? The same is true when it comes to sin. We need to understand what sin is, and understand the impact that sin has had on our lives in order to get the full scope of what is going on.
In the beginning, God creates humanity in His image. Genesis 1:27 – “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them.” However, something significant happens in our history. Humanity disobeyed God. You may have heard about the story of the Garden of Eden – Eve is hanging out, she starts talking to a snake, the snake convinces her to eat the apple that God told her not to eat, she gives the apple to Adam, and they get kicked out of the Garden. Now, first of all, a little sidebar here, I think Eve gets a bad rap on this one. Eve gets blamed for the whole thing, but is that really fair? Genesis 3:6, “She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her and he ate.” Eve was not alone, she was just the first one to take a bite.
Anyway, the point is that there was one commandment that was given and it was disregarded. I don’t believe the story of the Fall is just about the sin of two individuals. I think it is about the sin of all humanity. There is something within all of us that causes us to sin. It’s a disease that infects the entire human race, and gets passed down from generation to generation. Sin, ultimately, is what separates us from God. Sin is what has caused us to become a pale representation of who we are supposed to be. It mars the image of God in all of us. Sin is an issue that we all have to deal with at one point or another.
As we walk through the story of the Israelites in the Old Testament, and as we read about their time in the wilderness, we begin to see the seriousness of sin. I know this is a weird question to ask, but have you ever thought about the sacrificial system that is set up in the book of Leviticus? I know that it is strange for someone to admit this, but I tend to think about these things every once in a while. Honestly, I have no idea why, but I do. One of my seminary professors told the class once that pastors are not normal, and it’s because we sometimes sit around and think about things like this.
Anyway, what strikes me about the sacrificial system is the fact that in order to atone for sin, blood has to be shed. And I’m not talking about getting your finger pricked at the doctor’s office to check your blood type kind of bloodshed. If you want the specifics, you are going to have to read Leviticus yourself. The point is that sin is costly. And that is the point that Jesus is trying to make here in Mark 9. There is sin in our lives and we have to cut that sin out of our lives. Jesus says that if your hand, or your foot, or your eye causes you to sin, then you need to cut it off. Now, I don’t think Jesus meant this to be taken literally. But what is his point here?
Sin will ruin us if it is not taken care of. What is it that causes us to sin? It’s not our hand; it’s what we make our hands do. It’s not our feet; it’s what we make our feet do. It’s not our eyes; it’s what we make our eyes do. Sin is not a problem that can be fixed by poking out your eye. If that were the case, then there would be a lot of one-eyed people out there. The problem runs deeper than that. Sin ruins us to the very core, and it is only by the grace of God that sin gets rooted out of our lives.
Wesley taught about prevenient grace. It is the grace of God that precedes our repentance. It is the grace of God that enables us to draw closer to Him before we even come to the point of salvation. The sin that exists in us prior to our conversion keeps us away from God, but by His grace, we can enter into a relationship with Him. The first step of entering into relationship with God is repentance.
In the Greek, repentance is a fascinating word – metanoia. The meta means “to alter,” and the noia refers to the mind. Literally, it means to alter, or change one’s mind. In life we are going in a specific direction, and when we repent, when we have this changing of our minds, our lives are altered. The direction in which we are headed is no longer our destination. Do you remember me talking about direction a few months back? You will end up where you are headed. And if your life is full of sin and living contrary to God, then your destination is pretty well laid out. If we live our lives in the here and now without God, why would we want to spend eternity with God? However, repentance changes that course. It changes the direction of our lives, and we start to live in a way that honors God. We live our lives in a way that is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In the old sacrificial system, atonement was made yearly. Every year an animal was sacrificed to pay for the sins of the nation, and for individuals. At the time of the Passover, a lamb was slaughtered to pay for the sins of the nation. And what we see in the story of Jesus is that this atonement has been made in such a complete and final way, that there is no need for the annual atonement anymore. The Son of God was the lamb that was slain for our sins. The message of the church in the first century was simply this – we have all fallen short of God’s standard of holiness; there is nothing that we can do to atone for our sins and draw us closer to God; out of His love for the world, God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross and show us that it is possible to live our lives in full relationship with Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Repent and believe the good news.
It almost sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Yet, this same message has been proclaimed for centuries. Countless lives have been changed by the working of the Holy Spirit; people have come to live without the guilt and shame of their sin separating them from God. And they have come to know Jesus in a very real and personal way. Through Christ, sin has been cut out of their lives. Not because they chopped off their foot or poked out their eye, but because they have put their faith in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit has worked in their hearts to remove the sin through the process that we call sanctification. We can’t cut it out of our lives on our own, but we can draw closer to God and allow Him to work within and cut the sin out of our lives.
And the thing is – it’s hard. We may rather poke out an eye than deal with the sin that is in our lives. Because, sometimes, the pattern of sin is so ingrained into us that it feels like an extra limb; that it feels like a part of our bodies that is just weighing us down. Let’s be honest, there are some sins in our lives that we like, and we don’t want to get rid of them. But we have to; we have to let go of those things in our lives that are keeping us separated from God.
We have discovered that there is a problem. We have diagnosed the problem, and now we need to address the problem. I’ve managed to cope with the broken part in my car door. I even have it fixed to the point that I’m not using tape to keep the window up anymore, but eventually, I’ll need to get a new part to fix my car. The old part is so corrupted and messed up that there is no way that it can be used again. The same is true for our old, sin-filled lives. We can cope with them, even learned to deal with our deficiencies, but realistically, what is best for the long run is a new part. Parts of our lives are so messed up, that they aren’t doing us any good in the long haul. There are parts of our lives that just have to be cut out, and we can’t do it on our own.
I’m going to ask you to pray about a very dangerous thing this week. Pray that God will show you the areas in your life that are so filled with sin that they just need to be cut out. Pray that God will reveal to you where you are lacking in your walk of faith; where it is that you continue to shut God out. And then pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in your lives in such a way that you draw closer and closer to God each and every day.