Perfect

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Perfect

By Pink

I was so angry and I didn’t even know why. I was feeling jealous, competitive, spiteful, and impatient.  I didn’t want to feel any of those things, but there they were in all their ugliness. I wanted so much for that friendship to heal – why couldn’t all those other feelings catch up with that desire?

I knew it had little to do with her and everything to do with me. Yes, she had done something hurtful, but she had apologized and I had forgiven her, hadn’t I? Then, why did I still feel so utterly bad, mad, sad? Why couldn’t we get back to the way we were before?

Grown-up hurts remind us of childhood hurts…perhaps this is why we act like children when we get hurt. Being hurt by a friend brings up every insecurity, every bad feeling I’ve ever had about myself. While I put on my preacher face and tell my congregation to forgive one another and to speak kindly and work hard at loving each other, I pout like a petulant child when I feel I have been badly treated. I retreat into my shell where no one can hurt me. I tell myself I am over it, but I’m really not.  Finally, I resolve to keep the violator at arms’ length so that I can’t be treated badly again.

But this is the thing: Friendships can’t survive like that. Friendship is like a marriage in that you can’t have a close marriage if you have walls and boundaries up all over the place. There has to be trust. There has to be a letting down of the guard and the ability to be real. You have to let yourself be open to being hurt again or else everything remains shallow and surface – in marriage, in friendship.

I stopped letting myself be real with her when she hurt me. I didn’t want to, but I did. The fertile ground of our friendship may have been harmed by her initial neglect, but it was my own that kept the soil dry and parched. Nothing could grow there anymore.

Real friendship can’t be lukewarm or halfway. Real friendship sacrifices – it is patient and kind and humble. It trusts. It doesn’t keep a count of wrongs. And sometimes, friendship can be painful – but you keep working at it. Forgive the friend, forgive yourself, and trust that somehow God can heal what you can’t. With time, with patience, with prayer, God will heal it. Perhaps the ground just needs to lie fallow for a while, but trust that good things can grow again.

 

Perfect

Made a wrong turn, once or twice
Dug my way out, blood and fire
Bad decisions, that’s alright
Welcome to my silly life

Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood
Miss knowing it’s all good, it didn’t slow me down
Mistaken, always second guessing, underestimated
Look, I’m still around

[Chorus]
Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel
Like you’re less than, less than perfect
Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you are perfect to me

You’re so mean, when you talk
About yourself, you were wrong
Change the voices in your head
Make them like you instead

So complicated, look happy, you’ll make it!
Filled with so much hatred… such a tired game
It’s enough! I’ve done all I can think of
Chased down all my demons
I’ve seen you do the same, oh
Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel
Like you’re less than, less than perfect
Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you are perfect to me

The whole world’s scared so I swallow the fear
The only thing I should be drinking is an ice cold beer
So cool in line, and we try try try
But we try too hard and it’s a waste of my time

Done looking for the critics, ’cause they’re everywhere
They don’t like my jeans, they don’t get my hair
Exchange ourselves, and we do it all the time
Why do we do that? Why do I do that?

Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel
Like you’re less than, less than perfect
Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you are perfect to me, yeah

 

What to do When You Just Can’t Get Along… (sermon – 9/10/17)

For the better part of two years, she didn’t speak to me. When I saw her at church or downtown, she pretended not to see me. She skipped the line to shake my hand after worship.

I suppose I’m normal in that I hate conflict – I loathe it with the fire of a thousand suns. Yet, I knew I needed to do something. I tried to reach out to her by brightly saying “hello” when I would see her; then, by calling and leaving her messages to call me back. She responded with more silence – for months and months and months – until one day she the phone rang and it was her.

“You ignored me,” she said. I asked her when and she said that one day, shortly after I arrived at that church, I had walked up to a group of people where she was standing. “You said ‘hello’ to everyone in that circle of people except me.”

I remembered the day she was talking about. It had been a beautiful, warm fall day. I saw the group standing outside as I was on my way into the church from the parsonage. A friend of mine from home was visiting and I wanted to introduce her to the group – so as we walked over I was going over everyone’s names in my head. I remember being proud of myself because I could remember each name. When we got to the group I introduced her to each person by name…or so I had thought. In my nervousness I forgot her, or maybe because I had been practicing all the names in my head I thought I introduced her but I didn’t – and anyway, in the end, I had apparently overlooked this lady. And she had never forgotten it.

