EPISTLE READING 1 John 1:5 – 2:2 (from The Voice)
What we are telling you now is the very message we heard from Him: God is pure light, undimmed by darkness of any kind. If we say we have an intimate connection with the Father but we continue stumbling around in darkness, then we are lying because we do not live according to truth. If we walk step by step in the light, where the Father is, then we are ultimately connected to each other through the sacrifice of Jesus His Son. His blood purifies us from all our sins. If we go around bragging, “We have no sin,” then we are fooling ourselves and are strangers to the truth. But if we own up to our sins, God shows that He is faithful and just by forgiving us of our sins and purifying us from the pollution of all the bad things we have done. If we say, “We have not sinned,” then we depict God as a liar and show that we have not let His word find its way into our hearts.
You are my little children, so I am writing these things to help you avoid sin. If, however, any believer does sin, we have a high-powered defense lawyer—Jesus the Anointed, the righteous—arguing on our behalf before the Father. It was through His sacrificial death that our sins were atoned. But He did not stop there—He died for the sins of the whole world.
GOSPEL READING John 1:29 (from The Voice)
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him. In eager astonishment, he shouted out: Look! This man is more than He seems! He is the Lamb sent from God, the sacrifice to erase the sins of the world!
For the first couple of years after I moved into the parsonage, I paid for a landscaping company to come and mow the lawn. The lawn around the house isn’t that big and there was no reason that I couldn’t do it myself but at the time it just seemed easier to let someone else do it.
The company that was hired to do the work did a fine job. Whenever they came, they knocked the job out fairly quickly and by the time they left the yard looked nice and clean. Overall, having someone else do the work worked out well. My only issue was their inconsistent schedule. Instead of showing up on a regular basis, drive by on the way to other jobs and decide when to come based on how the yard looked. I recognize that this was an attempt to save me money but I often found myself frustrated with their decision. The lawn in the front of the parsonage grows more slowly than in the back yard. When driving by the house, it’s not as obvious when the back needs cutting and so they wouldn’t come as often as I’d like and I’d blame them when the lawn was overgrown.
After some time, I felt it no longer worked to have someone else do the job. So, a couple of summers ago, I decided to start doing it myself. I purchased a lawn mower and canceled the service and have been trying to mow the lawn on my own schedule.
Well, if you’ve driven past the house lately you may have seen that it’s been a little more difficult than I expected. I was very busy the past few weeks and hadn’t had a chance to get out and mow the lawn. Even the slowly growing front lawn became overgrown and a bit of an eyesore. But since I no longer had a lawn service I could no longer say it was their fault. Once I made the commitment to do it myself, I could no longer blame someone else.
Most of the time, it’s easier for us to say that someone else will do it. We encounter situations everyday that we avoid in the naïve hope that the responsibility won’t fall on us. We disagree with someone and believe that it’s their responsibility to come apologize to us. We believe that someone else will speak out against injustice and prejudice. We hope that someone else will write that check or fill the volunteer hours.
I have to admit to you that today’s scripture troubles me. I struggle with the theological idea of “sacrificial atonement” — the idea that Jesus had to die in order for our sins to be forgiven by God. Now, I believe that it was inevitable that Jesus was going to die but I don’t believe it it was God’s plan. Jesus died because he spoke out against an oppressive regime, an empire that ruled by brutality, executing all those who disagreed. Jesus died because he preached a radical message of peace to a world that worships violence. Jesus didn’t die because of God called for his blood; he died because humans did. In order to avoid change, in order to protect themselves, those around Jesus marked him as a scapegoat, blamed him for their sins, and sent him to die.
While I do not believe that this was God’s plan, I know that God was at work. Through the violent death of Jesus, God holds up a mirror to human behavior. The story of the crucifixion is the story of fear and anger and suffering. God’s pure light shines through our darkest moment and shows us our sins. The divine light reflects back to us the revelation that we are so scared of our own death and so willing to think of our self first that we’ll send someone else – even a purely innocent victim – to die in our place. Instead of taking responsibility for our own sins we’ll blame someone else. We’ll say it was God’s plan. We’ll say that Jesus takes away our sins and that we don’t have to worry about them anymore.
Someone else will do it.
John the Baptist shouted out “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
The writer of John’s Gospel says “through his sacrificial death, our sins were atoned.”
I’m sorry, but my cynical reading of that is “We don’t have to worry about our sins, someone else will do it.”
When the lawn guys don’t come to mow my lawn, I can blame them; When I don’t mow my lawn, I have no one to blame but myself.
When I lean on Jesus to take away my sins, can I blame him when I sin again?
What if I take full responsibility? What if I recognize the forgiving God revealed to me through Jesus and I own up to the ways that I’ve hurt another through my words or deeds or when I’ve been insensitive to another’s pain, or when I’ve failed to speak out against injustice or prejudice? Maybe if I confess my shortcomings and take the blame, I’ll realize that God gives me yet another chance to do better. I can ask for forgiveness from those I’ve hurt and I can work to forgive myself. Instead of expecting Jesus to do it for me, I can realize that I have to do it myself.
God didn’t say that Jesus had to die. But through Jesus’ death and resurrection, our eyes are opened to God’s love. Now, instead of expecting someone else to do the work it’s up to us to walk in Christ’s footsteps and continue the work of realizing God’s kingdom on Earth. Instead of expecting someone else to do it, it’s up to us to extend a hand of reconciliation to someone with whom we’ve been fighting. It’s up to us to raise our voice when we see any of God’s children being treated unfairly. It’s up to us to share God’s love with everyone we meet.
And we never know what will happen when we do the work our self. When I finally found the time to mow the lawn, I found that I had to stop every few minutes and take notes because I was getting ideas for this morning’s message. By mowing the lawn, I was able to write my meditation.
When we seek truth boldly and love deep within our heart; when we work tirelessly for justice, freedom, and peace among all people; when we reach out our hands to comfort those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish. When we begin to live like we really can make a difference in this world, others might just see us living the life that God intends for us. Then we won’t be alone. Because of the example we set, because we are doing it, we’ll inspire others and then, maybe then, someone else will do it, too.