Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Ninevah Moment

Jonah 3:10- 4:11; Matthew 20:1-16

            The main points of today’s lessons can be summed up in about 3 minutes. Context for Jonah: the Hebrew prophets and the Hebrew people are not holding up their end of the covenant with God, in which they are blessed as the people who reveals God’s mercy to the world. Context for Matthew: Jewish Christians and early adopter-Gentile Christians are not happy when it turns out that those who are new to the faith receive the exact same level of blessing as they do. The modern upshot for us: God’s grace is not fair, earned, or distributed as expected. We are both the beneficiaries the expected and mandatory reporters of these facts.

            So, that’s it.

            Except that it’s not. That’s not actually enough. I am guessing that if I pole most of you hear, we would agree that God’s grace is open to all. We would acknowledge that we have some responsibility to spread that news. The truth is, though, that there are some people who are Ninevah to us. Just exactly who may vary from person to person. There are people whose latecomer status to church, to faith, to hope makes us frustrated when they seem to get the same “pay”- that is, they have equal voice, equal vote, and equal presence in the life of the congregation.

            The first wedding I did on my own was for two people who did not attend this church. They had difficulty finding someone to do an outdoor wedding because it was February. They were very young, 18 and 19. He was about to deploy as an MP (military police) with the Army and she was 11 weeks pregnant. I wanted them to wait, but I knew they were not going to listen to that. So, I felt that it was better for them to have a positive experience with church, in hopes that they would return if they ever had difficulties.

            I officiated their service, wearing my parka, in snow above my knees at Otter Lake on Ft. Richardson. I didn’t hear from them again. I did hear of them the next spring, when he had returned from his deployment. They struggled with reunion. In an unfortunate series of events, he shot her while she was holding the baby, killing them both. Then he tried to kill himself, but failed. At the trial, he was sentenced to more than sixty years in prison. He spent the first couple years in Spring Creek in Seward, but now he’s in Goose Creek outside Palmer.

            It’s a horrible story, but if you leave only remembering those details- you will miss the point that I am about to make. While he was awaiting trial, when he was found guilty, when he was sentenced, for the years he was in Spring Creek- I did nothing. I talked to the chaplain on the base. I knew that his unit was being reassigned to another state, so most of the people who knew him were leaving. He was not from Alaska, so he didn’t have family up here. There were only a few people with any kind of connection to him and I was one of them.

            Would he want to hear from the pastor who did his wedding? I tossed and turned over what I should do. I prayed about it. I talked about it. I tried to forget. I didn’t actually flee to Tarshish and I didn’t endanger any fishing charters, but my uncertainty became a whale in whose belly I sloshed around. This is what happens to many of us when we are confronted with a serious situation for which we feel unequipped.

            Of course, we say, God’s grace is for everyone, but I don’t know how to visit someone in prison, I don’t know what to do when someone is dying, I’m not sure what to say when a marriage is breaking up, I am uncomfortable in hospitals. At a certain point, we fail to act as though grace is enough. We talk about manning up, womanning up, putting on big girl or big boy pants, but- in the end- it is the Holy Spirit who equips us to do the serious tasks that are absolutely, one-hundred percent the work of being a follower of Christ.

            So we either believe God has enough grace for every person AND every situation or we don’t. We either believe that the Holy Spirit equips and guides or we don’t. We either believe that we are being Christ to others and that Jesus is meeting us through them, or we don’t.

            Last December, I wrote out Christmas cards to some people who were not receiving our family Christmas cards. These were plain cards, with an Alaskan winter scene on the front. I looked up the I.D. number of a certain prisoner and wrote a brief card, “I want you to know that you are not forgotten. This is who I am. I pray for you often. You are remembered by me, by others, and by God. Merry Christmas.” I got a letter back, thanking me for sending one of the few personal cards he received. Ninevah, for me, looked like writing to a prisoner, a murderer, not because I thought God wouldn’t grant him grace, but because I didn’t trust grace enough to make up the difference in my best efforts.