I did the only thing there was to do – I apologized to her. I admitted I can be so scatter-brained sometimes and to please forgive me. I was sorry I had hurt her, so deeply sorry. (Even though to tell you the truth – inside I was feeling hurt and angry, too – because of getting the silent treatment for so very long.) But I said, “I’m sorry”. And She said, “I forgive you.”

Saint Matthew writes in the Gospel today about how we as Christian people are to deal with conflict. In fact, in our own church constitution and in the constitution of the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America it has this as our method for dealing with any conflict in the church. First, you talk face to face. Then, if it isn’t worked out, you talk about it in the presence of one or two others, and try again. Then, finally, in the presence of the church. Now keep in mind that “the church” here was often groups of people who met in homes, so it wasn’t like bringing it up at a huge congregational meeting – rather it was like discussing it with a living room full of people and trying to work it out.

What’s interesting is that in the New Revised Standard Version, verse 17 reads, “If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Often when we hear that we might think the scripture is saying it’s time to cast that person out, put them outside the community – but then we stop and remember how Jesus treated the outsiders, the tax collectors, that Saint Matthew himself was a tax collector – and we remember that Jesus was always, always, always still trying to draw everyone into community over and over again. That’s why I like how this version of scripture puts verse 17, “If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”

So we understand this scripture not so much as a quick and easy recipe for conflict resolution – but an unending process. It’s like when we soon come to the text about when Jesus is asked how many times are we expected to forgive and he says seventy times seven. He wasn’t telling them to do some mental math and then forgive others exactly 490 times. Rather, those numbers signified an infinite amount – that’s the way to forgive. And in turn, when we look to heal hurting relationships we keep trying.

This is never to say that an abusive relationship should be allowed to continue. There has to be mutual love, mutual forgiveness, mutual humility, mutual grace. Sometimes that never comes and we must entrust that person to God and move on.

But sometimes reconciliation happens – even in the most surprising ways. Even when we never thought it could. By God’s grace.

Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on the older brother’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there?” “Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence — an 8-foot fence — so I won’t need to see his place anymore.” The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job.

The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge — a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work — handrails and all — and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched. “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.” The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand.

Do you have a relationship that you think can never heal? Has so much time and hurt happened that it is just impossible for things to mend? Maybe you have no idea what to do anymore. Don’t give up. Because you never know what God can do. And because there is always something you can do, something healing.

My apology to the woman from my church was either too little or too late because our relationship didn’t improve. We had said the I’m sorry’s and the I forgive you’s – but something had been damaged permanently it seemed. Maybe I continued to be scatter-brained and forgot something else. Maybe she just realized she wanted a different pastor. Anyway, she slowly drifted away and began to worship elsewhere. I moved away…and nearly fifteen years have passed since I last saw her.

But I still think about her. I think about how she clung to her hurt, and I did, too. I think about what I might have said or done differently. I may never see her again in this life. I may not ever be able to have understanding about why we were like oil and water – but I can pray for her – and I do. I pray for her joy, for her family, that her life is good and peaceful. And that brings a healing of its’ own.

So there is something we can do when relationships seem broken beyond fixing – we can pray for that person. And it is quite something the peace that can bring.

God doesn’t call us to be best of friends with everyone – God made us too unique for that to be possible all the time. But God did create us to seek peace, to work toward understanding, to, as Paul says in Romans, “love other people as well as you do yourself.”

Let’s do that with our words. Let’s do that with our actions. Let’s do that with our prayers. In Jesus’ name.

Amen.

