Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter sermon: Missing Person Report/Found

Grace Presbyterian Church
March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday C
Luke 24:1-12

Part 1: Missing Person Report

Resurrection isn’t normal.
We have a pretty romanticized view of biblical events, sometimes, whether intentionally or not. Hollywood probably doesn’t help, with those old biblically-based movies with swelling choruses and strings when anything even remotely dramatic happens.
The current movie Risen (in theatres now) actually does one thing well; it works against this romanticizing tendency of ours when it comes to the crucifixion and resurrection. The film’s main character, a Roman military officer charged first with keeping the body of Jesus from being stolen and then with finding it once it does disappear, doesn’t have any particular reaction at the sight of Jesus on the cross except that it would be really convenient if he would go ahead and die so they could dispose of the body. The interruption of Joseph of Arimathea to claim the body actually turns out to be a convenience. Later, when the tomb turns out to be empty after a couple of days, to him it’s mostly a headache, as he knows that Governor Pilate is going to have a panic attack and make work for him.
That of course is fiction, but the biblical account that Luke gives doesn’t seem to indicate that the disciples and other followers of Jesus caught on any better. When the women showed up at the tomb and found it empty, their initial reaction was to be perplexed. No great rejoicing, no immediate epiphany of realization, just being highly confused.
The appearance of “two men in dazzling clothes” and their pointed reminder of the things that Jesus had told them does make some difference, but we don’t really get that the women have truly grasped what is going on. They do go back and report to the eleven and the others, but Luke doesn’t give us any particular indication that the women do so with any great excitement. To their eternal discredit, the disciples are even less impressed, calling the women’s story an “idle tale.” Peter, though, is at least provoked enough to go check out the tomb and verify their report.
Sure enough, he finds the tomb as the women have described it, noting the grave clothes off in a pile by themselves. But that’s all. Peter is impressed enough to be “amazed,” but all he can come up to do is go home.
It’s one thing to be perplexed or amazed. But these reactions don’t necessarily move us or change our lives. It doesn’t necessarily move you at the core of your being.
We do celebrate the empty tomb on this day. But that’s not really the main thing we celebrate.

Grace Presbyterian Church
March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday C
Luke 24: 36-49

Part 2: Found

Later on, the followers were gathered in a room, perhaps trying to make sense of what the women and then Peter had seen. Two of their number – we aren’t told who – had headed for Emmaus that day, but before too long those two came bursting into the room and telling their own story. This one was a bit different, though.
On their way they had been joined by a stranger who, though he didn’t seem to know much about what had happened, knew an awful lot about scripture and the very things Jesus had taught them many times. When they persuaded the stranger to stay and join them for a meal, the stranger took the bread and broke it – shades of that last meal a few nights before! – this was Jesus! Though the man disappeared just a moment later, the two followers had to come back to Jerusalem and share what had happened.
And then, the ultimate – Jesus himself appears before them.
And even this doesn’t seem to convince them.
Their first reaction is to be “startled and terrified.” Fair enough; their first thought was that they were seeing a ghost. Again, we somehow imagine we would recognize everything and have all those scriptures Jesus had taught would come flooding back into our minds and we would fall down and worship or something like that.
But that’s not what happens.
He challenges them to see his hands and feet, skin and bones that a ghost wouldn’t have. Here the disciples’ reaction takes a strange turn in verse 41: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” Puzzle that one out: joy, but also disbelieving. They were rejoicing and yet still couldn’t believe it. Even Jesus eating a piece of fish doesn’t quite seem to lift the fog.
In that movie Risen, that Roman officer was aggravated and inconvenienced when the body turned up missing. Sure enough, Pilate gave him the task of tracking it down before that two-bit rabbi’s disciples could start claiming that he was back from the dead. He interviews a number of people who had known the missing messiah, including Mary Magdalene and one of the disciples, Bartholomew. Their claims that this Jesus fellow really was alive fell on deaf ears until, during the search, he burst into a room where the disciples were gathered, and Jesus – the same man he had seen die on that cross – was with them. From there his life was turned inside-out, his promising military career not even a thought anymore, everything and everyone he had known out of his life.
The empty tomb matters. It startles us. It is a puzzle and a challenge to our logic, it disturbs and throws us off. But it isn’t the empty tomb that undoes us. The stone rolled away and the body gone is a challenge, but it doesn’t change our lives. In Luke’s story, only the risen Christ does that.
The risen Christ. That’s what – who – we encounter on this day. That is why this day matters, why it’s worth all the bother and effort. An empty tomb is not what we follow. It is the Christ, the Son of God, the one who lived so that we would see what God wanted of us, who taught how to live and how to love and how to care for the world and one another, the one who was crucified and yet did not stay dead. It is Christ, risen and living, that is our salvation and hope.
For the Christ, risen and living, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (PH ’90): “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (113), “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” (123)