            We all have Ninevahs. Furthermore, we are all likely someone else’s Ninevah or even a late-coming worker. Our age, our abilities, our gender, our occupation, our education level, our habits, our children’s habits, where we live, our vices, our struggles, our health… all of these things are likely to make someone around us uncomfortable. They are also the barriers that stop us from reaching out, because we are unsure, afraid, or just plain disgusted by the person in this situation.

            The end of Jonah shows God’s mercy- not only to the Ninevites, but also to the prophet. God doesn’t say, “You ungrateful son-of-a-gun, how about you die right here and right now and then I won’t have to listen to your whining anymore.” Instead, the God who sent a prophet to the Ninevites, to encourage them toward repentance and toward a right relationship with God… does the very SAME thing for Jonah.

            We worship that same God. We live in the grace of that same God as it has been revealed through Jesus. We live and move and have our being in that same God through the mysterious and on-going work of the Holy Spirit. All three persons of our one God work on us, through us, and for us repeatedly and on a daily basis, so that we may come to even a basic understanding of grace- not for ourselves, but so that we can carry that grace to the world. For we are both beneficiaries and mandatory reporters of the greatest unfairness in the world.

            God’s grace is not fair, earned, or distributed as expected. It is for all. It can and does help you. It is enough.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

One- Minute Writer: Disappear

You may have noticed that I haven't posted much lately. I've been doing some extemporaneous (no notes) preaching. I've also had some other things going on as well in my life. I actually haven't been reading as much lately either and the absence of that is really starting to tug on me in some not-so-subtle ways. 

A friend of mine says, "Writers write." 


It can be very difficult, though, to jump back in because that first rusty post is like the first slow painful walk or run in the start of an exercise program. 

I thought I would go to the One-Minute Writer today for a prompt. Just writing for sixty seconds, or walking for 10 minutes, is a start. 

Today's prompt is a doozy: How would the world be different without you in it?

Here we go. 

I suppose the short answer is to look at this question from the point of view of if I hadn't been born. Thus, all other things being the same, my parents would have had three children. My sister would be an oldest child and the only girl. She would have also been the oldest grandchild on both sides of the family. I assume, via my theological knowledge of It's a Wonderful Life, [Time's up here] that there have been moments in my life that affected the outcomes of the lives of others, whether or not I know about them. 

What about if something happened to me? My children would not have me. My husband wouldn't. My friends, siblings, parents, community would be changed without my gifts. To be clear, it is not that my presence defines an of these people or situations, but my existence does give shape to many things around me. I have certainly struggled with darkness at times in my life. At this time, a relative bright time, I can see that my life is intrinsically entwined with many around me. A loss of one alters a community in a variety of ways, no matter how the loss occurs and especially when it is unexpected. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Be a Boaz

Reading: Ruth 3

Commentary: What’s happening in this passage? Ruth has pledged her support to Naomi, followed her back to Israel, and been responsible for taking care of them. Naomi has the connections in this place, her hometown. If she can find a righteous man to marry Ruth, Naomi will have the grandchildren for whom she has longed and she will know that Ruth will be taken care of as a wife. It will have to be just the right man for Ruth- because he will have to recognize the risks and efforts she has made with Naomi. He will also have to be willing to give Ruth children who will also be understood to be in the line of her dead husband. (Otherwise the grandchildren wouldn’t really be Naomi’s.)

            Boaz is just such a man. He has seen Ruth’s care for Naomi. In the verses we just heard, Boaz acknowledges Ruth’s forethought and risk-taking. As a widow, Ruth could have chosen a different husband, possibly even a younger man. However, she honors Naomi and Naomi’s needs and goes to lie with a man who can provide for them. Boaz has already shown a willingness to do that.

