Do you know what your sin is?

Yes, that’s a quote from “Serenity” — the Operative, in point of fact. Do you know, I once took a quiz online to find out “which “Firefly” character are you?,” and it said I was the Operative. Some of my libertarian friends out there will get a chuckle out of that, but I didn’t like it a bit. Then I took it several more times — going the other way on questions that had been close calls — and each time I was somebody else. Never did get to be Jayne, though, which was disappointing. I didn’t even get to be Mal (I was stuck with the doctor — my least favorite character — and Shepherd Book).

But that’s not the point of this post. The point is that I did the first reading in Mass today, which is a rare privilege. I much prefer doing the 1st reading (Old Testament, usually), but I almost always get scheduled to do the 2nd (usually Paul’s epistles). I really get into the Old Testament readings — they tell stories; they take you somewhere — while Paul is usually too dry and abstract to mean as much to me as it should.

So it fell to me today to do the 1st reading, and this was it, from Jeremiah 31:

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they broke my covenant,
and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the LORD.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

One of the ways that my faith manifests itself is that I see meaning in my being chosen to read this to the people. And this reading seems particularly pregnant with meaning for me.

You see, I’m going through a rough patch in my professional life at the moment — what with being laid off and all. And it reminds me of when I went through a much worse one, almost exactly 22 years ago. And God delivered me and my house from that. I’ll tell you the story of it in greater detail another time, but suffice it to say that the four seemingly interminable days it took my wife and me to drive our two cars and (then) four young children out of the Western wilderness to the East Coast caused the 40 years of wandering in the desert to be much more immediate and real for me. And I have always thanked God for leading us out of there, to the land of my fathers, where we have been blessed.

So that part of the reading, about the earlier covenant when God took the people by the hand and led them out of Kansas — I mean, Egypt — is a reference I personally find applicable.

But God says through Jeremiah that that deal is now off, just as my time of being blessed in my job at The State is over.

So that leaves me with two questions:

  1. What was my sin, if indeed sin there was? Maybe there wasn’t one in particular, since I don’t feel all that much of a sense of loss. But if there was one, I should know what it was.
  2. What’s the new deal?

Mostly lately, my mind has been focused on the new deal, the new covenant that lies before me. As it has begun to take shape — just bits of it so far — I’ve gotten pretty excited about it. And the mind naturally turns to “What’s next?”

But this reading causes me to wonder: Is there a lesson yet to be learned from where I was? If so, I need to figure that out. I’m planning on going to the Lenten Reconciliation Service at St. Peter’s Monday night. So I’m reflecting upon this…

Too heavy for you? Well, then go to the mall, as Jack Black’s character said in “High Fidelity,” just to bring us back to the realm of pop culture, for those who are more comfortable there.

13 thoughts on “Do you know what your sin is?

  1. Randy E

    Brad, you are certainly taking an OT approach to evaluating your recent situation by apparently focusing on punishment for your sin. Jesus as sacrifice and savior precludes punishing you for a sin. 1828 of The Catechsim equates fearing punishment to becoming slaves. The point is to avoid sin because it’s the right thing to do and not because we’ll be punished.

    The Gospel reading that followed the Jeremiah reading addresses glorifying God at the expense of ourselves. Perhaps God has something else planned for you and your talents and it’s time to follow. I asked you once if you ever thought about the fact that so many people are homeless while others are enjoying expensive meals just a couple blocks away. My point was how we often lose sight of these issues. Maybe God’s saying “hey Brad, take a look around you.”

  2. Doug Ross

    “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

    Maybe God thought your arms were growing a little short.

    My life changed for the better about a decade ago when I stopped trying to figure out if God was punishing me, testing me, or trying to send a message. Now I just assume that God will not give me anything He doesn’t think I can handle and that I’ll get the full story somewhere down the road.

  3. Randy E

    Sorry Brad, but I had to comment on this (it does relate to social justice):

    Before being admitted to Davis, a student must pass a test showing they are learning at their grade level.

    “If they’re one grade level behind, we’ll let them repeat a grade,” Burnett said. “But if they’re further behind than that, unfortunately, we can’t accommodate them.” Bryan Burnett, chairman of Jefferson Davis Academy regarding vouchers

    The majority of the state’s private schools have entrance requirements based on academic performance and behavior, said Larry Watt, director of the S.C. Independent School Association

    There you go, from the horse’s mouth about the problems of accepting students into private schools via voucher.

