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April 27, 2003
1 John 1:1-2:2
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to I John, chapter 1 and follow along as I read 1:1 through 2:2. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--
2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us--
3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;
7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
We begin with Robot, of the classic television show, Lost in Space. The show was set in the far-off future of 1999. “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” Robot the robot would say. The Robinson family had it all — interstellar travel, laser guns, and Robot. Robot was the kind of mechanical drone we all want — a loyal, thinking, mobile machine, a computer who can carry heavy objects, process complex equations, and shoot a death ray from his claws to protect us from harm.
What Robot of Lost in Space could not do, his ’60s cartoon counterpart, Rosy — the talented, sassy and personable robo-maid for the Jetsons — could. Rosy the robot would keep “his boy Elroy” out of trouble, “daughter Judy” from dating the wrong guy, and although she never walked the dog, she did vacuum the apartment.
Then there are the cute and reliable R2-D2 and the comical C3PO of Star Wars. Robots are the stuff of fantasy.
Now it is 2003, and Honda, the car company, has a robot of its own. It is white, bulky, and looks like a warrior out of Star Wars in a NASA space suit. It walks up and down stairs. This, they say, is a major achievement. No death rays, no voice, no computations. It walks, which is great, but it can not do windows, balance the checkbook, or mow the lawn. The current level of robotic technology has not produced a droid that can plant petunias, change the oil, fold the clothes, or scrub the tub. Current robots walk. That’s it and it’s not much—until now.
Enter Roomba—an affordable robotic appliance that can actually do something practical. It vacuums the floor. Roomba is the first mass-produced and mass-marketed robot for home use. Priced at the cost of a normal mid-range vacuum cleaner, $199, this small but powerful vacuum cleaner sweeps as it moves around your kitchen or living room while you are out shopping or working, or just lying outside on your hammock sipping iced tea on a hot summer day.
Roomba was conceived at iRobot, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Artificial Intelligence Lab offshoot company, in Somerville, Massachusetts. Twelve years and 30 generations later, Roomba the robot swept into the market last fall. This high-tech, cordless, rechargeable robot navigates around obstacles, avoids falling down the stairs, and is protected by its non-marring bumper, infrared sensors and, of course, a warranty. Weighing only 5-pounds 10-ounces and measuring 13.5-inches wide, this household robot looks like a heavy Frisbee on wheels.
Roseanne Barr once said, “I’m not going to vacuum ’til Sears makes one you can ride on. “ Well MIT did even better than that. You do not have to ride Roomba or push it. It cleans all on its own.
When cleaning, Roomba begins in a room’s center, moves in ever-expanding concentric circles, working to the space’s perimeter, then begins a crisscross pattern, ultimately covering 95 percent of the floor. Given Roomba’s pie-pan shape, dust bunnies can still hop or roll for the cover and safety of room corners where Roomba can not go. Roomba runs from 60 to 90 minutes on a full charge, giving it enough strength and power to clean a room of spilled kitty litter, dog hair, dirt, dust, and Cheerios on short-pile carpets, hardwood floors, ceramic tile, and linoleum. When the job is done, Roomba stops, beeps sweetly, and shuts itself off.]
Best of all, Roomba operates absolutely alone, and never steals the silver.
Scientists who designed this robot did their homework. Their physicists studied dust and dirt. Their team had to invent, then develop, an efficient vacuum that functioned on a mere trickle of electrical power. They had to study plastic mold injecting, overseas manufacturing, and business. In short, iRobot had to study an problem—dirt—and come up with a new way of dealing with it.
God had a similar problem—dirt, spiritual dirt, or to give it its biblical name—sin. God had a serious dirt problem that required a serious vacuum cleaner. Human beings starting out morally clean, quickly dirtied and muddied themselves up with sin.
The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Our first parents being seduced by the subtility and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit.” (6,1). They broke God’s law. They violated God’s commandment.
Sin is something that should not exist. It has no place in the fabric of creation. Yet it does exist. That is a fact. Adam and Eve were sinners. We are sinners. The origin of sin as far as we are concerned, the origin of sin, from a human point of view, is temptation. Temptation suggests to us that we do wrong, that we transgress the law and will of God, and like Adam and Eve, we are seduced. We go along.
You might ask, Why is it that we give in to temptation? It is a matter of freedom. In Christ, we are free FOR God. We are free to worship God and be God’s people. The temptation to sin offers us freedom FROM God. We substitute our will for God’s will. We substitute our self-chosen end for God’s prescribed end. We transgress the line that separates us from God and try to be God ourselves. That is what Augustine meant when he said that the essence of sin is pride.
Three years ago, the Rev. Kenneth Phillips changed his appearance. According to The Dallas Morning News, this is a man who is bald ... and hates it. He hates it so much that when his hair started retreating years ago he started wearing a toupee, and he did it so well that for 20 years, his church did not know about his fake turf.
Then, on June 4, 2000, in the middle of a sermon, he reached up without warning and removed his hairpiece. Worshipers gasped, cheered, then broke out in prayer. They could not believe what had just happened. Right before their eyes, their pastor had bared his soul, then bared his head. “It was almost like seeing your pastor naked,” said Associate Pastor John Ragsdale.
The sermon had been deeply personal. Phillips spoke about vanity and the sin of pride. He confessed that his fake hair had become a barrier with God. When Phillips confessed to the sin of pride and removed his toupee, worshipers were so moved that a revival in the community and attracted national attention. Soon, newspapers around the world were carrying the story of what was dubbed the “Toupee Revival.” People read the story and laughed. Even phrases like “hairsplitting theology” took on humorous overtones.
