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A Sermon by the Rev. Stuart Schadt

Today we are talking about Human Nature. Our belief about this area of theology has more influence on our worldview than any other area. Our beliefs about the nature of humanity have been responsible for how we shaped education, viewed children, treated the poor, built prisons and viewed other nations as enemies. And though we are not overt in applying our theology to the institutions of society maybe we should be, because it underlies our decisions.  

A belief in the depravity of human nature leads us to build prisons of hopelessness. A belief of salvation through our God alone lends license to wars believed to further the cause of redemption. A belief in a static system of creation leads us to say people are born to good or born to evil; unchangeable and thus unredeemable.

I have said before that I belong to the growing school of theology that rejects the theology of original sin. This idea which is credited to Augustine of Hippo (circa. 450) presents that in the rebellion of Adam all of humanity and all of creation fell from God’s grace and took on a sinful nature that we can only hope to overcome through the grace of God.  We in practice abandoned this theology long ago but I fear it is still imbedded in our religious rhetoric. So how do we explain Human nature?

I spent this past week with our middle schoolers on their mission week that we called Making It Better. During the week they did 15 hours of work making the community better, they did 15 hours of making themselves better and about 5 hours of just hanging out.  On Wednesday we took sandwiches to Miriam’s Kitchen in the district and then went for a tour and worship service at the National Cathedral. Our guide asked our kids, “Why do you think they chose Gothic as the style of architecture for the cathedral.” One of our kids immediately said “because it is so awesome.” And he was so right. Gothic architecture is awesome. Viewed from a distance is a symphony of parallels lines that rise together carrying the eye of the observer upwards toward heaven. But as you draw close to any part of the cathedral you realize there are endless minute details in the lines. 110 Statues of saints surround the image of Jesus above the main altar. Grotesques and Gargoyles hide in every corner of the cathedral. We must have spent 30 minutes outside searching the north tower with binoculars for the carving of Darth Vader, the bad guy of the Star Wars movie.

One of my favorite details of the cathedral is the communion rail for the high altar. It is supported by 12 pillars and carved into the wood of each pillar is one of the apostles. Until you come to the pillar on the far left and it is an un-carved piece of wood standing in where Judas would have stood.

This image is an image for my understanding of human nature. We are created by God but we are unfinished. And Judas symbolized by the un-carved pillar is among the most unfinished of God’s creatures.

Let’s go back to the biblical story of creation.  The story bears witness to the fact that God did not understand us. Looking at the creation story from Genesis we see that when it is necessary to find a companion for Adam, God begins by parading by all the creatures, Adam says no. So God finally comes up with the idea of Eve. Placed in the Garden, God does not understand Human curiosity. (Obviously God had never had a cat.) Even with every need met in paradise Adam and Eve are easily lured into exploring what is beyond paradise. And because of their disobedience they soon find out.

The Story of the flood is the story of a plan to eradicate evil. God we are told removes all people from the Earth except the family of Noah and yet evil returns almost immediately following the flood. Evil is a product of freewill. A sign that given the opportunity we will occasionally and sometimes regularly make bad choices.

We see several plans unfold as God tries to help us find our way. God offers Abraham hope, one of the great transforming powers in all creation. Through Moses God give us law that will guide us into right behavior and thus finish the project. But the law can only take us so far.

Then comes Jesus, the fully complete human being, who through his life and teaching shows us what it means to be a completed human. Jesus holds up to us the call to fullness of life in this world and the promise of eternal life. He is calling us to be completed human beings.  That gives us hope and then Jesus gives us another great power in our quest to become fully human, he gives us forgiveness. It is a proclamation that nothing that we have done nor anything that we have left undone will stand between us and reaching the fullness of our potential.    

This is why Jesus so often tells us that unless we become like little children, or are born again we cannot follow him.  If the problem was original sin we would not be getting anywhere by becoming like children. But if the problem is that adults think they are completed people then they must let go of that understanding of self and be remade in the image of Jesus.

So where does this put my world view. I believe God calls each of us to the fullness of our potential. It is the job of the members of the church community to call each other to the fullness of our humanity. It is the work of the church to help society create life giving institutions. If we are parents it is our task to call our child to rise to the fullness of their potential. To do all we can to help our child reach the fullness of their potential. (I do want to put in the caveat though that there is a point where we justly say I have put in as much effort on you as I can and I am going back to work on myself.) I have a hope that prisons might be a place that restores the dignity of every human being and restores them to their potential. I am aware that this may be a harder job for some than others. I believe addictions are diseases that steal away people’s potentials and they should be treated as diseases not as crimes. And we treat the disease by helping the person remake themselves.  We treat the difficult child or person not as a bad seed but as a person who needs more formation or to be re-formed into the image of Jesus.

The list goes on but I am absolutely convince that the theology of original sin is a theology of condemnation without even a sin having been committed and that does not mesh with Christianity. And that a theology that believes that we as human beings or I as an individual have not yet reached the fullness of our potential is a theology of hope.



Copyright © 2011, The Rev. Stuart E. Schadt. All rights reserved.