Sunday, November 3, 2013

Table, altar, throne

I want to talk to you today about furniture. Specifically, this piece of furniture that we've moved and then set up a temporary smaller version thereof. It's one of the most prominent things front and center in our worship space, rivaled only by the cross hanging on the eastern wall of the sanctuary. Today's lessons give us the opportunity to reflect on this key fixture in our worship space, even as we are in the midst of discerning as a congregation about how we might best arrange our furniture here.

The Prayer Book has several names by which it refers to this key element of our worship space.

On several occasions, the Prayer Book calls it both the Lord's Table and the Holy Table. This is a table around which we gather for a meal.

On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread. After supper he took the cup of wine. We come to the Lord's table to eat and drink. And table fellowship was key to Jesus' ministry of radical hospitality.

Today's gospel talks about Zaccheaus. Zaccheaus, was a tax collector for the hated occupying Romans.  He had personally enriched himself in this position at the expense of his countryfolk. Zaccheaus was thus in disrepute among his own people. Outcast. Unwelcome. It scandalized the Jewish faithful for Jesus to announce that he was going to be Zaccheaus' guest. But Jesus made a point that his ministry was focused on seeking out and saving the lost. This included being the guest of those who were not considered polite company. By dining at the table of Zaccheaus, Jesus sent a powerful message about the reinstatement of those who turned away from their sins. Jesus' company at table testified to the radical reality of reconciliation.

This Holy Table is certainly a sign of present reconciliation, as we gather together, but also serves as a foretaste of the feast to come, the heavenly banquet. The radical inclusion of the outcast modeled by Jesus in table fellowship in his earthly ministry foretells the reign of God, who casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich empty away. The counterculturality of whom Jesus chose to dine with reminds us that the last shall be first and the first last.

So this is a meal table: we gather here, and are fed by our Lord. And in recalling the stories about with whom Jesus chose to be at table, we hear our own call to welcome the stranger, to visit the prisoner, to seek out the lost, and even echoes of the judgment of the nations: Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

But this is not only a meal table.

The prayer book also refers to it as an altar. Now an altar is a place where sacrifices are offered to God.

Our first lesson from Isaiah talks about the practice, demanded by God in the Law as given to Moses, of "burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts." The practice in the temple was to offer twice-daily sacrifices of animals to God, and more on special occasions. The letter to the Hebrews talks about this at length, and contrasts the offering of Jesus, our great High Priest. "Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself."

When we celebrate the Eucharist, we make present once again the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross at Calvary, given once for all, "having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same." The old system of sacrifices of animals on the altar was replaced by the sacrifice of Jesus, given once for all, but every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we make that sacrifice of Jesus present yet again, here and now.

I can't pretend to understand how this sacrifice works, or why God calls for it. Indeed, the God who speaks through Isaiah says "I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats… they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them… Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."

In other words, our God seems to reject sacrificial offerings in favor of demanding… wait for it… radical hospitality in the table fellowship we just talked about. But there is a powerful link between the sacrifice of the cross made present on the ALTAR and the radical fellowship made present at the HOLY TABLE.

A mentor of mine now helps run Manna House, a house of hospitality that provides showers, clothing, coffee, and a place to stay during the daytime to homeless people in Memphis, Tennesee. This ministry is an example of radical table fellowship at its best, as they try to see the face of Christ in all their guests. But reaching out to the outcast is not always popular. There are plenty of people who would rather that the outcast stay away. Last month, in their attempt to provide a safe space to the neediest in our society, Manna House volunteers had a run-in with the Memphis police.

As a local group reported, "On October 21, Memphis Police Department officers came to Manna House claiming they were looking for a suspect. A Manna volunteer approached the officers before they entered the property. On the public sidewalk outside of the house, she explained that Manna House sought to provide a safe space for the homeless. Therefore, under Manna's policy the officers could not come inside the privately-owned building without a warrant unless there was an emergency.

When the officers refused to produce a warrant or offer any other justification for their presence, the volunteer began filming. One officer responded by claiming the volunteer needed a permit to film, which is not true. When the volunteer refused to stop filming, the officers took her cellphone, placed her in handcuffs, and arrested her for obstructing a passageway, which apparently in Memphis means standing on a sidewalk to record MPD officers attempting an illegal search. Soon after the volunteer was arrested, a local organizer arrived, began filming, and asked that the officers identify themselves. In short order, the officers grabbed his phone, handcuffed and arrested him for obstructing a passageway, and, presumably for asking the officers who they were, tacked on a disorderly conduct charge for good measure.

Though all charges were eventually dropped and the cellphones returned, what both the volunteer and the organizer can never get back is the twelve hours they spent in jail."