            Boaz is honored by Ruth’s actions and rewards them. He will make every effort to get someone to care for her and Naomi. He is also careful to be sure that Ruth’s reputation is protected. It is certainly arguable that Ruth is a little bit mercenary and Boaz is not turning away a pretty young thing that shows up in his bedroll. Be that as it may, the upshot of this passage is that righteousness and faithful action are rewarded by God and by people.

            Of course, it doesn’t always seem like that’s the case. We certainly know many situations wherein it seems that evil is rewarded, that other people are a means for getting ahead, and that no one is willing to speak out for the widows, orphans, travelers, the unemployed, or the hungry. Isn’t anyone willing to be the Boaz to these people, to stand up, support, lift up, encourage, and redeem for life?

            We understand salvation to have been achieved for all creation through Jesus. There is still on-going work- the spreading of that news, the building of God’s kin-dom, and the reconciliation of creation with the knowledge of God. In our culture, it is all too often that people who are in tight spots are not given the extra boost they need. Boaz does not tell Ruth that things will work out if she just keeps trying. He doesn’t take advantage of her vulnerability and then send her away. He doesn’t push off her request until he had more time.

            As Naomi says, he does not rest until things are made right for Ruth (and for Naomi). We are also called to be “redeeming kinsmen”, to be the one who supports our brothers and sisters. We are to press on for the cause of our family, the family of God, and not to rest until all understand who has spoken for them, who has claimed them, and in whose hands their future rests. God's. 

Hear a short worship service, including this commentary, here: 

Find this worship service every week here:


Friday, August 22, 2014

Binding and Loosing

Reading: Matthew 16:13-20

Commentary:  What does it mean to say that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The gospel writer, Matthew, is putting these words down for a very young Christian tradition, still mostly Jewish followers of Christ with some Gentile participation. The young ekklesia, as Matthew calls the assembly of the faithful, struggles with oppression from outside and wrestles with how to get along together on the inside.
            Learning to live together faithfully in community was and is a large part of walking in the way of Jesus. Those who chose (and who choose) to do so are not embarking on an unmapped journey without assistance or guidance. They have scripture for their map, church community for their support, and the Holy Spirit as their GPS. Embracing all of these tools means seizing onto what heaven, what God, has offered to the church universal.
            By using these tools as individuals and as the Christian community, we will be living out what it means to say, “Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed, the son of the only living God.” It is in the living out that religion moves into faith. Correspondingly, faith means that some things are drawn close and others are released.
            Faithful living includes the embrace of community, the love of one’s neighbor, active forgiveness, unbridled generosity. Faithful living also requires the rejection of racism, classism, the using of others as means to an end, the abuse of power, and the worship of anything other than God as God.
            What we embody, what we say, our choices are bound to us through habit, action, and association. This life shows God and those around us what we take seriously and what is important to us. As it aligns with God’s mission and kin-dom, it is bound in heaven and will flourish in mystery and sometimes within our own witnessing.
            What we reject, what we renounce, what we denounce, and what we abandon becomes separated from us. It rusts and fades. It cannot take root. These words, actions, and choices indicate to God and our neighbors that these things have no place in our community or our lives. They have been loosed from association with us and they return to nothingness.
            Thus, we are called to be in daily reflection to what we are binding and loosing in our lives and communities. What are we calling forth? What are we letting go? What have we asked the Spirit to help flourish? What have we renounced to rootlessness and non-existence?
            All of these things together reflect to show the truth of our answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” 

Hear a short worship service, including this commentary here: 

Find this short worship service regularly here:

Friday, August 15, 2014

To My Kindergartner

Twenty-eight years ago, my dad gave me a bath the night before I started kindergarten. I remember two baths from my dad really clearly from hundreds that he likely gave.

The first bath I remember is one in which he tried to scrub off a mole cluster on my left arm thinking was dirt. It’s still there.

The second bath was the pre-kindergarten bath. My dad told me that there might be kids in my class who looked different from me. He might have said more about that, but I don’t remember it. Then he said that there might be other people, other kids, who would say things to be mean about people who looked or seemed different. Not only was I not to join into that meanness, my father warned, but I was to stick up for kids who were singled out or picked on. If my dad heard about me doing otherwise, it would be big trouble for me.

