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Ashes: Sin & Temptation

Date: 19/03/2023/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Ashes: Sin
19 March 2023
Miak Siew

Preface- there is use of language that comes from a place of privilege as someone who is not visually impaired. I hope people who are visually impaired hears this message from a place of generosity and forgiveness.

I’ve been told we don’t talk a lot about sin at FCC. I think it is important to understand why we don’t talk so much about sin.

First, sin is a very loaded word. Many of us have been bludgeoned, cut, bashed by that word.

One song comes to mind – and this song shows my age.

When I look back upon my life
It’s always with a sense of shame
I’ve always been the one to blame
For everything I long to do
No matter when or where or who
Has one thing in common too

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a sin
It’s a sin
Everything I’ve ever done
Everything I ever do
Every place I’ve ever been
Everywhere I’m going to
It’s a sin

Back during when I was in Primary 6 in 1987 – this song – It’s a Sin by Pet Shop Boys was considered satanic. I wonder if people still do. I think they’ve missed the point of the song – it is a critique of the religious education Neil Tennant received at the Catholic secondary school – and I have experienced some of that growing up too – pop music is satanic, D&D is satanic – it’s like “Everything I’ve ever done
Everything I ever do, it’s a sin.”

In an interview in 2019, Neil Tennant said “People took it really seriously; the song was written in about fifteen minutes, and was intended as a camp joke and it wasn’t something I consciously took very seriously.

Sometimes I wonder if there was more to it than I thought at the time. But the local parish priest in Newcastle delivered a sermon on it, and reflected on how the Church changed from the promise of a ghastly hell to the message of love.”

So often the word “sin” is used in a way that’s not helpful – those who use the word have decided (consciously or unconsciously) that they get to label what is sin and are able to judge others through that. I wonder if some of you have experienced that.

Recently there has been a lot of bruhaha going on in the US about drag queens. Drag queens and transgender people have been targeted by conservatives and extremist far-right and militia groups amid a general rise in anti-LGBTQ hate.

Drag has been with us for a long, long time. And drag had been pretty acceptable – In Singapore, we have Kumar, Liang popo. We had in the mid 90s the really gay The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Love Julie Newmar with Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze in drag. Then there were the more family friendly, more “wholesome” movies Tootsie (1982!) and Mrs Doubtfire (1993) featuring Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams in drag!

And now, people think it’s a problem. It’s a sin.

Well, let me tell you that drag is possibly here in the Bible too!

You know that coat of many colors that Jacob gave Joseph? That “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat?” Well, a coat of many colors could be one possible interpretation.

In Hebrew, the coat is “ketonet passim.” Many translations of the bible would have a footnote saying “The meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain; also in verses 23 and 32.”

That, is only half the truth. Because what this footnote leaves out is that there is one other place “ketonet passim” appears – in 2 Samuel 13:18. There, too, is the footnote – “The meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain; also in verse 19.” But the text in explains itself – 2 Samuel 13:18 “She was wearing an ornate[a] robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore.”

It appears to me that translators of the text cannot entertain the possibility that it was a dress that Jacob gave his son Joseph a “princess dress.”

Cos it’s a sin.

Cos that’s what the Bible says in Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.”

But what if this prohibition is something people from that time came up with because it was the socio-cultural norm of their time, just like Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves” was a prohibition against tattooing because of the norms of that time.

I mean, what is considered women’s clothing in one culture may be men’s clothing in another! What’s the difference between a Scottish kilt and a skirt?

Today’s Gospel passage in the lectionary is from John 9:1-41

As I read the passage – and it is a long reading – the whole chapter – I want to invite you to pay attention to what people say about sin.

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We[a] must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am he.”

10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus[c] to be the Messiah[d] would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32

Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Spiritual Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”[e] 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?[f] Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord,[g] I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

so what did people say about sin in the passage?

Disciples – this man or his parents sinned so he was born blind

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” => not observing the Sabbath = sin (the Bible says so too!)

They (some of the Pharisees) said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”

The man who used to be blind – “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?”