Credit: Nobody believes nuthin'

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday sermon: Making ready

Grace Presbyterian Church
March 24, 2016, Maundy Thursday C
Exodus 11:1-4, 11-14; Luke 22:7-23

Making Ready

Jesus knew what was coming. Again I say, you didn’t have to be the Son of God to know that between the religious authorities and the Romans, Jesus’s time was short on this earth.
And as one of his last acts, Jesus was bound and determined to host a really good Passover meal.
While Judas is out conspiring with the chief priests and scribes (and with Satan, as Luke tells it in the first six verses of this chapter), our scripture for this evening begins with Jesus giving Peter and John an assignment to go and make preparations for a meal for the first night of Passover, a meal which Jesus says in verse 15 he had “earnestly desired” to have with his disciples. Apparently it was important enough to Jesus to go out of his way to make advance arrangements for a room for observing Passover, and to send the two disciples who had been his right-hand men for so much of his ministry.
Peter and John are sent to look for a sign that doesn’t sound like much, but in context would have been hard to miss. A man carrying a water jar was not typical – women were the ones more likely to be performing that task – so Jesus was giving them a clue that was hard to miss. They indeed follow the carrier and he indeed leads them to the place where a room has already been prepared.
The story is not dissimilar to the one we heard on Sunday, in which Jesus sent two disciples to fetch a colt for the ride into Jerusalem. Jesus, it seems, has been going to great pains for his disciples in this week in Jerusalem.
And so the disciples find the room, and presumably make the preparations for the Passover. This wouldn’t be unfamiliar to them; any good Jewish adult would have been familiar with the instructions for this festival, a portion of which we heard in the reading from Exodus earlier. They would have experienced it numerous times in their lives by now. This would be the one that would stay with them, though, for the rest of their lives.
If Jesus knew what was coming, his disciples might not have been so clear on it, or so willing to admit to it. Thus the meal being shared that evening, one last meal together, became Jesus’s one last chance to tell them, to leave them with an act that would bind them together, and bind them to him, and indeed bind all of the church together.
But perhaps the most striking thing about this meal, as Luke portrays it, is found in verse 21. Jesus’s betrayer is at the table with them. In case there was any doubt that Jesus knew what was going on, he dispels it right in the middle of this most dramatic moment of sharing, leaving the bread and the cup as his bond to them as they had shared so many meals across their time together, leaving them new meaning for the ordinary stuff of bread and wine; in the midst of this he names his betrayal.
Not his betrayer, though. Let’s be honest: Jesus could have identified Judas by name and his disciples might well have torn him limb from limb. Instead, the meal and the meaning are shared, with Judas’s identity as the betrayer not revealed until later that night, in the garden.
Peter and John could not know this as they followed Jesus’s instructions, making ready for the observance of Passover. They were simply doing as Jesus told them to do, getting everything together for a meal with Jesus and the disciples. While that preparation might have been a little odd, it certainly couldn’t prepare them for what was to come.
They weren’t given the latitude to decide who was in and who was out for the meal. Peter and John may have made many of the preparations, but Jesus was still the host.
Jesus didn’t tip them off as to what Judas was up to at the same time. They couldn’t know that one of their own was going to collude with those religious authorities to betray Jesus to the Romans. For that matter, Peter didn’t get tipped off to his own denial to come later, deep into the night, when three times he would deny even knowing Jesus, much less being a disciple.
If you want to look at this one way, neither Peter nor Judas had any business being at that table. If you go by our way of defining who is “worthy” or who “deserves” to be seated at Jesus’s culminating meal, both of them would have been barred, told to go away.
And yet Jesus served them, shared the cup and the bread with them, even knowing that Peter would deny him, even knowing the woeful end to which Judas would come after committing his act of betrayal. This final message was entrusted to them nonetheless. This final bond did not exclude them.
Coming to this table is a good time for self-examination and repentance; this much is true. However, we need to lose the idea that we can ever be “worthy” at this table. This side of our eternal reunion with Christ, we will never be “worthy” to be at this table. Our rebelliousness, our disobedience, our unwillingness to follow where Christ leads clings to us. We do not ever make ourselves worthy. We can’t. Only in the loving graciousness of Jesus Christ do we ever have any business coming to this table. And the  Christ who did not turn away the conspirator who was even then hastening his own death, nor the bumbler who would deny his very presence in Jesus’s life, is not turning us away.
And so, here is the table, unguarded, no gates or walls around it. Christ simply bids us to make ready, to share the bread and the cup, to know that it is Christ who bids us come and eat. We may yet end up in Peter’s shoes. We may yet end up in our own denial or betrayal of the Christ we love and serve. But Christ does not send us away from the table, no matter how unworthy we know ourselves to be, or how unworthy Christ knows us to be.
Christ bids us come and eat. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (PH ’90): “An Upper Room Did Our Lord Prepare” (94); “Now To Your Table Spread” (515), “For the Bread Which You Have Broken” (508)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Meditation: The Walk

