February 18 2018
We’re mourning again for the loss of our children in a shooting. Isn’t it interesting how we each mourn differently? Some of weep silently or at most we reach out and try to help the healing by sharing their “Thoughts and prayers.” Others lash out in anger and demand that someone in authority do something about the ease with which the attacker obtained the weapons they used. Still others express their anger and frustration by lamenting how our society has become so coarsened that we have lost respect for human life.
Regardless of how we mourn, on what we blame the tragedy, our cry is the same, “I am hurt and angry; I am sad and confused because this evil that has happened seems to be increasing in frequency and I can’t do anything about it.” We are saying, “Somebody do something to stop this evil before it happens again.”
We each provide our own solution. Each solution is partially right and each is fully inadequate to stop the evil. Thoughts and prayers sound good and may be a comfort to those who are suffering, but thoughts are empty without action and prayers, while the most powerful of any of our acts are powerless unless they are accompanied by repentance and a sincere desire to do things God’s way. Controlling guns also sounds good. Guns are far too numerous and too easy to obtain. The availability of guns makes it too easy for an act of anger to get out of control and increases the likelihood of people being injured or killed. But if the existing laws against violence, starting with, “Do not kill,” were not enough to stop this evil, what makes us think that a new law will be more effective? It’s the same with the idea of changing our society to be able to identify and remove those who threaten us. It sounds good, but in practice, it falls apart when we consider how different we are today compared to even twenty years ago.
Each of our solutions may bring some partial relief, but they won’t really change things because they only address the symptoms and not the disease. Each of these solutions is like going to the doctor with pneumonia and the doctor gives you cough medicine for the cough and Tylenol for the fever. You may feel better, but if you don’t cure the pneumonia, you are likely to die anyway.
So, what is this disease and how do we treat it? Ever since Adam and Eve chose their own will over God’s will, we have all been infected with the deadly disease called sin. We often look at sin as a moral failing that we can cure by ourselves, but the truth is sin is more deadly than that. Sin is a disease that infects us all. John Wesley said it this way, "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores."
The problem with the disease of sin is that we have been infected for so long and so deeply that we have no resistance to it. It has become so natural that we often don’t admit, or realize that we are infected. Again, John Wesley said,
“So long as a man born blind continues so, he is scarce sensible of his want: Much less, could we suppose a place where all were born without sight, would they be sensible of the want of it. In like manner, so long as men remain in their natural blindness of understanding, they are not sensible of their spiritual wants, and of this in particular.”
This disease of sin infects every person on earth. Since nations are made up of persons, it infects nations to the same degree and with the same effect as it does each of us. Because of our disease, when evil happens we look for someone to blame. We choose a scapegoat: We blame the guns, we blame the newcomers to society, we blame the outcasts of society, we blame the people who missed the clues, we blame the perpetrator. But we don’t blame ourselves. We give the exact same response Adam and Eve gave to God when they sinned. “The woman gave it to me.” “The serpent made me do it.”
In today’s text, God gives Israel the prescription, to cure their sin. Once a year, the people gathered for the Day of Atonement to receive the cure that would make them again AT ONE with God. The priest took two goats. One of the goats was sacrificed. Through this sacrifice the punishment for the sins of the people was satisfied by the death of the goat. The other goat, the scapegoat, received was banished. The priests laid their hands on its head and confessed the sins of the people, symbolically placing the nation’s sin on the goat. Then the scapegoat was taken into the wilderness and set loose in a place where the sins of the people were removed far from the people.
The problem was that the life of even two goats could not permanently remove the sins of the people. This ritual had to be repeated annually as the people continued to sin. In our case, the scapegoats we choose can’t lead us to atonement. In fact as we choose to place the blame for our sin on others, we tear ourselves apart as a nation and as a people of God as we exclude our scapegoats from our presence.
But God, in God’s grace has provided the once and for all. When Jesus, who was without sin, died on the cross; he did it as the sacrifice for our sin. We regularly say, “Jesus died for my sin. He took the punishment that I deserved. Jesus is our sacrificial lamb.” And we praise God. But Jesus did more than that. When he cried from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!” he experienced the separation from God that we deserved. Jesus took all our sins onto his head and removed them from us as far as the east is from the west so that we could be worthy to enter into the presence of God. Jesus is not only the sacrificial lamb. He is the scapegoat that removes the sins of the world once and for all. Jesus is the answer. He is the cure to our disease. He is the way; the gate through which we enter the kingdom of God. Again, quoting John Wesley,
“In Adam ye all died: In the second Adam, in Christ, ye all are made alive. "You that were dead in sins hath he quickened:" He hath already given you a principle of life, even faith in him who loved you and gave himself for you! Now, "go on from faith to faith," until your whole sickness be healed; and all that "mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus!"”
As your mind becomes the same as that which is in Jesus Christ, may your heart be full of the love and forgiveness that comes from God. And may God makes us one with God, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. Amen