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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The collateral damage of sin

My sermon for this week was based on Luke 12:13-21.

To download an audio of my sermon, click here.

Ok, we need to talk about sin.  I know, it's not popular, it sounds Catholic or at least Baptist, but we have to talk about it.  We have to talk about it, not for your own good but for the good of those around you.

When most people talk or think about sin, they tend to think about "those things that make God angry at me".  They think of sin as something that is only between them and God, and as something that only impacts them personally.

Take the Seven Deadly Sins, for example: pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, sloth and greed.

If we look at each of those sins, superficially they would seem to only affect the person committing them.  If I am prideful, nobody gets hurt, its my problem.  If I am gluttonous, I get fat and have health problems, but they are my problems.  If I am wrathful, I am the one who is angry, my problem.  If I am slothful, I am the one who is lazy, nobody else should care.

What often goes unnoticed with each of these sins and others, is that there is most often collateral damage to sin, a cost to others for our own sin.

Most people who are prideful, for example, buy their pride at the expense of shaming someone else: "Look at my nice car.  I don't know how you can drive that little thing.  Look at my nice house.  I don't know how you can live in an apartment".

If I am gluttonous, for every meal or snack I have that I don't need, mathematically there is less food available for those who don't have enough to live on.

If I am a slothful employee, my employer suffers, our clients suffer, as does the business for which I work.

My wife is occasionally wrathful.  I suffer.

All this to say, we are not the only one who suffers when we sin.  There are other people who are caught in the blast zone, and even if we don't much care what God think of our sin, we should at least care about the impact we have on other people's lives, especially about those we claim to love.

The Gospel passage for today has to do with an inheritance and greed.  Jesus is talking to a crowd, and someone says, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me".

We know a few things about inheritances in those days.  First of all, it was a matter of law.  Sons had every right to expect an inheritance if there was one, and fathers were obligated to divide their estates among their sons when they died.

Second, the eldest son was typically the 'executor' responsible for dividing of the inheritance along some pretty strict guidelines:  the eldest son got a double portion, either because they had less time to enjoy it it, or because the older son typically took over the family farm/plantation/business.

What we can infer from this situation is that the eldest brother is a holdout.  He has control of the family estate and he is not following the law.  He is not giving what his younger brother what he deserves.

I have preached on this passage a number of times, and I always assumed that Jesus was addressing the Parable of the Rich Fool to the man who asked Jesus to intercede for him.  Now I am not so sure.  Chances are, the older brother was also in the crowd, perhaps standing right beside him, which is why the younger brother made his request in the first place: they are treating Jesus like a lawyer or a judge.  I now think Jesus is probably addressing the parable particularly to the older brother, warning him of the collateral damage of his greed.

Here's the thing: yes there is law, there is what is right and what is wrong, but in the end, what must the relationship have been like between these two brothers in the first place?  How fractured and ruptured must their relationship have been for the eldest to withhold the birthright of the younger, and for the younger to feel compelled to drag out the dirty laundry in front of a crowd?

Law is all well and good.  I am a big fan, we need it, I don't want to abolish law at all and neither did Jesus.  But Jesus was not about law, he was about love.  We write laws down, like "Don't kill", "Don't steal", "Don't lie".  If we could, as Jesus admonishes us to do, love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, and love our neighbours as ourselves, we would have no need for law because love for one another would already have us acting in a way which would make law irrelevant.

Law is needed simply because we can't, as a species, quite seem to do that.

I think Jesus would tell us to follow the law if and when we could not find it in our hearts to love one another, but I really think what Jesus is trying to get these brothers to do is look at and fix the problems in their relationship that got them to this point in the first place.

Loved ones should not have to quarrel over money or possessions.  We do occasionally, and that is why it is good to have laws in place, but the tragedy of this Gospel situation is that the sin of greed generates casualties.  It likely did not end with the two brothers and their relationship either.  There were likely wives, children, aunts, uncles and cousins embroiled in this battle as well.

Sin is not something that stops and starts at our doorways.  It is something with far-reaching consequences in our families, churches, communities and the world.

Today, let us follow the law of love.

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