Grace Presbyterian Church
March 20, 2016, Palm Sunday C
Luke 19:28-40, 23:1-56

The Walk

Jesus had to know what he was getting into. He just had to.
And I don’t think knowing what he was getting into was contingent on being the Son of God. Anyone who got so crosswise of the authorities of that time and place – be it the Temple authorities or the Roman authorities – had to know punishment was going to come, and it was going to be swift and harsh. It always did.
As if it wasn’t clear, Mary had offered up the pungent reminder found in last week’s gospel reading; in anointing Jesus’s feet she was enacting a procedure typically part of a burial ritual.  The aroma of the ointment might still have been clinging to Jesus’s feet just a little, even after more miles of hard dusty road and – at this moment – the smells of donkey and crowds and shed garments strewn across the road.
Nonetheless Jesus had made his way from Bethany, home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, to Jerusalem. He had kept telling parables and teaching, getting challenged by religious authorities, thronged by crowds. Luke tells us about the visit to Jericho and the encounter with Zacchaeus, the vertically challenged tax collector who ended up planning to give away a lot of his possibly ill-gotten gain. He tells what used to be called the “parable of the talents” to dissuade his followers from expecting the imminent, immediate appearance of the kingdom of God. And then this “triumphal” entry, one in which all the symbols were wrong for a real triumph. A donkey was a poor substitute for a strong war horse, after all.
Still, the throng paraded onward.
Still, for now at least, the cheering and chanting.
How soon that would change.
He would be barely into Jerusalem, as Luke tells it, before he entered the Temple and started driving out the moneychangers and freaking out and flipping tables. He continued to teach, even as the religious authorities kept trying to tear him down. He thwarted them again and again with parables about wicked tenants and unimpeachable answers to trick questions. He brought out some of his hardest teachings for these last days – teachings about end times, destruction of the sacred places, imprecations to watch. He shared a last meal with his disciples, even as the authorities plotted to kill him. And at the last he was arrested, tried, and executed, as disciples and friends ran away or denied him outright.
And this is the walk. This, yes, this is the walk that Jesus calls us to walk.
At the risk of seeming to undercut the choir, that particular song does have it backwards in a way. We want Jesus to walk with us? Funny, Jesus calls us to walk with him.
Yes, this same walk that ended up in Jesus’s crucifixion, the inevitable culmination of a walk that without fail went out of the way to bring good news to society’s most marginalized, most despised, most least people. It’s the kind of walk that doesn’t bring about popularity among the elites or the wealthy, and is likely to get us sucker-punched or worse when we suggest that love is to be more desired than hate. If we do it right we may get harassed or demeaned or harmed or beaten or killed or, maybe worst of all, ignored.
And this is the walk that Jesus calls us to walk with him.
[sung]: Jesus calls us to walk with him/Jesus calls us to walk with him/All along this pilgrim journey/Jesus calls us to walk with him.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (PH ’90):
All Glory, Laud, and Honor (88)
My Song Is Love Unknown (76)
O Lamb of God Most Holy (82)
Calvary (96)
Ah, Holy Jesus (93)
Were You There (102)
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (98)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sermon: A Psalm of Remembering

