SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Forgiveness

Lent is About Discipleship: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

"Jesus in the French Quarter" © 2012 Todd Rossnagel

This past Sunday I had the great joy of baptizing three month old Jane. It is always an honor to gather people around these important times in their life. As she laid quietly in her mother’s arms I asked her mom to renew her own baptismal promises and to make a covenant to raise Jane into her baptism.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?

(The United Methodist Hymnal, p 34)

Living into these promises takes the community into which we have been initiated and it takes intentionality and a constant rehearsal of what these promises mean. After all renouncing, rejecting, and repenting takes the continued work of the Spirit in us, accepting, resisting and confessing requires the same.

So as I poured water upon her head I wondered if we ourselves recognized the magnitude of what was happening here? As we welcomed another into our community of the baptized, did we see it as an entrance into the community of those who have made covenant to the Lordship of Christ, to the way of sanctification?

Each time I begin ministry with a new congregation I am thankful for the season of Lent. Here in Louisiana it is common for many to give something up, chocolate, cokes, alcohol . . . As I enter these new spaces I remind the community of something that has transformed my own Lenten journey: Lent is not primarily about giving up instead, at its core, is about discipleship, about those who are preparing to make baptismal vows and our renewal of those vows in light of Easter.

This Lenten season I am thinking about Jane, about how we as a community of believers will model for her the meaning of what John Wesley called Christian perfection, our journey towards a fully sanctified life.  How do we help one another open ourselves to the work of God’s Spirit in sanctification? How do we allow our worship, our devotional life, our service to the world shape our souls into reconciling love? How do we grow into justice seeking, forgiveness, and radical hospitality?

So it begins today, with our recognition of our humanity and our need for divine grace. It begins with God’s invitation to change our hearts and life, to turn from sin and death, and believe the good news. It begins with our gathering as God’s people and the mark of our baptism being made visible.

Here we go again Jane, your family is about to begin a journey we’ll take together for the rest of our lives. A journey into the promise of our constant conversion, our perfection in love, our sanctification, the Risen Lord made evident in us, for the life of the world!

Let us observe our Lent thus, giving our sufferings, our bloodshed, our sorrow the same value that Christ gave to his own condition of poverty, oppression, abandonment, and injustice. Let us change all that into the cross of salvation that redeems the world and our people. And with hatred for none, let us be converted and share both joys and material aids, in our poverty, with those who may be even needier.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Reflections on Leaving – Part 4: Forgiveness

It’s amazing what you find when cleaning out your office: messages, meeting minutes, worship bulletins, things done, things left undone. It is hard to pack and clean up an office when every other piece of paper is an opportunity to stop and reflect on your pastoral ministry.

I pride myself in my hard work. I love being a pastor: preaching, teaching, leading, gathering, sharing good news are the highlights of my pastoral life. I get up every morning thinking about my calling and how to be faithful to its rhythms. Then I find the evidence as I try to pack . . . maybe I did not work hard enough, try enough, take enough risks, maybe I could have done better.

No wonder the short Order of Farewell to a Pastor in the United Methodist Book of Worship includes these words:

I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I have made.
As I leave, I carry with me all that I have learned here.

Admitting our pastoral failures is hard. There were visits forgotten, phone calls not made, classes not taught, sermons not prepared for, and meetings not attended. There were also unkind words said, people ignored, and soap boxes preached. There are signs and symbols of all of these in shreds of paper and notes all over my office. Each of them a reminder that God’s grace is truly sufficient, that in the end the Spirit of God was at work through my humanity.

Then there are those unfulfilled plans and broken dreams. Expectations were high, mine and many others, forgiveness of ourselves is also needed.

Although difficult cleaning out is needed. It helps heal the wounds, however small, of life together. As I throw away, pack, and give away, I am reminded of the landscape that I have walked. Each moment becomes a confession, each moment a prayer, each moment provides a new awareness of God’s grace.