“Once I got over the shock that my pastor wore a toupee, it made me realize how superficial we Christians can be sometimes,” said Frianita Wilson, who was there that night. “Our pastor showed us that we can not just play at church. We can not just go through the motions of religion. We have to get real with Jesus.”
Getting real with Jesus means acknowledging our sin, and our pride. In our pride, we attempt to raise ourselves above ourselves and thus bring about our spiritual destruction. The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “By this sin, they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.” By sin, we lost our essential being. We lost our communion with God. Having yielded to temptation and chosen freedom FROM God, we obtained what we chose. The bond that bound us to God is severed; we become separated from God. That is the consequence of sin. Our life is now lived in absence of God. We lose our own essential being and become divided against ourselves. What we are as sinners contradicts what we ought to be, and this contradiction makes our lives a living death. Our nature is denatured, and the effects extend through the entire range of our being. We are as the Confession says, “wholly defiled in all faculties and parts of soul and body.” Every part of our being is effected by sin. This is not to say that there is absolutely nothing good about people without Christ. We often see people who make no profession at all of religion do good things. There is good even in sinful man, but the good is so mixed up with bad motives and bad attitudes that it is never truly good. we are a battlefield of good and evil. We are beings torn by conflicting impulses and divided against ourselves. Thus, we can only say, with the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (RM7:24)
Now I know that some folks would disagree with practically everything I have said about sin. They say there is no sin in the world. Perhaps their eyes are closed to all the suffering caused by humans to each other. Perhaps they can not see the broken bodies and the broken hearts and the broken-souls caused by sin. They do not want to see it. That is their way of coping. They blind themselves to the sin and evil that surrounds them. Thus they are a people without empathy, a people without love.
Or, perhaps they sanitize the problem and call sin by another name. They use that famous phrase: “Mistakes were made.” No person actually made them, no one is responsible, but mistakes were made. Or they use terms like misjudgment, error, miscalculation. The people in charge at Enron and World.Com did not commit sin. They just used creative accounting. They had good intentions, but somehow their good intentions went awry.
That is the way we try to justify, or talk around, sin. But no matter what we say, sin is still sin, and it is part of the human condition. Sin is as common as dust bunnies under the bed. Sin is as ubiquitous as dirt tracked onto a just-waxed kitchen floor on a rainy morning by a clumping ignoramus who forgot to remove his shoes — again.
Sin is a three-letter dirty word. It is a dirty word because it speaks about what we don’t want to hear. It speaks about us, and our treatment of each other, and God.
Sin is not just the big stuff, sin is the small stuff, too. Sin is anything that separates us from God, hides us from God’s light, keeps away from God’s love.
Because sin is common to the human condition, we are tempted to minimize its danger. We are all good people; we just have some annoying bad behaviors, so we think.
It’s not bad to be a sinner, some would say, no more than it is bad to have dark pet hair covering your white carpet. Unseemly, yes; troublesome, yes. You just have to clean it up and try to keep the dog out. Dirt on the floor — that’s the natural order in this world. Sin on our souls — that’s the natural order in this life. You just have to clean it up and try to keep it that way.
God takes a more serious view. While sin is common to the human condition, to be fully human is not to live in sin, but to live beyond sin. Adam and Eve before their disobedience were humans — fully human the way God designed them to be. We can not merely blame our sin on the fact that we’re humans.
A clean moral carpet should be the norm, not the exception. Unfortunately, staying morally clean seems like a big job. It’s like trying to keep the house clean, but it gets dirty anyway. We can try to kick off our shoes before entering, but nothing is to be done about the dust that flows from our clothes, our bodies and our beds. Nothing is to be done about the hair that falls from our heads, Rogaine notwithstanding. As clean as we are, we still all have a need to sweep; we still have a need for a Roomba vacuum cleaner. As clean as we live, try as hard as we like, sin keeps on piling up — like Cheerios beneath a baby’s highchair.
Very few people can stand living in a dirty home unless they live in denial. Why is it, then, so many of us can muddle on living with sullied souls? That is a good question, especially since God has provided an easy option for soul-cleaning that works:
MIT wanted to build a reliable appliance. Nobody wants to buy a vacuum cleaner that costs thousands, needs to be rebooted twice a day and requires a doctorate in software engineering. So they built Roomba.
Well, we have a spiritual problem with dirt. We need what we might call a user friendly answer to the problem, something that we can all understand and apply. Well we have it. God has given us the answer to sin and we find that answer in the Bible.
The Bible uses images of defilement and dirt to describe the human condition. For example: In Isaiah 1:18 (NIV) sin appears as a stain to be removed: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” In Psalm 51 (NIV), sin is a blot that needs to be washed away: “Blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin ... Cleanse me ... and I will be clean;’ wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” In today’s text, the “cleaning” imagery is again invoked: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).
The biblical answer to sin is Jesus Christ. God sent Jesus to do some soul-cleaning. If calling Jesus a soul-vacuum sounds irreverent — and maybe it does — that does not negate what he does. Christ came to cleanse us from our sins. To quote the Confession of Faith again, “The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.” (8,5). This is the work of Christ. It is a work of reconciliation or atonement. “By his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself”—that is by his life and by his death—Christ has made one sacrifice. His one sacrifice on the cross was so completely effective that it never has to be done again. He has redeemed and, ransomed us from sin. He has purchased us FOR God, not FROM God. Thus we have an “everlasting inheritance.” Reconciliation to God through Christ is not only for now but forever. When we turn to Christ and confess our sins, he cleanses us of our sins and gives us a new future of eternal fellowship with God. Amen.
Grossman, Lev. “Maid to order.” Time. September 23, 2002, 59-60, time.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 7/23/03