Proper 18A: What Sin Reveals
By: Mashaun D. Simon
The word sin carries with it a lot of stigma. But sin is more than just a word.
Sin, if we are being real, has become a concept. Sin, we have been taught, is (or can be) more than just action. It can also be a way of being. Sin—the word and the concept—is laced with baggage.
For as far back as I can remember, the idea or concept of sin has always carried a lot of negativity. Or maybe negativity is not the word—what about judgment? Sin, almost automatically, conjures up feelings of negativity and shame. For some, sin causes us to brace ourselves in preparation for hurt, harm, or danger.
We have been taught to understand sin through very narrow lenses. A lot of times, sin is used or has been used to create false differences between groups of people and entire communities. Sin has been used to manipulate. Sin has been used to control. Sin has been used to isolate. Sin has been used to separate.
The Greek word for sin is hamartanō, a verb, which means to err or make a mistake or miss the mark. In reality, sin is part of the natural order of things. What I mean by that is, if we are truly looking at sin in the manner to which this pericope of text is engaging sin, then we all have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That’s just reality.
But because we have sinned, that doesn’t make us all bad people or without hope. Sin, I believe, if perceived correctly has the ability to do what I think this text is attempting to reveal. Sin, and our awareness of it, can be the very motivation for achieving true and genuine relationship with one another.
And I think that’s the takeaway for the text before us.
In the text, the author provides instructions for what one should do if and when they feel they have been sinned against. The text states that first the individual ought point out the sin. If the sin committer listens, then trust is regained. But, if they do not, then the next step is to take a witness to confirm the transgression. If there is no remedy in the situation, then the church is to become involved.
If one is not careful, one could get caught up on the presence of sin within this text. If one is not careful, one could get caught up on the fact that a wrong has been committed. And yes, the fact that there is or has been a wrong committed is important. But, more than that, the emphasis is not completely placed on a sin being committed. The emphasis in the text for me at least, is that there are solutions being presented for dealing with sins. The emphasis is on how to correct the wrong and rebuild or repair what was broken as a result of the sin.
And the text is about what happens when one sins within the church.
In seminary we were taught that the first church was communal. The church was the space where the people came together as a community to support one another, encourage one another, and care for one another. This idea, or concept, reminds me of the role Black churches have played historically—especially during their formative years, during segregation, and during the Civil Rights Movement.
It was in black churches where people, who were normally treated as the help in their everyday lives, received some respect. It was in black churches where men and women who were normally called boy or gal, were referred to as mister and misses. It was in black churches where people gained respect, responsibility, purpose, and recognition.
When I imagine what the early church was like for the followers of Jesus, I imagine in some ways the early black church. The church community was designed to be the bedrock of the entire community. And it was in the church community where relationships were developed, where grievances were aired, where relationships were repaired.
When one was mistreated within the community, it was the responsibility of the two to fix the incident—and if they could not, then the community helped the two. If only we were mature enough today.
We are living in a time that many would consider a moment of great despair. Some would suggest that as a country we are more divided today than we have ever been before. I wonder where we would be if we truly took into consideration the tenets present in this text. If we were actually capable of taking a cue from the author, airing our grievances and coming together as a community, what then would we say we stand for as a community?
We have wasted so much time focusing on what makes us different. We have wasted so much time focused on how others have wronged us. We have lost so much time and joy and peace and happiness refusing to listen to one another.
And I say we because in a lot of ways I am guilty myself. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. However, so many of us refuse to hear that we have been wrong; admitted to our wrongs, our mistakes, our shortcomings, what is God saying about us?
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” Jesus is quoted as saying in the text.
How is God judging us? How are we failing God and ourselves? How are we failing the church universal, the kingdom of God?
Maybe what this text is instructing us to do is to get beyond ourselves and focus more on what’s best for the community of God.
The Rev. Mashaun D. Simon is a preacher, a teacher, a writer and a scholar in his native, Atlanta, Georgia. He holds a Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology with a triple focus in preaching, faith and formation, and race and religion, and double certificates in Black Church Studies and religious education. He contributes his thoughts and perspectives to online and print mediums, and serves at House of Mercy Everlasting (HOME) church in College Park, Georgia. Much of his research focuses on race, sexuality, identity and faith.