Sunday, February 26, 2017

Start with Repentance

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, season of repentance and of waiting. 

Some years the season catches me off guard, but this year I'm ready. My heart is already resting in the words of our weekly confession: 
Most merciful God, we confess that 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. 
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen. 
I find myself in an odd space this winter.  Just as the weather has been soaring to unexpected temperatures, with crocuses blooming and hailstones bouncing in the yard, my own life has been unexpected, strange, somewhat out of my control.

Fair Districts PA, the redistricting reform coalition I helped launch last January, has captured statewide attention. I've been speaking to crowds in churches and schools, fielding requests for media interviews. Last week I was live-streamed on Facebook for over an hour - and people, lots of people, watched. Just today I was featured in a Philly.com 

At the same time I've been talking to legislators, pouring over bills and scrambling to organize a growing band of incredibly capable, passionate volunteers.

My days start early and end late.

The list of what's been accomplished each day is long.

The list of what's been left undone is longer.

I am humbled by my deficits and staggered by all that's accomplished through and around and in spite of me.

I've been reading in the epistles and for the first time hear in Paul's letters the incredible discipline and challenge of a man shepherding an explosive movement. As he traveled through the maritime nations he left eager bands of passionate volunteers sharing God's love, teaching and preaching and healing and praying.

His letters show him coaching and correcting, encouraging and entreating, reaching across borders and cultures. His words reflect the growing capacity of new, young churches reaching out in love. The movement of faith was sometimes chaotic, sometimes divided, sometimes zealous, jealous, confused, yet lives were changed and the good news spread, a tide sweeping along trade routes into every known nation.

Where is the good news sweeping now? 

Where are the lives being changed by faith?


I've been praying for years for increased capacity: capacity for love, for service, for justice.

I've been praying for years to love what God loves, to have my heart broken by the things that break the heart of love.

It's only lately that I've begun to realize that capacity starts with letting go: letting go of old ways, old comforts, self-protective habits, self-determined goals.

I grieved when I left youth ministry. For over a decade I knew it was my calling.

Then that calling ended. 

How could I have known that the first step in greater capacity and greater love is letting go. 

Dying to old dreams.

And it starts with repentance, confessing I wanted my own way most. 

Loved my own ideas best.

These days I'm living out a different calling in a very different way.

I start with repentance. 

And grief.  

Not the emails unanswered, although I regret them.

Not the tasks not yet accomplished, although that list keeps growing.

I grieve the places where fear, doubt, anxious thoughts slowed me down or ate away time.

I grieve the internal patterns of irritation or impatience that undercut effort and undermined unity.

I grieve every moment spent living out false cultural assumptions about value or beauty or purpose or success.

My grief is fueled by the daily news: white evangelical Christians are the strongest supporters of a Muslim ban.

White evangelical Christians are the strongest supporters of a vindictive president with deep conflicts of interest and no visible compassion.  

These are my people.  

How is that possible?

I read the prayers for Ash Wednesday. They have much to say about the space we live in, the state of the church, the challenges surrounding us.

My challenge, this Lent, is to live deeper into these words and to continue to grow in capacity to love, to serve, to share and be good news:
We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.
We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.
Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.
Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.
Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.
Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.
Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.
For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.
For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.
Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.
Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
        (Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday)

Other Ash Wednesday posts: