Structures of Sin

June 26, 2016   The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost   Galatians 5:19-23

The usual task of itemizing the individual sins of the “works of the flesh” is rudely disrupted by the villagers in Samaria. Searching the corporate heart of the villagers yields the same sins found in individual hearts. Don’t they count?

The tendency of good biblical application has been to hang the works of the flesh on individuals. Full stop. That is easy to do, given a list that includes wrath, ambition, sexual immorality, murders and the like. But if we reduce categories of sins only to individual people, we feed a parody of Christian morality. We excuse ourselves from participating in the ills of society, and we take no responsibility for their healing.

The villagers, wrote Luke, saw that Jesus “had set His face towards Jerusalem (9:53).” The reasons for their refusing hospitality are not noted by Luke, but the setting gives hints. They recognized Jesus as the Light of the world, and they also recognized His condemnation of the sin of the world. As the world prefers darkness to Light, so the villagers preferred to refuse Jesus and avoid any hint of condemnation.

Who knows what their particular set of sins were? Whatever their list, it most certainly resembles contemporary forms of the sins that grip the world today. Maybe their list included:

Gangs that terrorize neighborhoods and extort honest people;
Drug dealers who may not take drugs but lead others to lethal addiction;
Pornography made accessible, feeding an addiction that breaks marriage bonds;
Corruption in the finances of schools or widows’ funds or town improvements;
Warfare from jealousies or for economic gain;
Approval for sexual perversion, either in homosexuality or heterosexuality;
Fraud hidden in bureaucracies or cartels.

The terminology may not be biblical, but the categories are. The very sins harbored in the lives of individuals find ample opportunity and power in the social structures of our worlds.

World Christian Trends

Curiously, many voices in the church will measure individual sins but will deny our responsability for sin in society. Walter Rauschenbusch referred to social sins as “structures of evil,” and Pope John Paul II named them as “structures of sin.”

The devastation of these sins can be measured in money: The estimated cost is $9.25 trillion, or 32% of the Gross World Product. The real devastation is in the grinding, heartless, wasteful, abusive, ruthless treatment of God’s creation and of people precious to Him.

I will select only a few of the items in the analysis of Structures of Sin. I will bring these from three categories only: the poor, the environment, and women. Below are facts, plain statistics. They deserve a slow reading. I do not need to embellish or illustrate what are the realities represented by these numbers.

The poor:
700 million severely malnourished
500 million on the verge of starvation
93 million beggars
70 million abandoned children and infants
850 million with no past schooling
100 million supported by garbage
150 million with no shelter whatsoever
$400 billion of food and property destroyed by rats p. a. (per annum)
349 million homeless or family-less children
80 million new slum dwellers p. a.

The environment:
Tropical forests shrink by 247 million acres p. a.
75,000 species of life destroyed p. a.
50% of the world depends on biomass (firewood) for daily needs.
Soil erosion: 27 billion tons of topsoil lost from cropland p. a.
Sea levels rise by 0.6 inches p. a.
Waste: 1.6 billion tons p. a. (1 pound per capita per day)
50,000 acres of rain forest destroyed each day
63 sq. miles of arable land engulfed a day by deserts through mismanagement

Number 49.6% of the world
Receive 10% of the world’s income
Own 1% of the world’s property
Social surgery: 100 million genitally-mutilated
2.5 million raped p. a.
Women make up:
70% of all poor
66% of all illiterates
80% of all refugees
75% of all sick

If the sins of “the works of the flesh” are found in cultures and societies as well as in our hearts, so “the fruits of the Spirit” must be seen in the lives of Christians and in the cultures of God’s world as well. If that is where the Spirit redeems, then that is where the fruit of the branches must show the life of the Vine.

Photo: Two Hindu women in a village of Rajasthan, unmarried and doing household chores.

About Tad

This trip accompanies several of the friends of St. Paul. We will eaves drop on their correspondence, look into their lives and ministries, and find some insights about what they were doing. I suspect that much of what we see will surprise us, some will challenge us, and all will fill in some spots of God's work then and now.
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