Dave and I attended Home Street Mennonite Church on Sunday and Ingrid Peters Fransen, the speaker started her sermon by asking “What is sin?” She went on to say that some things conservative Mennonites used to think were sins –drinking, dancing and smoking –are no longer considered sins by most Mennonites. Many people don’t think pre-marital sex or divorce or swearing are sins, yet just a generation or two ago, these were definitely considered sinful.
In 2003 when I was a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press I wrote an article about why the traditional Seven Deadly Sins were no longer relevant for the present day and suggested it might be a good idea to trade them in for some more modern and politically correct sins. It was a column which generated lots of mail from readers who felt it was important to maintain the traditional sins.
In 2008 the Vatican also decided that the list of seven deadly sins needed updating and came up with their own list. It included environmental pollution, genetic manipulation, accumulating excessive wealth, inflicting poverty, drug trafficking, morally debatable experiments and the violation of fundamental human rights.
Ingrid said in her sermon on Sunday that after a lengthy time of exile God told the children of Israel in Isaiah 45 that their sin had been infidelity to God. They had turned to other gods. She challenged us to think about what things were our gods- what things did we give priority in our lives? Was it perfecting our appearance, increasing our income, being successful at our work, pursuing various kinds of entertainment? Did we put those things before our relationships with others, before our relationship with God?
I wonder if it is helpful to make generic lists of sins. If as Ingrid suggested on Sunday sins are indeed those things that we put before others and God in terms of our time and energy, then we will each have a very personal list. What next? In this advent season as we celebrate the coming of Jesus, who offered freedom from sin, perhaps the important thing for us is to decide in which areas we need to put the brakes on, and start setting different priorities. How can we free ourselves from those things which interfere with the building and strengthening of meaningful life-giving relationships?