Now there are certainly issues of constitutional law involved here. But even if there weren't, even if the police had the legal right to do these things, what could give these people the courage to extend radical hospitality to the least welcome, even at risk of their own imprisonment? Only the sacrifice of the cross.

Jesus lived radical hospitality, which made him a threat to the established order of the Roman Empire. The mighty Roman Empire used its full force to try to end the Jesus movement of selfless love. The enforcement apparatus of the empire publicly tortured and killed Jesus to say to all his followers and potential followers that this is the end that comes of those whose welcome of the outcast challenges empire. This is the end that comes of those who live as though God and not Caesar is king.

The salvation of God comes in the sacrifice of the Cross: the empires of this world threw all the evil they had at Jesus. They mocked him and tortured him and killed him. Jesus stood before the evil of the world, and somehow, through amazing grace, he didn’t use his infinite power to drive it off. He willingly accepted the worst torture and death they could give him.

He let evil do its worst, and it did not prevail.

And thus, we are free. We are free to live. We are free to love. We are free to share that radical table fellowship without fear, because of whom shall we be afraid? Love is stronger than death, and the cross does not have the last word.

And so, this piece of furniture, located beneath the cross, is both the ALTAR on which our Lord's sacrifice is made present yet again for us, to give us grace and strength, and the HOLY TABLE at which we join in God's radical feast of love and inclusion.

And yet there is a third image given by the Eastern Orthodox Church: what we call the altar or the holy table, they call the throne. It is where our Lord Jesus Christ is seated. Look at the decorated wall behind the altar, also known as a reredos, and the combined effect of table and backing does indeed look like a majestic seat. This tradition motivates such devotions as bowing to the altar, and facing it when we pray and recite our creed: we look to it as the place where God is seated in our midst, a locus to which we direct our prayers and a center to help us listen and meditate on God's word in our lives.

Now in many churches, especially ones of more formal design, the table is quite near the reredos, producing a combined effect that indeed looks much like a majestic throne. A small table in the midst of the assembly might look more like a bench than a throne befitting the Lord of Heaven and Earth. A throne suggests the transcendence and might of God; a small table in our midst not so much. And yet this is Nativity. Our title feast involves God becoming truly human and dwelling among us. The Lord of the Hosts of Heaven was born in a stable. And indeed, a charism of the ministry that God's people have done here since its founding has been to witness to the world that our transcendent God is also very imminent. Our table in our midst can indeed be the seat, the resting place of Emanuel: God with us. Gathered around the table, gathered around the altar, gathered around the throne, we know that God calls us to love and serve, that God is stronger than any evil that might threaten us, and above all, that God is with us.

We can conclude, in the words of the letter to the Hebrews, "Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."


Sunday, March 17, 2013

The transactional calculus of scarcity vs. abundant selfless extravagance

In 1982 and 1983, Nativity Episcopal Church commissioned local artist Margaret Cavanaugh to create six stained glass windows to represent the six days of creation. Nativity has had, over the years, a number of ministries advocating on behalf of God’s creation. These works of art shared a theme with the ministry to which this Church was called at the time.

But why did we give up a substantial chunk of money commissioning stained glass windows? Could the money not have been better used more directly in pursuit of education or advocacy about the issues the congregation cared about? Why does the church squander precious funds on vestments and artwork and beautiful buildings when there are so many people in so much need?

If money is scarce, what’s even more scarce is our time. There’s so much we could be doing in the world to make it better. Volunteering, writing letters, demonstrating, working tireless on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed of every stripe. God knows they need advocates! And there’s so much work to be done. So why are we squandering our time here right now, sitting in this space hearing lessons that frankly we’ve heard before, hearing a sermon that we can probably do without, and eating some token bread and wine? Liturgy doesn’t do anything, does it? Why wait until the end of the service to go forth into the world being the face of God to those we meet? Don’t people need us right now?

If God’s people are in need, isn’t all this church stuff a holy waste of time and money?

We encounter God when we love our neighbors as our selves, even and especially our most vulnerable neighbors, of whom God promised that whatever we do for the least of the hungry, the thirsty, the outcast, the sick, the prisoner, we do for God.

Or is that we encounter God in our sacred stories of God’s saving acts of old when we read scripture? Or do we encounter God through worship, especially in the sacraments of the church?

Maybe all of these are true. Within our Anglican tradition, of which Nativity Episcopal Church is a part, we don’t all emphasize all of them equally. Encountering God through love of neighbor might resonate more to many of us. Encountering the divine through service to, advocacy with, and love of our fellow humans seems to be an important part of our our congregation’s story. But it’s not the only way God can be found.