 

Forgiveness Is…

“The term “forgive” is literally “release.” To forgive is not to say that what has transpired does not matter. Rather, it is to say that the wrongs that have occurred no longer define the relationship. Forgiveness or “release” means that there can be a different future, which is not defined by the past.” – Craig Koester

Ash Wednesday

There were a few chores I really enjoyed while growing up.  Feeding the chickens and ducks was always fun, and hanging up the laundry on the clothesline was also something I never minded doing – but the one chore that my brother and I actually fought over getting to do was to carry the trash up to the big old burn barrel at the top of the hill, dump it in, and light the stuff on fire. I liked burning stuff. I liked creating that little spot of warmth on a dead cold winter day.  I liked watching the sparks rising into the evening sky.  I liked the smell of the smoke that would hang on my old wool coat for days afterward.  And as I got older I remember the ritual of tossing things into that old burn barrel as a rite of passage of sorts…a bad exam or two that I felt my parents didn’t need to see, some of the tattered magazines that we cleaned out of grandma’s house when she died, old clothes and dolls, and as the years of high school and college unfolded, even some old love letters met their fate on top of that hill.  There was something ceremonial about throwing things in that burn barrel and tossing a match on top.  Sometimes they had to be coaxed into catching fire – but then they would burn brightly until finally all that was left was just glowing cinder and ash. Of course the leftover ash wasn’t nearly as fun as the blazing fire.  A chore we didn’t like was emptying out that burn barrel when it was full of ashes…we had to shovel it into a big wheelbarrow and wheel it to a specific spot that my dad had designated as the place where the ashes and other remains of the burn barrel went.  It is in that spot where still today you can see the unburnable bits of the our history – the metal zipper from my favorite 2nd grade jacket,  the nails that held together an old picture frame, parts of my brother’s toy fire engine. No, the place where the ashes went wasn’t the fun place.  It wasn’t warm and light-giving like the fire on top of the hill.  The ashes were cold and grimy.  The ash place was full of forgotten, dead, and unwanted things. Of course I have been thinking a lot about ashes as this Ash Wednesday approached.  “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return” are the words we each hear spoken to us when we have ashes placed on our foreheads.  This is a day that we choose to think about the dead and unwanted things in our own lives – the things we need to repent. The broken parts of our lives that require God’s grace and mercy.

This is a reflective day in our church year – the scripture uses words that promote that idea of quiet – in fact, the word secret is used 6 times just in the nine verses of our Gospel reading.  Jesus uses it to express how our giving and praying and fasting should be done – and also to express God’s presence even in the parts of our lives that we think are most secret. Do you have any secrets?  Oh, I think most of us have a few.  There are many kinds of secrets.   

Some secrets people keep are wonderful secrets – I think of couples I have known who didn’t want to share what they were going to name their baby that was on the way because they just wanted to treasure that information for themselves and not be getting everyone’s opinion on the name beforehand. Secrets can be sweet – an engagement ring being hidden away until just the right time, a surprise birthday party. Those kinds of secrets are fun. 

Another kind of secret is the one we keep just because we don’t know how others will react if they find out the truth.  Until we know if others are Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, mean or nice, we often keep our true feelings about certain things to ourselves.

At the first church I served in New York, I had been there a few years when one of the older gentlemen in the church invited me over for coffee.  I had spent a lot of time with him over the years I had been there – sitting in the hospital room with him and his wife, Evie, as she was dying; and later as he was helping out with different projects at church.  I felt I knew him pretty well.  But this particular day as we had coffee he was telling me stories – amazing, stories – and not all of the stories were about good church-going sorts of behavior. They were the sorts of stories you tell a friend…not necessarily your minister. And at the end of the afternoon before I left I said to him, “Pete, thank you for telling me stories about your past.  I’ve known you three years and you never mentioned any of this before. I had no idea what a colorful life you have led.”  And he smiled and said simply, “Well, now enough time has gone by that I know I can trust you with my secrets.” It’s true, isn’t it – we don’t share our secrets with people unless we know they will treasure those secrets, keep them safe like we do.  It is a privilege when you are entrusted with someone’s secrets.   