A Suffering Savior: Lenten Blog Tour 2011

6 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him
all our crimes.
7 He was oppressed and tormented,
but didn’t open his mouth.
Like a lamb being brought to slaughter,
like a ewe silent before her shearers,
he didn’t open his mouth.
8 Due to an unjust ruling he was taken away,
and his fate-who will think about it?
He was cut off from the land of the living,
struck dead because of my people’s rebellion,
9 His grave was among the wicked,
his tomb with evildoers,
though he had done no violence,
and had spoken nothing false.
10 But the Lord wanted to crush him and to make him suffer.
If his life is offered a as restitution,
he will see his offspring;
he will enjoy long life.
The Lord’s plans will come to fruition through him.
11 After his deep anguish he will see light,
and he will be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant,
will make many righteous,
and will bear their guilt.

Isaiah 53:6-11 (Common English Bible)

"Crucifixion" by Giotto Assisi

We have all wondered away, says the prophet, done what we wanted to do, lived the way we have wanted to live, made decisions. Maybe we have not realized that we have wondered away, our lives might not be full of self-determination, or the ability to choose differently. We have lived separate lives, “each going its own way.” One way or the other humanity has not lived up to the wholeness of God’s intent, to the possibility of new creation.

Who shall rescue us from such a place?

According to the writer of Isaiah, it is not who we might suspect. This “savior” is not coming with power like we are familiar with: violence, manipulation, control, intimidation. Our return to God’s place is dependent on one who carries our brokenness, who suffers our fate, and who takes our sin.

Sin is not something we are comfortable talking about. Missing the mark is something we would rather mention about someone else. They need salvation, they need repentance, they need to be restored. We are not good about “bearing each other’s burdens” or suffering on behalf of others. At this point, Ash Wednesday, with our confessions, I’m sorry’s, and promises, seems so long ago.

Now we are reaching a point in the story we can no longer ignore. We have been focusing on our own practices, learning about the meaning of discipleship, and preparing for Easter. But before we can celebrate we have to once again face our mortality, face our brokenness, and acknowledge that God became one of us so that we could be restored, so that we would not have to die. We also need to remember that the call of discipleship at its core is a call to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus.

Maybe this is what caught the attention of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). A savior who is a suffering servant does not make sense. “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this?” asks the eunuch. Thankfully the Christian community had already answered the question for themselves. They had mined the wisdom of the prophets and had interpreted the utterances in light of their experience of Jesus. Philip, as a follower of the way, proclaims the good news and the eunuch immediately wants to receive baptism.

There are many today who might read this text and wonder who the prophet is talking about? What kind of savior is this? As we enter these last days, the most difficult days, of the Christian salvation narrative let us not miss an opportunity to tell the story, so that others will be able to be rescued from sin and death, so that others will be able to find their way home.

______________________________

It has been a blessing to be part of CEB‘s Lenten Blog Tour. Do not miss yesterday’s post by Tracey Bianchi & tomorrow’s by Jennifer Grant.

Bible in 90 – Day 77: Confessional

Then he breathed on them and said,, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.’

John 20:22-23 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Many of us protestants have a confession phobia. We acknowledge that we need forgiveness but the idea of someone to “hear” our confession and pronounce absolution sounds too “Roman Catholic” and after all, we tell ourselves, “all I need to do is go to Jesus in private prayer and I can receive forgiveness that way.” Is that  all we need to find forgiveness?

This passage always fascinates me because it puts forgiveness in the hands of the apostles, the leaders of the Christian community. They are to be bearers of forgiveness to those that they encounter, their authority for such work comes from Holy Spirit. If they pronounce forgiveness then people will find it, if they do not then people will not. No “standards” are given or guidelines, I guess the Spirit will be the guide.

I know that the idea of someone hearing our confession is scary. Confession places us in a vulnerable place, our hearts poured out, our “secrets” revealed. This responsibility could easily be abused. It would be easier to keep it to ourselves, just between us and God but does it help us to be renewed?

