Sin is Dumb:
A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent on Luke 11:14
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my Strength and My Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a teenager, I said a lot of dumb things. Sometimes I remember them vividly and cringe to recall that I actually said that. So I’ll confess one dumb thing I said, and it really is painful to admit. I was having an argument with my mom. I don’t remember what it was about anymore. But in a desperate bid to win the argument, I said something really stupid. I said, “I hate you,” and I slammed the door behind me as I marched outside. What happened next is sort of funny. Contrasting the dark clouds of emotion in me, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and our neighbor, who had heard my foolish, immature outburst, was peacefully watering his flowers. I felt so silly. There was this mismatch between my anger and standing in the light. I just knew the two didn’t go together – it was like burping at a fancy restaurant. It just didn’t fit. My sin had made me feel dumb, and I wanted to get rid of it. So I went in and apologized to my mother.
Before I get started let me address how my title might be misunderstood. When I say sin is dumb, I am not saying the issue of sin isn’t a serious one. I am also not encouraging judgment of others who are struggling with sin. The biblical response to other people’s sin is, “But for the grace of God there go I, and as a matter of fact, my righteousness is already filthy rags.” So my point is not to encourage calling others who are sinning dumb, because they aren’t any dumber than you. And that leads to my second point. If you are struggling with sin, I am not insulting you, because when it comes to sin, you are not any dumber than me. When earnestly dealing with sin in yourself you should never berate yourself or let toxic guilt or self-shaming abuse take hold – and you shouldn’t do that to someone else, either. Although I wrote it to get our attention, let me be clear: the dumbing effects of sin afflict us all, and we should look at our own sin and the sin of others with a compassionate heart for the weakness of our flesh, combined with an earnest desire for the improvement of our state, just as we would hope for someone dealing with a serious illness to get better. So let’s look at how the Gospel and Epistle readings illustrate the dumbing effect sin has on us.
- Sin mutes our voices. “JESUS was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake.” Like this example of demonic possession, sin takes away our voice. We tend to think of sin as part of us – part of our identity. Maybe we fall into thinking of our sins as particular little qualities that just go along with our personalities. But that’s a mistake. Sin actually chokes out our ability to be who we are. It distorts our words. Much like with how I spoke in a sinful fashion to my mother, when we are in sin, we don’t communicate in a healthy manner. In the Epistle of James we read, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6). Have you ever noticed that when you don’t acknowledge your sin, you tend to lash out a little more? Your tongue is like a knife, that cuts and pokes at another person’s weakness, to distract yourself from the guilt? Or maybe you withdraw, because you don’t want to go through the painful process of confessing your sin to your loved one. Like a river choked by garbage. James goes on to write, “10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” When we let sin rule over us, when we don’t admit our error to God and to our close Christian family and friends, we pollute our testimony, and the river of good speech is choked out. This is why it is so good, before God and each other, to “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” in the public General Confession of Sins. We’re clearing our spiritual throats, so that our voices can be free to speak the pure words of our Lord.
- Sin is dumb in that it encourages us to think we know better than God, who is all-knowing, which we see in the reaction of Christ’s detractors. “But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven.” The first group of people think they’re being clever, trying to turn Christ’s good work into a sign of why he shouldn’t be trusted – he drives out a demon by the power of a more powerful demon. Jesus points out their faulty logic: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out?” Satan isn’t going to undo his own work. That should be obvious, but the nature of sin is that it distorts our view of what should be obvious. It should have been obvious to Eve that she didn’t need anything more than what God had given her – she already had a perfect relationship with God, a perfect relationship with her husband, and a perfect garden to feed her. Adam, who was made first, should have known even better. But Adam’s reaction, when he knew he had sinned, was to try and hide behind a bush from the all-knowing, all-powerful God with whom he had spoken and whose miracles he had personally witnessed when he had sinned. Not too bright, and what’s worse is his response when he finally fessed up: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” I tend to imagine God’s eyebrows lifting up at that – Oh, it’s my fault that I miraculously crafted a perfect wife from your rib, so you just had to break the only commandment I had for you? Which consisted of not eating one fruit in a giant garden filled with tasty food? But let’s not get too judgmental towards Adam and Eve. We have six thousand years of human history, the benefit of the lessons of history, including the Fall, and we still sin. Look at the world, the state it’s in – that’s man’s way, the sinful way. Shouldn’t we know better than to choose our way over God’s by now? But every time we do give in to sin, whether we admit it or not, in our mind we are thinking, “I know better than God. He says this is bad for me, but I think it’s good for me.” As if we were the first ones in history to think we knew better than God. Again, it’s not too bright, but here we are, doing it again. The rebellious desire of sin leads us to get prideful, and pride and wisdom just don’t go together. Sin renders us unintelligent, and we need to return to Scripture constantly to restore wisdom to how we think.