Grace Presbyterian Church
March 13, 2016, Lent 5C
Psalm 126; Luke 12:1-8

A Psalm of Remembering

It might be labeled in your Bible as “A Song of Ascents,” which on the surface might not make much sense. After all, there is not any particular thing in the text that seems to suggest ascending or going up.
In this case, that heading is actually a practical instruction: this is a psalm deemed suitable for that point in a Temple service at which the liturgical procession goes up, or “ascends,” to the altar. In effect, it’s like those headings you might notice on the hymns in our hymnal, headings that indicate a particular occasion or part of the service or theme for which the hymn might be particularly suitable.
Loosely, such a term becomes metaphorically applicable outside the immediate context; for example, an occasion on which a person might have traveled to Jerusalem, especially for a particularly momentous event or occasion, might get likened to that ascent in the Temple. Jesus’s final journey into Jerusalem, for example, might be considered an ascent as well, particularly as Jerusalem is set on a hill. Thus today’s psalm is deemed appropriate for pairing with today’s gospel reading, in which Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus) breaks out an expensive oil and anoints Jesus’s feet with it, an act hinting at the death that would mark the culmination of Jesus’s forthcoming ascent to Jerusalem.
Still, the psalm does have its own message for us, but one that is easily misinterpreted or misconstrued. It is a psalm that calls us to remember, but not to be imprisoned by what we remember. It seems to hint at lament that is not made explicit, but calls us to experience not only the tears, but also joy – joy for what, we do not yet know.
Psalm 126 divides pretty neatly into two parts, of three verses each, which seem to be in contrast to one another but are ultimately dependent on each other. The first three verses have a clear focus: remembering, calling to mind the provision of the Lord for the people and rejoicing in the Lord’s great deeds.
In its original context the psalm seems to evoke the return of the people of Israel from exile. That first verse is a vivid evocation of the experience of the returning exile, who after years in captivity can hardly believe her or his sight at the home from which the people had been forcibly removed so many years before. “We were like those who dream,” indeed, but the sight was oh, so real. Mouths filled with laughter, tongues overflowed with words of rejoicing. The nations looked on and saw, and chalked it up to the God who had “done great things for them.” In all the perceivable ways of the world, it was an amazing time to be one of the Israelite people.
Somehow, by the time we get to verse 4, things are different. When your first word is ‘restore,’ it’s a pretty good sign that something is amiss.
At this point many preachers and churches and authors would launch into a sermon about our need to go back. We need to “get back to the Bible” (whatever that means). We long for the glory days when churches were always full. Maybe we even decide that we need to “make the church great again” (again, whatever that means). We somehow decide that the answer is in something behind us, whether that something even truly existed or not. After a little more than a year here I’ve started to hear some of those stories about the glory days of this congregation, the full sanctuary, the busy preschool, the robust choir, all the ways in which the church thrived. It’s inevitable that there will be a longing to “go back” to those days, to restore that golden age.
That’s not what the psalmist says, though. That’s not what Jesus does in the gospel reading. And that’s not what Lent teaches us, as we draw towards its close. What needs restoring isn’t some past golden age; what needs restoring is us.
We are like a dried-out riverbed, in the Negeb. That’s a desert region in the southern part of Israel. It is rocky and arid. For a large part of the typical year, June until October, the region gets no rain. There are riverbeds that run through parts of that desert region, even though they remain dry and empty for so much of the year, though.
But when the rains do come, what once was dry and arid and seemingly lifeless suddenly springs to life. Waters rush through the wadi. Plants and animals appear and are nourished by the flowing waters. Such is the restoration for which the psalmist cries out. Restore our fortunes? Restore our lives. Restore the rains by which we are nourished by you.
It’s not as if God intentionally cuts us off from such refreshing, though. It’s like the old hymn (the one we’ll sing after this sermon) says: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it/Prone to leave the God I love.” We aren’t so good at being faithful. We get caught up in our own desires, our passions, maybe our nostalgia for those dimly remembered glory days. We cut ourselves off. We dry up. Life ebbs from us spiritually even as we keep walking around bodily.
So we call out for the Lord to “restore.” We cry out to be able to sing songs of joy again. We remember. And this is what the Lord does; the Lord restores, but not by going back in time. The people of Israel don’t get to go back in time and return to the experience of those first returnees from exile; they are restored to go forward. And so are we, no matter how much we might wish to go back.
Howard Wallace, an Australian pastor and biblical scholar, puts it this way;
In this Lenten season, Psalm 126 leaves us with a call to be like dreamers, those whose lives are shaped not by the limits of our experiences but by the hidden reality of what God has already declared will be. It also leaves us with a tremendous sense of joy in ‘coming home’ as we journey with the tears of this earthly experience toward Easter.

