The Law and Sin
Epiphany 3
Second before Lent
The Law and Sin
Lent 1
Lent 5
Lent 5 (2)
Lent 3
Milton Lilbourne Dedication
Remembrance Day
Sunday before Advent
The Unjust Steward



The Law and Sin

(Given at Upavon on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, July 14th, 2002)

Lessons: Rom. 8. 1-11 and Matt. 13.

A priest who had a good deal to do with my own training for the Ministry once said to me, "If the lessons are read properly and with understanding, then there is no need for a sermon!

That's worth thinking about.

Well, it may possibly apply to that parable about the sower and the seed which you've just heard and which you have probably heard preached about many times before.

I wonder, however, what you made of that reading from St. Paul's letter to the Romans - and it was well read.

St. Paul is not my idea of a popular author of interesting material I often feel sorry for those who are called upon to read aloud some of his stuff. He is certainly not a man to be satisfied with one sentence when six will do.

Today we hear something of what he has to say about the Law and about Sin. What's the difference?

A year or so ago I was passing through a little village called Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland. It was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon and I was dying for a cup of tea - with a scone to go with it. There was a small restaurant.

I stopped and went inside and gave my order to the middle-aged lady who was serving. On a blackboard was the menu for larger meals. One item was 'poached salmon'. I said to her, "When I'm in Scotland I sometimes wonder what you MEAN by POACHED salmon!

"Aye", she said, "an' ah'm no tellin' ye!"

Which put me in mind of a certain Scottish Bishop who was asked what he thought about poaching. "Poaching is not a sin", he replied, "it's only a crime."

Law is necessary to control crime, to limit anti-social behaviour, to protect the community against the violence of the selfish, to provide a deterrent and so on - you can probably think of many other functions of Law.

The prime example of Law in Biblical history is that of the giving of the ten commandments. They were designed out of the necessity of keeping together, as a unit, a tribe of people who had just been released from slavery and who were thus inclined to kick over the traces.

But then Law became a thing of itself, multiplying and breeding restriction after restriction until it became faintly ridiculous.

You will read later in the Bible how the Law forbade the eating of certain things - pork for instance. So my ham sandwich is out.

It forbade the wearing of fabric of mixed threads - so polycotton is out. And we see to this day how much store is put, by certain religions, of the wearing of what is worn - skull caps, head veils and tea towels, turbans, and other items of clothing, not to mention beards and moustaches and restrictions on hair cutting. We hear much at this time about the cruelty of some religious Law.

Perhaps we are guilty of the same thing without realising it.

During the many years during which I have been aware of such things, the parliament of this land has made many, many laws. Yet we are told that there were five million crimes in this country last year - and that's only those which were discovered.

Law will never totally prevent crime.

St. Paul talks about minds set upon what he calls the flesh, and what he calls the Spirit. Man, the species 'homo sapiens', is concerned principally with three things, his survival, his comfort - in its widest sense - and the satisfying of his reproductive instincts.

In these he is no different from any other biological phenomena - any animal if you like. These are the things of what Paul calls "the flesh".

They are fundamentally selfish things, and to satisfy them, anything goes. If man is ONLY a creature of the flesh, then he will be, as is most of the natural world, in constant competition for survival, comfort and reproduction. So his fellow man, unless an essential ally, becomes a threat, his predator or his prey.

We see the results of this not only in so called "crime figures" but in tensions and war between nations, tribes and sects, in terrorism and nuclear threat.

I do not need to list the many, many places in our world where the greatest threat to man is his fellow-man.

When Paul speaks of "setting the mind on the Spirit" he is not just telling us that we should be "good", he is placing before mankind an ideal which is totally revolutionary; an ideal which calls for a different kind of thinking. It is possible, he is saying, for selfish, predatory instincts to be sublimated. That which makes us what we ARE should be MORE than these natural impulses.

Things such as love, compassion, concern for each other; companionship and willingness to sacrifice, and if need be, to suffer, for other's sake; to give, to heal and to console.

These are things which we can only experience and practice when we become aware that our humanity is more than selfish survival, more than creature comforts and more than just multiplying our species and heaping up possessions.

This is what Jesus meant when he spoke about being 'born again'. We are all born with a genetic inheritance which stems from our primeval ancestors when life was overshadowed by death. Kill or be killed is a law of nature.

We need a spiritual RE-birth if life is NOT to be overshadowed by death, and this can only come by a re-birth of the mind. That means that we must become aware of ourselves as being in touch with a power that is altogether good, holy, righteous, however you like to put it - more and better that is than we can achieve by our human nature alone; a power by which we can be guided, as St. Paul again puts it, into a "more excellent way".

St. Paul says that "The Spirit of God dwells in you." "He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to YOUR mortal bodies also - through his Spirit that dwells in you."

We are no longer concerned about being overshadowed by death and the competition to delay it. We are promised the power of God's spirit in holding fast to life and making much of that life, not only life in this world, but in a world to come - eternal life - promised and demonstrated by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 That is what the Gospel is. That is what our Christianity is all about.

The Estate of William John Green, 2004