Saturday, July 1, 2017


Pentecost 4A 2017

Fr. Dale Matson

My homily is based on our Epistle Lesson from Romans.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:1-11)
As a side note, our lesson is from our new Anglican Church North America lectionary readings. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer we formerly used leaves out verses one and two. This means that we now admit to more sin in the ACNA than we did before. 
In our reading, Paul uses the word sin seven times. To underscore this fact, verse 10a states “He [Christ]” died to sin once for all.” Let us also put this alongside Paul’s statement in 1st Timothy (1:15a) “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (ESV). It was the will of God the Father that Christ come into this world and die to save sinners. St. John states, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. Adam and Eve were the first human sinners but the devil was the first sinner. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And how did Christ destroy the works of the devil? He died for our sins. Christ’s death covers not only the sins we have and will commit. His death atones for original sin also. His death provided a path to reconciliation with God and it freed us from bondage to the devil.   
OK, so whatever became of sin? This is not exactly a new question for us in the 21st Century. Many psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists have been asking this question for quite awhile. This just happens to be the title of Dr. Karl Menninger’s book, “Whatever Became of Sin” written in 1963. In his book the Psychiatrist wrote this. “Much behavior that would be classed as sinful had long since passed into the control of the law. What was considered criminal and treated so was understandably sinful. And now, increasingly, some crime was being viewed as symptomatic. Sins had become crimes and now crimes were becoming illnesses: in other words, the police and judges had taken over from the clergy, the doctors and psychologists were now taking over from the police and judges”
This reminds me of lyrics from the song “Officer Krupke” from the musical “West Side Story”. “Officer Krupke, you're really a square; this boy don't need a judge, he needs an analyst's care! It's just his neurosis that oughta be curbed. He's psychologically disturbed!”
Following Dr. Menninger’s book, Philip Rieff the sociologist and social critic wrote a book called, “The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses Of Faith After Freud”. (1966) As a sociologist, Rieff understood and reviewed how the culture of Christianity provided boundaries for human behavior. In his book he paraphrases St. Paul’s question, (1 Timothy 3:15) “Being saved, how should we conduct ourselves.” His answer, “Behave like your Savior.” (p. 12). His point was that when the cultural restraints are lifted, humans succumb to their uncivilized urges. The upcoming age was becoming the age of the autonomous, isolated individual, throwing off cultural restraints and pursuing pleasure rather than self control. Freud claimed that the rules of society were too strict and when those rules became internalized the individual was put in a state of war within him or herself. The individual became neurotic because a person’s conscience would punish them if they were to act on their urges. Sigmund Freud had given them the green light to misbehave by saying that their conscience like society was too strict. Keep in mind that Freud was also a cocaine addict for years. A more permissive society with relaxed standards of morality does not lead to less neurosis. Freud was wrong.

Philip Reiff laid the blame at the feet of those who led the institutions who did not attempt to hold back this new “unreligion” of Freud. In particular, he cited the preachers and priests in the pulpits who lacked faith and were too cowardly to advocate for renunciation. What is renunciation? Renunciation is self-denial, self-control and sacrifice for the sake of family and community. Renunciation resists sinful behavior. I think the title of the Isley Brothers song of 1969 pretty much summed up societies morals formed in the 1960s. "It's Your Thing, Do What You Wanna Do".
If one takes the ten commandments of Moses or the great commandment of Christ as a summation of all of the rules, what is it that enforces compliance? Why do we usually do the right thing? Most would say it is our conscience that is our personal policeman and judge. The conscience is the internal judge that uses guilt to punish individuals that do not live according to their own internal rules. Jesus would compare someone who does not live according to his own rules to a house divided against itself and a house divided against itself cannot stand. In reality, guilt is a painful blessing if it causes us to repent; if it causes us to say, “I am sorry for what I said, for what I’ve done. Please forgive me.”
The wish to express what Freud considered to be natural human desires was met with a scolding conscience. People hid these wishes from their conscience by pushing them down into their unconscious mind. These wishes came out in their dreams. Later, because of this constant inner war, the person developed mental and physical problems. It was the goal of psychoanalysis to get people to remember what they had intentionally forgotten. Intentional forgetting is called denial or repression. Neurotics were encouraged by their therapists to release the undesirable thoughts from the captivity of the unconscious mind much as Moses led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt.  Like Adam and Eve attempting to hide from God, denial and repression are examples of a person hiding from his own conscience. The analyst or counselor is there to say to the individual, “It’s OK to have those thoughts. You are a good person. You are just being too hard on yourself.  You are suffering from false guilt. You are punishing yourself unnecessarily.” The reality is that boundaries/rules provide freedom. The most freeing thing God did for the Jews in the Old Testament was not providing for their escape from Egypt but providing them with the Law. The Law gave them rules to live by and a life with meaning and purpose. Make no mistake, the devil hates the Law and has hated the Law from the beginning because he is a sinner from the beginning. St. Paul talked about the end times in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” This is probably a reference to the antichrist but to me, it is the devil himself who empowers and controls the antichrist. For most of our society not only is Christ no longer relevant, the Law God gave the Israelites and by extension, the Law God gave us also, us is gone. 
Here is where the priest should be taking a different path than other counselors. When it comes to the reality of sin, the Priest must not be “referring out”. The psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker as secular priests may claim that the individual suffers from false guilt but what about real guilt? They are enabling the individual to deny the reality of their guilt. They are providing a fig leaf and it doesn’t work any better for those they counsel than it did for Adam and Eve.  Unfortunately un-confessed sin and denied guilt eventually can give rise to physical problems and even “accidents”. In many cases self-destructive behavior is a form of self-punishment. Here is the reality of what I am saying. As Christians we have the Law placed inside us. If the Spirit leads us, we will not be in bondage to the Law but will love and honor the Law. The carnal Christian St. Paul describes in Romans 7 is not led by the Spirit and struggles in vain to honor the Law. Romans 7 could be summed by the 1977 hit song by Bobby Fuller, “I Fought The Law And The Law Won” Please see Romans Chapter 8.
It is not the job of a Priest to lower the conscience threshold in order to get rid of the conflict. We are here to diagnose the problem, which is sin, and prescribe the treatment, which is repentance and confession, and offer the prognosis, which is absolution and forgiveness.  What is needed is restoration to fellowship with God, our brothers and sisters through repentance confession and absolution. Unfortunately many clergy today have bought into the idea that people are basically good. If we are not in Christ, we are not “OK”.  Brothers and sisters, we are not born basically good. In Anglican and Orthodox Churches Baptism has included Exorcism; whether infant or adult. In the Roman Church we have the following: “During the Sacrament of Baptism, the Priest says two prayers of Exorcism”.
On those occasions where we experience real guilt there is only one healthy response. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Guilt is a symptom of sin, with sin as the underlying illness. For us, there is the weekly confession of sin and there is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We hear the following from the BCP, “When the penitent has confessed all serious sins troubling the conscience and has given evidence of true contrition, the priest gives such counsel and encouragement as are needed and pronounces absolution.” (p.446)
It has frequently been said that the couch of the psychoanalyst has replaced the confessional of the priest. The psychoanalyst has not replaced the priest because the psychoanalyst will not acknowledge the sin and guilt and cannot offer forgiveness on behalf of God. I know this from both personal and professional experience. I have more comfort, consolation and healing to offer as a priest who is a representative of Christ than as a psychologist.
 If you are troubled with guilt and anxiety because of unacknowledged sin, there is a course of action that is the only remedy. This remedy is not found on the couch of the psychoanalyst. It is found in the church. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16). Amen. 


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