Pentecost 10 C 2019
Besetting Sins and Identity Theft
Fr. Dale Matson
My homily today is taken from our opening Collect and our Epistle lesson from Hebrews.
“Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
In our opening Collect, we state that God sacrificed His only Son Jesus for our sins. In fact, it is only because of God’s mercy that we are not put in situations where we would sin. Because it is still in our nature to sin. In many situations, would you have behaved differently if your Christian friend or your spouse had not been around? In the same token, how often have you gotten excellent consultation from your spouse or even your own children. Yet we are to live a redeemed life after the pattern of our Savior Jesus Christ. Yes, we are called to lead a holy life but the old Adam still resides within us. Martin Luther once said that we should celebrate our baptism daily by drowning the old Adam.
From our Epistle lesson, we hear this. “Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
Unfortunately, many Christians are crippled by what is referred to in Hebrews (12:1) as “Weights and Besetting Sins.” In the King James Version or Epistle lesson states, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. What does St. Paul mean by weights and besetting sins? By “Weights” he means obsession with bodily concerns, fondness for and worries about this world. It was recently reported in the Los Angeles Times that one in five Californians say they need mental health care. Twenty-two military veterans commit suicide every day.
By “Besetting Sins” St. Paul means those sins that we have given a place in our lives to the extent that the sins now possess us. We are in captivity to them. They can be sins of addiction and in many cases, they are also hidden sins. Some of these sins are hidden from the sinner and others are known to the sinner. There are at a minimum three individuals who know about these sins. They are God, us and Satan the liar and thief. Eventually, more people may find out and at the last judgment you will have to account for these sins. King David lusted after Bathsheba which eventually led to him having her husband killed in battle so he could have her as his wife. Not everyone is fortunate enough as David to have a ‘Nathan’ to reveal his Besetting sin to him or her. In this case it was lust. The outcome from this sin was the death of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, David's son, a curse on the house of David and a warrior king turned into a cowardly fugitive from his own son Absalom.
I have had several besetting sins in my life. Perhaps the best way to describe them is that the sins can occupy and consume our thoughts. One of my sins is fear. My fear of flying was a specific problem that kept me from flying for twenty-five years.
Fear can control your life. Fear is a sin. In the book of Isaiah, God said, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
The phrase “fear not” is used at least 80 times in the Bible, most likely because God knows the enemy uses fear to decrease our hope and limit our victories. To the extent sin controls your life, it diminishes it. Christ said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10).
In today’s world, we attempt to protect our identity by shredding documents that contain our personal information. We also have software fire walls on our computers and unlisted phone numbers. Passwords can be pretty inconvenient, especially when you can’t remember the password you use to get into your computer. Why is it important to protect our identity? If our identity information is stolen by imposters, our credit and reputation could be destroyed. If this happens we can no longer buy or sell. We are powerless and penniless.
Here is the irony. If we have besetting sins, our identity is not secure. Our besetting sins provide an open portal in our firewall. Actually, our identity has already been stolen. What do I mean by this? Satan the liar, accuser and thief tells us we are imposters. We are not who we say we are. Even worse, Satan is able to convince us that we are not who God says we are. The effect of this is that we no longer see ourselves as God sees us. We see ourselves as Satan wants us to see ourselves. We see ourselves as powerless buying into the lies of the evil one. What does Scripture tell us about our true identity as Christians? And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-6). This is spoken of as something NOT in the future but as an accomplished fact. This is our true identity in Christ Jesus.
How do we keep the accuser out? We are called to live a holy life. We are called to be a holy people. I already mentioned this in response to our opening Collect. Our spiritual firewall is Virtue. In the King James Version of Holy Scripture, it states that when a woman with a bleeding problem touched Christ, she was healed and He felt a virtue leave Him. (Mark 5:30) Virtue is power. But you say to me, “I don’t have to be a holy person, Jesus paid the price of my sins”. That is true but he also told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
So, what are we to do with these besetting sins that give Satan an opportunity to steal our identity, blackmail us and short circuit our power as Christians? I believe the first step is with our will. We must ask God to give us the will to turn away. I prayed for two years for the desire to quit smoking. Even though I knew smoking was bad for me; I did not have the will to quit. I was a slave to this sin. Smoking was an addiction that owned me. The second step is what Psychologists call providing a replacement behavior. For example, in Alcoholics Anonymous the expression is, “Don’t pick up a drink. Pick up the phone.” In the case of the seven deadly sins, there are also seven corresponding virtues. The prescription is to practice virtues that work against the entrenched sins. I believe that is why St. Paul listed the Fruits of Spirit following the sins of the flesh in Galatians. For example, if you are someone afflicted with hoarding behavior, the most freeing thing you can do is to give things away. You are replacing greed with charity. I’m not saying you are a hoarder if you own a four-bedroom house and rent a storage shed but perhaps you could consider giving some of your things to a charity.
I would like to summarize thus far and offer an additional prescription. I believe many Christians see themselves as imposters and powerless. It may be because they have secret sins that Satan exploits. They have asked for forgiveness over and over yet remain captive of those sins. These are besetting sins that keep us from progressing as Christians. These secret sins keep us from being a holy people. We must ask God for the will to resist these sins and seek a virtuous replacement. Brothers and Sisters, the Kingdom of God is an upside-down Kingdom. The weak are strong, the last are first. The foolish are wise and the poor are rich. To rid ourselves of these sins, we must do the opposite.
Finally, here is the additional prescription. As Priests we are ordained to administer what we call the ABC’s. Consecrate the Bread and Wine. We are ordained to Bless things and people and we are ordained to offer Absolution. In our new ACNA Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 222 we have what are called the “Rites of Healing”. The first rite is “Reconciliation of Penitents”. It is an opportunity to personally confess and receive absolution from the priest, for those besetting sins which seem to hang on and never be resolved. These besetting sins allow the evil one to lie about our true identity. This is different than our group confession prior to the Liturgy of the Table. I hope that your will take advantage of the opportunity for private confession as a means to rid yourself of a besetting sin. Amen