In his book Telling Secrets Frederick Buechner writes about a difficult secret in his own life and the relief he found when he finally began to share a story he had kept secret for a very long time.  He says, “One November morning in 1936 when I was ten years old, my father got up early, put on a pair of gray slacks and a maroon sweater, opened the door to look in briefly on my younger brother and me, who were playing a game in our room, and then went down into the garage where he turned on the engine of the family Chevy and sat down on the running board to wait for the exhaust to kill him.” Buechner continues, “Except for a memorial service for his Princeton class the next spring, by which time we had moved away to another part of the world altogether, there was no funeral. He was cremated, his ashes buried in a cemetery in Brooklyn, and I have no idea who if anybody was present. I know only that my mother, brother, and I were not. As far as I can remember, once he had died we rarely talked about him much ever again, either to each other or anybody else. We didn’t trust the world with our secret, we hardly even trusted each other with it”  

In the years that have passed, Buechner has since written many times about his father’s death. He says that for him, carrying the burden of that secret was too much. He needed to share it – and that he found that each time he shared it – it somehow gave permission to others to share their secrets as well. And the surprising thing was that once those terrible things that people kept inside were spoken out loud, admitted, looked at directly, they weren’t so frightening anymore. When they were brought out into the light of day those secrets lost their power.  

Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent – we spend time in confession. We dare to take a look at our secrets – those things we have done or have left undone and by offering these things up to God along with our heartfelt repentance, they lose their power over us. The darkest sins, the blackest stains on our hearts – they will never be as strong as the light and love of Christ. 

God knows who you are. God knows what you need. Don’t bother to bring anything with you to receive the ashes on your head tonight except your real self and your repentant heart.    

Tonight the ashes that will be put on our foreheads will remind us that we have fallen short, that we have failed in much, that all dies – even us.  But thank God, there is one who can take ash and dust and make something new.  That is what our journey over the next forty days is all about.

 

 

This Is The Gospel of the Lord? (a sermon from 7/12/15)

Our gospel for today from Saint Mark is actually a flashback that Herod has when he hears of all the work that the disciples are doing in Jesus’ name.  Some were saying the John the Baptist had been raised from the dead and Herod was thinking they might be right – and this is when we have this flashback where we get to hear what happened to John the Baptist.

It’s not a happy story and it’s kind of a big wet blanket text right here in the middle of the summer.  It’s one of those gospel texts that when I read it, instead of proclaiming afterward, like I always do, that this is the gospel of the Lord, I want to put a question mark after it.  This is the gospel of the Lord?

King Herod in this gospel is a descendent of Herod the Great, who was infamous for having all the toddler boys killed after the Magi announced Jesus’ birth.  Herod the Great had a few sons – two of which he had killed, along with his favorite wife, because he heard a rumor they were plotting his death. 

Two surviving sons were Herod Philip and Herod Antipas.  It’s like that show, Newhart – do you remember that show? This is my brother Daryl and this is my other brother Daryl.  Anyway, here it is Herod and his other brother Herod. Herod the Great’s grandniece Herodias came along and married Herod Philip, her uncle.  I read there was a lot of inter-marriage within this family because they believed that their bloodline was superior and they didn’t want to sully it by marrying outside the family.  Herod Philip and Herodias had one daughter.  The story that we read about in our gospel begins when Herodias leaves Herod Philip for Herod Antipas – her other uncle.  Unlike Herod Philip, Herod Antipas was the greatest Prince in the family – he held rank and wealth.  It didn’t matter to Herodias that Herod Antipas was already married – she quickly left Philip and took their daughter and went to Tiberius to be with Herod Antipas.

This was not legal according to Mosaic Law.  If Philip were dead, it would have been honorable, in fact it would have been required at one point in Jewish history for a brother to marry the widow of his brother – but there was nothing good about what Herod Antipas and Herodias have done.

Now even though their marriage arrangement was illegal and distasteful, no one interfered – Herod was powerful and influential.  Only one person spoke out against what had happened – “Mark 6:18 reads, ‘for John had been telling Herod, ‘it is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

So here is John the Baptist, pointing out the sin that no one else will point out. He’s got guts. And we might say, “Good for John the Baptist!”  Until we remember that time when someone pointed out some sin or shortcoming of ours and we remember that it doesn’t feel very good.

What do you mean I could be a better giver?  I do pretty well.  Well, sure I didn’t need that new pair of heels but they were so pretty and they were on sale.

What do you mean I really need to stop gossiping?  I mean, it’s not like I said anything that wasn’t true.  Well, sure that’s not exactly an uplifting way to talk about my neighbor, but come on.

