Saved— from what?

Rev. Tracy Heilman
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Journeys in Faith

First John includes verses about sin. Verse 8: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Verse 4: “Everyone who sins breaks God’s law, because sin is the same as breaking God’s law. Verse 7:

“Children, don’t be fooled. Anyone who does right is good, just like Christ himself.”

Passages such as these, passages of internal conflict, make it difficult to claim that we believe the Bible to be undisputedly true, without fault, for how can we say that it is absolutely true that in Christ we are no longer sinners at the same time as proclaiming that we deceive ourselves if we think that we are no longer sinners.

This is why I will continue to challenge us to take the Bible seriously, if not literally. Today I would like us to seriously consider, as did the writer of 1st John, the problem of sin. If we believe that through the cross we are saved, washed clean, or promised a second chance, then we need to wrestle with the question: from what sin exactly are we saved?

Let’s start with what our ancestors in faith understood. In both the Hebrew and the Greek sin is “missing the mark.” The Hebrew word (hata) for sin originates in archery and meant missing the bullseye. The Greek word also understood sin as missing the mark, especially in spear-throwing.

Sin, then, involves knowing or perceiving the “target” (the right way of living) but failing to achieve it.

Throughout the Bible we have multiple encounters with those attempting to show us right living. Moses brings us the 10 commandments, rules for how we are to live together in community. Simple things, really.

Love God, protect Sabbath for all, pay attention to our elders, honor our commitments, don’t be greedy, don’t lie and don’t kill. Jesus reminds us that all of the laws and the prophets can be summed up in the command to love God and to love our neighbors.

And before he dies, Jesus gives us the New Commandment, that we are to love each other as he loved us.

From these, I propose that “our target” for living as God intends us to live, is to love God and neighbor. To love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And that sin is failing to respond to God and neighbor with anything short of Love.

Missing the mark (sinning) is acting out of greed, pride, dishonesty, brutality, tribalism, xenophobia. Such sins can be done as an individual or a group. Why then is it that so much of our society’s focus on sin is about morality, and personal morality at that?

We are hyper-focused on personal and individual “moral failures,” with little or no contemplation about how we live and function, how we share and show love, as groups and communities.

And we are missing the mark when we believe that the law and the prophets, the Beatitudes and the parables, these precious and sacred stories of our faith, are directed only at us as individuals and fail to see the ways that the systems and structures of our world also need to be transformed by the Love of God.

The actions that separate us from God are unloving actions. Jesus came to teach us that the Law was designed to help us avoid unloving actions. He also came to show us how the fullness of love appears in action: it looks like healing people who are hurt, feeding people who are hungry, loving people who are shunned, defending people who are overwhelmed, friends sharing food together, grieving over the loss of a friend, a conversation over a drink of cool water, helping the celebration along at a wedding, or helping the lost to find meaning in life.

Friends, Jesus’ life unto death showed us how far love will go, what love looks like when it is played out to its fullest. May we be so faithful to God’s love, so committed to Christ’s way, that we will also have as our target the actions that always seek to further God’s love - personally, corporately, privately and systemically.

May we never miss the mark in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as our selves.