Sunday, March 1, 2020


Shedding our Sins

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Katy TX 77493

Lent 1


Sin is not a popular topic in most churches. I imagine if I were to post on the Epistle which comes out on Wednesday that the topic of today’s sermon is sin, there might be a noticeable drop in attendance. Focusing on sin is not the way to pull in big numbers. However in many respects that is a focus of Lent. Lent is a season of repentance and fasting. The nature of Lent is pretty well described in the Ash Wednesday liturgy

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need, which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. [1]

We are expected to look at our sins, through this lens of Lenten discipline, but what is sin? Sin is anything that breaks our relationship with God, with our neighbor or with creation. That definition is right out of our prayer book. Richard Rohr however has a way of looking at sin that I find instructive. This is from a book of daily meditations that he wrote.

Because we can’t make sense of things that remain hidden in the unconscious (which may account for 95 percent of our true motivations, fears, blind spots, and agendas), we need to bring them into the conscious world so that we can identify them and become accountable for them.

You cannot heal what you do not acknowledge. Sin has been the religious word most often used to stand for this hidden, dark, and disobedient aspect of our natures. Sin is that part of us that is not truthful; it is any unfaithfulness to our true nature and greatest destiny. In that deepest sense, we are indeed all sinners and much of the time we act out of that sinfulness. St. Gregory of Nyssa explained that sin is simply our refusal to grow.[2]

Now hang onto that quote from St. Gregory of Nyssa because I am going to come back to that. There are two types of sins, those of commission, the things we have done and of omission, those things that we have not done or ought to have done. The sins we have done are the easy ones to identify. I have been amused at the number of people who have already said, they have messed up on their Lenten fasts and this is just the first Sunday of Lent.

The sins though that are the more challenging, the sins that Richard Rohr is talking about are those sins of omission; those things that we ought to have done. Our Isaiah passage from Ash Wednesday covers some of those ought to have done, or should be doing sins. These are those actions or lack of action, which makes for a less just world. A world where the poor are oppressed, the hungry are not fed, the naked are not clothed, the homeless are denied a place to live.

To remedy these sins may require us to leave our comfort zones and that is what growth is all about. As Gregory of Nyssa said, sin is our refusal to grow. There is an example that I learned long ago and it was in a Forward Day by Day book of daily meditations way back in the 90s. I had cut it out but it finally just fell apart, but I remember the message.

Blue crabs are big business in the Chesapeake Bay area.  I was a fan of them even before I moved there, and it is one thing I miss here. One of my favorite times of year was soft shell season. As far as I am concerned they don’t get any better than this. All of the taste and none of the work.

The fact is that crabs must shed their shells in order to grow. That hard exoskeleton has to break open each spring for the crab to flourish. If they did not shed them then they would remain trapped in the too small shell and eventually die. There is however that time when they are incredibly vulnerable between the molt and the hardening of the new shell. Now I suspect if the crab could reason I’ll bet  he or she would wish they did not have to go through this, but nature will have its way.

Lent is a time when we have the opportunity to grow in our relationship with God, with each other and with all of creation. Not to be willing to grow distorts our relationship with God with each other and with all creation and that is the definition of sin. This however requires us to shed our shells, to make ourselves vulnerable. We must shed our shells in order to allow ourselves to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. This is a time that often is one of discomfort.

Of course you can decide not to grow, not to shed your sinful shell and allow God in. But then all you will be is an old crab trapped in your shell. And I suspect we all know people who are just that!

So what is it that God is calling you to shed this Lent? Take a moment and write it down on that paper that you were given on the way in. Then drop it in the font either at the peace or when you come forward for communion. Fold it up as many times as you want. Then I’ll put them in the fire pit that I used to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday and I will burn them.

So feel free to put away the gloom and doom. Be like the crab and shed what is keeping you from growing. Look at this Lent as an opportunity to grow and deepen your relationship with God. Live a Lent that is more like what Edward Hayes suggests in this Lenten psalm:

From the ashes of fires of blessed palms

To Alleluia fires of Easter eve

May Lent’s forty days

Be dancing flames of love’s delight


May you live these Lenten days not in purple penitential denial

But in the joyfulness of the intimate embrace of your Beloved God.


May you hear on the Lenten winds your Beloved calling you daily

To go apart from your routine time

To spend desert time with your God.


Then your heart can freshly be aflame

With a lover’s delight in your God[3].

[1] The Book of Common Prayer page 264

[2] Rohr, Fr. Richard, On the Threshold of Transformation (Loyola Press, Chicago 2010) pg 33.

[3] This is a prayer by Edward Hayes, that somebody gave me. I unfortunately do not know which of his books this is in.