A long time ago, in a galaxy far way, my parents loaded up the Helton family station wagon which, incidentally, bore a striking resemblance to Clark Griswold’s Family Truckster, and headed across town to a funeral home we’d never been to. Mom and Dad were not big fans of leaving the kids at the house on trips such as these. Somehow, going to these downright terrifying facilities played an important role in their child-rearing strategy. On the way over, they explained to us who had passed away…the connections…who was related to who…and why we were going. If my memory is correct, I was probably around 8 or 9 years old at the time of this particular incident…and the oldest of the three Helton kiddos. I might have been the oldest, but I was also the most vocal about not wanting to go. My concerns had nothing to do with this particular relative. I just didn’t like going to funeral homes…period. My brother and sister and I were expected to be on our best behavior. Everyone would whisper. Some would cry. And then there were those creepy doors with signs on them that said something like, “Absolutely No Admittance” or had symbols on them that looked like nuclear bomb warnings. I get chills even now just thinking about it. Let us not forget, there was also a body in a casket in the room we were in…and that was my chief concern, truth be told. All I knew to pray for was that we would be leaving as soon as possible. But on this trip, most of the evening went well without a lot of characters from “The Shining”….that is until I went to the bathroom by myself. When I came out of the bathroom, I turned left when i was supposed to turn right. My internal GPS was still in its early stages of development. This critical error took me into another chapel, altogether different from the one I had just left. This chapel was dark and empty…not a soul in sight…except for a senior adult female who was lying in a casket with a couple of dimly lit pole lamps at each end. I was probably 20 feet away or so from the casket, but it felt like 3 inches. My legs locked and I honestly couldn’t move. This was my worst nightmare. This was why I didn’t want to come to this event in the first place. I was frozen…literally. I just knew the dear lady was going to sit up and would want to have a chat just before she did something that would lead to my own funeral. On the opposite end of the building was my family and an additional 150 people whispering sweet and humorous stories about the relative we had lost. But on this end of the building, there was just me and this lady…and neither of us was moving a muscle or breathing. I was a mess. After what seemed like 4-6 weeks, a relative I was close to came out of the men’s room that I had just left. He saw me standing there and asked if I was ok. I tried to be as cool as possible…but I failed. He saw I was upset and instead of making a big deal about it or cracking a joke that would have made me feel even worse than I already did, he simply placed his hand on my shoulder and guided me back to other side of funeral home. When I saw my mom, I turned and hugged him without saying a word. His eyes seemed to say that words were not necessary and that he understood exactly what had happened.
I apologize for that rather long story loaded with entirely too much information for a blog of this size. It reads a little funny to me now…but on that particular evening it was anything but. We all go to funerals. We seem to learn at such young ages that death really is part of living. No one avoids death or gets to skip it. No family is immune to it. And regardless of how rich, famous, pretty, or any other adjective that might seem to set a person apart in our culture, death will eventually win out. As we age, we begin to notice the loss of our family and friends even more and more. I’m at the age now where I’ve finally started reading obituaries…a new thing to be sure.
One thing that does bother me is when someone close to me passes away and I somehow missed it. I didn’t read about it, hear about it, or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. When the news finally reaches me, all I can muster out is a frustrated, “How did I miss this????” Ever been there? I think we all have at some point. I feel really bad when that happens.
In recent days as a pastor and servant in the church, I have noticed something has died and many folks have missed it. There was no funeral for this loss. No one wrote an obituary of any kind. In fact, when the death of this “thing” I am discussing is mentioned, the general response seems to be unconcern…and that merely mentioning it is nothing but a waste of perfectly good oxygen. No one seems to regret that they missed its passing. Rather, the news is received as just a piece information that has no bearing on anything else in life. The thing that has died is sin. A tiny little word that used to be a very big word in our world. We used to hear this word all the time growing up. We were told not to do certain things…not because they were simply wrong…but they were sinful. The word itself packed a punch. The word had the ability to bring our human natures and God Himself to the forefront.
My pastor(s) spoke of the word often, as did many of the adults in my little kid world. Over time, I came to understand that Jesus had died on a cross for MY sins. The songs we sang in church every Sunday mentioned the sins that once enslaved us and offered praise to Jesus for setting us free…something we could not do for ourselves. In short, this little 3 letter word, SIN, was a very big deal in life and faith. But as time passed, culture shifted. Many closed their Bibles for good. Many left their churches. Preachers were no longer respected. The Gospel message seemed to be outdated. But the biggest blow of all was the disappearance of sin. The word all but vanished. We heard it less and less…in culture and in churches. Preachers stopped using it. The songs seldom mentioned it. I don’t know how it happened. I just know that it did happen.
Of course, I am oversimplifying things considerably for the sake of this blog. But I hope you’re getting the idea. Sin’s death played a huge role in life across the board. If sin was not real…or at the very least not important, then what Jesus had come to do for us was also either not real or not important. This opened the floodgates for us to love ourselves like never before. When sin was alive and well, we paid attention to things. We were humbled by our sin. We knew we were sinners…and so were those around us. No one was perfect except for Jesus Christ. When it died, we pushed God off His throne and took His seat. We now decide what is right or wrong or if something is true or not. When I say “we”…I mean individuals. The result is the mess we have before us. No one knows anything for sure…but they think they do. Looking after good ole number one makes much more sense than caring about your neighbor or someone less fortunate. And if the word, sin, is to be used, rest assured it will be someone else’s sin…not our own. Some churches decided mentioning the three-letter demon could cause a church not to grow. In time, it became normal to not use the term if you wanted people to come to your church. Of course, this created other problems. To not use the word deeply impacted what would be said about Jesus within the sanctuary walls.
With sin dead, Jesus isn’t needed, and we are free to focus on ourselves and feel good doing it. Watch the news…it’s what we do. While our country continues to sink to new unprecedented depths of despair, we are asked to believe everything is normal and will be ok. I’d like to think Christians know better. The Bible keeps sin before our eyes from cover to cover. The great Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, JC Ryle, rightly stated, “The plain truth is that a right understanding of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity.” Ryle would not recognize what American Christianity has become now that sin is dead and buried. Our Bibles teach us that one day we will all have resurrected bodies, just like Jesus Himself. Christians raised in the faith have been taught to look forward to that blessed day…and we do. However, I’m also praying for another resurrection. I’m hoping the word sin makes a comeback. It will cause people to think and ask the right questions about being human. It will cause churches to preach the truth about Jesus and His cross. Finally, if the word can be resurrected, maybe we will be more careful in the future and not allow the important things to die on our watch. It hurts to type this…and to even think it…but the sad truth is that is exactly what has happened. Sin died on our watch…and many failed to notice. God forgive us…and help us.
Blessings my friends. Bro Mark