Our remembering is not driven, when we’re doing it right, by an urge to return to our past; it is driven by the desire to be restored by God to live in God’s present.
After all, was that golden age we remember so well really that golden all around? For example, it’s not that uncommon these days in our civil discourse to hear the suggestion that our country needs to be restored to some past time when it was, oh, let’s say “great.” Maybe different people have different ideas about when that was; sort it out for yourself. But there’s a pretty good chance, given the history of this country, that this remembered “greatness” didn’t extend to everybody; that some significant portion of the country lived in a special kind of hell when the rest of us were living high off the hog.
So it is with the church, and maybe even with our church. All too often the remembered “golden ages” of the church universal or particular or local were times in which the church was more factional than universal, when Sunday morning worship hour earned its designation as the most segregated hour in the country, and when the church took all that influence and wealth it accumulated and spent it on tall pointy steeples and Sunday blue laws and making sure the poor were safely hidden out of sight, lest our delicate sensibilities be offended.
Get this if you get nothing else: God has zero interest in the church or our church returning to those times. None. The only “glory days” in which God has an interest for the church are days yet to come.
Jesus doesn’t turn around from Bethany and go back to the itinerant-preacher life in Galilee; he leaves Bethany and goes to Jerusalem, knowing how that ascent would turn out even before Mary’s pungent reminder. The psalmist doesn’t call the people to live off past crops and indulge in nostalgia; we are charged to sow this year’s seeds, to bring in this year’s harvest, and to do it with joy. And if we truly remember to be restored in God, that’s what we’ll do.
This church has no idea what’s next. I wish I did, but apparently prophecy isn’t one of my spiritual gifts. It will be different, though, if for no other reason that the town around us will be different. The neighborhood around us will be different. The county and state and country around us will be different. We can no more stop that than we can go over to Daytona Beach and stop the tide from coming in or going out. And a 1950s church would be utterly pointless in 21st-century Gainesville.
We remember because God has been and is and will be faithful to us. We remember because we have been rescued and restored and returned from exile in ways we probably don’t even realize. We don’t remember to go back; we remember because it’s time to go ahead, led by the Lord who has been and is and will be faithful.
As another biblical scholar, Beth Tanner, says:
We know that Easter comes every year, but what will be the content of the shouts of joy we are waiting to say? How will God return to us and/or restore us? We will follow the ascent to Jerusalem to discover what God has in store for us.

There’s a new harvest to be gathered. Let us remember the Lord who restores us, and go to it.
For remembering that drives us forward, Thanks be to God. Amen. 

Hymns (PH ’90): “From All That Dwell Below the Skies” (229), “When God Delivered Israel” (237), “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (356), “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley” (80)

Sowing with tears, reaping with shouts of joy

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sermon: A Psalm of Repentance and Wisdom

Grace Presbyterian Church
March 6, 2016, Lent 4C
Psalm 32; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