The more low church, or evangelical branch of Anglicanism stresses encountering God in scripture. And the Episcopal Church is a place where we do read a lot of scripture. Just this morning, we’ve heard four different passages from scripture read directly, and now you’re listening to a sermon that will (eventually) get around to talking about what that scripture means in our lives. The text of the rest of the liturgy is drawn heavily from words or images from scripture. So even if many of us wouldn’t say the first place we look for or find God is in the Bible, we do steep ourselves in the Bible quite a bit.

And we encounter God through worship, prayer, and the sacraments of the church. As a part of my formation process through the diocese, I’m taking a class that meets at a very high church, with a strong orientation toward the sacraments as THE central acts of Christian life. Do we primarily encounter God through receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ each Sunday and feast day?

Or are there other ways we encounter God? Do we encounter God through God’s creation? Do we encounter God through community? Do we encounter God through solitude, contemplation, and meditation? Do we encounter God through the arts? Do we encounter God through the use of our bodies? And do we have to choose?
One of my seminary classmates and I were going over our notes about the different traditions within Anglicanism, and how we vary in whether we emphasize finding God in service, scripture, or sacrament, and she asked “what if I find God in all three?” I think that’s part of the beauty of our tradition: there’s room for people whose primary encounter with the divine comes through service, through scripture, AND through sacrament.

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

Talk about a holy waste! A pound of costly perfume? Worth almost a year’s wages? This is extravagant. How? Why? What makes this okay? Surely Jesus is about to scold Mary, right?

But no!

Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Jesus encourages this extravagance! The same Jesus who said we’d be judged on how we treat those in need - Jesus said it was okay to use so much money in pursuit of - of what, exactly? An outpouring of love, to be sure, but how is this practical? How is this a good idea? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we restrained these senseless and impractical outpourings of love and focused our energy into loving and helping those in need?

We should not pass up the opportunity to worship for fear that it will deprive us of the opportunity to serve; far greater is the danger that in passing up one, we will fail to do the other as well, and then we neither worship nor serve.

Judas objected to pouring out the perfume because the money could have been used to help the poor, but had Mary passed on pouring perfume on Jesus, the poor would not have been helped anyway. As the Gospel tells us,

Judas said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.

Had Mary acted out of fear of losing one opportunity to encounter the divine, she would have missed out on both!

We are conditioned by our post-Eden world to think in terms of scarcity. There isn’t enough to go around, so whenever someone or something gains, someone or something else loses.

Thus, prudent stewardship requires us to calculate: what do we give up, and what do we gain. Economists refer to “opportunity cost,” how we quantify what we are not doing whenever we do something. Judas today provides a textbook example of opportunity cost: perfume poured on Jesus’ feet could thus not be sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor.

But Jesus challenges us to escape from that thinking. Life is not a zero-sum game. God’s abundance invites us to think not in terms of “or” but in terms of “and.” The economies of our world are foreign to the abundance of God’s grace.

In Isaiah, God challenges us:

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

The wilderness is wild precisely because there are no “ways,” no roads, no paths there. The desert is characterized by a scarcity of water. But God’s abundant blessings overflow. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

God invites us to leave behind measuring and calculating and go all in. To throw ourselves in faith into the bounty of God’s love.

And when we show this extravagant love, God blesses and empowers us with even more extravagant love. I’m not claiming this is the prosperity gospel here - God’s blessing takes lots of different forms. But we don’t have to choose between worshiping God with our whole heart and our whole soul and our whole mind and our whole strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Indeed, our worship of God empowers us to love and serve our neighbors. Our time in worship, our reflection on these beautiful works of art, our whole-hearted embrace of Christian community - we do these without reservation. And then we are sent out, likewise without reservation, but with renewed gifts to take into the world in service.

These experiences open the door for a conversion of heart.
God calls us to turn away from the transactional calculus of scarcity and embrace the gospel of abundant grace and selfless extravagance.

In the course of my studies, I took a church finance class last semester. The instructor drove home the importance of good accounting practices because even the hint of financial scandal can devastate a church community. And believe me, I’ve lived that. Twenty years ago, I lost my church home because of a community divided by the discovery of misused church funds. My instructor made it seem like transparency and accountability even trumped mission: if charity or service couldn’t be done with proper record keeping, the Church shouldn’t do them. But Jesus does give us a different example in today’s Gospel.