I remember this conversation clearly because part of my personality involves playing and re-playing shoulds and should nots over and over in my head.

My own child is about to become a kindergartner. I went to kindergarten in North Carolina, in the mid-eighties, and my kindergarten teacher was black.

My son is going to kindergarten in Anchorage, Alaska in 2014. He is entering school a long way from Ferguson, Missouri and Sanford, Florida. His preschool class had children from a wide variety of backgrounds. Nevertheless, what should I say to my kindergartner-to-be on the night before school starts? What do I tell him in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting? What do I tell my white son, with two white parents, about his situation, his privileges, his responsibilities?

My darling-

You have been able to drink juice in the store, eat cookies, get balloons, and hold your toys without anyone looking askance at you or me. It’s because we’re white.

We have played on playgrounds in different neighborhoods, run through the woods, tried before paying, and been given the benefit of the doubt. It’s mostly because we’re white.

We have books with people who look like us, movies of people who sound like us, pictures of things that we do, CDs of songs we sing- none of which were hard to find. It’s because we’re white.

In the world, you will get second chances, encouragement, recommendations, and help. Even if you are shut down, something else will come about for you. It’s part of what it means to be white in America.

My darling, it is not that I don’t want these things for you. I do and I will fight for this to be your world.

I’m tell you this because I want these things for your friends too. I want these for black and Samoan and Alaska Native boys and girls who will attend school with you. I want these things for children in Missouri and Florida and Texas and California and across the country.

I want you to all have the freedom to be children, to know that community is there for you, to grow up knowing that you too contribute, are valued, matter, influence decisions for peace, safety, and a future.

In kindergarten, just like in preschool, there will be kids who don’t look like you. You won’t look like them. Their moms and dads think they are special, just like I think you are special. You are all at school to learn.

If another person- a kid or a grown-up- is not kind to a kid, if you see something that isn’t right, is scary, or unkind- you can tell me or Daddy or Nana or Uncle D. We will help you. We will believe you. We care about you and your friends.

The bigger we get, the more we learn about other people and other places. The bigger we get, the more we have to do to work together with other people. The bigger we get, the more we realize that we have run out of people to tell and the work of repairing injustice, unkindness, fear is in our hands.

That’s not your work just yet.

But that’s Mommy’s work. My work.

No, it’s not because I’m white. It’s because I’m human.

Cry, the Beloved Creation

Death stalks your beloved creation.
How long, O Lord?
Brown and black-skinned children are not valued, are afraid.
How long, O Lord?
Mothers and fathers wail in grief over fallen bodies. 
How long, O Lord?
False wars are declared, arming brothers and cousins against one another. 
How long, O Lord?
Lives trickle by, potential yet undreamed, never to be reached. 
How long, O Lord?
How long until we dare to dream something different? 
How long until we say, “Enough”? 
How long until we refuse to feed Death’s insatiable hunger, Fear’s unending drive? 
How long until we stop the machinery that allows the bodies of black Americans to be the grist that feeds money machines?

We pray for a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness and peace are at home. 
The tools, Your tools, for that are in our hands. 
Let us recognize them. Let us employ them. 
Let me join into the chorus, the drumbeat, the dance that answers, “How long?” with “No more!”

Reblogged from

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Do Not Test (Sermon)

Matthew 14:22-33

            What was Peter’s mistake in this passage? There’s a tendency to think that it is he becomes afraid and doubts. People like to say that if Peter had kept his eyes on Jesus, if he had kept the faith, he wouldn’t have sunk. Let’s think for a second about how that sounds to people we know who feel like they’re drowning in their circumstances, “If you keep your eyes on Jesus… if you just believe… don’t worry or be scared…”

            Those phrases make it sound like it is always your fault if you can’t keep your head above water. Sometimes our choices or other people’s choices cause us to falter, to sink, to become afraid. However, just because those things happen does not mean they are God’s will.