A Psalm of Repentance and Wisdom

For a biblical collection so often associated with comfort and peace and all manner of other feel-good words, the Psalms can certainly throw down some difficult and challenging ideas at us sometimes.
You may recall from last week’s sermon the word “dependence.” Not a word we like very much, living in a place and time where we are raised on being independent and self-reliant and all that. But if dependence is an idea we don’t like very much, then repentance is one we don’t like at all.
Oh, we talk about it regularly enough. We do include a Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon – maybe the most important thing that ever happens in a worship service – in our service each week, like most Presbyterian churches. And confession is important. It’s needful. It’s a first and absolutely necessary step to take when confronted with the goodness of God and our sinfulness.
Notice how the psalmist describes the lack of confession in verse three of today’s psalm. “While I kept silence” – that is to say, while I did not confess my sin, while I continued to think my sin was something I could hide and keep to myself – “my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.” Now that’s a striking enough image, but the psalmist is not through. “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Now in this part of the country we know what it is to be “dried up as by the heat of the summer.” Energy is gone; strength is gone; it seems there’s nothing left but to wilt and wither away. And that’s how the psalmist remembers living in un-confessed sin.
So, the psalmist makes a choice: to confess to God, to acknowledge the sinfulness, to no longer try to hide what was consuming and destroying all the life within. The psalmist confesses to the Lord, and God forgives. Almost three verses to acknowledge the sinfulness and articulate confession, and forgiveness in eight words. It’s almost as if God is just itching to forgive us if we would just get out of the way.
Now as noted above, confession is good and needful, and – as verse 5 makes clear – brings forgiveness. All good. In the very familiar gospel reading for the day the runaway brother has the “confession” thing down pat. He’s got it rehearsed and prepared and ready to break out the moment he sees his father in the distance. Again, it’s all good.
But the word in the title of this sermon, the really unpleasant word of the day, isn’t “confession.” It’s “repentance,” and that’s a word that goes well beyond straightforward confession.
Repentance begins with confession – the acknowledgment of our sin and our sinfulness. Later in the New Testament the Apostle Paul will call himself the “chief of sinners.” The prophet Isaiah called himself a “man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” Confession is necessary, but there is another step waiting to be taken.
Repentance goes beyond confession, in that acknowledging a sin or acknowledging one’s sinfulness is good, but there’s nothing about confessing sin that even indicates you won’t continue in that sin. It’s one thing to confess “I stole that”; it’s another thing even to utter the words “I stole that, and I won’t do that again.”
Repentance goes one more step; beyond merely saying “I stole that, and I won’t do it again,” repentance is about life being amended, course reversed, so that you don’t do it again.
Notice I didn’t say “changing your life,” because any one of us knows darn well that sinful people don’t have what it takes to do that changing all by ourselves. Repentance requires being submitted and broken and remade, being instructed as the psalmist describes in verse 8 and forward, where the perspective of the psalm shifts.
It’s not necessarily clear if the psalm from verse 8 to the end is now being spoken directly by the Lord, or by one who has undergone what the psalm describes earlier and is now instructing the confessing one. I’d say the paraphraser of the psalm we just sang went with option one, but it works reasonably well either way. Repentance requires submitting to instruction and guidance and receiving and accepting counsel; it means putting our stubbornness aside; it requires trusting in the Lord. Ah, there’s that word again, from a couple of weeks ago – being able to lean upon God even though we aren’t in that position of confidence in doing so. Sometimes trusting in the Lord happens simply because you have no options left.
And wisdom? Well, this is wisdom: to receive instruction and guidance and counsel and put away the stubbornness and selfishness, and to trust in the Lord. To listen so devoutly and devotedly for the Lord’s instruction, to be helped by others who been there and been through it; this is wisdom.
You know this puts a burden on all of us, right? Not just to repent ourselves, but to be there for the one who repents, laying aside the chance to gloat or rub it in and instead submitting ourselves to be the ones through whom the Lord leads and guides and instructs and counsels the repentant one. Really, that’s how this works. We care for one another; we are there to lift up when one of us falls, rather than piling on the guilt and shame. And if we can’t do that, well, that’s something else to repent. If we can’t do that perhaps our repentance is not quite complete.
Coming before the table, receiving the unwarranted and undeserved providence of God, is and should be a time in which we are called to confession and repentance. The gift of the table is free; nonetheless, to be before the utter goodness and grace of God needs to be a time of repentance – not because we’re going to be struck dead if we don’t, but because if we can’t see our need for repentance in the presence of the Lord who breaks the bread and pours the cup and shares his very life with us, it might just mean we’re already dead inside.
So as the old preachers used to say, examine yourselves. Don’t flinch. Look deep. Look hard. Find the un-repented places. In repentance there is pain, yes. But also in repentance is wisdom and joy.
And for the painful joy of repentance, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (PH ’90): “Let Us With a Gladsome Mind” (244); “How Blest Are Those” (184); “I Come With Joy” (507); “What Wondrous Love Is This” (85)

Credit: Repentance isn't quite like this...