Red Dress or Real Life? A Sermon on Forgiveness

77028_1540648872410_5641754_nPhoto taken by me outside the “Dunker” church on the battlefield of Antietam.  The little church was amid the worst of it, a congregation of pacifists… whose church now stands as a monument of healing.  My great-great-grandfather Miller fought here, and it was the first place that Clara Barton began her work.   November 2010.

Gospel of John 12:20-36 (New Revised Standard Version)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
*Sermon preached on Sunday, March 18, 2018, at First Christian Church (Hampton VA), the fifth in a Lenten series drawing upon aspects of the “12-Steps” that form the basis for spiritual recovery.  In this case, Steps 8 & 9.  If something resonates and deserves a private conversation, I am always available.  -Vinson
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INTRODUCTION

It was a red dress and it made her happy.  Really happy.

I was visiting folks on that church’s membership roll that weren’t active, and being still new there, I ran into their histories.  She had warmly opened the door and we sat down to talk, but when I brought up the church, her face darkened.  It wasn’t personal.  She was clear on that point.  On a spring day she had worn a new red dress to church, only for someone to say some snide remark that deeply hurt her feelings.

She could not, would not, forget the slight.

She held it over the long-dead offender and church alike.

She would never darken the door of the church again, and had been true to her word.  The event was as fresh in her mind as if it had happened the hour before, but it hadn’t.  It had been over four decades.

I had a hard time getting my mind around such a grudge, but I was still relatively new in ministry and had not yet learned how difficult some found it – to forgive.  For all the language and all the hymns praising God for sending Christ in whom we are forgiven, I discovered post-seminary that too often the followers of Christ viewed the Cross as a future insurance policy rather than an owner’s manual for living a full life in the here and now.  Needless to say, that gets acted out.

To forgive another.  To forgive themselves.  To forgive God.  It can be a difficult challenge, and I dare say we all struggle with it in some fashion.

WHY I BRING THIS UP

I bring this up as we continue to examine the path to wholeness in Christ, through the spiritual recovery process known as the 12-Steps, having come this Sunday to Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all,” and Step 9, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

FOR INSTANCE

We gather on Sundays for one simple reason.  It is the same reason that some Greek Jews came up to Philip, and said to him, “’Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’”  That is the beginning and ending point, and everything in between.  But…

What does it mean to hear: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”?

What does it mean that we are told “Whoever serves me must follow me”?

What does it mean when we are admonished to “walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you”?

Each of these passages speak to the discipleship of the one who sought to restore us to God and one another in peace and right relationship – in the power of forgiveness, even at the price of the Cross.

It isn’t easy.  Sometimes it is downright hard.

In Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book, the description of Step 7 concludes with this prayer:  “My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad.  I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows.  Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding.  Amen.”  Thus begins the concrete steps to “repair the damage done in the past” and if “we haven’t the will to do this, we ask (God) until it comes.” [A.A. Big Book, p.76].

There are, as I see it, two challenges, what AA describes as character defects.  One is holding onto old resentments we have against others and the other is our guilt and shame because of how we have treated others.  Either way, we seek God’s help, we submit ourselves to the will of God – whether it is “justifiable anger” or crippling guilt – these are but two sides of the same self-destructive energy that robs us of peace… of life.  It’s coming to a place where we just no longer can or wish to bear the pain of negative emotions connected with unfinished business in our relationships.

Something has to give.

For example, back when I was supposed to have been left behind with Julie, for the birth of our son, I discovered five minutes before the ship’s brow was pulled that my boss had lied to me and to the Commanding Officer, and so I got underway.  When the ship’s comms went down about 20 hours after Julie had gone into labor, as a high-risk pregnancy, I asked him to pray with me in the ship’s chapel – he refused.  When there was a satellite phone in our office that would have allowed me to call and check on Julie, it was the Executive Officer who had to order him to allow me to make a call.  And when a flag was flown to honor our son’s birth, he was angry.  I came off the ship different.  He was a bitter man and I had drunk of a bit of his poison – I just didn’t realize how much for several years, before I finally did the work of forgiveness with the help of a friend.  It was eating away at me.  I had every reason to hold a grudge, and better reasons not to any longer – as such energy takes up the space meant for joy which belongs to God, those we cherish, and even ourselves.