The treasurer he appointed, Judas Iscariot, was a thief who stole from the common purse. Now this is in the Gospel according to John. Of all the Gospels, John has the highest Christology: Jesus in John’s account knows everything. When he prays, he sometimes even says “I know you already know this, God, but I’m saying it so the people around me can hear it.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus is omniscient from day one. And yet he chooses to appoint Judas to keep the money.
What example do we draw from this? If our conclusion is that God encourages fraud, that’s probably not quite the right direction here, but rather that we need to move past the mindset of scarcity. Jesus could give the purse to Judas because it didn’t matter. Freely have you received; freely give.

The new bishop of Rome is a Jesuit, a member of an order with whom I worked when I first attended Nativity, and who taught me a lot. I learned a prayer from my time with them translated from St. Ignatius himself. We started class with this prayer pretty frequently:

Lord, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Ultimately, that’s what we can take away from last week’s parable of the prodigal son and his even more prodigal, more wastefully extravagant father and from this week’s account of Mary’s selfless extravagance: our God of Grace is inviting us to go all in. Freely have you received; freely give. Commit ourselves to worship, to service, to love without reservation, without measure. This transforms us, and prepares us to be able to receive God’s abundant grace. Judas today, the older brother last week - these people were shocked and horrified by these acts of selfless extravagance. Because in a world of scarcity, to give abundantly means to deny other opportunities. To be able to receive abundant grace requires a conversion of heart to recognize the limitlessness bounty of God’s grace: unmerited, unearned, and yet, miraculously, given to us all the same. Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine! Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Be of sin the double cure

It's the most wonderful time of year.

Now I know that isn't a lot of people's first reaction to Lent.
What's so great about Lent? Lent is so wonderful because we finally get to talk about sin. Woo hoo. And... no one here is cheering along with me. We don't like to talk about sin. And that's a real tragedy, because the reality of sin is what makes the Good News so good. We live in a world broken by sin, where so so many things aren't right, and that can make us feel powerless or guilty, but the Good News is that sin doesn't have the final word. We need to acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, but once we do, it's good news from there.

To explain, I'd like to introduce a lesson from the modern prophets Lou and Peter Berryman, singer-songwriters from Wisconsin:

Thanksgiving day Uncle Dave was our guest
Who reads the Progressive which makes him depressed
We asked Uncle Dave if he'd like to say grace
A dark desolation crept over his face

Thanks he began as he gazed at his knife
To poor Mr. Turkey for living his life
All crowded and cramped in a great metal shed
Where life was a drag then they cut off his head

Thanks he went on for the grapes in my wine
Picked by sick women of seventy nine
Scrambling all morning for bunch after bunch
Then brushing the pesticide off of their lunch

Thanks for the stuffing all heaped on my fork
Shiny with sausage descended from pork
I think of the trucks full of pigs that I see
And can't help imagine what they think of me

Continuing, I'd like to thank if you please
Our salad bowl hacked out of tropical trees
And for this mahogany table and chair
We thank all the jungles that used to be there

For cream in our coffee and milk in our mugs
We thank all the cows full of hormones and drugs
Whose calves are removed at a very young age
And force-fed as veal in a minuscule cage

Oh thanks for the furnace that heats up these rooms
And thanks for the rich fossil fuel it consumes
Corrupting the atmosphere ounce after ounce
But we're warm and toasty and that is what counts

I'm grateful he said for these clothes on my back
Lovely and comfy and cheap off the rack
Fashioned in warehouses noisy and cold
In China by seamstresses seven years old

And thanks for my silverware setting that shines
In memory of miners who died in the mines
Worn down by the shoveling of tailings in piles
Whose runoff destroys all the rivers for miles

We thank the reactors for our chandelier
Although the plutonium won't disappear
For hundreds of decades it still will be there
But a few more Chernobyls and who's gonna care

Sighed Uncle Dave though there's more to be told
The wine's getting warm and the bird's getting cold
And with that he sat down as he mumbled again
Thank you for everything, amen

We felt so guilty when he was all through
It seemed there was one of two things we could do
Live without food in the nude in a cave
Or next year have someone say grace besides Dave

Sin is rampant. The evil we have done, the good we have left undone, and the evil done on our behalf. When we itemize the ways the world about us is broken, the ways it dehumanizes and mistreats God's children, and the ways we are complicit in these systems of exploitation that sustain our own ways of life, it becomes overwhelming.

We face a dilemma. It seems like we have two choices: be trapped by sin's guilt, or be trapped by sin's power. To believe we must live without food in the nude in a cave is to acknowledge our contribution to the sinful social structures that oppress, to aspire to amend our lives, and to be utterly crushed by the guilt of sin. But is the alternative to silence the voice of the Uncle Daves? If so, we become slave to sin's power. In denial, we continue to oppress others, and continue in our alienation from God. Denial is less unpleasant than constantly calling to mind all the ills of the world. As the prayer book so aptly describes our sins, "the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable." But failing to acknowledge them increases the likelihood that we repeat them, over and over and over.

