Tag Archives: confession

Vacation for the Soul: Confession

We continue in our sermon series, “Vacation for the Soul.”

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The last couple of weeks have been incredibly full. Last week, I was grateful to assist in worship and listen to Leslie Coates preach. Leslie is a talented preacher and I am always blessed to hear him deliver the word. That week had been filled with the Great Plains Annual Conference. Even though it was in Wichita, I think I am more tired than if I had traveled to a different city.

This last week was spent catching up, presiding at a funeral, (with two more funerals in our church). Too many meetings and honestly, trying to stay away from social media and the news. The reports of children being separated from their parents who crossed the border looking for safety was more than my heart could take.

Instead of filling my social media posts with pictures or articles or memes (which I do not believe changes one persons mind or makes a difference) I have been uncharacteristically quiet. I would not want my silence in public places to be seen as approval. It is not. I feel like I have no voice to change policies that paint refugees fleeing from horrible violence as criminal, as other, as less than human. I still do not have any words to give voice to my grief and pain over this unjust and inhuman policy. By the end of the week, a bit had changed as now children won’t be taken from their parents, but it is still unclear what that will do to the over 2000 children that are in facilities across this country.

Today in worship I spoke of confession as that spiritual/prayer practice that helps deepen our relationship with God. It reminds me, it reminds us all that God is God and that our traditional prayer of confession says it all:

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
      through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You can find the full worship service here.

Here is my confession: I confess I feel powerless in the midst of the storm of hate and bigotry I see in so many places. I confess I feel voiceless in all the loud clamoring and shouting between the opposite points of view. I confess I do not know how to affect real change in local, state and national governmental policies. I confess I feel like a very small boat in a very big sea filled with giant waves and gale force winds. I confess that it is sometimes easier for me to just do what is in front of me rather than do what needs to be done for justice, for righteousness and for the kingdom of God that is promised in Christ.

Tish Harrison Warren in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary writes: “Repantence is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of a life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ.” So I confess and repent and know that is part and parcel of a life in Jesus.

When I was growing up there were two women I read everything I could get my hands on in the library. One was Harriet Tubman and the other was Sojourner Truth. I was in awe of their strength, their willingness to do whatever it took to work against the institution of slavery and later for full rights for women.

Sojourner Truth, particularly had a “way with words.” She worked long and hard for the abolition of slavery. Often she was heckled as an illiterate African American woman. None of this stopped her. In fact, as one story goes, a proslavery Northerner asked her what did she think she would accomplish being a black woman calling for the end of slavery. He said something like, “I don’t care any more of your talk, than I do for the bite of a flea.” “Perhaps not,” she replied, “but the good Lord willing I will keep you scratching.”

So, I guess, I keep writing. I keep speaking. I have not the presence or perhaps even the same amount of strength and faith of Sojourner Truth. I have the same God. I have the same Christ who is still calling me to confess and to do what I can do to work for what is good, what is right and what is just.

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No words, AGAIN, just grief

I have to admit, I have been avoiding social media in the last couple of days. Other than post Birthday wishes to my friends, and a quick peek, I am not spending much time there. I could say that Lent began and it is part of my Lenten devotion to spend less time on social media and more time with God. That would not be true.

On Wednesday afternoon, as I was going over the service and putting last minute touches on my sermon the news flashed about another school shooting. This time in a high school in Parkland, Florida. I don’t need to post any links it is all over the news. Confronted with services starting soon, I was frozen and unable to figure out what to do. In odds with how I usually handle these things, I didn’t change my sermon. The tragedy was mentioned in the midst of the prayers.

I am immobilized by what seems to be a non-stop litany of mass shootings. I have several drafts over the last year of blog posts that never got finished because I couldn’t figure out what to say. There are so many blog writers that can articulate the grief and pain and anguish better than I can.

In November of 2017, I started a blog and this is what was saved in my drafts:  

Another mass shooting. ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING. This time in another church, a small church, 26 dead,, 20 injured. I don’t know what to say anymore.

I didn’t post last week about the attack in New York City where bicyclists and walkers were run down by a truck. What is left say? I find myself sick to my stomach, numb to the numbers and my mind blank as to how to respond.

There are no words. None that can speak to this insanity.

And then three months later, there are still no words. I have wandered around with tears in my eyes and what little I have glimpsed on social media sites hasn’t helped. The left and the right posted incredibly unhelpful memes pointing fingers. These tactics do not change hearts and minds and spirits or bring back one of those loved ones.

I want to rant and scream and point fingers and assign blame. Instead like Jeremiah, I am appalled and grief stricken over the platitudes and empty words of us all, myself included. In chapter 8, the prophet says:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
   my heart is sick. 
Hark, the cry of my poor people
   from far and wide in the land:
‘Is the Lord not in Zion?
   Is her King not in her?’
(‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
   with their foreign idols?’) 
‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
   and we are not saved.’ 
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
   I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 


Is there no balm in Gilead?
   Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
   not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
   and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
   for the slain of my poor people!

Or from the thirty first chapter of Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
   she refuses to be comforted for her children,
   because they are no more.

In Lent, in some denominations, Christians are marked with ashes. It is a reminder that we are fallible, sinful, prone to go our own way, prone to only look after our own interests to the exclusion of others, with a propensity for evil. We don’t like to admit to sin or at least to our sin being as “bad” as others.

In my Ash Wednesday sermon, I gave permission for people to not berate themselves, that instead of giving up chocolate or candy, to give up bitterness and anger and give it up to Jesus among other things. I am not berating myself, but I am confessing that I do not know how to address this kind of evil in the world. I am ill equipped to change hearts and minds and spirits and lives in a way that stands against the forces of evil and destruction and death that are so often made real in these mass shootings. I am an utter failure at encouraging and helping people be change agents in this world of violence and hatred.

What I can do is stand in God’s grace and love and be challenged to not give up, to believe that God is still active in this world and has not deserted us in the mess we have created. Thoughts and prayers are not enough to bridge the gaping canyon between so many people. Thoughts and prayers will not change the violence, the hatred, the bigotry. Thoughts and prayers will not heal the deep despair, pain and fear so many feel.

In verse 16 of Jeremiah 31:

Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
   and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,

and a promise of a new heart and covenant for a people in exile:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.  (31: 33-34)

I will trust that God is challenging me, and perhaps you, to not turn away from what is happening, but face the evil in the world with power given through the goodness of God’s grace and love. If Lent teaches me anything, it is that I believe in a God who is embodied in Jesus. In Jesus, God confronts evil all the way to the cross. Jesus doesn’t shrink away, but stands against the powers of evil. Jesus proclaims a new way of livings and reminds me and us all that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Last year, Jan Richardson, a woman of great words and beautiful paintings wrote an Ash Wednesday blessing for the ashes. In it she writes, “did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”

She finishes the blessing with these words

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

So I am remembering what God can do with the dust and ashes of my life. I am reminding myself that out of my confession of all that I am unable to accomplish and do, that God is already creating in me a new heart and writing the law of love within it. Out of the tears and grief and prayers of my heart and spirit, God is making sure to empower me out of my frozen state into a renewed commitment to the reign of peace, justice and love I have been promised in Christ. During this time of Lent, I will focus on the journey of Jesus. I will walk the long road to the cross filled with evil, betrayal, injustice and pain and believe that there is resurrection and new life yet to come.

 

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