Anger and guilt has a way of crowding out the life-affirming ways of thinking and feeling, whether there is a person or a circumstance that brings us harm.  No small wonder that in the Gospel of Matthew [5:23-24], Jesus instructs believers about to offer a gift at the altar and who realize there’s a break in a relationship, to make the effort to go and be reconciled – before returning to offer one’s gift.  It’s to hold up before God – the people, organizations and institutions we believe have harmed us — and toward whom we hold resentment, anger and even hatred.

As another has written, “In doing so, we come to recognize how much violence these negative emotions do to us and to those around us.  We pray to God to give us the willingness to let go of these poisonous, venomous feelings — for God to wash them away with the spirit of forgiveness and love.  In praying to become willing to let go in this way, we do not have to admit that those who wronged us are right.  We do not have to forget our histories and our pain.  We only need to ask God to do what only God can do: to remove hatred from our hearts and replace it with love, that we might live more peacefully and comfortably.  And so we pray: ‘Gracious God, we ask that you accept these names as we lift them up and grant us the willingness to forgive each of these.’”

But, even as others have harmed us, let’s face it – we have harmed others, and so as Rev. Dr. Paul Bradley writes, “filled with the loving Spirit of God, we lift up the names of those we know we have harmed — friends and family members, employers and employees, and all other people, and institutions, and organizations we have exploited, injured and otherwise done damage to.  We ask God to help us to accept and own our responsibility in each of these damaged relationships.  We accept responsibility both for our sins of commission — all the ways we have actively caused damage and destruction — as well as for our sins of omission — the ways we have caused harm through our absence (physical or emotional) while in the grip of our addictions and compulsions.  Having done all this, we make our list of those we have harmed, and we pray: ‘Gracious God, we ask that you accept these names as we lift them up and grant us the willingness to make amends to each of these.’”

SO WHAT?

Earlier this month I was reading a poignant article of a woman who lost a child 18 months ago, one of those deaths that just had no explanation.  It drew me in, as she wrote of how much anger she has noticed in people in the months since:  in extraordinary road rage and other events with folks just enraged, complete strangers making it personal to her.

As she writes, “Right now, chaos reigns.”

Then she added,

“I think back to that group who gathered in our living room on and off for weeks after Andrew died.  Many wonderful people — from across the political spectrum — converged to help us during that time.  They worked together to care for us, talking with civility and empathy about events and movies and even politics.  They were worried we would give in to rage and despair following Andrew’s death, so somehow, as a group, they held up a light.  I’m not so naive that I think asking people to behave the way they do at a funeral will solve the problems of the world.  Yet there is value in knowing what’s possible.  We were stretched with grief to a point where, I’m told, it looked as if we might just disappear.  So those around us accommodated.  They treated us with steady kindness, because we were frightened and mortal.  But so, ultimately, is everyone.”

So, Ann Bauer concludes, “Imagine if that were the goal: baseline civility and warm expectations.  This doesn’t mean we stop standing up for what’s right or being outraged by injustice.  It’s about speaking with respect, avoiding hate and generally being decent.”  In this, we abide in the words of Paul to the Ephesians:  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” [Ephesians 4:31-32], that wherever possible, without creating harm, we may make direct amends.  Then, others will indeed, “see Jesus.”  Amen.

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Full articles: “Amends and Forgiveness: Taking Step Eight,” by Rev. Dr. Paul Bradley.  Huffingham Post, January 15, 2013. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-paul-bradley/amends-and-forgiveness-taking-step-eight_b_2109305.html.  Accessed March 15, 1018.  & “Our anger is poisoning us. Here’s what I learned after my son died,” by Ann Bauer.  Washington Post, March 5, 2018.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2018/03/05/our-anger-is-poisoning-us-heres-what-i-learned-after-my-son-died/?utm_term=.9e19aa8a376a.  Accessed March 15, 2018.

