"Can Anyone Take Away Our Sin?"

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – January 19, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42


    Have you ever wondered where your personal beliefs had their origin?   They could have come from Sunday school teachers, Bible study, mom or dad reading stories to us or just plain thinking about your responses to what you are experiencing.  Listen to this quote from Siddhartha Gautama that was written 500 years before Jesus was born.  He became Buddha, the Enlightened One, and was founder of Buddhism.  Here it is:

    Do not believe what you have heard.  Do not believe in tradition because it has been handed down for many generations.  Do not believe in anything that has been spoken of many times.  Do not believe because the written statements come from some old sage.  Do not believe in conjecture.  Do not believe in authority or teachers or elders. Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, UNLESS it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.  After careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it.

    These words have helped me to challenge everything I have been taught in the area of my faith, my attitudes and my life’s decisions.  This quote is partially responsible for my being a rebel when my theology does not even come close to what the majority of others think or believe.

    There are times when Christians attach themselves to theological formulas that have no meaning to them but because the words sound wonderful, believers hold on to them.  One such quote was used by John the Baptist in our lesson today.  John saw Jesus and said to his listeners, “There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Most of us are familiar with this verse but few people understand what it means.

    Does anyone really have the power to take away our past and present errors in judgment?  Each of us knows that we have spoken words in haste that we later regret. We know that some of us have a passionate need to have our way when we know we are right.  We know we have been judgmental on those who have hurt us with their decisions and attitudes. There are times when we wish we could rewind our lives like a DVD and delete all those moments when we engaged in childish behavior.   

    What meaning can we give to “There goes the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world?”  If this is true, how does it work?  This morning we are going to examine this cherished belief.

    Can anyone take away our sin?  The answer is no.  Not even God can remove from our record something we have already done.  Remember, forgiveness cannot erase anything.  Does this sound like a sacrilege? To some people, I am sure it does.  Think about it.  What purpose would be served by removing a mistake we have made, particularly when we are still growing, still maturing and still very prone to making mistakes?  What is true for all of us is that we do not know what we do not know.  Life is a process of evolution.

    None of us would ever label an infant a failure because it does not yet have control over the processes of elimination.  We know the steps parents go through when they potty-train their children.  We know children have to be trained to use their words and not their hands when they encounter something or someone that makes them unhappy. All of us have learned valuable lessons from the mistakes we have made.  Think of what we would have missed if someone took away those mistakes.   

    As we have mentioned before, the word sin is an archery term that literally means to miss the bull’s eye.  All of us miss the mark constantly, particularly during our early years.  During a process of trial and error, we have learned better ways to achieve our goals, developed attitudes that better serve us, or we have found better ways to resolve those cyclical issues that continue to challenge us.   

    Quite often our skills come from repeated failures.  Perhaps the greatest sin of all is never getting started on improving the quality of our lives.  For some people, they need to go to prison for awhile and pay their debt to society.  Some people need to learn from the consequences of quitting school early or walking away from a job because they had developed an attitude about their supervisor.  Some people need to learn that when they leap at something they desperately want, the greener pasture they seek cannot give them the happiness and fulfillment they are seeking. Need and desire are energies that produce joy only when we create with them.       

    One of my favorite stories about Dr. Leo Buscaglia was when he grew complacent with his teaching career and wanted to explore the world.  Italian families are very close and Leo treasured the relationship he had with his mother.  He told her his plans.  She said, “Felice, your job is a treasure and you can always explore the world sometime in your future.  Your students need a person with your abilities.  Not everyone can become a tenured professor at the University of Southern California 

    His urge was too great to follow through on his dream.  He quit his job, sold his house and went on the journey of a lifetime.   His adventure was one of the greatest experiences of his life and was the substance of one of the many books that he wrote.  The crown jewel of his journey, however, came when he ran out of money. 

    Leo called his mother from somewhere in Europe and told her his problem.  He said, “You were right, Mama.  Right now I need you to wire some money to me so I can fly home.”  She said, “Felice, I am not going to do that.”  He said, “Mama, I don’t have enough money to buy a loaf of bread.  Please!  What am I doing to do?”  Being the very direct counselor that she was, his mother said, “Well, I guess you are going to die.” Immediately after saying that, she hung up the phone on him.