Before I move on from this point I want to show you something else. They just saw Jesus drive out a demon, and while one group foolishly asserts that he does this work by Beelzebub, another group of people ask him for a sign from heaven. Jesus is a lot more patient than I am because I would go and knock on their heads and say, Hey, you’d like a sign from Heaven would you? How about I, oh I don’t know, drive out a demon from a possessed man right in front of you? Such sin isn’t as obvious as denying Christ’s power altogether, but it still shows a reluctance to trust in Him. Perhaps we don’t sin by thinking we’re smarter than God, but we sin by thinking God has to do something more to appease our wisdom. Give me another sign God, and maybe then I’ll do what you ask of me. No. We don’t need another sign. We have His Word, and we know what we’re called to do. We need to stop trying to outsmart the obligations which the Gospel places on us.
- Another way in which sin is dumb is our more common use of the term – not unspeaking or unintelligent but not respectable. For this point I want to turn to the epistle reading, which relates to the Gospel directly: ”But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient.” I think that people who would see a demon cast out before their eyes and immediately respond with scorn towards the one who worked that miracle have failed to recognize the truly repugnant nature of sin. By contrast, look at the dire consequences Paul outlines for sin: ”For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” Often in today’s society we laugh at sin. We treat it as an old fashioned idea, and even as fun. In my time as a college student I’ve heard professors mock the idea of virtue as silly and talk about biblical values concerning sexual morality as worthy of ridicule – deceivers with vain words. How much of our entertainment is based in romanticizing infidelity, greed, cruel jokes, in loving what God hates? Where is our conscience when we watch that stuff? Contrast the attitude of your every day, uncontroversial sitcom to what Paul says about sin: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” We have to be careful not to let the world influence our minds about our attitude towards sin. Sin is shameful. It isn’t funny, or sophisticated, or daringly edgy to glorify sin. We need to rethink how we look at sin, and through repentance and the light of God’s grace have no fellowship with it in our hearts.
- Another sense of dumb is to be struck silent. One thing sin does is tempt us to be silent in prayer and try to set it right without God. Christ points out this in his discussion of demonic possession: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” The man released from the demon tried to set his life right by worldly means. There are a lot of wonderful self-help gurus out there who will give you rules for life or steps for improving yourself, and they have a lot of good human wisdom. I remember hearing a statement in a movie, “If everyone just kept their front porch clean, the whole world would be a lot better of a place.” And surely there’s truth to that. But when we are confronted with our sin and our shortcomings and we think, okay, it’s up to me. I’ll just commit myself to better habits, to better thinking, to a set of philosophical principles to better living – you think you’re casting out the demons, but you’re really just cleaning up the house to make it more comfortable for them when they return. It’s like trying to get rid of ants by just cleaning your house more thoroughly. It won’t be enough, because even if you get rid of the crumbs you’re leaving behind, the ants left a chemical trail that will keep bringing them back no matter how clean you keep the house. You need to apply a more powerful cleaning agent to destroy the connection those ants made with your kitchen. In the same way, you can’t discipline yourself into holiness once sin has made its way into your soul. The only cleaning agent powerful enough to make that happen is Christ’s blood, applied by the Holy Spirit as you undergo the painful, submissive experience of repentance. Trying to deal with sin without prayer is like trying to deal with conflict with a friend or family member by just not talking to them about that problem. Use that strategy enough and the conflict will build and build, either until it explodes or you just never talk to them. Better to take the direct path – don’t be silent. Tell God that you’re not worthy to gather up the crumbs under his table, and he won’t treat us like pests even though we are. Instead He will share with you His mercy that endures forever.
Sin is darkness that clouds the mind; Christ is light that drives those clouds away. In the light, we can see who Christ is and who we are without Him and we will know who we are with Him. In the light, we can see what is unwise and better govern our response to sinful desire and to how we speak of sin. When we let Christ be our light, the overwhelming feeling of silence that comes with the shame of sin won’t keep us from prayer. Abandon mere shame, which can be a guilt-ridden excuse to keep sinning though at least you justify yourself by saying at least I feel bad about it. So much greater and more relieving than shame is repentance, which says that you love being free of your sin in the light of Christ more than you love wallowing in the darkness of guilt where you pretend your sins are hidden. Sin stuns us, and it stunts our minds, and it stops us from seeing that we can’t beat it. We can’t sweep it clean. If we could, God would only have given us a broom – which is the Law. But he didn’t give us a broom – he gave us his son’s body and blood on the cross, to remind us that when we get stupid with sin, Christ can cast it out and make us free again. Amen.