Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lenten Reflection, March 17, 2011

We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed . . .

Our deeds reveal the best of us, and the worst of us, and everything in between.

Who hasn’t carried a burden of guilt over something we’ve done that we knew was wrong? Or realized later that we’ve done something we shouldn’t have done? Whether it was something serious or something relatively “small” we still have to contend with the guilt of sin, whether we understand and acknowledge the guilt, or not.

Confession is the prescribed antidote to those sins we’ve committed, but sometimes our guilt overshadows our willingness to confess our sins. Regular confession, done as part of the body of Christ, is a cleansing thing, and as necessary as any other kind of cleansing.

Our willingness to recognize and confess our sins reflects our desire to draw closer to God.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lenten Reflection, March 16, 2011

We’re all too familiar with the ways our words can be sinful. Sometimes it’s tempting to give up talking for Lent!
We can speak thoughtlessly, maliciously, foolishly – or we can use our words to heal, to comfort, to bless. The Apostle James observes rightly that, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (James 3:10).
Perhaps that is why it is so important that we regularly confess when those words are sinful, that we hold ourselves accountable before God for those times when our words are less than they could be, less than they should be.
We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed . . .
Words matter, because they give shape to what we think, and they are a blueprint to what we may do; because they themselves embody elements of both our thoughts and our deeds.
And yet, words have a place all their own, a place where they might become a blessing, or a curse.
We must thank God for the one, and confess the other.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lenten Reflection, March 15, 2011

How can what we think be sinful?
Thoughts are private and personal. No one can see them, or hear them.
Yet our confession of sin includes confessing that even what we’ve thought is sinful: We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed . . .
Some thoughts might clearly be considered sin – lustful thoughts, murderous thoughts, greedy thoughts. It’s easy to understand why we need to confess them.
But what about other thoughts, the kind that might not be so easily classified as sinful?
Why do they matter?
They matter because sin is sin. Because what we think is the foundation of choices we make, and of what we do. Because being aware of what we are thinking is a spiritual discipline.
Sin is relentless. How easy it is, in an unguarded moment, to slip into thinking the wrong thoughts, indulging momentarily in a wrong attitude. Even our thoughts are vulnerable to sin.
And so we stay vigilant to avoid sin, and confess what we know to be true: we have sinned against you in thought . . .

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lenten Reflection, March 14, 2011

We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed . . .

Here it is, with no excuse: we have sinned against you, Lord.

We have sinned against others, too. It might seem easier to understand those sins as sins. We understand that things like gossip, or arguing, or lying are sinful. We get it that what we think or say or do might hurt others.

But sometimes we forget that those things offend God Himself, even if no one else is affected. The Psalmist reminds us that “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4, ESV).

We have sinned in what we think; we have sinned in what we say; we have sinned in what we do. It is our responsibility to recognize our sin, to acknowledge it without excuse, and to confess it to God, because in sinning against others, we have also sinned against God Himself.

With this confession, we acknowledge that sin permeates every aspect of our being: our thinking, our speech, our actions.

The good news is that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness . . . “ (1 John 1:9, ESV).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lenten Reflection, March 12, 2011

Before we were married, my husband-to-be worked second shift in the computer center of a local bank. The computer center was located on the second floor, and of course, during second shift the bank was closed.
So when I had to deliver some papers to him one evening, I had to ring the doorbell of the side door to the bank, and wait for the guard, a gloomy man who clearly believed I’d come to disrupt his evening. He escorted me up to the computer center, where I delivered the papers in question to my beloved. I turned to leave, but the guard had also gone off on his rounds without waiting to escort me back out.
No problem! Or so I thought. I took off down the winding stone staircase to the first floor, thinking I’d let myself out. Until I got to the door leading from the stairwell to the vestibule. That door was locked.
I went back up the winding stone staircase to the top of the stairs, where I assumed I could just go back to the computer center and wait. The door at the top of the stairs was locked, too.
I was stuck in the staircase. I could not free myself, but had to wait for the guard to come by again – which took a long, long time. And since this was long before cell phones, there was nothing I could do but wait.
Needless to say, the guard was not impressed with my actions when he found me.
Sometimes our sins get us into situations we can’t easily get out of – we cannot free ourselves. We are stuck in a situation of our own making, with no way out.
It’s not a comfortable thing, to realize you can’t yourself out of a difficult situation.
It’s when you really begin to understand that you’re stuck – in bondage – that you begin to hope for help.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lenten Reflection, March 11, 2011