  4. Randy E

    Greenville’s Christ Church Episcopal School…the school, whose high school tuition is nearly $15,000 a year, fears tax credits could jeopardize its independence, said president Leland Cox Jr.

    “The question of something even as benign-sounding as a tax credit could be troubling. Does that open the door to external governmental bodies getting involved in the operation of the school?” Cox said.

    Ford’s bill would require all schools that accept students with tax credits to administer a nationally recognized achievement test and publish the results.

    Tax credit advocates say new private and charter schools will open once incentives are in place. Existing schools also might expand.

    “We have new schools popping up every day,” said Ford, citing one in his Charleston district run by former teachers…In the past few years, 35 charter schools also have opened in the state…But, so far, charter schools are faring no better academically than traditional public schools. According to 2008 state report card data, 22 of the state’s 34 charter schools were rated as below average or at risk of failure.

    Many of the arguments I have made against choice are affirmed. Private schools are too expensive, they are not equipped to handle the diversity of ability of the student population, the government will want to hold them accountable, and they are not automatically going to be better.

    The thought experiment about how vouchers doesn’t pan out in reality. If Milwaukee choice (the pioneers) were so successful, why isn’t choice a state wide program there? Hmmm…

  5. KP

    God’s forgiveness saves our souls, Randy E., but He doesn’t protect us from the consequences of sin in this life, so there is punishment.

    Brad, I have no doubt that you can find some lessons in this experience that will help you with whatever you take on next — there are always things anyone can do better. But your heart has always been in the right place.

    And I’d be a lot more apt to believe that God is speaking to you personally in this lay-off if He weren’t also speaking to 11 percent of the rest of South Carolina at the same time. Maybe this economy is God’s punishment for a whole nation.

    Randy E., thanks for posting the voucher stuff, which is dead-on target even if it is off-topic. The only really good private school in Florence requires all new students to take an IQ test and can’t accommodate anyone who doesn’t score above 100.

  6. Jimmy

    Maybe, just maybe, your punishment is the result of your stand, and continued harping about the Confederate Flag….
    For the life of me I can’t see where all the techies came from to attend the Hydrogen Fuel Cell symposium. Haven’t they got the word yet about this ‘backward state’?….Hmmmmm

  7. Bill C.

    See what happens when you continually beat a dead horse? There are a couple carcasses that I can think of off-hand.

    Do you do yard work?

  8. bud

    Brad underscores a big problem with today’s society, organized religion. I doubt Brad will join some sort of Catholic Jihad to try but the fact that he’s searching for answers from an invisible cloud being rather than just accepting the reality of a changing world shows how powerful religion is in fostering the hearts and minds of people. When used for evil that power can be dangerous.

  9. Travis Fields

    After any set-back, it’s a good idea to reflect – but remember:

    God does *not* subvert anyone’s free will.

  10. Karen McLeod

    I heard the same OT lesson this past Sunday, but what I heard is that the deal will be changed. As a christian I believe that happened with the Incarnation. As we try to follow the Christ we stumble, but God “will remember our sins no more.” At any rate, the “sin” is not the problem. We’re God’s people (however foolish we may be), and as such we can drop the guilt, and walk in His grace. I believe it was Thomas Merton who had the insight to realize that wanting to please counts in God’s sight. I’ll have check out “Firefly” to see what that’s all about.

  11. Travis Fields

    I’m no Theologian, but I hope “Good Deeds” count more than “Good Words” – which count more than “Good Beliefs” – coz those are pretty hard to separate from “Good Intentions” – whatever those are worth.

  12. Sami

    I have often looked back at my life and wondered why bad things happened to me — was it because I had failed God in some way.

    I am now old enough to realize that, in every instance when ill fortune fell my way, God has used it to glorify Himself, through my pitiful actions in the aftermath of the ill fortune and through the empathy I garnered along the way.

    Sometimes, one must get further down the road of life to see and understand how a seeming ‘trajedy’ was, in retrospect, a blessing in disguise.

    And I also think that some day, on The Other Side, I will be pleasantly surprised to hear how my life experiences positively impacted others on their own journey.

    Hang in there, Brad.

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