Bumps on the Rug: A Sermon on Recovery

100_5692 - CopyPhoto taken by me of an abandoned gas station somewhere in the Texas “Panhandle,” while heading to my new duty station.   My son, Ben, pictured.   October, 2007.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (New Revised Standard Version)

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
*Sermon preached on Sunday, March 11, 2018, at First Christian Church (Hampton VA), the fourth in a Lenten series drawing upon aspects of the “12-Steps” that form the basis for spiritual recovery.  In this case, Step 7.  If something resonates and deserves a private conversation, I am always available.  -Vinson
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INTRODUCTION

There is a story, perhaps familiar to you and attributed to the Cherokee, but it’s anybody’s guess as to its origins.  The only certain thing is that it’s older than the internet.  In the parable, a grandfather is having a conversation with his grandson.

He says to his grandson:  “There are two wolves inside of us that are always at war with each other.”

“One of them is a good wolf, which represents things like kindness, bravery and love.”

“The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.”

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and asks, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.”

The parable of the two wolves points out the simple truth that in life there are always two forces at work, two energies within us, if you will; what the Bible describes as the spiritual and the carnal.  “All of us,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.  But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…”

WHY I BRING THIS UP

We’ve been talking the past couple weeks about the spiritual recovery of soul and how the framework of the 12-Step recovery programs are rooted in scripture.  How they offer us a discipline to do the deep digging, healing, and equipping which defines the Lenten journey through the wilderness, if we are serious about recovery and renewal.  Having completed the personal inventory and identifying the sources of unhealthy thoughts and behavior, Step 7 invites us to formally and “humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings,” because we all have ‘em.

FOR INSTANCE

So let’s start in the assurance of a verse I suspect most of us could say from childhood memory, John 3:16.  While the rest of that passage can be a bit fuzzy, it’s that context that matters:  God chooses to love us.  Not because of what we do, but simply because we are His.  Recognizing this truth is to hear and accept God’s gracious invitation.

“Just love me,” God says.

“Love me with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.”

“See how that feels and then share the love that wells up within you with everyone until they feel it, too.  No exceptions.”

“Hanging out with me,” God says, “changes everything!”

For as we are reminded “…God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” [John 3:17].  STOP a minute.  Listen.  Let me repeat/rephrase that:  God did not send the Son into this world to condemn us or others, but instead to lead this world into community, which is precisely what will save ALL of this world.

This is the ground of comfort and THE source of strength that liberates us to do the soul-searching work – for we know God’s grace in Jesus Christ covers us.  The toughest part is in the surrender of our will to God, because we spend our lives trying to be in control.  We are called to get out of the way and ask the divine surgeon to remove the defects of character and the challenges with which we wrestle.

This is the path to true peace.  As the Letter of James tells us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” [James 4:10].  There is no “might lift us up,” but he WILL lift us up – in that surrender of the heart.

Such humility embraces an honest, open, willing life – choosing the ongoing work of letting go of our self-centeredness ever more deeply, as we move our focus outward in service to others.  It won’t happen without us being vulnerable before God and possibly people to whom we can trust our sacred story.  I am here to tell you, I don’t enjoy the experience, but discover each time I enter that it is precisely there where Christ most richly blesses.  So, yes, we may not be enthusiastic in our embrace of such transparency before God, but without it we’d just miss out on the best of what it means to be a disciple.

In “Easing the Ache,” author David Crawford describes this as the point in recovery when the “bumps in the rug” start to appear.  In other words, we may set aside one behavior or way of thinking only to let another spring up.  I refer to it as “addiction transfer,” when a less unhealthy behavior becomes the replacement, and we risk fooling ourselves.  Among those in recovery programs, it is like someone who puts down alcohol, but then accrues out of control debt, or another who stops smoking, but puts on 50 pounds as the nicotine fix is replaced with empty calories, or yet another who sexually acts out as a desire for God-given intimacy that runs out of control.