What do you mean I better think hard about the first commandment and the false gods sucking up time in my life?  I mean, sure I spent way more time on Facebook and catching up on old episodes of the X-files last week than studying scripture or in prayer, but everyone needs some down time.  Right? Come on.

None of us like being faced with our sins.  Those who call us on them become an unpopular drag really, really quickly.

This was the place in which John the Baptist found himself.  He called out Herod and Herodias on their sins and they did not like it one bit. Herodias wanted him dead immediately but Herod was afraid to do this because he knew that John was a righteous and holy man.  In fact, here in the gospel of Mark it says that Herod liked to listen to John.  Maybe he wondered if there were things he should be learning from John.  The gospel of Matthew contradicts this, however, and says that Herod wanted to kill John but he was afraid of the people.  Regardless, we do know that ultimately he had John imprisoned.

But that wasn’t enough for Herodias.  She was out for blood.  Our translation reads, “She had a grudge against him.”  Other translations read that she “nursed this grudge” – she fed it and tended to it and kept it alive.

It’s crazy how crazy anger can make us – especially if we feed that anger.  A very long time ago I remember a fellow I had been dating broke up with me and of course that was hard and sad – we had been dating for a couple years.  But then a day or two after we broke up, I found out that before he broke up with me he had started dating someone else.  This completely changed my sorrow to righteous anger.  How dare he?  My indignation knew no end.  My energy immediately turned from weepy tears to plotting how I could inflict the most pain upon this blond-haired, blue-eyed, Norwegian Lutheran jerk.

But all the angry letters I might want to write him, all the little speeches I planned in my head that I would present to him when I saw him next, all his friends that I planned to date in retaliation – I knew none of it would really be satisfying.  Oh, I definitely let him know that I found out about his sorry little cheating heart – I had to do that.  But then, I stepped back and I remembered what Jesus said about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.  So I prayed hard – every day.  I prayed like I don’t think I have ever prayed before. I prayed for myself and I prayed for that ex-boyfriend, I even prayed for his new girlfriend.  I prayed for them with bitterness for a long time, but I kept praying, until the anger started subsiding, the hatred melted, and I could start to see clearly again.  I could feel myself slowly starting to forgive them – and that felt so much better than the cold little stone of anger I was tempted to keep carrying inside. 

I wish Herodias could have understood how good it feels to forgive rather than to nurse hatred and grudges.  It sounds like she was laser-focused on her revenge, however. 

She made a plan – so she would be ready when the opportunity came.  The opportunity for her revenge came on Herod’s birthday – there was a big party for his birthday.  This would have been a party for men – women of good reputation didn’t go to these parties – not even Herodias, his wife, would have been invited.  I read that the only women usually found at these kinds of gatherings were women who danced and entertained men after the meal.  Whatever the equivalent was in those days of women who jump out of cakes.

So then it is peculiar that his daughter, who is actually Herodias and Herod Philip’s daughter, comes in to dance.  Here the daughter is simply called Herodias but in other places she is called the daughter of Herodias or Salome. Most theologians I read speculate that it was Herodias who sent her daughter in there, not caring about her daughter’s reputation as much as she is banking on that Herod has been drinking and just might be feeling generous enough to offer her what eventually does.  The King said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.”

The girl leaves and asks her mother, “What should I ask for?”  Now what kid does that?  If you ask my kids what they want, they don’t come and ask me – they know very well what they want.  They probably have a list prepared right now they could hand you.  Coming up with requests isn’t hard for kids usually.  So that’s why some think that Herodias had coached her daughter beforehand, “After you dance for your stepfather, if he offers to give you something, come and tell me.”

Well, we know what Herodias told her daughter to request – the head of John the Baptist – on a platter.  I always thought that part was a bit extra nuts – that it had to be on a platter. But whatever.  The scriptures say that Herod was grieved to do it, but because he didn’t want to lose face in front of his guests and go back on this promise to the girl, he had John beheaded.  The head was placed on a platter, given to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.  This is the gospel of the Lord?  This is the good news of Jesus?

Well, thank goodness, this story doesn’t stand by itself in scripture – right before this, we are hearing the story of all that Jesus was doing and how word was spreading about his healing and the disciples were going out and casting out demons and curing the sick in Jesus’ name.  And right after this story about John’s death, the miracles continue with the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on water and doing more healings. 

