Sin – Ash Wednesday – Wesley

Wednesday night February 13th, the Cabinet traveled to First UMC in Cleburne to participate in worship. The worship service was both a blessing and an examination. The Youth Director Peyton Carter preached an excellent faithful sermon on sin and the need to confess as a part of beginning our Lenten journey to the cross and beyond. Such a message is a traditional and deeply appropriate Ash Wednesday theme. The ancient words of imposition ring in my mind –“repent and believe the gospel.” I love the way the new Common English Bible translates repentance – “change your hearts and lives” (see Mark 1:15, CEB). Whoever we are, wherever we are, repentance, the change of heart and lives towards the Lord, is a claim upon us if we are to travel the Way of Christ to the cross and beyond. As I listened I made personal application to my own life. I engaged in self-examination and confession. What did I need to repent of; what needed change in my heart and life? I also could not help but reflect on the larger theologizing of the church. I can hardly remember many sermons with sin as a major theme lately. It is almost as if we think sinning is something others do. Perhaps our good and legitimate stress on grace has overshadowed such a core doctrinal concern. Yet I think Dietrich Bonheoffer’s warnings against cheap grace need to be heard again. It is worth recalling that when the great Methodist theologian Albert Outler wrote his classic Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit, his second chapter was on the doctrine of sin. He entitled it: “Diagnosing the Human Flaw: Reflections upon the Human Condition.” Confession and repentance (change of heart and life) are an ongoing element of any spiritually healthy life of Christian discipleship. On the larger level, Wesley’s famous words come back to me. “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out” (John Wesley). On Wesley’s monogram are the words “believe, love, obey.” Theological faithfulness and genuine spiritual depth comes in connecting the two. Believe -->  Doctrine Love -->  Spirit Obey     -->  Discipline We need to theologically reclaim reflection and preaching/teaching on the “human flaw.” We need to do so with grace and conviction not damnation and mean-spirited judgment. Put differently, the truth needs to be said in love and claimed over our own lives as necessary precondition of preaching and teaching about its reality in the lives of others. There is more to be said here, much more! But for now, Ash Wednesday is a good place to recommit to such a journey of faith. We must preach and teach in such a way that we reclaim core theological convictions with depth, courage, conviction and grace.