    Leo said, “THAT is when my life really began to focus on my need to take responsibility for my future.”  His mother’s wisdom was timely and her words forced him to become resourceful and self-reliant.  He found work almost immediately, gathered enough money, flew home and re-established his career.  Can you imagine what would have happened had his mother “taken away his sin” by bailing him out of the chaos that he created?  He learned a lesson that became a building block for the rest of his life.

    What does it mean when we read, “There goes the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world”?  When Jesus began his ministry, he thoroughly understood that the majority of the people listening to him were sleep-walking.  Even the brilliant Scribes and Pharisees that were well-educated had not awakened from their spiritual slumber.  They were merely parrots that repeated information that had been handed down from their ancestors. 

    In those days, no one was thinking.  People were existing and being governed by centuries- old routines.  No one suspected that an invisible world existed that was filled with treasure that was readily available to everyone.  Jesus had to figure out a way to help his people to pierce the bubble of their ignorance so they could discover this inner world and train what they find there to serve them and others.  Jesus had to ignite a hunger that his people never realized they had.   He had to teach them the answers to questions that his people were not asking.  

    To better understand Jesus’ frustration, we need to look around at our world today.  The same thing is happening to millions of people who were never taught to think about their lives.  Others have tried to intervene when their friends or family members cannot cope with their lives.  They send them to their pastors, psychiatrists and counselors.  Physicians dispense medications.  Friends provide parties where alcohol, illicit drugs and sexual favors are available.    What drove Jesus into a life of teaching was his desire to awaken people to a potential most of his listeners did not know they have.

    Jesus takes the sin of the world away by teaching and guiding people to use their mistakes as stepping stones that will take them across the rapid currents of countless distractions to an exciting destiny that waits.  This is explosive information that can propel individuals to use their genius to create what will eventually send all the cultures of the world into a new realm of understanding, cooperation and prosperity that they have never known.  

    What Jesus presented to the human race was the Rosetta stone for understanding human nature.  The metaphor of living in the Kingdom of God has no meaning to countless people living in the 21st century.  This ignorance is compounded if they have no religious orientation at all. What Jesus modeled and pointed to was not a place, it was a consciousness, a cluster of attitudes and a link to the power that created everything. 

    The external world is our playground designed to sustain our physical forms, emotionally, physically and spiritually.  For example, for emotional health, our bodies need to experience loving others and being loved and touched.  For our physical health, we need to exercise our bodies and maintain healthy eating patterns.  For our spiritual health, we need art, poetry, music and the use of our imaginations to dream and create what is not yet present in the world.  

    There was a woman some years ago who had recently divorced, was penniless and found herself sitting in a restaurant making soup from a mixture of mustard and ketchup packets, sugar and water.  She developed a burning desire to create the words of her first book on the trials of Harry Potter.  J. K. Rowling has become the richest author of all time with a net worth of one billion dollars.

    Mark Zuckerberg is the 29 year- old that is worth 19 billion dollars because he had an idea for an Internet platform where everyone could share information about themselves.  He called it Facebook.  Mark had no interest in wealth.  He was interested only in bringing the world together to meet a need very few people really knew they had.

    Where do we think the qualities like genius, resourcefulness, imagination, vision, intuition and creativity have their origin?  Where are they located?  These qualities are not available in the world.  We only see the results from people who have developed these qualities in order to earn a living. Jesus was teaching his listeners that everyone has these qualities inside of them.

    Humans only miss the mark when they do not look within themselves where their assets exist.   Jesus takes the sin of the world away by teaching people to demand more from themselves and by relying less on how others have labeled them.  

    We have the potential to create what other people need, no matter how humble our skills might be. God would never allow our species to exist without the potential to develop skills that would enable all populations to thrive.  The only requirement of us is to access them and use what we find to make the world a more loving and wholesome place for men and women to live.  It is happening everywhere and it is fun and exciting to be a part of this transformation of all cultures.