The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni
Nov. 11, 2018
So here’s a piece of trivia for you: The origins of the terms upper case and lower case are from print shops way back when printers had to set type by hand. They would meticulously spell out words with small pieces carved or etched with a letter. These letters were kept and organized in cases. Capital letters were kept in cases above the smaller letters. Hence we call capital letters upper case and smaller letters lower case. There you go. Now you can tell all your friends that you learned something at church today!
But there is something else I would love you to learn. It, too has to do with upper and lower case letters, or at least one letter: the letter S, most particularly regarding the word sin. Biblically and theologically there is a distinct difference between what I call “upper case sin” and “lower case sin.” First I should explain a bit about what the word sin means biblically. The roots of the word don’t really mean amoral acts or willful choices to defy God. Instead it means simply to miss the mark.
The term sin is often used in archery to note the distance an arrow is from the bull’s eye. Or how far the arrow has missed the mark. This puts Paul’s words that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God in a new light. None of us are perfect. We all have missed the mark. But there is comfort to be had. Consider the words of our reading from Hebrews today: he [that is Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.
We can imagine this as if Jesus takes the arrows of our lives and places them directly and squarely in the center of the bull’s eye. No more sin, no more missing the mark. That is redemption. The sacrifice of Jesus is that he took Sin, upper case Sin, the reality that we live in a broken world and we are injured and imperfect people, and hit the mark for each of us, for all of us. He took away the upper case sin of the world. What we are left to deal with are the lower case sins, the transgressions, the errors, even the willful misconduct we engage in from time to time. These are lower case sins. These are the acts that show we are broken and injured people, they are a symptom rather than the disease.
The good news of God in Christ is, in the end, sins are worthless and meaningless because of Jesus’ sacrifice, because of he has removed Sin, upper case Sin, the reality of the malignancy of Sin, forever. Long before you were born, long before you had a will, long before you ever chose right over wrong or, perhaps, wrong over right, Jesus had redeemed you. No matter how many times we have taken an aim at righteousness and let our efforts fly through the air like arrows, no matter how many times we have missed the mark, no matter how far we have missed the mark, no matter whether our arrows have flown past the target or barely left the bow, no matter even if we have sinned by not releasing our arrows, Jesus has placed our efforts, our souls, our selves directly, squarely in the middle of the bull eye’s. Jesus has removed our lower case sins by destroying upper case Sin.
Jesus has done away with every distance between God and God’s creation, between God and you. Just as Paul has told us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God Paul also tells us this: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing can separate of from the love of God, not even Sin.