The collect for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany asks God to free us “from the bondage of our sins and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son.” I once worked with a clergyperson who told me he didn’t believe in sin. I think what he meant by this was that he believed acknowledgement of sin produced guilt and that guilt was bad for us!
It would be a pity to write off our understanding of sin in this way. We clearly live in a world broken and torn by sin. We are sinful people. If we are honest, we can point to many occasions when we have been unloving and limiting of ourselves and others. Even St. Paul says of himself, “For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil that I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19) Paul, of course, is much closer to the issue than my friend. He was prepared to acknowledge that we have something inside us, which inhibits our lives and has the power to destroy when it “gets out.” We can be so reluctant to admit this about ourselves that we shy away from trying to understand what is going on. But the price for ignoring our brokenness is high.
To own our human frailty is the first step towards “the liberty of that abundant life” of which the collect speaks. Sin seeks to limit our capacity to become whole through God’s generous love and forgiveness. Sin seeks to erect a barrier between God and ourselves by making us fearful, controlling, and rigid. Sin seeks to dominate our lives by seeming to be very large and too awful to confront.
But in Christ, we can see it is love that seeks to increase our capacity to be whole. Love that lowers the barriers of our lives to enable us to become courageous, free, and adventurous. Love that reveals the small and shabby nature of sin. Love that sets us free.
As you pray, ask God to reveal to you the ways in which you limit your human capacity as a child of God. Lay those limits down and ask for God’s grace to embrace all that this day and the coming week will bring. Or, as Martin Luther puts it, “Sin bravely and more bravely still believe.”
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves