A Failure to Love

This sermon is based on chapter 1 of ‘Good and Beautiful and Kind’ by Rich Villodas.

The exploration of what has fractured our world begins internally by thinking about our sin. There are images that can help us think about sin. Lawbreaking, trespassing and debt are all helpful and biblical pictures. At its core, sin is a failure to love. Augustine described humanity as incurvatus in se, curved in on itself. This inward turn causes us to live lives that are self-seeking rather than loving, and sets us over and against others. This is what is behind all the grasping for power, violence, arrogance, apathy and hatred in our world.

This tendency to turn inwards is explored in some of the stories of the early chapters of Genesis.

  • Adam and Eve: Turning Inward Through Grasping – Adam and Eve are tempted by the desire to be like God and take what is only his: the right to determine right and wrong. They were not content to look outwards and upwards for definitions of right, goodness and truth but instead looked internally and gave into a grasping spiritual greed. The tree had signified a holy limit, but their actions were a result of sin turning them inwards and love being uprooted in them.
  • Cain and Abel: Turning Inward Through Envy – Both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God. Abel gave his firstfruits – the very best he could give and God was pleased with this offering. Cain did not take the same approach, and when he saw how God responded to Abel, he became angry and envious and concluded that only one of the brothers could be a success. The fracturing of the family began in Cain’s heart, but it was soon expressed outwardly.
  • The Tower of Babel: Turning Inward Through Exclusionism – When humans gathered to build a tower, one of the reasons was their fear of being scattered throughout the earth. They wanted to stay in a homogeneous setting, and so collectively and geographically they turned inwards. Rather than going in faith, they stayed in pride. This is a brand of unity that leads to uniformity, exclusivity and hierarchies.

Sin is not just something that we do but a power that is turning us inward. The task of uncurving ourselves is impossible by our own strength. The antidote is in a power outside of us – the cross of Christ. Jesus took on sin and conquered it. We are now forgiven by his blood and empowered by his Spirit to live lives of love to God and neighbour.

In this life now, we can live in the love of God, which orients us in a new direction. The spiritual practice of confession holds us steady in this new direction. Confession means we live from a place of humility and it is something we can do regularly. The idea is not to obsess over our mistakes, but it is instead an act of solidarity where we remind ourselves that we are all on equal footing and all in need of the same grace.