It is because we trust in God’s mercy – because we know Him to be merciful – that we have courage to confess our sin.
And while it is necessary and appropriate for us to confess our sin to God individually, it is also necessary and appropriate for us to confess our sin to Him as a congregation when we gather together.
We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We confess – all of us together – acknowledge that we have sinned, and more than that, we can’t seem to stop ourselves.
We need your help, Lord.
As a group of believers, we are bound together by mutual need; we cannot consistently overcome sin by ourselves. Confessing that before one another is a good first step – we recognize the problem, and we recognize that, even if we try, we can’t quite fix it.
It’s not just me, and it’s not just you. It’s both of us – all of us – together. And one way or another, any problems we encounter can be traced back to our tendencies to sin.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lenten Reflection, March 10, 2011

Almost every Sunday morning, we begin worship with a Prayer of Confession. It’s a way of acknowledging and taking responsibility for the sin in our lives. For some people, it’s mindless repetition, a rote prayer that doesn’t mean much. For others, mindful repetition deepens its meaning.
The season of Lent is a season of choices. We can practice self-denial by “giving something up” for Lent, or not. We can spend these weeks before Easter focusing on repentance for sin, or not. We can observe a season of quiet, mourning our sin and considering God’s provision for sin, or not.
I’m thinking that observing the season the same way we begin worship each Sunday morning is a good way to begin. This year for Lent, I want to spend some time reflecting on the Prayer of Confession from The Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness on Page 56 of what is affectionately known as “The Green Book,” that is, The Lutheran Book of Worship from 1978. It goes like this:

Pastor: Most Merciful God,
People: We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

That phrase “Most Merciful God” is a good way to begin thinking about Lent. Even in a quiet, reflective season of mourning, God is most merciful. Scripture reminds us that His mercies are “new every morning,” (Lamentations 3:23).
As we begin to reflect on the presence of sin in our lives, God’s mercy is a balm for our mourning.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

When I was little, we lived in a house with a coal furnace. One of the household chores my dad took care of in the winter was to take the ashes and what we called the “clinkers” – that part of the coal that was left after burning – out.
The ash was messy. Dad always tried to contain it in something, but a fine film of ash always seemed to sift out to cover whatever he walked by, despite his best effort.
Ash is like that, and on this Ash Wednesday I’m thinking of how like ash sin is.
Despite our best effort to contain it, sin has a way of leaving a fine film over whatever we pass. If it’s left untouched, that fine film will become thicker, of course, and eventually it will cover over whatever it has settled on.
That’s the problem with sin: left untouched, eventually it will cover over whatever it has settled on – or in – obliterating the original finish.
Sin is often subtle, and might go unnoticed at first. During Lent, our task is to reflect on that fine film of sin in our lives, and what it might eventually obliterate if we allow it to go untouched.
Lent is about paying attention, and noticing what needs to be cleaned up.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Testing Season

It’s testing season for a lot of kids this week. They will be sitting down to tests designed to see if they are learning the things they are supposed to be learning. It made me wonder what we would do, as adults, if our testing came in pen-and-paper form.
It doesn’t, of course.
Our tests come in the form of grouchy check-out ladies, or drivers who tail-gate, or banks that mess up our deposit. Our tests come in the form of temptations: to cheat somehow, to stretch the limits of honesty, to share that bit of news that shouldn’t really be shared. Our tests come in the form of difficult situations that never seem to change or improve, that require endurance and faith and grit.
Some schools are asking students to wear red shirts to school this week as a symbol that they are “ready” for their tests. Parents are reminded to be sure their kids get plenty of rest and nutritious breakfasts so they can do their best work on the tests. No doubt about it – these kids will know they are being tested.
But for us, tests seem more like everyday life. We don’t always recognize a test for what it is, and we don’t always learn anything from the results.
What if we did?

Friday, March 4, 2011

On Its Way . . .

The air was moist and warm this morning when we opened the front door. We opened up the kitchen window and enjoyed that indoor-outdoor feeling. After breakfast we went on a walking tour of our soggy backyard and found snowdrops scattered in the grass. Daffodils are peaking through, and tiny sweet woodruff is pushing up through the pine needles. The coral bells and hellebore are awake, and forsythia buds are swelling.
Not only that – we can hear a cardinal in the neighborhood, and occasionally a robin or two.
Spring may not quite be here, but it’s definitely on its way.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Mix

Where does time go?
I think it was Jennifer Rothschild who observed on Facebook that she could either live her life, or write about it.
I think I understand what she was getting at!
Since January, I've helped care for a sick family member, suffered through my own extended viral adventure, and worked diligently on a basement project. The family member is well again; I still have a cough but I think I'll live; the basement is looking better (although there are still lots of basement projects to finish.)
Now it's time to try to put writing back in the mix.