Lent 1, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by Psalm 51

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”  Psalm 51:10-12 (NRSV)

Do you imagine God as someone rooting for your success, or as someone tasked with keeping you in line?  How does that impact your relationship with him?

King David used his power to exploit a woman he saw.  He summoned her to him and took advantage of the fact that she would never say no to her king.  When she later reported she was pregnant, David used his command over the military to arrange for her husband’s death.  He abused his power, violated a woman, and murdered a man.

The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to confront David and condemn him for his actions.  If David had understood God’s purpose as keeping him in line, then he would have cowered in fear before his Lord, perhaps meekly accepting whatever punishment God administered, but hoping to be away from God’s wrathful presence as soon as possible.  Yet instead he prayed to remain in God’s presence.  He prayed that God would forgive him his sins, and give him God’s own spirit to enable him to live according to God’s ways.

David understood that even when angry and disappointed in him, God wanted David to live up to the potential God had blessed him with.  God was no mere disciplinarian; God was on his side, rooting for his success, and wanted him to understand how his actions had failed to honor God and God’s people.  David took that lesson to heart, and cherished the One who was trying to help him.

We have the same God as David, and God cares just as much for our success and wellbeing.  Don’t be afraid to recognize and name your sins before God; he knows them anyway.  Trust that he is on your side, and that he’ll accept your repentance and help you to live in a way that honors him and all those around you.

Let us pray.  Loving God, you desire us to live peacefully with one another.  Sustain us with your willing spirit, that we may walk according to your ways and treat others with dignity and respect.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Ash Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.  Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”  Joel 2:12-13 (NRSV)

Our society emphasizes tolerance and self-esteem.  No one is to judge another person, and all beliefs and choices are of equal value.  To claim differently is to be seen as intolerant.

These are all good things.  Rigid conformity to arbitrary standards has caused much damage over the years, and it’s true that none of us was put on this earth to judge another person.  We each have our own individual gifts to discover and use according to our own situations and callings.

But the down side to all this is the inability to acknowledge we might have gone astray.  If we turn to the Lord our God and discern that we’ve squandered the gifts he’s given us or used them to the detriment of his gospel, the relativism of our society objects to such harsh judgments and seeks to justify our actions.  We’re told we must feel better about ourselves and improve our self-esteem.  Not only are we not allowed to judge others, we’re not allowed to judge ourselves.  And since we’re expected to see ourselves as perpetually ‘OK’ and justified, we can never critically evaluate our choices and recognize our faults.

God’s mercy and steadfast love frees us from the need to constantly justify ourselves.  We don’t have to present ourselves to him as perfect, because he already knows we’re not.  We don’t have to maintain some outward appearance of confidence and perfection, because he knows our inner brokenness, will grieve with us for the harm we’ve caused ourselves and others, and will heal us with his mercy and his grace.

Let yourself recognize your faults, your weaknesses, and yes, even your sins.  The world might want to pretend there’s no such thing, but only when we acknowledge sin’s existence can we hope to be freed from it.  Turn to the Lord your God, and let him offer you his forgiveness and healing.

Let us pray.  Merciful God, you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Open our eyes to our own sins, that we be cleansed by your forgiveness and renewed in your grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.