I started making time to attend Fr. Reid's Wednesday morning Bible study and the first class I attended was on the last few verses of Romans 7. (Now I wish that I had started attending sooner!) For many it was a great class, and in particular for me, I found that I had a greater sense of Paul's spirit in penning the words and a greater sense of my own sinfulness simply by being human and my need for God's grace. I had started reading a book called Speaking of Sin by Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor and I have found some of her words to resonate with what I experienced in the Bible study that morning. I will share two brief excerpts below and I hope you find God's Spirit speaking through them:
"Sin is not simply a set of behaviors to be avoided. Much more fundamentally, it is a way of life to be exposed and changed, and no one is innocent. But that fact need not paralyze anyone with fear, since the proper response to sin is not punishment but penance...the point is that the essence of sin is not the violation of laws but the violation of relationships. Punishment is not paramount. Restoration of relationship is paramount, which means that the focus is not on paying debts but on recovering fullness of life." (I must interject with Romans 8:1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.") "We do wrong, but we do not do wrong all alone. We live in a web of creation that binds us to all other living beings. If we want to be saved, then we had better figure out how to do it together, since none of us can resign from this web of relationship. Meanwhile, sin is our only hope, because the recognition that something is wrong is the first step toward setting it right again.
"Repentance begins with the decision to return to relationship: to accept our God-given place in community, and to choose a way of life that increases life for all members of that community. Needless to say, this often involves painful changes, which is why most of us prefer remorse to repentance. We would rather say, 'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I feel really, really awful about what I have done' than actually start doing things differently. As a wise counselor once pointed out to me, our chronic guilt is the price we are willing to pay in order to avoid change. We believe that if we feel badly enough about what we are doing, then we may continue doing it. Plus, the guilt itself is so exhausting that it drives us right back into the arms of our sins, which may provide us with our only reliable comfort. 'All sins are attempts to fill voids,' wrote the French philosopher Simone Weil. Because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside of us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things, but it refuses to be filled. It rejects all substitutes. It insists on remaining bare. It is the holy of holies inside of us, which only God may fill. When we are ready to honor the bare space instead of trying to stuff it full, then we are ready to consider what kind of new life God may be calling us to. Our answers will be as varied as our sins, but they will involve more doing than saying, more reformation than remorse. Meanwhile, I do not believe that sin is the enemy we often make it out to be, at least not when we recognize it and name it as such. When we see how we have turned away from God, then and only then do we have what we need to begin turning back. Sin is our only hope, the fire alarm that wakes us up to the possibility of true repentance."