But just as John was killed for speaking truth to power, the same thing would eventually happen to Jesus.  This gospel of Jesus Christ – this gospel that makes life worth living, that brings healing to the sick and wholeness to our hearts and amazing grace, it is not without cost.  For John the Baptist and for Jesus and for countless martyrs for the faith it cost them their earthly lives.  And we are living a very shallow, hollow, surface sort of faith if we think it does not cost us something as well.

 C.S. Lewis said, “The Christian way is different:  harder, and easier.  Christ says, “Give me your all.  I don’t want so much of your money and so much of your work:  I want you…no half measures are any good.  I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want the whole tree….  I will give you a new self instead.  I will give you Myself.”

What does this mean?  It means we are the children of God, given the gift of God’s grace – and a gift like this – how can we help but want to thank the Giver?  How can we do this?  How can we live lives of responding in thankfulness for God’s beautiful grace? 

Being willing to be convicted when we are wrong and try to do better is a start.  Giving not just out of our leftovers but giving our first fruits, the best we have to offer to God, that is a start.  Stepping up, being brave to use our voices and efforts to speak up for justice for those who are experiencing injustice, that’s a great start.  Forgiving, even and especially when it is hard, turning away from the temptations that make us less than the people God has called us to be, being diligent about studying the Word of God, beginning and ending our days and filling the hours in between with prayer, visiting the sick and the elderly and the homebound, writing the note of encouragement and support, teaching your children about the Lord’s prayer, the creed, and the ten commandments, honoring your parents with visits and support especially as they age, being honest in word and deed, using your words to speak well of others and never cut others down, be faithful to your spouse, be thankful for what you have….all of these things are a great way to start.

Not because our salvation is dependent on us doing these things but because we are so thankful for the love that Jesus has already so freely given us, we want our lives to be transformed by him. Isn’t that what we want?  I mean when someone gives you a gift, you want to respond in turn, and I pray that we never take God’s grace so for granted that we forget to seek him daily and be shaped by Jesus daily. 

Most of us will likely never be killed because of our faith, and yet this faith we share does require something.  Namely everything.  May God help us to give this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday

In many ways, this is the darkest night of the church year.  One could argue that Good Friday is darker and more solemn as it closes with Christ in the tomb, all hope lost – and yet, I would argue that it is this evening, Maundy Thursday, when the darkness presses in most deeply – it is nearly suffocating when we pause to consider it long enough.

It is this quiet evening we remember Jesus, vulnerable and sharing a final meal with his disciples.  Here he is, experiencing final words and moments with those who were the closest to him.  Here he is, knowing that the end was coming, and that these events that would lead to his death were set in motion by someone from his inner circle.  While on Good Friday we can imagine the crowd of strangers noisily shouting, “Crucify him,” – somehow the shouts of an angry mob are easier to understand than the betrayal of a friend, a loved one.  I sometimes think that while the beating and torture he endured on Friday was horrible, the cruelest blow was that of the kiss of his friend, Judas.

Have you ever betrayed someone you love?  Whether on purpose or by accident – have you caused harm to another?

If you have, you know that there are the stories we don’t like to tell.  These are memories that haunt and the stories that we try to shove deep inside and put on a smile and pretend they don’t exist. Try to drown them with drink or soften their edges with pills- yet, they remain.  Their truth cannot be dimmed.  The stories of our deepest failings feel like they need to be shut up tight and never spoken out loud – and yet, I have found in my own life that there is a certain healing that is possible only with admission and confession. 

I’ve spoken many times to you over the years about my mom. Many of you met her during the brief time she lived here before she died.  You know she went through a time of major depression and that was why she came from Minnesota to live with us.  Her depression had gotten so overpowering that she would no longer make the effort to eat or take her medicine or do anything without someone to make sure she did so. 