It is to do the things we “do not want to do,” as the Apostle Paul wrote, “in confession and solidarity with every Christian.” [Romans 7:20].

This is hard spiritual work — as it must get to the “why” – the root of our problems, or it will become like the “whack-a-mole” thing in arcades.  Thoughts and behavior will just pop up elsewhere in some other form.  The brokenness will remain.

This is one reason we are the church.  We exist to worship God: one key expression of worship being the support we offer one another through our life work of spiritual cleansing and growth, in counsel and prayer for one another; in walking side by side with one another through the edges of the fires we must occasionally put out..  In this relationship, per the words of the Psalmist; “this poor soul cried,… was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble” [Psalm 34:6].

And so we are called to take that leap of faith, to accept the grace overflowing, to know God’s love and acceptance in Christ.

It is, says one who has walked the walk, “to disregard these inner voices of doom and jump away from fear and toward love.  This is risky, brave, courageous, and painful, but more importantly, it is necessary.  By the time we get to,” what I would call spiritual healing, “most of us don’t feel there is any choice but to turn it all over to God one more time, just as we did when we admitted our powerlessness over our addictions and compulsions.  Now, however, we do so on an even deeper, more meaningful and profound level.  God is there with us in our suffering, hearing the cry of our soul, saving us from trouble.”

This past week, Julie pointed me to a blog about a song with a rather haunting melody, that dates to 2004 when an earthquake and tsunami swept across Asia.

In the dark night of the soul
Our broken hearts you can make whole
Oh mother mary come and carry us in your embrace
That our sorrows may be faced

In the dark night of the soul
Your shattered dreamers, make them whole
Oh mother mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace
Lead us to a higher place

Did you hear it?

Oh mother mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace.

It is that one phrase, “…when we’ve fallen out of grace…” that is often, my friends, our greatest struggle in all of this spiritual recovery work.  I’ve heard and seen enough suffering.  I think of standing in East Timor amid mass graves, burned homes and churches, and hardly a male to be found and almost no elderly – with a quarter of the population slaughtered because they were Christian.  I’ve seen and heard enough when dealing with rape victims.  I’ve seen and heard enough when dealing with miscarriages.  The list goes on and we well know it.

Too often there is a fallacy that when something tragic happens, God is punishing us:  That we’ve fallen out of grace, That our tragedy is of our own making.  Yes, there are times when we may, in fact, have a portion of culpability.  But just as often — if not more, we are simply sojourners in a world that isn’t perfect.

As the writer notes, and I will add, having been there with others too many times and even for myself on occasion, that if our first instinct is that we’ve fallen out of grace ,  then my fellow sojourners, perhaps our instincts are not serving us well.  It is time to accept at face value, the grace of our Lord.

SO WHAT?

So, I am going to suggest that no matter what we are sorting through during this Lenten season, perhaps it’s time to re-train ourselves so that it becomes instinct instead to reach to the God who weeps with us in our pain, and abides with us, cradling us in His tender hands, through the terrible times.  For then the words of the Psalmist will come to pass, and God will “put a new and right spirit within (us)” [Psalm 51:10].  AMEN.

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Pastor’s Note:  For the entire lyrics to Eliza Gilkyson’s “Requiem”, located at:  https://genius.com/Eliza-gilkyson-requiem-lyrics 

A Muscular Jesus: A Lenten Sermon

101_1628Photo taken by me, in the Naval Air Station Oceania “Chapel of the Good Shepherd,” during our gutting & reconstruction process.  It is the underside of one of the pews, after it had been disassembled, showing one of over 1,000 wads of gum counted stuck to the pews’ undersides.  December 2, 2011.

