February 2016 Pastor’s Pen
Dear Holy Trinity family,
We’ve all done things that had unintentional negative consequences, right? Who hasn’t seen a driver kindly stop and wave on a pedestrian, only to realize there was an oncoming car that didn’t plan to stop? I’ve witnessed a few near-misses. I attended a lecture on birding recently and learned that mourning doves are one of the few birds who love millet, frequently found in mixed birdseed. ‘Seems like a good thing to attract those softly cooing birds, right? The only problem is: mourning doves love to eat millet and hawks love to eat mourning doves. The speaker mentioned seeing more than his share of carnage before he stopped putting out millet. In these instances the negative cause-and-effect is clear after the fact, but there was no premeditation of harm.
We can’t say the same of our sin, though, can we? When we sin we consciously choose to “miss the mark” of holy living. “I know it’s wrong to steal, but I can’t make ends meet any other way.” “I know it’s wrong to cheat, but college admission is riding on this grade.” “I know it’s wrong to gossip, but this little morsel is too juicy to keep to myself.” “I know I should worship, but the beach [or the golf course or the soccer field or the office] calls!” “I know I shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain, but everybody does.” Most of us probably have a consistent, low-grade awareness of how we’re falling short. Lent is an external wake-up call: get spiritually healthy instead of accommodating the sickness of sin!
Recently one of our church friends spoke about a co-worker who is puzzled by her church involvement. “Church is where they tell you you’re damned if you do one little thing wrong!” Not! The community of faith is safe space where we humbly acknowledge our own sin and then gratefully receive the Word of grace that God forgives:
…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
When we’re young we hope against hope that we can hide our transgressions from our parents: the missing cookies, the broken vase, the forgotten homework, the flunked test, the dented fender, the six pack, the ignored curfew. When we grow up, though, most of us realize the divine Parent misses nothing. The Good News is that God knows all our foibles, large and small, and God loves us anyway. The Father has sent the Son to pay the price.
[Y]ou are not your own… For you were bought with a price…
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20a)
Have we even begun to sink our roots into that awesome love and mercy? What would a wholehearted response look like?? What light is the Holy Spirit shedding on the sin we need to leave behind? What forgiveness will flow once I admit, “I was wrong to….”? “I was wrong not to….”?
The Gospel talks about God counting the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7; see Chris Ann Water’s Transitions on p. 11). Here’s some more arithmetic from the Book of Job:
“Surely, then, you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin.”
The issue isn’t lack of awareness on God’s part. The issue is God’s willingness to shine the light of divine love on sin and make it disappear like morning mist before the sun.
Back to the birds. As I’m writing this it’s snowing and the ground is blanketed in white. Our birdfeeder hangs on the maple tree outside the parsonage kitchen window, offering feathered friends seed since most of their food sources are hidden by the snow. I recently learned that providing water is as important as putting out seed. Birds will not eat snow. They are in danger of dehydration whenever their usual water sources freeze or disappear. Likewise, our spirits dehydrate and wither when they are deprived of living water. Living water bathes us in Holy Baptism and renews our spirits lifelong through Word and Sacrament. There’s plenty of living water available, but we have to go to the well to get it. Please come to the well often this Lent! You will find good faith friends gathered there.
God has done God’s part. Now it’s up to us to claim the Gift Given and to live forgiven and free, lovingly and gratefully sharing the treasure we have received.
In the name of the Holy Trinity,