Pastor’s Email Devotion
The Week of Lent 3
February 28, 2016
Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. (Hosea 6:1, NRSV)
The landlord says your rent is late … He may have to litigate
Don’t worry, Ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha … Be happy, Look at me, I’m happy …
…. and as I start to accelerate, and the song lyrics drift out of ear shot. I’m on the Lititz Pike in front of the church, returning home from the Homes of Hope dedication, and as I slow up for the Delp Road light this kid with a smile as a wide as the Mississippi is walking towards me on the side of the road. He looks like he is sixteen or seventeen, maybe. His eyes are closed, ear buds entrenched in his ears, his down vest zipped open, and he’s singing the lyrics of the “Don’t Worry Be Happy” song, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. I won’t close my eyes within twenty feet of Lititz Pike, let alone walk and sing at the same time near it. But this kid is happy as a clam, appearing to be lovin’ the warm afternoon, apparently without a care in the world. I think to myself, “I want to bottle some of that.” And I smile most of the way home just thinking about his face, full of life and joy.
I get home and now think to myself, “Why do I need to bottle this kid’s joy?” My rent isn’t late, and I’m involved in no litigation (that I know of). My health allows me to do what I want and I have people in my life I love. Isn’t that enough to bring joy to my life? Why do I insist on letting other realities in my life drag me down — projects that I am running behind on, or missed commitments for which I have apologized profusely, or sermons I’ve preached recently that felt a little too fluffy and vague for me. Are any of those moments in time going to ruin my life, or that of others whose lives they touched? Most likely, not. Most of the others who I felt I’ve let down have already dismissed my concern and offered forgiveness in formal or informal ways. But my ego won’t let the guilt go away. Is it that I feel myself to not be worthy of forgiveness? Or is my problem that I feel that I am above making mistakes? Either one takes me down the road to spiritual dysfunction. Because both suggest that I am unworthy of grace and forgiveness, or worse, that I think I don’t need it. What has begun as a Lenten experience of repentance and forgiveness has deteriorated into a malaise in which redemption seems impossible. That is not what Lent is about. That is despair. And with God alive and at work in the world, no one need feel despair.
So, I return to the cross of Jesus. A cross that does not solely beat me down for my inner guilt and sin, but which drags that sin out into the open, so that God can redeem it and lift me up. A cross that does not drive me to my knees in a dead-end of hopelessness, but which confronts me with my utter inability to do anything to save myself, and thus brings me to the realization that only in Christ can I be saved. A cross that says “No” to everything I do that seeks to control my relationship to God, and which when I hear that “No” potently and powerfully, am finally prepared (by God) to hear the “Yes” of God’s offering of salvation. Try as I might, I can’t wiggle my obsessive need to control, or self-disparage, or claim responsibility into God’s plan of salvation. It is all in God’s hands. And thus I am blessed … as are you. Maybe all we can do in the face of such extravagant and inexplicable blessing is to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. Maybe try that this week in your spiritual time with God. We could do worse, I suspect.
O God of life and death and life again, you summon me to those places in my faith journey, where all I can do is fall on my knees in fear and trepidation. In those moments, use the acknowledgement of my sin as a door through which you can offer your astounding and undeserved grace. And may the obsessiveness of my own self-judgment be replaced by the potency of your will to forgive. Amen.