            Peter’s mistake happened before he even got out of the boat. In the ancient world up through the time of Christ and even into more recent history, the sea represents chaos. In Judaism and Christianity, the sea is a realm of unknown dark, wherein life disappears. The sea was unpredictable and could be confusing, defying patterns people learned to read. With this in mind, the sea becomes what only God can tame. Only God can bring order out of chaos and triumph over the unknown.

            When Jesus comes walking across the water, the writer of the gospel (Matthew) is creating a scene to help the reader understand that Jesus is God. Furthermore, when the terrified disciples see Jesus, but don’t know it is he; Jesus uses the words that echo the story of the burning bush. God spoke to Moses in Exodus from the burning bush, saying, “I am.” Jesus says exactly the same thing to the disciples, “I am. Do not be afraid.”

            With Jesus walking on top of the water, demonstrating control over chaos, AND using the words that would have been familiar to the disciples from a story they would have known well, it is clearly demonstrated that Jesus is God. God is present in Jesus. Me explaining all this to you is the set up to recognizing Peter’s mistake.

            While he is still in the boat, Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” If it is you… Peter is testing Jesus. Despite seeing and hearing things that Peter knows can only be true if Jesus is God, Peter decides to set up a test. Peter’s mistake is not when he becomes afraid or when he doubts or when he asks for help. His mistake is in testing what he already knows to be true about God. Just before this story in Matthew, Peter has been witness to the feeding of more than five thousand people through Jesus’ blessing and effort. This was certainly not the first miracle Peter witnessed nor was “I am” the first time that Jesus used words that echoed the words of God from Hebrew Scripture.

            But Peter tested him. Peter tested God. Rather than trusting the relationship he had with Jesus or relying on his own experience of God’s mercy, Peter pressed into asking Jesus to prove himself, as though he hadn’t ever done so before.

            What does this look like in our time? Surely we who are Easter people, who have heard of Jesus’ resurrection, his restoration to life from death, wouldn’t test God. Yet, in this day, it is not unusual to hear people who have been diagnosed with cancer to examine their faith. It is not far-fetched to hear abused women or children or isolated men to reflect on what they did wrong. It is not out of the ordinary to hear people assured that if they have maintained a relationship with God in exactly the right way, with precisely the right words, at the correct church, then surely they would not suffer. “If it be your will, O God…”

            We KNOW the will of God. It has been revealed to us through the life, teaching, healing, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We know that God’s desire is for life, for mercy, for hope, for wholeness, for community, for relationship with every person and all creation. We know that there are forces that oppose God and try to interfere with those plans.

            Yet, the testing of God continues as though God had not shown these things to be true. In the midst of tragedy and chaos, wars and diseases, poverty and struggle, when we wonder why God doesn’t do something, we act as though it is God’s job to prove that God does not want these things to happen.

            Let me tell you definitively here and now, God does not want these things to happen. Jesus is the proof of that. The sustaining of the witness of the disciples by the Holy Spirit through two thousand years is additional confirmation. Our own experiences with God, not what we’ve read, not what we’ve heard, but the truths of our own encounters tell us that God’s plans are for life and that abundantly.

            Oh, Peter. You saw Jesus coming to you over the sea, taming the chaos. You heard the words that you knew belonged to God, “I am.” The taste of bread and fish miraculously multiplied is still in your mouth. And yet you ask for proof. Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You know the truth. What more can God say to you than has already been said and done through Jesus for your salvation, your hope, and your faith. The will of God is that you will live, grow, serve, be whole. There is no need to test that, only to live trusting in its truth and power.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Living for Love

1 John 4:7-21; John 15: 9-14

Where did you see love this week? Where did you experience it?

John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this: that he will lay down his life for his friends.

“No one has greater love than the one who is willing to lay down his or her life for a friend.”

What does that mean?

