The Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted. Have you ever read those and thought to yourself, “I am so going to hell!” There are days when I think that my ticket is already stamped. This notion of going to hell is only confirmed when I consider the seven deadly sins.
Pride. How could I possibly be prideful when I’m the humblest person I know? Greed? Yeah. Here’s a good one, lust. You know what I think of when I think of being lustful? Roy Orbison. No. Not Roy himself, but that song of his, “There she was just walking down the street, singing do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do. She looked good, she looked fine, and I nearly lost my mind” What is wrong with me? Sloth? Wrath? Gluttony? Please! Just look at me. I couldn’t come close to measuring up to a single one of the Beatitudes, but give me the seven deadly sins and I’m batting 1,000. I am most certainly going to hell and my only consolation is that I can look around the congregation and know that I’ll at least have several friends with me!
In our Gospel today Jesus was able to overcome all the temptations that the Devil threw at him – worldly pleasures, fame, power, everything – but if you were to set a double beef cheeseburger, large fries and an ice cold Coca-Cola down in front of me, I’m fairly certain that I would commit at least half of the seven deadly sins. If you set that same double beef cheeseburger, large fries, and ice cold Coca-Cola down in front of somebody else, I would probably break the other half.
I know it is Lent and we aren’t suppose to be having any fun in Church, but I’m sure you see the point as it would apply to a wide range of sinful activity that’s a bit more serious than a double cheeseburger.
St. Peter implores us, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” As a Christian people, that is the goal, but so often we end up in the same boat as St. Paul, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
Pride is at the top of the list of the seven deadly sins, because it takes a great deal of humility to admit that we have sinned. Think how difficult it is to go to confession, how much humility it takes to confess your sins to another – many can’t even make themselves practice this sacrament, but if we do humble ourselves, we can recognize that we have sinned, that we have damaged our relationship with God.
But the committing of the sin is not the saddest part? We can discuss the fact that we have sinned. We can identify times in our lives that we committed horrible acts. We can identify times in our lives when someone committed horrible acts against us. We will gladly beat ourselves up time and time again for something we did wrong even if it was years ago. I can stand up here, point you out, and say, “You are a sinner.” With the exception of the very proud, most, in humility will hang their head in agreement and defeat.
During the Ash Wednesday service we recited the 51st Psalm and we can agree with the words David wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.”
But you know what? That’s not the sad part. The sad part is that in the next sentence after I have said you are a sinner – in the very next sentence – I can tell you that you are forgiven – you are forgiven – and the sad part is… you won’t believe me.
Jesus said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Again “Jesus said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” And again, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Peter declares, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” St. Paul writes, “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” St. John confirms, “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus’ name.” All that and many still won’t believe those words, “You are forgiven.”
Not only that, but believing that we are forgiven is almost as difficult as it is for us to forgive others. That whole bit about “forgive, that you may be forgiven.” “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.” Yeah, there are days when I definitely don’t want to pray that! Do you really always forgive others?
Forgiveness, in every form, is key to the teachings of Holy Scripture. We know that it is a large part of our Christian identity, but what does it really mean? I should probably spend Lent beating you over the head with your sins, but most of us don’t need any help with that. So I’ve decided that during this Holy Lent we are going to look at the various aspects of this rather illusive topic.
To begin with, you have an assignment for this week: think about forgiveness. No. Not about who you should forgive or anything like that, but consider your ideas about forgiveness. What do you think Jesus means when he says we should forgive? How can we forgive ourselves? Next week we will begin with many of the myths out there about what true Christian forgiveness is all about and see if what we believe is right or wrong.
In the meantime, consider these words Mahatma Gandhi: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”