As the Lenten Season begins, I give thanks for several things. First, I give thanks that God is out of the smiting business. Second, I give thanks that I know the end of this story. (Spoiler Alert: The end of the story is Resurrection.)
For all the people who talk about the Old Testament God who smites wrongdoing and wrongdoers, who turns people to salt, and feeds them to whales and banishes them from the garden, let a collective “whew, that was close” ring out. Our story does not end there. Even though there are some among us who have taken upon themselves the role of the smiter and banisher, essentially assuming the role of the angry God who burns witches and crucifies the righteous; they are not the end of the story either.
A colleague poured out his heart in a letter to his church. In his first draft he used the word “punitive” in describing the actions passed by the recent General Conference. I encouraged him to drop the punitive language. I was wrong. Punitive is just the right word to describe what happened. In fact, everything that happened felt punishing. You have heard it said, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Today, I say to you, “That is entirely wrong; words are our greatest instrument of harm.”
Now it appears that the church is in clean up mode, working to find language that mitigates the harm done, working to keep the ship upright until the tides turn. Damage control takes energy and thoughtfulness. Sad that our time will be spent in something that should not have happened in the first place. Clean up is something we do with untrained puppies. Clean up is what they do at Walmart when a bottle breaks on aisle three. There is broken glass, and wine is spilling out over all the floor like blood.
We will be known for our deeds. We will be known in our words, our actions and our countenances. In the Lenten Season we are invited to the Great Examen. Where have I failed and fallen short of the glory of God? Where have I failed to love my neighbor as myself? Where have I been the one who denied grace to another human being? Only when I clean up my own life will I be able to clean up someone else’s.
For all the years I lived at home, I shared a bedroom with my sister. We had twin beds, a dresser apiece, and about half of the area of the room. One of us was messy. The other was neat. (She was the neat one… Confession 101). Often we drew an imaginary line between our beds to mark our hypothetical turf. We would avoid each other, shame each other, mock each other, but at the end of the day the imaginary wall between us would go away. When we realized that our spat was actually over fairly temporary and silly things, and that we had underlying deep love for one another, we could lay it down, and lie down in our little beds under the same ceiling.
Real clean up involves confession and repentance and forgiveness. Reformation and transformation are hard work. But that’s the business God is in; it’s called grace. Let us not be afraid. God is with us. Thank God for God!