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December 7, 2020

An Act of All-But-Unimaginable Faith

Last week, I was reading this book about anti-racism. The author said two things that struck me. And I’m paraphrasing here. I’m playing with her words. I’m letting them bleed together and weave through each other. But she said was this:

In this work of justice and liberation and moving toward a better world, we are all people who are sharing a lake. Some of us are on speedboats; we move fast and throw up waves. And that’s okay. Some of us are in canoes; we paddle and rest, speed up and slow down. And that’s okay. Some of us are swimmers; we need help to move as we are buffeted by the waves. And that’s okay. All of us who are here are trying to move in the same direction.

And sometimes, in this work of justice and liberation and moving toward a better world, I am a speedboat, moving fast and throwing up waves that threaten to overwhelm the people with whom I share this lake. Sometimes, I stand up and speak out and hurt people who I did not intend to hurt. Sometimes, my intentions don’t match my impacts.

And I’m not always at my best. But when I am at my best, I take those moments, and I apologize, and I learn, and I become better.

There is something powerful in that. In this work of living in the world, we are all people who are sharing a world. And probably all of us throw up some waves. And probably all of us need help to move as we are buffeted by the waves that others are throwing up. And there are times when we stand up and speak out and hurt people who we do not intend to hurt.

And we’re not always at our best. But when we’re at our best, we have this superpower. We can take the moments when we cause harm—even a little harm, even a lot of harm, whether we meant to or not—and apologize… and learn… and become better.

On the first Sunday of every month, we gather around this small corner of an infinite table with Christians around the world and across time, and we share communion. We share this holy and humble feast.  We break the bread. We pout the wine. We remember the words of the God who loved the world by coming into the world as one of us:

This is my body, broken for you; this is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you. Eat… drink… remember.

And I know… like everything else in this year of coronavirus, communion has been weird lately. We’ve shared it separately, at home, relying on technology to hold us together. We’ve shared it together, in our parking lot and our sanctuary, like astronauts. But no matter where we’ve been or how we’ve done it, we have kept the ritual.

We break the bread. We pour the wine. We remember.

And as part of that, we confess. And as part of that, we are assured of our pardon.

Our reading today is really two readings; and the first one is a call to repentance.

“Even now,” says the Lord, “Even now, when the earth quakes and the heavens tremble—even now, when the sun and moon are darkened and the stars refuse the shine—return to me with all your heart. Rend your hearts with fasting and weeping and mourning. Return to me.”

Confession is a part of repentance. We turn to God, in part, by admitting that we are not the people who God calls us to be; by acknowledging that we have hurt ourselves, and our friends and neighbors, and strangers and enemies.

We turn to God, in part, by rending and opening our hearts.

And that’s hard. We live in a world that does not like confession. We don’t like to admit that we’ve been wrong, or acknowledge that we’ve hurt people, or say out loud that we’ve been the villains. We live in a world where, far too often, we would rather carry the unbearable burden of our sins and suffer in silence than confess that we are carrying them at all.

In that kind of world, confession is an act of bravery, repentance is an act of daring, and opening our hearts is an act of all-but-unimaginable faith.

But…

Our reading today is really two readings; and the second one is a promise.

“I will repay you,” says the Lord, “for all of the sorrow you had. The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with oil and wine. And then… and then I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters will prophesy, your elderly will dream dreams, and your youth will see visions.”

Pardon is a part of repentance. We turn to God, in part, because we have faith that God will heal enemies and strangers, friends and neighbors, and us; because we have faith that God will make us into the people who God calls us to be.

We turn to God, in part, so that God can reassemble and restore our hearts.

And that’s hard. We live in a world that does not like pardon. We don’t like to admit that we need forgiveness, or that we are desperate for healing, or that we yearn for reconciliation. We live in a world where, far too often, we are afraid to hand the unbearable burden of our sins to the one who can carry them off and cast them away.

Confession is an act of bravery, repentance is an act of daring, and opening our hearts is an act of all-but-unimaginable faith that when we turn to God… when we fast and weep and mourn… when we cry out, “Spare us and sanctify us, O Lord,“… God will respond with grace and mercy and steadfast love.

We can respond to the call to repentance because we have faith in the promise.

This is the second Sunday of Advent. This is the Sunday when we light a candle for peace; not just the peace that is an absence of visible conflict, but the peace that is the presence of justice… the presence of loving kindness.

We are not a world at peace. We are not a nation at peace. We are not even a community or a congregation at peace… at deep and real and lasting peace.

In this work of living in the world, we are all people who are sharing a world. All of us are throwing up waves that threaten to overwhelm the people around us; there are times when we hurt people we do not intend to hurt. And all of us are occasionally overwhelmed by the waves that others have thrown up; there are times when we are hurt by people who did not intend to hurt us.

And we’re not always at our best. But when we’re at our best, we have this superpower: we can apologize… and learn… and become better.

And we’re not always at our best. But when we’re at our best, we also have this other superpower: we can accept an apology… and teach… and become better.

And together, we can turn toward God, with the unbearable burden our sins, and pray that simplest of prayers, “Have mercy on us, O God. Have mercy on us, O Christ. Spare us and sanctify us. Reassemble us and restore us.”

And as we do that, maybe we will hear prophecies, and dream dreams, and see visions that will lead us to a better world, where justice and loving kindness surround us all… the kingdom of God. 

December 7, 2020

about

I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.

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