John 2:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version)

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.  23 When he was in Jerusalem during t he Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
*Sermon preached on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at First Christian Church (Hampton VA), the third in a Lenten series drawing upon aspects of the “12-Steps” that form the basis for spiritual recovery.  In this case, Step 5.  If something resonates and deserves a private conversation, I am always available.  -Vinson
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INTRODUCTION

Jesus had kicked off his ministry by performing his first public miracle, at the wedding at Cana and on its heels, Jesus and his disciples now head to Jerusalem for the Passover.  Well familiar with the Temple Mount, this would be a different encounter than others recorded in the gospels.  Unlike when he was 12 and had been found by his parents among a group of rabbis, impressing them with questions and insights, today will be different.

Focused and overflowing with zeal for the house of God, Jesus was rather muscular in his approach.  Righteous anger, the kind Paul would write of saying “Be angry, but sin not” [Ephesians 4:26, KJV], rippled through him as to the injustice and irreverence he came upon.

In the Old Testament reading for the day, Moses received the 10 precepts of living in communal relationships, to bring about a radical transformation – the short-term mission to help people get along with one another and the long-term mission being to transform a ragtag group of refugees into a unified people in relationship with God.  But among the crowds on the Temple Mount, seeing people cheated of their money and even their place to worship is infuriating to Jesus, the spirit of that earlier activity of God not apparent in the dealings he witnessed.  God’s mission of peace – living together and of one accord – was being almost gleefully flouted by greed and the disregard for human rights and dignity.  Jesus got their attention.  Flipping tables, driving animals out of the way, fashioning a whip of cords in righteous anger, Jesus got their attention.

WHY I BRING THIS UP

This jarring act, referred to as the cleansing of the Temple, stands as a powerful witness to the identity of Jesus and his call to align our lives to the values of God’s kingdom.

FOR INSTANCE

What I’ve noticed is that most commentators on this passage tend toward Jesus taking a stand “against” – either protesting financial transactions in the temple, making a statement against the Jewish sacrificial cult by driving out the animals, or against the physical manifestation of the temple vice the spiritual manifestation within Jesus’ body (and even ours) replacing this vaunted palace of stone.  I would submit that the negatives as to the temple’s economic activity, religious indiscretions, or the estimated elevation of the edifice itself only have meaning when set in contrast to the positive statement about Jesus’ identity and role in the Fourth Gospel.  Put simply, Jesus arrives on the Temple Mount less “against” anything and more specifically about being “for” the authority he was sent to represent and to reveal the true God of the temple, one whom he knows intimately as his Father, and under whose authority he now acts.

Yet, I have found myself the past days thinking a lot about a post I read of someone I served with long ago.  His life is rife with PTSD; his body is trashed with pain from injuries; and he is an atheist with a lot of anger – toward those who wear the identity of Christian.  As he put it to me recently, in a reflective post on an ethics issue of a prominent self-identified Christian and his minions: “They really are making Christians look bad.  I’m not religious but one does wonder what would Jesus do…”  The messengers are seen as the message, which has a lot to do with why he walked away.

I get his anger, sadly.

I get it when I see a seriously self-professed Christian use his position to advocate for the elimination of federal heat subsidies for those on fixed incomes – the poor, the disabled, the retired.

I get it when I see professed Christian politicians using health care for children as a bargaining chip to get their pet issues addressed in the budget.

I get it when I see chest pounding ostensible Christians behave badly and then blame their victims in the age of #metoo.

And while the tables could use a good turning on those compassionless actions, if we are to have the integrity needed to tackle these wounds to our society and with and for our fellow human beings, there is likewise the need to take a look at which table could use a good turning over within the temples of our own lives [see I Corinthians 3:16-17].  If we are to take seriously the identity of Jesus, there’s no better time than Lent for a good temple cleansing – realigning ourselves with the hope of God. The whole package, just like the 10 Commandments – our relationship with one another, ourselves, and our God.

A useful means of tackling this spiritual table turning can be found in “Step Five” of most successful recovery programs.  It’s about the tough work of admitting “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs,” after having done the searching and fearless moral inventory of Step Four.  It is to move through the prayer of Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts,” so we can put daylight onto our own.character defects.  But, like that stuff called Mercurochrome, which our moms put on our cuts and scrapes when we were kids that stung, but cured, it’s not something easy for us to embrace.  That’s often why the work isn’t tackled.  Yet the same God who inspired the words of the 23rd Psalm, “through the valley” still offers protection right alongside correction.  And aren’t we blessed that in everything there exists God’s steadfast love and mercy for each of us?

