Do you ever find yourself doing something that you thought seemed totally coherent and well thought out and then milliseconds later it reveals itself to be completely stupid? Just me? Oh well; yesterday held one of those moments for me. For those of you who follow the Christian calendar, you know that yesterday was Ash Wednesday. And at Odessa First we hold a brief Ash Wednesday litany in the evening. That also means we need ashes prepared from last years palms. The last couple of years I have burned the palms in our backyard a few days prior. One year I even ruined one of our stock pots. So this year, I thought I could try something different and decided to burn the palms on some foil…on a cookie sheet…in the oven. Now everyone reading this, except for myself at 5:20 AM yesterday morning, knows what is about to take place. All of a sudden I am receiving texts from my wife in the back of the house in a panicked state because she thinks the house is on fire. I quickly realize how far south my experiment has turned and even this morning I find myself sitting in a house that has the vague aroma of burnt palm leaves…which, strangely enough, kind of smell like cheap cigars.
But this is kind of what the season of Lent is for; our stupidity. Lent is a season of repentance and preparation. It’s a season where we confess and reflect on the ways throughout the year we may not have fully lived up to all that God has called us to be. Sometimes the ways that we failed God are just dumb. Sometimes the ways we have failed our neighbor are more malicious and evil. But all the same, Lent is a time where we remember these things, we remember our mortality and dependence upon God and we recognize once again our need for Grace. Psalm 51 is a passage that is sometimes read near the beginning of Lent and one of my favorite verses reads like this, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51:10-11 This passage was thought to have been written by King David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Now many of us don’t find ourselves in that same boat as David. But when we fail God or hurt our neighbor, the sentiment should be the same.
I can’t help but smile a little bit this morning as a I listen to the drone of an air filter doing its best to clean the smoke laden air in our house. I’m not sure it’s up to the task. But when it comes to us, God has no trouble creating a clean heart within us. He doesn’t long to take His Spirit from us, but rather seeks to abide with us. Lent is a season that reminds us that through repentance and humility that we are able to make space for God to work within us and create something new in our lives. May you find yourself being renewed this Lenten season. May you recapture the joy of your salvation. And may you be reminded that even for the incredibly stupid things we sometimes find ourselves caught up in with life, that there is grace.
A week or so ago I was part of a Senior High camp…not out of the ordinary for a youth pastor I realize. But with this particular camp I had the privilege of hosting early morning (8:00 AM for Senior High Students) coffee talks. These talks revolved around theological issues and we would sit and discuss these for an hour or so. The craziest part about all of this…the students actually showed up. We would average between 30 – 60 students every morning. They would come in bleary eyed and sometimes bed-headed to discuss things like Theodicy, Trinitarian theology and even Atonement theory. It was on the last discussion day that the issue of sin came to the forefront. What is sin? Granted there were all sorts of text book definitions and Sunday School answers thrown out and I even added my own mix to the pile, “Anything that separates us from God”. And one of my counter parts (who shall remain nameless…) threw out the questions, “What about anything that separates us from our neighbor?” Hmmmm….(Now you are privy to my inner monologue) what about that?
And thus began a mini exploration that led me to a passage I shared recently with my students. It goes a bit like this: Jesus is hanging out teaching, per the usual, and a teacher of the law comes up to question Him. He asks Jesus a very pointed question as to which commandment is the greatest. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 Now it can possibly be derived that if the entire law and prophets hang on these two commandments then any violation of these two commandments is a violation of all the law and the prophets. That being said, if we are commanded to love God and our neighbor above all other commandments then anything that breaks that love, creates that separation would therefore be sin…
This one is by very nature tough. It’s easy (well maybe not easy) to understand sin as a violation against God. We understand the need for atonement and forgiveness and reconciliation when it comes to sin and God. But what about when it comes to our neighbor? And Biblically we are not allowed to think of our neighbor solely as the person on our immediate street, but effectively (see The Parable of The Good Samaritan) our neighbor must be seen defined by those we consider our enemies…the others. Now what do we do with this command? What do we do with this separation? How do we embody the Kingdom of God with lives counter to sin when it comes to our neighbors? Honestly I wish there were a clean cut answer. The scary (and yet infinitely opportunistic) part is that there isn’t. And crazy enough we are given this life to figure that out. So what are you doing to bridge the separation…or better yet, what are you allowing God to do through you to bridge the separation?
It’s funny what can come out of early morning talks around coffee with teenagers.