In the best case scenario all Christians should be part of a community of forgiveness. These communities would be places where we can be accountable to one another for our growth in grace, including confession, but also the declaration that we are forgiven. At times this community could call us to task when our behavior does not align with our baptismal covenant, when we fail to live up to the promise we made at our baptism/confirmation/profession of faith.

In my life I have been blessed to find these communities of forgiveness and accountability. Spiritual directors, covenant groups, spiritual friends, have helped me find forgiveness but also find my way back to God at times when I have failed. This direction, restoration, and growth in grace would not have been possible if I would have just “confessed my sins to Jesus.” I am thankful that I made myself vulnerable and was willing to share my difficult journey with others.

I believe that our Christian faith calls us to such communities of forgiveness and growth in grace. So let us find these communities and claim the power of the Spirit given to us to help each other find forgiveness, restoration, and growth in love of God and neighbor. May these communities become our confessional!

Reconciliation: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

The invitation to Lent in the United Methodist ritual reminds us that Lent “was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church.”

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Lent, like spring, is a time of new beginning, a time of blooming, a time of restoration. The winter season is past, the dryness, coldness, and darkness of winter is replaced by a new creation, beautiful, colorful, full of life.

It makes sense that we gather on Ash Wednesday to be reconciled. Maybe we do not consider any of our actions “serious sins,” maybe our doings were more mundane: a bad attitude, a strong word, a lack of understanding. Whatever it was if we are honest with ourselves we recognize that it placed us outside, it hindered relationship with God, others, or both.

The Christian tradition calls us constantly to be reconciled. At the core of our story of faith is the idea that God sent a savior so that we could be restored, we could be reconciled to God and to each other. A relationship was broken, something needed to be done so God provided the way. Those of us who have experienced reconciliation, are now called to be about the ministry of reconciliation in the world (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Reconciliation cannot be taken lightly. It requires more than an “I’m sorry,” or even an “I’ll never do it again,” it takes a changed heart, a transformed spirit, a gift of grace. Left to our own devices we would either never reconcile, too proud to acknowledge any wrongdoing, or jump to a superficial reconciliation, where no one does the difficult work, the soul work, required for a truly renewed relationship.

Because of its difficulties any attempt at reconciliation begins with self-examination. How have our actions or inaction broken our relationships? How have our attitudes and ways of life become hindrances to experiencing life as a gift, to experience others as gifts, to experience God as the source of all that is? What needs to change in us in order for reconciliation to take place? These are difficult questions that necessitate a community, a community of reconciliation, to help each of us lean into the answers that will restore us.

Reconciliation requires repentance. Before the Eucharist

“we confess that we have not loved [God] with our whole heart, have failed to be an obedient church, have not done [God’s] will, have broken [God’s] law, have rebelled against [God’s] love, have not loved our neighbors, and have not heard the cry of the needy.” (The United Methodist Hymnal)

We have proven time and time again to be self centered, have refused to live life for the common good as a community, and in our personal lives have behaved in ways that mirror our communal failings, both publicly and privately. In confessing we acknowledge our repentance and our desire to begin again.

Reconciliation requires penance. Although not very popular in the world today, penance is the activity of repentance. The penitent seeks to make things right that have been wrong. Penitential actions are much more than words said, or religious duty, but are the natural response to our recognition that our actions or inaction have caused brokenness in ourselves or others.

The means of grace provide for our continued ministry of reconciliation. It would be difficult for any of us to not seek reconciliation if we are immersed in the worship of God (with its call to make peace with our neighbor each Sunday), partaking of the Eucharist (with its continual telling of the story of our faith), studying and meditating on scripture, doing work of justice and peace in our community, and gathering with other believers to be accountable for our life of faith.

May the sign on our forehead become the visible sign of our desire to be reconciled again and again to God, to our neighbor, and to our true selves. May we be reconciled and become agents of reconciliation in the world. Let us repent! And believe the Gospel!

Bible in 90 – Day 34: Confession

While Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the House of God, a very great crowd of Israelites gathered about him, men, women, and children; the people were weeping bitterly.

