So on Tuesday, I urge you, please come, be shriven of your sin. Come and kneel in front of Jesus Christ, make your confession. Clean your heart and your soul so that your actions and your words may be those of God.
The name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All of our readings today point us in much the same direction as our readings last week. They talk about our character, and they call us to interrogate our character as we prepare for Lent.
The readings are drawing a connection between our hearts and our actions.
What better definition of character is there? But that our actions match with what is in our hearts. And Jesus is telling us that that is indeed what happens. We act out of the goodness in our heart, or we act out of the badness that is in our heart. If our hearts are filled with good things, then we will act in good ways.
But if our hearts are full of bad things, then we will act in wrong ways. There is an element here, I think of Jesus telling us, and certainly St. Paul telling us that we can talk ourselves into sin. We can talk ourselves. We can behave our way into deeper and more terrible sin.
In fact, it’s a well known phenomenon, and it’s called limit creep. Who’s heard of limit creep? Nobody, I am sure. But this is from my research and development days. And it used to be thought that it was just one of those things that happened that you had to keep an eye on.
But actually, limit creep can lead to deadly consequences. And this is why the Challenger space shuttle crashed. This is why the Challenger space shuttle blew up. It’s called limit creep. There was a part on that space shuttle that had a safe operating range between this temperature and this temperature and in pre flight checks they would look at the temperature reading and they would say, yeah, it’s within the limit. We can go. And then one launch, everything was okay, except that it was one degree off the safety margin. The engineers looked at it and they went, no, we think that’s probably all right. We think that one degree off will be fine.
And so the space shuttle launched and everything was fine. And then the next time they launched, it was two degrees out. But everybody said, well, actually, it was here last time. So one degree more, that’s fine. We can go.
And the space shuttle launched. And that happened four or five times. Now, all of a sudden, you have a safety margin that has gone from here in very small stages right the way to here. And all of a sudden, the space shuttle is operating nearly ten degrees out of its safety margin. But because it’s happened in small chunks, because it’s happened in tiny, incremental steps, nobody’s noticed.
But if you open the book and look at the safety thing, it’ll tell you you should never launch ten degrees out of the safety margin. But those small steps, those small creeping forward out of the safety margin resulted in that ship exploding with a dreadful loss of all on board.
Now, sin is exactly the same as the safety margins in the book of that space shuttle. The Bible is our manual. The Bible tells us where our safety margins are.
When you come to Church and you hear preaching, do you hear where it is safe to operate? You can operate between here and here. This is a good place to be. Here is the teaching of Jesus Christ between here and here. But then one day you move a little bit out of that margin, don’t you?
You do one little thing and you go, Actually, it was fine. Nothing’s really changed. It’s all fine. And then the next day you said a little bit more, and then the next day, a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more. And before you know it, you are operating way outside of the safety margin of Christ’s teaching.
And the consequences for your eternal soul are just as damaging as the consequences of that awful disaster.
And so this week, we are called to look at our safety margin. We are called to examine our life and pick up the instructional manual, to pick up scripture and to go, actually, am I still operating inside Christian teaching, or have I started to move beyond it? I’ll give you an example of one of the easiest ways we start to fall into sin, and it’s gossip.
Gossip is that little sliver of sin that infects us all. When we sit down and have a coffee with our friends and we start talking about so-and-so and what they’re doing, and we start judging what they are doing, we say, can you believe that they went and did that? Well, I’ve heard. Have you seen how they’re treating their son? What about this?
What about that? And we’ve all done it. And before you know it, that gossip is judgment, that gossip is putting yourself on a pedestal over the top of someone else, that gossip turns into other things. And before you know it, oh, well, it’s not really gossip. We’re just sharing news, you’ve reframed how it is to live as a Christian.
Well, fortunately, there are ways to combat this. There are ways to combat this limit creep in our Christian life. I would call those things Holy habits. And indeed, that is the focus of our Lent course starting on the 17 March. Our Lent course is called Holy Habits.
They are things that pull us back into Christian teaching. They are things that pull us back into a tighter relationship with God. Things like when you come into Church, placing your finger in the Holy water, crossing yourself and genuflecting to Jesus Christ in the Tabernacle. In that moment, you are humbled before Jesus. And in that moment, perhaps Jesus will show you where you are pushing out of living a good Christian life.
Things like pilgrimage, where as a habit of something that you will do once or twice a year you will take yourself off somewhere to listen to what God is telling you, to listen as God pulls you back into a good way of living. Of gratitude, of listening to God and looking in your daily life and being grateful for the gifts that God gives you, being grateful for the Christian life that God calls you to, because that life is not restrictive. It is lifegiving of things like daily prayer and reading the Bible every day. Those habits pull you back into a good Christian life. Not so that you can be better than everybody else, not so that you can look at other people and go, oh, look at me, I’m a much better Christian than them. But because your heart will be full of goodness and because your soul will be full of the work of Jesus Christ, and so therefore your actions will be full of goodness and your life will be the life of Jesus Christ out in the world.
But there is another Holy habit which people find hard and which I am going to appeal to you today to make use of. Because on Tuesday it is Shrove Tuesday, it is the day that you are shriven of your sins. It is a moment of correction, of looking at your life and going, I am living way out of the safety margin of a Christian life. I want to bring it back in.
And by coming to confession, by embracing the Sacrament of reconciliation, you get to go. God, I have gossiped. God, I have done these things wrong. Lord, I seek your forgiveness. You can fall to your knees and seek God’s mercy and love and be made right again.
It is an amazing corrective. We offer it here every Tuesday, evening after evening prayer. We offer confession before Advent and before Lent are traditional periods where you would go and make your confession. And so I urge you this year to take advantage of confession. It happens over there in front of Jesus, and it is to Jesus and it is to God that you make your confession, not to me but to God.
And I want to address something that I’m sure worries some of you. The only person who will ever hear of your sin is God. You will find your Parish priest in jail long before the seal of the confession is ever broken. When you make your confession in this place to your Parish priest, it is not to me, it is to God, and I assure you of absolute and complete discretion.
So on Tuesday, I urge you, please come, be shriven of your sin. We’ll be hearing confessions after evening prayer, and I’ll be here as long as is needed. Come and kneel in front of Jesus Christ or sit, if you can’t kneel, make your confession, be shriven of your sins and reset your life within the safe bounds of the Christian life that God calls us to. Clean your heart and your soul so that your actions and your words may be those of God.