Psalm 32; Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11 “Sinner” as Endearment
March 9, 2014 – Caitlin Trussell
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
Psalm 32 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Selah) 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Selah) 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. (Selah) 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Let’s talk about sin. Yup, okay, right on schedule, I can feel your collective joy surging at the idea of this conversation. Regardless, let’s push on, shall we? The general complaint I most often hear when it comes to using the word “sin” is that it’s off-putting. It’s out of touch with the times. People don’t generally like being made aware of their shortcomings or flaws. And, I agree, it stinks. That’s one of the problems with the way conversations about sin typically go. Someone offers me a laundry list of my sins, or maybe just one big one, to which I may or may not agree and off we go into the maze of moral reckoning.
There’s an alternative to entering that maze…and that is by entering the garden. In this garden, God was at the center of all things. The man and the woman reflected the image of God. Seduced by the serpent, they replaced God with themselves in the center of things. They set themselves up to be “like God” and ended up breaking up with God.  This break is sin – singular, not plural. It’s been labeled “Original.” But calling it Original Sin has become distracting due to theologians who sexualized this main break with God. I’m well aware that, by mentioning it, I just lost some of you down that rabbit hole now.
Rather than label it, let’s just call it sin – singular, not plural. Sin puts the man and the woman right in the center of things where God should be; with no way of fixing the broken relationship with God on their own.  Broken away from God’s image, the self becomes a fix-it project. It is from this break with God that comes all of our relational sins against God, each other, and our selves.
Sin leaves the creatures that God so loves in need of atonement. Atonement simply means “reconciling [the] parties that have been separated.”  We are in need of what only God can do – something we cannot do for ourselves.
So God takes action. In skin and solidarity, God moved into the world in Jesus and ended up hung on a cross. Paul, in our reading from Romans this morning, uses all kinds of words to describe God’s movement in Jesus Christ – free gift, grace, justification, made righteous. One of my favorite things to do is sit around and talk about what all these words mean. Suffice it to say for the moment that they mean the burden is on God to mend the break, to atone on our behalf.
However we name humanity’s inherent flaw, and its cause, it is on God to atone, to bring together, to reconcile, that which is broken between us and God. The short-form of this Christian code is what we often call “God’s promises.” In a few moments, Althea will receive those promises in her baptism. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, she will be baptized into the body of Christ in the form of this congregation. Over time, we will remind her and she will remind us of God’s action on our behalf.
Rather than off-putting, I invite us to consider the language of sin as a kindness to ourselves and each other. A kindness that gives us relief from the self-perfection project. A kindness that creates space for forgiving other people of their non-perfection and forgiving ourselves for our own.
Sinners need something that God can give – and God gives it…
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” [Psalm 32:1]
Sinners, through the cross, are given a way to tell the truth about falling short…
“Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” [Psalm 32:2]
Sinners know that not telling this truth about themselves is exhausting…
“While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” [Psalm 32:3-4]
Sinners talk to God…trusting in God’s forgiveness…
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” [Psalm 32:5]
Sinners encourage each other to talk to God…
“Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you.” [Psalm 32:6]
And through it all, sinners get together to remind each other of God’s promises…
“Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” [Psalm 32:11].
Here’s a homework assignment. Picture someone you’re close with, perhaps a good friend, family member, or spouse. The very next time they disappoint you, I invite you to silently think, “Sinner.” Now, don’t yell this or say it out loud because it could go very badly for all involved. Just think it as a silent endearment, almost a prayer, “Sinner.” The endearment begs its response…forgiveness. It may take awhile for you to get there. But in all that time that it takes you, God has already forgiven that person, and God has already forgiven you.
Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Romans 5:12-19 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
 Nadia Bolz-Weber on Sarcastic Lutheran at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/02/why-i-love-ash-wednesday-and-lent-part-1-sin/
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 113.
 Theological reflection on the cause of “The Fall” that breached God’s intention for the creature as imago dei is beyond the scope of this paper. For in depth treatment of this topic, see preceding Bonhoeffer citation.
 Luke 23:39-43
 Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 114.
 Giles Fraser, “Secular Lent is a Pale Imitation of the Real Thing…I Want Nothing to Do With It.” The Guardian on March 7, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/mar/07/secular-lent-pale-imitation-real-thing?CMP=twt_gu
 Ibid. Giles Fraser quoting: Marilynne Robison in The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (New York: Mariner Books, 1998), 156.