So we face this difficult position: remain enslaved to the power of sin by denying its role in our lives, or remain enslaved to the guilt of sin by wallowing in its immeasurable enormity.

My brothers and sisters, we have a third choice. The good news is this: if we confess our sins to God, we are forgiven, healed, and empowered. The old hymn "Rock of Ages" says it well:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee
Let the water and the blood from thy wounded side that flowed
Be of sin the double cure: save me from its guilt and power.

The double cure: we are freed from both the guilt and the power of sin.

Now the guilt part we have to somehow take on faith. In the mysterious cosmic accounting scheme, the guilt of sin is wiped off of our accounts. We have done evil, we have benefited from evil, we are culpable. But God somehow erases our culpability. We are forgiven. God's accounting system is a mystery, but somehow, and we don't know how, our sin no longer "counts".

But the power of sin is no mystery. We see it all too clearly. Despite our desire to be good, to do good, we are trapped by sin. We go on oppressing and mistreating others despite our best intentions. How can we possibly break the power of sin? How can we possibly "go and sin no more" in a world where our daily bread comes from a system built on the backs of the poor? How can we go and sin no more when our own impatience or addiction or weakness or foolishness or flaws seem to have so much power over our good intentions?

We acknowledge our brokenness, and bring the pieces of our life as an offering to God. We offer what we are.

Which means that a sinner's place is in the church. There's no such thing as not being good enough for church. No one should ever feel like they shouldn't come because they're "doing it wrong." We should never give anyone the impression that they somehow have to meet some standard to be "worthy" to come here before the Lord. None of us are worthy, but God calls us all.

If you want to sing praise to God but you're not particularly good at carrying a tune, don't let anyone convince you that you shouldn't offer your voice in praise to the Lord. God wants you as you are.

If you want to worship the Lord but it's one of those mornings where the alarm doesn't go off, and the coffee spills and the garage door won't open, don't let anyone's dirty looks convince you that you shouldn't come to church for whatever portion of the service you can make it for. God wants you as you are.

If you know you care about issues of the day but you're completely overwhelmed, and you feel like writing a single letter to a single leader about just one of the many topics that worry you seems too trivial, don't let anyone tell you contribution is too tiny to matter. God wants you as you are.

There's an old story about a rabbi who visits a remote congregation who don't have anyone nearby to teach them or lead them in prayer. And the rabbi hears one old man praying, in Hebrew, because that's the language God speaks, of course, and he's humbly but passionately praying over and over again "Alef Bet Gimmel Dalet He Vav Zayin..." And after listening for a moment, the rabbi realizes that the man is reciting the alphabet over and over again in Hebrew. And the rabbi asks, "Why are you reciting the alphabet?" And the man says that it's all the Hebrew he knows, but if he gives God the letters, God can put them together into words.

We are broken by the power of sin. But we offer God the broken pieces of our life, and God puts them together into something amazing. One doesn't make a mosaic out of whole pottery. It's the little broken shards that can become the beautiful new whole. We must not hesitate to offer our lives to God because they're broken. It's the broken pieces of our lives that God, the great artist, can assemble into the new creation.

As a broken people, we acknowledge our sin.
As a forgiven people, we experience God's reconciling love.
And then we get to Lent.
Now, we make space to listen.

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton prayed:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Our model for Lent comes from todays Gospel: Jesus went out to the desert to fast and pray, to listen, to discern.

Lent *is* about sin, but it is not about wallowing in guilt. How could it be? Jesus, who is without guilt, is our model. We acknowledge and confess our sins, and they are absolutely forgiven. Gone. Our sins are absolved. Lent isn't about guilt; we have nothing more about which to feel guilty. God has taken that away. Our fasting and prayer isn't to somehow make up for our sin - we couldn't do that even if we wanted to, but God doesn't ask us to. This beautiful season of quiet and prayer and fasting is so we can listen. So we can hear what we are called to do as we step out of the power of sin and into the work of building God's Kingdom.

We offer the broken pieces of our lives, and we pray and listen to learn how God wants us to use them. God invites us in all our brokenness, in all our sin, in all our despair, in all our self-perceived inadequacy to know love and healing and forgiveness, and to make room to listen for what we are called to do to spread God's love. Have no guilt that what we do is not enough to break the power of sin. We are not alone. We are with God. So I invite us all to confess our sin, to know God's forgiveness, and to listen for God's call: in short, I invite us to observe a Holy Lent. Amen.