Jesus – “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (one of the questions Jesus answered!)
“Jesus clear answer is also important for all those who have been told (or who themselves believe) that their suffering (physical illness most especially) is the result of some sin they have committed. Even the most devout among us can be tempted to conclude that when suffering befalls us, we are being punished. God must hate me, we think. All this thinking Jesus resoundingly rejects. No one sinned. Fr James Martin.

Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

It would appear that the Pharisees – the experts in the Law – God’s Law – were stuck in their rigid adherence. They were so obsessed with Jesus breaking the Sabbath Law, that they cannot accept that a man who had been born blind had been healed.

They called Jesus a sinner! because by their definition, Jesus broke the Sabbath law, so Jesus was a sinner!

Just like folks who think Pet Shop Boys is satanic, and drag queens reading to children in libraries are grooming children, they are blinded by their expertise in what God wants, what God approves of, what is the law, so they can judge what is sin, and who is a sinner.

But what did Jesus reveal?
Jesus could have just said the word and the man will be healed. Why did Jesus spat in the ground and mixed his saliva and made mud?

You see – Jesus didn’t just healed on the Sabbath – he purposely broke the sabbath law as he healed.

“9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.”

Because that is exactly what is forbidden on the sabbath – mixing two materials to produce another is considered work and is not allowed by the sabbath law.

That is why some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?”

But the great traditions always call people on a journey of faith to keep changing. There’s no other way this human personality can open up to all that God is asking of us. 

There’s no way we can open up to all we have to learn, all we have to experience, unless we’re willing to let go of the idols of yesterday and the idols of today.

The best protection from the next word of God is the last word of God. We take what we heard from God last year and we build a whole system around it, and then we sit there for the rest of our lives.”

Lent is the season of repentance – and repentance is about chance. This is the season to confront our sins and change.

So really – what is sin?
Sin isn’t blind adherence to rules and the law.
Sin is anything that separates us from God and being fully alive and aligned with God’s will.

It can be our unwillingness to let go of what we cling on to for false security. It can be our ego. It can be our inaction and indifference – not doing anything can be a sin too!

To be aligned with God’s will requires discernment. For me, the litmus test is “Is this loving?” Loving not in the way I understand love, but loving in a way that is life-giving, loving in a way that’s justice-seeking, loving in a way that lifts people up.

We all fall short – we all sin. This acknowledgement is the beginning of repentance. As we repent, we turn towards God so that we are back in alignment with God.

Richard Rohr writes –
“repent” … doesn’t mean to beat ourselves up or to feel bad about ourselves. “Repent” (or metanoia in Greek) means to turn around, to change. The first word that comes out of Jesus’ mouth is change—be willing to change. 

What in your life right now that God is inviting you to change?

“People who are not willing to change are not willing to turn away from themselves. What we’re in love with usually is not God. We’re in love with our way of thinking, our way of explaining, our way of doing. One of the greatest ways to protect ourselves from God, and to protect ourselves from truth and grace, is simply to buy into some kind of cheap conventionalism and call it tradition. 

But sin isn’t just an individual issue. The things that separate us from God and being fully alive and aligned with God’s will are usually not on the individual or personal level. They are on the communal & societal level.

Sin affects our communities and our world. We see sin in poverty, poverty, injustice, violence, exploitation, discrimination and environmental destruction.

We as Christians are called to work towards justice and mercy in the world to change the world, to turn the world around, Repent for the kin-dom of God is near! We “turn the world around, so the kin-dom of God is manifested.

There is so much that divides us – and that is sin.

Let us open our eyes and minds and be aware of our biases and prejudices– so that we are not blinded by them like some of the Pharisees, so that we can see what God is doing through others – even the ones we do not agree with, even the people who hold different beliefs and values from us, even those who condemn us – so we do not reduce them to 2 dimensional stereotypes and see that they too may have something to teach us.

We go through the season of Lent each year, because we are always work in progress, and we acknowledge our brokenness, and the brokenness of the world and the need for continual efforts to repent so that we are more and more aligned with God, and through this we die to sin, and become a new creation through the resurrection power of the Christ.

I have asked the worship team to sing the hymn “for everyone born” in response today. It is an invitation for us to participate in what God is doing –

For God will delight when we are creators

of justice and joy, compassion and peace:

yes, God will delight when we are creators

           of justice, justice and joy!