We generally assume that it means a willingness to die for another person or other people. When we interpret it in that manner, it becomes something a little removed from us. However, a life of love is not one of remove. What if Jesus doesn’t mean to “die for” a friend? What if the laying down of your life means to live for. After all, the end of the story of God’s love for creation in Jesus Christ does not end in death… it is about life.

The way love is expressed is in what we are willing to live for… to demonstrate our life’s goals, values, and understanding. God’s love for us was and is demonstrated as God willing to live and die as one of us and then to be resurrected as the firstborn among the dead.

Love, true love, is about the giving of one’s life in daily action, not waiting for a someday possibility.

Therefore, demonstrating love in Christian community, the sacrifice to which we are called, means living for God by living for each other. By thinking about how each of our actions, our words, our financial decisions, our prayers affect the people around us- whom we say we love.

Perfect love… perfected love… goal (telos)…

Perfect or perfected love is not a goal we can attain through our own work or our own faith. It is what God is working out in us. It is what a life of faith is lived toward, but not what a life of faith achieves. What does living a life toward the goal of perfected love look like?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a 20th century German theologian and, possibly, one of the greatest religious thinkers of all time. During the rise of Hitler’s regime and the Third Reich, Bonhoeffer and others started underground seminaries in a movement called the Confessing Church, a Christian movement dedicated to living for Christ and, in particular, opposing the Nazi regime. In 1937, the formal seminaries were closed and government officials declared the Confessing Church illegal. Bonhoeffer still traveled to villages, teaching classes in what he called “seminary on the run.”

In 1939, Bonhoeffer received an invitation to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. A committed pacificist, he was already worried about being drafted into the Nazi Army, so he left for America. However, he wrestled with that decision and, ultimately, realized he could not stay in the United States. He wrote to a friend, “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people... Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security."

Bonhoeffer left the US in 1940, returning to Germany by steamship. He dedicated his life to the German resistance, especially by communicating its existence to allies in hopes of gaining their support and of securing their help in establishing a democratic post-Hitler Germany. Bonhoeffer was hanged in Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9, 1945, after being arrested almost 2 years earlier, accused of being involved in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer did not return to Germany to lay down his life by dying. He died as a by-product of being willing to live out the love he had for God, for Christian freedom, for a better Germany, for his seminary students and their future.

Laying down one’s life… being willing to live for something other than yourself, for a greater good, for healing and hope in the people around you, and in the world.

Perfect love has been demonstrated for us… in what the Son was willing to forego in order to have a body like ours. The goal of that lived love, stronger than death, was to bring us into a deeper and truer understanding of the expansive nature of God’s grace and its hold on the world.

We are called by Jesus and the writer of 1 John to lay down our lives, all we have, in love. If we live in love, we are not our own. We belong to God. We are in God. We are able to recognize the perfect love, seen through Christ, that casts out fear. Laying down our lives in the love God has poured out for us and which pours through us for others is the only way.

Anything less is, frankly, not living.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thinking about Failure

I do not like to fail. 

Nobody really enjoys failing (I assume), but some people seem to take it a little more in stride than I do. 

In the past year, I've come to embrace falling short of the mark. Not failing because I didn't do what I was supposed to, but missing the goal I had set for myself. 

Case in point, I really wanted to blog every day this month. I knew I had a lot going on, but I thought it would give me plenty of fodder for the days when the well seemed dry. 

It didn't happen. 

Even in the first couple days, I had to fall back on posts that seemed ineffectual and a poor representation of what I can write and show here. Not everything is Pulitzer-quality. Not everything can be. 

I thought I was doing well and then I looked back and I realized that I had missed Day 5. Well, that's that. 

The thing is, I missed Day 5 because I went out and played with my kids. I missed a different day because I took my son to the Bear Paw Festival. A separate time, I was too tired to write because I managed to walk 13 miles. 

A friend of mine says, "Writers write. Butt in chair. Do it." 