When mom came to live with us, I was so glad to try to do whatever I could for her.  The ways that she had lovingly cared for us as kids and then took care of my dad when he got older, I wanted to extend that same kind of care to her when she needed it.  We moved her into a room in our house, we loved having her with us even though she really wasn’t anything like herself anymore.  Her anxiety and depression were so deep that days with us were spent mostly sitting by the kitchen table, not speaking.  I would make her breakfast and go to work and then come home and make her lunch and then go back to work and then make her supper and three days a week I took her to a support group for seniors who were going through severe depression.  At the same time, the boys were in preschool and my final project for my doctorate was reaching its’ deadline. 

I took her to doctor’s appointments and checked her blood sugar twice a day.  She had diabetes and liver troubles and a heart condition that required that she get the thickness of her blood checked monthly so she wouldn’t get clots.  These were all things that she had tended to doing diligently before this but now that she couldn’t, I was determined to tend to all of it for her. 

And after a while, it felt like we were finding our way.  It was a strange new normal that we had as a family, but as I said, I was so glad to have her with me and that my boys could get to know her – even though her newfound anxiety and nerves made it hard for her to tolerate the loudness and chaos of a house with little boys.  It seemed like the support group was helping mom and now and then I saw glimpses of the mom I grew up with.  I was getting my work done and getting my dissertation done and getting the boys and mom where they needed to be.  It was a blur of days and I wasn’t sleeping much, but it felt like everything was going to be okay.

But then one afternoon I noticed mom was shaky and she went to lie down in her room.  I went in to check her blood sugar and I saw she had thrown up and was disoriented and couldn’t speak.  We called the ambulance and she went to the ER in Waco.  In the emergency room, the doctor was asking me many questions – about her medications, about when was the last time she had her blood checked.  You see, mom had just had a stroke because a clot had developed in her heart.  A perfectly round clot the size of a walnut.  And the clot was there because her blood had gotten too thick.  And her blood had gotten too thick because her medication dosage was apparently not right anymore.  And her medication dosage was not right because, as I ticked back through the days and weeks in my mind, I realized it had been well over six weeks since we had gotten it checked, instead of one month as it was supposed to be.

Because of that clot, mom had to have surgery to get it removed, a surgery from which she never recovered, and died a few months later.

I often used to joke about my forgetfulness, how I have to write everything down in order to remember both small and big things.  I figured if being forgetful was my worst flaw, then it wasn’t so bad. But in all my juggling of life and family and work and school, I had forgotten an astronomically important thing – to make sure she got her blood checked – and the consequences were catastrophic.  I’ll bear the grief and guilt and sadness about this until the day I die – because even though I would never, ever willingly have betrayed or harmed my mom, I did.  She had needed me to watch out for her, and I blew it.  Utterly and fully blew it.  There are no words to express the remorse I feel about this.

It’s a confession, that’s what it is.  God and I have talked about it an awful lot over the years.  As I proclaim the forgiveness of sins each week, I try to remind myself that forgiveness extends to me, too, and hopefully one of these days I will believe it. 

I share this story with you not just out of my need to speak it out loud, but to hold up the truth that we so deeply need what this night is about.  We come together as a big group of imperfect people, people who have histories and secrets, failures and longings, regrets and sins.  We may do a great job of hiding all these things so that no one would guess how broken we are inside, but we know.  And God knows.  And in this meal we share tonight we remember that even so, we are loved.  We are treasured.  It was because of our brokenness that Jesus sacrificed all for us.  He knew exactly what he was doing. And even though nothing can erase our brokenness, or fix all our mistakes, that God is able to always, somehow, still use us for good.

It seems too good to be true.  Judas couldn’t imagine it.  He was so overwhelmed by what he had done that the scripture says first he went and tried to give back the thirty pieces of silver he had gotten for betraying Jesus and then immediately went and hanged himself.  He couldn’t bear the thought of what he had done.

It’s human beings who feel such a greedy need to hoard guilt and shame – it’s not God.  Judas couldn’t forgive himself, but Jesus could. He did. On this Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus the Christ knelt and washed the feet of his disciples, even Judas.  He begged them to love one another, even as his heart grieved knowing how they would fail.  He loved them through his tears, even Judas.  His forgiveness so great that the cross would not extinguish it.  His forgiveness so great that it was for everyone for all time, even Judas.  Even you.  Even me. 

May God grant us grace to believe in this truth, in this Jesus, now and always.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.