Sin Matters

by Fr. Mark Kurowski | MySpiritualAdvisor2020

#SinMatters is the podcast for December 8, 2019, John the Baptist goes to a political rally. What happens next?  Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Matthew3 #Gifts #Advent #PresidentialElection #Sadducees #Pharisees #DaleCarnegie #JohntheBaptist

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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday,   12/8/2019  The 2nd   Sunday of Advent.

Please pause this audio and read Matthew 3:1-12.

         What do you want for Christmas? This is what I want:

         John the Baptist walks into a political rally, of which we are having many in this run up to a presidential election year, and wears a shirt that said, “SIN MATTERS!” (I do not want to diminish Black Lives Matter, here, but I am playing off of their idea. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.) At a Democratic presidential rally or a Trump rally, the shirt would stand out as John yells out, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” “Stop lying! Stop taking money under the table! Stop stealing from your friend, family, employer! Stop gossiping! Stop being jealous of others! Stop demonizing your opponents! Stop having sex outside of marriage! Stop having adulterous affairs! Stop sinning in your anger! Stop staying home on Sunday! Stop cheating God by not giving him the tithe! Get ready for the return of the chosen one of God! It is near!”

         I could read the headline, “Unstable religious zealot stops political rally.”

         This passage from the Gospel of Matthew for today has one of my favorite scenes ever in Scripture. Here is the crazed looking wild man who lives out in the desert, a place thought to be haunted by demons. He is a man who eats bugs and wild honey. He wears a garment meant to make you feel uncomfortable.   It is usually worn by those who want to be aware every moment of how they are behaving. He is wild haired and wild eyed it seems. The wealthy well-coiffed Pharisees and Sadducees who represent domesticated religion are called to go out and see this spectacle of a man.   The prim and proper set are convicted by what they encounter. A wild man is calling the so-called “well behaved” to more than just the keeping of laws and regulations out of self-interest.  The wild Baptizer is calling all of us to put God first in our lives.

         He takes a page right out of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, “You brood of vipers!” in other words, “You snakes in the grass!” “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Not exactly snake charming behavior. Yet, there are some things here about the wild prophet who fulfills scripture by preparing the way for the Lord to come that we ought to remind ourselves of in this time of Advent.

Remember, the first two Sundays of Advent, we prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus.  In this passage, John the Baptist reminds us that sin matters. Sin is the thing that keeps us separated from God and one another.

         St. Augustine said, “Sin is the turning in upon the self.” When you turn in upon the self, you do not consider the other. People become objects for us to manipulate to do what we want. They are to please us by letting us have what we want. They are to please us by letting us use them to get more money. They are to please us by letting us use them for a sense of power. They are to please us by giving us what we want sexually. All of these things take the creation of God, human beings, and use them as objects. To use a human being as an object for your own use, whatever that use may be, is sin.

         So, Jesus comes to give us a way to focus on not using other people and not using the earth for our purposes, but for God’s purposes. It is Jesus who will be the ultimate remedy for sin, but John’s coming is to prepare the people who will be Jesus’ people. He is to remind us that sin is an issue. Sin, again, is when we use any other person, place, or thing as objects to satisfy our own wants and not God’s wants. John is laying it on the table. Those who want to welcome the Messiah, must repent of their sin. They must turn and live a different life. We must turn and live different lives.

         Another thing that marks John’s repentance is that our attitudes change. I love this passage told in Luke because John the Baptizer actually tells those who are struck by their sin what they should do to show their repentance and correct their wrongs.  When the people confess their sins, he gives them a penance. When we repent, we commit to right our wrongs. When we confess our sins, we need to have someone who is not within us. We do not see what we should do. We often go easy on ourselves, “Well, I confessed it within me.” Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. We need to change. We need someone to tell us what we should do to right our wrongs.

         Additionally, and centrally to repentance, is to say what we did wrong. We have to believe in our heart and confess with our lips that we have done something wrong that we need to “get off our chest.”  When the Pharisees and Sadducees confess their sin and commit to change their lives, they then are ritually washed clean in a baptism of John. This is not our baptism; it does though tie baptism to sin, confession, and repentance.

         If you notice, these components of repentance are also the components of the Sacrament of Confession. John lays the ground work for Jesus coming and breathing the Holy Spirit on the Apostles so that whatever sins they forgive will be forgiven in heaven. John is laying the ground work for Baptism being the first Sacrament of Repentance and laying the ground work for the Sacrament of Confession which follows.

         When Jesus comes, when he defeats death, he will send the Holy Spirit in Baptism to cleanse us of our sin and apply the work of the Cross to our sins.  When we are Baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we are cleansed of our sin and given a deposit of the faith that will grow. Be assured, we will be attacked and tempted by sin over and over again. What are we to do with that?

         We are to do what John is calling everyone to do: repent. We are to confess our sins from our heart. It is not enough to just think them. We need to confess our sins, say them out loud.  We need to change our way of living to make God our first priority.  From the foundation for the Sacraments of Baptism and Confession being laid by John, he is reminding us that the reason that Jesus came is to free us from our sins so that we can stop looking at the world and other people as means to our ends.

         So, in our consumerist culture, we at this time of year hear this: “What do you want for Christmas?” “What gift can I give you?”  We busy ourselves buying things that have no meaning.  They have a life expectancy that is as long as our interest. They will be put in a landfill when someone takes our body out of our house and cannot figure out what to do with all of our stuff.

         So, here are some gift ideas for Christmas straight out of preparing for the Second Coming of Christ in the spirit of John the Baptist:  Give a hand written note that asks for forgiveness for some wrong you have done to another. Buy a meal that has been prepackaged by some organization that helps battered women, like the Women’s Bean Project. Or, make a donation to the Heifer Project in the person’s name to purchase chicks, goats, livestock, or some other food producing animal which will be sent to a village where food is scarce. Make something by hand that will be treasured because you made it.  Take someone out to an event they could not otherwise afford.  Apologize for something you have done to someone and then do something that is at least in some small way a reversal of what you have done.

         Whatever it is be intentional about our faith.  Sit down, look within, make a list of sins from which you need to repent. Take that list to Confession and tell them to the priest. If you have not been baptized, then ask for baptism and do what you are told. The coming of Christ requires preparation says Isaiah. So, the Lord sent John the Baptist to call us to repentance.  We must hear and prepare the way of the Lord.

         I still would like very much to see John with a “Sin matters” T-shirt at a political rally. Amen.    

This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated.  My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2019.

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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.

Mark Kurowski, M.Div.

Executive Director

Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian