Sin is Lurking….

July 5, 2020

“So,” Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.”

Every time I read those lines from Paul about the sneaky nature of evil, I hear echoes of God trying to calm Cain down after he became enraged when Abel’s offering was accepted over his. God said to Cain, “Why are you angry…? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door….”

Paul says he wants to do what is good, and Cain starts out trying to do the right thing. But evil lurks close at hand. Cain can’t stand rejection, can’t bear to come in second, so he ignores God’s warning, gives in to anger, opens the door to sin, and murders his brother.

Now I suspect most of us gathered here haven’t given in to murder, though during my 10 years of prison ministry I worked with women and men who had. I do, however, imagine that a lot of us have had the occasional murderous thought, and that all of us have begun an endeavor with perfectly good intentions, only to find something shifting in us, ultimately opening the door to sin and welcoming it in.

Twenty-four years ago, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Protestors gathered to tell the white supremacists that they weren’t welcome in their town. The KKK and the protestors were separated by a fence, but at some point one of the Klansmen ended up on the wrong side. Now the protestors had come out to do good, to stand up for racial equality, to make their point peacefully. But once the perceived “enemy” was in the midst of them, a small group of protestors chased him down and began viciously kicking and hitting him.

“When I want to do what is good,” Paul writes, “evil lies close at hand.”

I think right now, midway through 2020, we are particularly vulnerable to giving in to the evils of rage, like that small group of protestors, or simply giving up. We have been overwhelmed by sickness and sadness and death and anger and the growing awareness of just how deeply systemic racism is woven into our national life. Someone made a list of all that has bombarded us this year – it’s written in a humorous way, and I’ve edited it some (and taken out the bad words), but here’s a taste of it:

First, in January, Australia caught on fire, but then there was this thing happening in China, and then corona virus showed up in the US “officially,” but then in February the president was acquitted and in March the virus officially became what everyone already realized, a pandemic and then a nationwide state of emergency was declared, but it didn’t really change anything, except in April we learned that no one had face masks, ventilators, or toilet paper …In May, the biblical end times kicked in with historical locust swarms and murder hornets,  and then some people protested lockdown measures with AR-15s. And then people all over America finally reached a breaking point with issues of race and violence after witnessing George Floyd’s murder. There were protests in every city. Still are in lots of places. In June, science and common sense just got thrown straight out the window and America reopened from the shut down that actually wasn’t even a shut down, and so far, things have gone spectacularly not that great, and then we learned there was a massive dust cloud that meteorologists named Godzilla coming straight at us from the Sahara Desert….

No wonder people are fatigued, burnt out, and vulnerable to the evil that lurks in wait for us. There really is such a thing as compassion fatigue. As John Pavlovitz writes: “There is a cost to compassion…a collateral damage to caring.” But since caring and compassion are our jobs as followers of Christ, we need to find ways to stay the course. As Pavlovitz says, we may be living in pretty constant trauma these days, but “we can,” he insists, “make it right, one beautiful act of decency at a time.”

Going back to the Ann Arbor protest – Keshia Thomas, a black high school student, was among the protestors. When she saw some of her fellow-protestors attack the KKK member, she threw herself on top of him to protect him. She later said, “When they dropped him to the ground, it felt like two angels had lifted my body up and laid me down.” The grace of God propelled her into action. Although some people grumbled that the guy should have gotten what he deserved, most praised her as a hero. She quietly responded: “The biggest thing you can do is just be kind to another human being. It can come down to eye contact, or a smile. It doesn’t have to be a huge monumental act.”

One beautiful act of decency at a time. It isn’t easy; it’s never been easy. Even the saints had a hard time. If you hear of someone referred to as a “a saint,” consider that she might, like Peter, have denied Jesus three times in an hour, or he might, like Paul, have succumbed to the very evil he did not want to do. If the saints couldn’t get it right all the time, certainly we won’t, either, nor can we expect ourselves to take it all on: the fires and the fury and brutality and sickness and the lies and racism and Godzilla. But we can be kind, and we can keep on trying, knowing that opening our hearts to compassion in the midst of chaos is exhausting, but also knowing that Jesus himself understands our exhaustion. After all, he invites us: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

If you’re not familiar with a yoke, it’s this wooden implement worn around the neck that connects two draft animals as a team to share the load —  thanks to Al Niese for giving this one to me; I’ve hung it on my wall as a reminder that Jesus is always with us, always offering to share the weight of whatever we are carrying. If we can hold onto that knowing, if we can actually let Jesus ease our weariness and heal our compassion fatigue, we are more likely to close the door to sin, and walk side by side with our Lord into a world that needs our help, one act of compassion, one smile, one letter, one beautiful act of decency at a time.