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  • Writer's pictureFr. Daniel S.J. Scheid SCP

What is Father Dan Thinking? 2-19-24

Here's the manuscript of yesterday's sermon.


Fr. Daniel S.J. Scheid, SCP

First Sunday in Lent B – February 18, 2024

All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Francisco

“Any sinners in the house?”

 

 How many of you have sinned since you were baptized?


In the earliest days of the Church, some thought that if they sinned after they received the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, they would undo the sin-removing grace of the sacrament and risk eternal damnation.

 

It’s said that Constantine, the fourth-century Roman Emperor who made Christianity the religion of the realm, held off from being baptized until he lay on his deathbed, so as to avoid the subsequent sin trap.

 

We know better now. Baptism, at least for those who have attained the age of reason and responsibility, power-washes our sin-stained decks, scouring away the grit and gunk and slime.

 

When babies, who haven’t figured out how to sin on their own, get baptized, sin of an original nature gets washed away, too – so doctrine asserts.

 

Thus my own ten-day-old soul was made spotless at my baptism: a blank slate for me to spoil with a half-century of sinning and scribbling.

 

Of course, we needn’t stay stuck there. Through the Church, God gives us the sure and certain grace of the repeatable sin-removing sacraments.

 

Holy Communion is the most common way we get clean. Confession, less common, is the other. And our own private Act of Contrition, spoken directly to God in prayer, surely must do the trick, too.

 

God desires not the death of sinners, scripture states over and over again, but that we turn to him and live.

 

In his typical rat-a-tat fashion, Saint Mark packs three distinct actions into seven short verses of his gospel.

 

Jesus is baptized by John. Jesus is tempted by Satan. Jesus gets to work in Galilee.

 

Jesus had no sin to wash away, original or otherwise, so I suppose he stood in solidarity with the others who went to John, and he set the example for us. And it probably felt good to hear the Father’s loving compliment, and to have the Spirit’s company – in the river and to the edge of the wilderness.

 

There the angels took over, working a forty-day shift: one of them fallen and the rest of them faithful. Oh, to eaves-drop on those conversations! Mark leaves that to our imaginations; Matthew and Luke will fill in some of the details. Come back the next two years at this time to hear those stories; but really, why wait? Thumb through the Bible at your bedside when you get home. You’ll find it in Chapter Four of both Matthew and Luke.

 

And then, just like that, Mark writes, Jesus – tempted and yet undefiled, as one hymn puts it; for us the tempter overthrew, says another – Jesus gets to work in his public ministry by proclaiming the gospel-good news of the onrush of the Kingdom of God; and to prove it he begins teaching and healing and getting into all kinds of trouble – good trouble – with the authorities.

 

And yes, as Saint Peter tells us, and the creeds restate, this means that Jesus suffered for sins, died, descended into hell, and is, as a third hymn sings, risen, ascended, glorified.


We hear these stories – Mark’s condensed account and Matthew’s and Luke’s expanded versions – on the First Sunday in Lent because they’re really good news for anybody who has sinned since the day of their baptism.


And in case you answered “no” to my opening question, take a look in your bedside Book of Common Prayer, starting on page 267. Ash Wednesday’s “Litany of Penitence” gives us lots of boxes to check. I’m sure you’ll find at least one sin listed that you’re pretty good at; maybe a bunch. And no, as Saint Paul reminds us, sinning is not a competition to rack up extra forgiving grace. We should strive to be more like our home-town Forty-Niners than the Chiefs: the lower score wins the sinners’ Super Bowl and sparks the victors’ parade down heaven’s gold-paved Market Street.

 

So for all of us wretched sinners, Saint Mark’s speedy, seven-verse account especially summarizes the hope we’re given to live as one of God’s own, in and through God’s Son Jesus.

 

Like Jesus, we are God’s beloved children; and in Jesus, we the baptized are beloved in a particular way.

 

Like Jesus, we wander in a wilderness where the fallen angel often wins; and in Jesus we receive God’s forgiveness, over and over again, whenever we ask.

 

Like Jesus, at some point we leave our wilderness, re-enter community, and get to work; and in Jesus our work takes on a particular form, that of advancing the very same Kingdom of God that Jesus brought with him when he burst on the scene.

 

And God knows that we’ll fail, sometimes nearly as often as we succeed – that’s Saint Peter’s story, right? – but, and this is really important, we needn’t live in the Constantinian fear of subsequent sin and certain damnation after baptism.

 

Instead, I rather like this image from another of the church’s ancients: when we sin, we snip the string that connects us to God. When we repent, God ties the ends together, shortening the string and bringing us that much closer to God. Ask God to keep re-tying. He will.

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