This pivotal step of table turning takes us beyond the regrets of wrongs committed, to — as the Big Book bluntly puts it – the letting go of our “terminal vagueness” of merely vowing to do better.  For, if we are to integrate new behavior into our lives that befits a closer walk with our Lord, it is to become completely clear about what exactly we did: when, where, and to whom in true confession if repentance is to have meaning.  It’s to embrace the hope of the Letter to the Hebrews [4:16], as those who “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find.[our] help in time of need.”

Called to “trust God and clean house” [Big Book, p. 98], table turning is to contemplate the list of the people and institutions we have harmed, while also addressing our own feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment.

For instance, like the speck of popcorn that gets under a gum and you feel like you need a tooth pulled, make no mistake – resentment takes an out-sized role and may well be our most difficult challenge in all of this.  I know it has been mine, as it was in writing my own master’s thesis exploring a trauma in my family of origin that allowed me to move on from 18 years of resentment.  Such honest confrontation of our own injury can equip us with newfound integrity, the freedom to express all the ways we feel we were wronged right alongside with the wrongs we have done others.  Everything.  The tables of self-rationalizations and self-justifications get tossed.

The table turning that is cleansing the temple of our hearts isn’t a one and done, if we are to truly embrace recovery of soul.  We invariably must cycle back through this process, for that is exactly what it is, much like how the scriptures speak of the dross skimmed off on the refining process, if the gold is to be purified.  I suspect that is the hidden wisdom in Lent.  It compels us once more back into the desert each year because there is always more work to be done.

Rev. Dr. Paul Bradley writes of his first pass through this table turning within, saying: “When I did my Fifth Step for the first time, I went through my pages of names… In three columns with the headers ‘I’M RESENTFUL AT…’ ‘THE CAUSE…’ and ‘AFFECTS ME…’ I listed everyone and everything that had caused my resentments, fears and anger.  In doing this, I revealed not only what I believed had been ‘done to me,’ but my own part in each situation.  I began to take responsibility for my actions.”  [“Step Five: Diving Into the Wreck, Admitting Our Wrongs,” Rev. Dr. Paul Bradley]

Amid this process, we aren’t alone.  Bradley speaks of God’s companionship equipping us in this process to be like the “deep-sea diver going into a shipwreck to discover what is submerged, metaphorically, within the diver’s own soul, both the deep truths and the false beliefs.  As we dive down past our denial into the hard truth of our behavior and its consequences, God invites us, like the diver, to expose and explore ‘the wreckage of our past.’  Diving into the wreck, we face our fears in order to understand them and, in so doing, we take away their power… “  Adding that God gives us, “just as He did His Son, the courage to go in(to) the dark places in our souls by assuring us that we will rise back up from the depths, from the wreck, newly strengthened to face whatever comes next… God is present with us through it all…”

SO WHAT?

God’s son, unblemished, and yet — as noted in Hebrews [12:1], “the pioneer and perfecter of OUR faith” – journeys side by side with us as we plumb the depths of our history to do our own work.  We have the confidence of knowing Christ’s journey – from his baptism, through his desert temptations, betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.  In Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, Lent invites us to turn the tables over – whether it is that struggle that lies within our hearts and or in the moral failings in our society that need change.  Jesus set the example: we need to go forth and reclaim – with authority and in compassion — the GOOD name of “Christian.”  We can do so, but only by and through our love!

AMEN.

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Note 1:  The "Big Book" is online at:  https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/alcoholics-anonymous.

Note 2:  Our church also is blessed to be host to an "open" AA meeting on Wednesdays at 5 PM, with all the meetings in Hampton listed at:  https://aavirginia.org/meetings?d=any&c=Hampton&v=list.  Please note, some of the meeting information may not be accurate, so best to call ahead to the host facility to confirm date and time.