"That's something worse than sin."
We had just had a Lent-driven conversation about the cross, sin, and present manifestations of injustice and oppression when a few youth asked this very bold question. Human sex-slave trafficking. Mass genocide in Sudan. The Holocaust. Bullying of gay kids. Imbalance of the world's wealth and resources. There was not a soul in the room who was not absolutely opposed to these systemic evils. Still, they wondered if these horrific realities were "sins" or something completely other. Was/is there a separate category for these sorts of gross realities.
Were they worse than sin?
I responded, "Is there anything worse than sin? If so, was Jesus' death on a cross enough or did it leave something to be desired? If they were sins, what did it mean for Jesus to die on a cross for the sins of the world? What did Jesus mean when he invited us to carry our cross and follow him to Golgotha?"
The questions poured out from the youth as they began to recognize sin had become a church word disconnected from real manifestations of evil. It was not that they didn't condemn heinous acts against their brothers and sisters near and far- they do! It's not as though they didn't long for their definitive end- they do! The word sin just seemed too small, too weak, and too hollow. Sin had been reduced to personal mistakes, offenses, and infractions we confess on Sunday mornings. The bold claim of Christians throughout history- Jesus died for the sins of the world- had been buried in a well of Western individualism and swept away in a sea of religious piety.
Yet this ancient confession was awakening within the theological and prophetic imaginations of these youth.
Hatred of others- sin.
Racism. Homophobia. Sin.
Sexual violence and abuse- sin.
Imbalance of resources and not sharing with those in need- sin.
Youth ministry was once again transformed into another theological laboratory; this time the experiment was unpacking sin as social evil. Sin was illustrated as anything that conflicts with God's intentions for humanity and God's dreams for the world.
Still, what did this mean for the questions I posed about the cross and our call to carry and follow?
I think John Perkins provides us with a brilliant illustration:
"When the Nazi's conquered Holland, I am told that they forced the Dutch factories and factory workers to produce war materials. I have heard that members of the Dutch resistance would take jobs in these factories in order to obstruct productivity and deliberately subvert the German war movement. One way of doing this was to take of their wooden shoes, called sabots, and throw them into the gears and the turbines of the industrial engines or machines, causing them to breakdown. That, supposedly, is where we get our word sabbotage...[Jesus's] 'sabot' was himself, and by throwing himself into the machinery of sin, he caused the ultimate breakdown of Satan's whole movement of destruction" (A Quiet Revolution 184-185).
The dutch workers took off their wooden shoes and followed Jesus in their efforts to break down real sins of violence, oppression, and injustice in their midst.
What about us?
What about now?
When we begin to expose the broader impact of the gospel, which includes both individual and social liberation from sin, we hear our call to follow in a new way. We are reminded that the invitation of Jesus is to tune our hearts and minds, our eyes and ears, to the sounds of the underground. Jesus' beckoning to carry our cross, or take off our wooden shoe, moves us to look for local and global crisis that distort God's intentions for humanity and break them down. We pursue, no matter what the cost, opportunities to thrust our cross and our shoes into real life encounters with oppression, seeking an end to anything that robs our fellow humans from a dignified and full life as God intended.
We seek to undo the effects and overcome systemic and individual incarnations of sin.
John Perkins knows there is nothing worse than sin.
There is also nothing better than resurrection.
We just sometimes need to break open and recover a biblical theology of both, which is broader than the ole wag of the finger and pretty flowers on Easter.
Read Mark 8:31-38 and Luke 18:1-8
Thoughts to Ponder
1. In light of John Perkins' illustration, how do you now understand Jesus' call to carry your cross and follow?
2. Listen to Switchfoot's song below, "The Sound (John Perkins Blues). Lyrics here.
3. What are some local and global sins that are in need of being broken down so your neighbors can experience life and life as God intended? What can you do to contribute to the alleviation of related suffering echoed by the cries of the underground?
4. The widow in Luke prays for justice. Jesus says we are to pray for the same. Lift up prayers to God related to anything above. Ask God to stir within you and those around you the passion and ability to carry your cross and follow Jesus in these places. Never cease to pray this prayer. Never cease to hear the sound of the desperation bound.