This is most certainly true. However, none of the other things happened because I was avoiding writing. They happened because they are what my life looks like right now. I haven't developed the discipline for quiet daily writing because I've made other things a priority. 

That's the lesson for me here. Maybe for you? 

We can all say, "I don't/didn't have time." You have the time. I have the time. 

The real question is: what did we decide to do instead? 

If you look at how you spend your time (money/energy/spiritual devotion) and it reflects your values,

then you haven't failed. 

If your checkbook, your extracurriculars, your gods are otherwise, what does that mean? 

I wanted to write every day and I didn't. One goal: F

I value spending time with my family, working toward a healthier me, and being outside. Second goal: A.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

No Kneeling or Sitting

6th Sunday of Pentecost

1 John 1:5-2:2

            Whenever I hear today’s verses from 1 John, this is what happens in my head, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.” My years in churches that knelt or sat for the time of confession are not any greater in number than the number of years I’ve been with you, so I’ve never said or heard this phrase in six years. And yet, there it is. A biblical command and my automatic response…

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”

            That automatic response leapt into my head all week as I thought about the reading for today. Then the Presiding Bishop sent her letter on Thursday with the instructions to read to you on Sunday. Furthermore, the plane that was shot down in Ukraine, the children who have been gathered from the U.S. southern border, and the violence that continues to escalate in Iraq, Iran, and Syria all loomed large.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”

            How could I address all or any of those things in a way that was empathetic, encouraging, and truthful? Could I deal with one, but not the others? What about the personal and family crises that have occurred this week? There is heartbreak here that you know that I know. And some people are gathered here because of a gorgeous and joyful wedding or other celebrations that have just past or are scheduled. People with joy in their hearts don’t always skip toward a hearty discussion of sin in the world.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”
            We kneel or sit often becomes our default move when we hear about sin. Being confronted with our own vain, idolatrous, and selfish choices makes most of us want to turn the other way, much less stay and reflect on them with other people (who are surely worse sinners!). This is the truth, though:

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            Many of us, maybe most of us, can even accept the idea that we have not always done the right thing. Even those among us who are sure we’re pretty good have still failed in many and various ways. The harder thing to acknowledge is that we also have a hand in the larger sins that are around us. Our national struggle and missteps in the situation between Israel and Palestine does not occur apart from us. Decisions about immigration, hope, and welcome affect us all.

            The deaths of three hundred people in an airplane as a political statement and challenge reflects an overall disregard for human life on earth. That kind of behavior does not exist in a vacuum. We want to confess to feeling frustrated with our children or gossiping about our neighbor or fudging some information, but the extent of sin, within us and without us, spreads.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”

            The writer of 1 John would never want “kneeling or sitting” to be the response to or the action of confessing. The entirety of the letter calls the Christian, the person walking in the Way of Jesus, into a community of action, of growth, of change. With the revelation of the Holy Spirit, we walk, we move from darkness into light. By confessing our shortcomings, great and small, we are forgiven and renewed according to the truth of God’s work in Jesus Christ.

            Forgiveness doesn’t happen in just still, quiet moments- when we hold our hands just right, when we kneel or sit, when we say the right words. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to hold still. The Spirit molds us on the way, washes us on the move, and makes us whole even as we mess up again. We ask for forgiveness because we know we need it. God gives it because of God’s very nature.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            I have to put new words at the end of that sentence. You do too. Being cleansed from unrighteousness, being made right with God, is not for nothing. It is specifically so that we can continue forward to work for justice, peace, reconciliation, and to care for creation- all things that are in our baptismal promises. We pray, we act, we call, we write, we cry out, we point, we encourage, we rage, we confess, we are forgiven… There is no kneel or sit.

            We are called and pulled into the action of God’s work with our hands, our feet, our mouths, our time, our possessions.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We work and pray. We listen and heal. We hope and play. In recognizing the truth of God’s mercy and grace, we are called to do just about anything and everything, besides kneel or sit, for the sake of Christ in the world.