Someone very dear to me recently asked why our pastors preach so often on the topic of sin. She's got one foot still in the door of our church, but her other foot is in the door of a modern, "evangelical" ELCA "lutheran" church known for its praise services and focus on joy and love. She said that the pastor in her new church is just as good as our pastors, but he doesn't focus on sin so much. She told me she is tired of hearing about sin; she wants to focus on joy and love. Funny thing is that the more time she spends at that church, the less joyful and loving she has become. I say "funny" sadly; I know that irony of trying to achieve love and joy too well. I have walked down that very road and have tried to warn her of the dangers such a church will bring to her faith. My loving warning received accusations of lack of love and judgmentalism. I know that I spoken those things to other Christians in the past. My human heart is so unfaithful; I am so thankful that God has a sure plan to bring me into His holiness someday. My own plans for perfection certainly didn't work!
The more focus a Christian attempts to put a focus on joy and love as a discipline - as the actions and attributes of the good Christian life - the more those things slip right out of your hands. It took me too many years to learn that the only way to become more loving and more joyful is to be totally, completely and daily confronted by my own sinful nature and utter helplessness to become the person I wish I were. It is only at that point that the Holy Spirit can whisper to my soul of where my help comes from. The apostle Paul knew this. He wrote:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!
And so my dear friend, if Paul himself knew that confession and absolution of sin must come before we can shout out for joy upon hearing the good news of our salvation, then how is it that your church is telling you otherwise?
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Jesus reminds us of where we can find rest from our sins and the gentleness and humility that we seek to own. Yesterday in church, my pastor reminded me that the ability to become loving, gentle and humble is a result of hearing the the law pronounced to me so that I understand that I am sinful; and hearing the gospel - the good news of my redeemer- and clinging to my king in desparate thankfulness. Jesus then shows me how to become that loving person I wish I were by taking His yoke upon me and learning from Him.
Even the Old Testament convicts of of our sin and points us to the Savior who will save us from our sins. This is why we can rejoice. Our king comes to us bearing our salvation!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
The scripture for church yesterday is among my favorites. When Paul writes of his own sinful nature, he makes it clear that even the most "accomplished" Christian can not save himself and will not achieve holiness on this earth. But does this message discourage him or us? No! It is the source of our joy! Scripture is clear. We cannot know or experience real joy and love apart from the knowledge that God comes to us with the salvation that we are never able to achieve by ourselves. To tire of hearing about sin is to deny that you have a sinful nature and need a savior. A church that doesn't remind you that you are, indeed, sinful has no way to proclaim the good news that you have a savior. A joy-and-peace-only church is a church that doesn't need Jesus and cannot strengthen Christians. For the rest of us sinners, we need to hear about sin and we need Jesus.