Ezra 10:1

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

The people had failed again in spite of their return. Time and time again they went back to the foreign gods and to the ways of the nations around them who did not worship the Lord.

Ezra finds himself frustrated and tired of the constant failures of his people. In spite of all that God had done they continued to be disobedient by ignoring the commands of the Lord. Out of this frustration he, like many leaders of the people before him, bows down to the Lord and seeks restoration for the people.

As the leader confesses the people’s hearts are stirred and they grieve over their disobedience and vow to return to the precepts of the Lord.

As I leader I don’t remember a time when I have confessed sins on behalf of the community. I have apologized, clarified, and tried to make right, but never confessed. In fact, before reading this part of Ezra today I was weary of institutional acts of repentance and questioned their efficacy in bringing about change.

As I read today I became open to the possibility that a leaders’ confession and intercession for his/her people could make a difference. That if leaders modeled grief over our living off the mark, if we mourn how often we fail in living into our calling, and made that grief public before God and the community the Spirit of God might just begin to convict the hearts and true communal repentance could indeed be possible.

May we who are leaders of faith communities be open to a leadership that is centered not just on proclamation but also on confession. May we grieve openly and intercede on behalf of God’s people daily as we seek for our continual growth in grace as God’s people.

Bible in 90 – Day 14: Debt

Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts. This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that he claims from his fellow; he shall not dun his fellow or kinsman, for the remission proclaimed is of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 15:1-3

A year ago we finally got tired of debt. Shannon and I had accumulated a nice amount in the 8 years we had been married and the minimum payments were not getting us anywhere. Where was Deuteronomy when we needed it!

Obviously it really does not pay “to Discover.” Credit card companies and student loan people are not interested in forgiving debt. The longer you have it the more money they make.  We knew that something had to give, that we had to find a way to begin digging out of the whole we had gotten ourselves into.

Enter Financial Peace University. I had heard about it for a few years and decided that if we were in debt, tired of it, and it was not going to be forgiven then maybe there were others in the same situation. Soon we had a group of 18 families who join us at the church for 13 weeks to learn how to handle our money so that our future would be better.

The answer was not easy, we had to create a really tight budget in order to free some money to begin knocking down the debt. We took a deep breath and made the adjustments needed, at first we were only able to free $100 extra, soon the debt began to finally go down.

Our debts were not forgiven but we found a community to help us stay accountable to a tight budget and a change of lifestyle. We still have a ways to go but we can finally see the light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Although it does not pay to “Discover” it does pay to live simply, to live below the means provided, to be good stewards of God’s gifts to us!

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If you live near Squyres UMC in Ragley, join us for our next Financial Peace University class starting Monday, February 21 at 5:30 pm. Click here to register online!

 

Bible in 90 – Day 3: Forgiveness

[Jacob] himself went on ahead and bowed low to the ground seven times until he was near his brother. Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.

Genesis 33:3-4 (TANAKH)

Forgiveness is easier said than done. It’s one of those things that most of us know to do but few of us are willing to do it when something serious happens in our life.

At times those closest to us can hurt us the most. They know us, know our weaknesses and the right buttons to push. It can be easy to hurt someone you love and hard to extend forgiveness, after all they should know better.

Asking forgiveness from someone is at times as difficult as forgiving. Can we just move on? Why should it be brought up again? Won’t that make it worst? We can make so many excuses for the extremely difficult work of forgiving and asking for forgiveness.

Esau had some good reasons not to forgive and to seek revenge. Time and time again his brother Jacob had tricked him, taken advantage of him, and used him to achieve his purpose. From birth Jacob had been trying to take Esau’s place in the family and the promise.

Jacob had reasons to be scared of his brother. His attempt at buying mercy is understandable. Jacob had learned what it meant to be taken advantage of and fooled. Life had transformed Jacob, he was sorry for what he had done.

In his book, Embodying Forgiveness, L. Gregory Jones tells us that

in the face of human sin and evil, God’s love moves towards reconciliation by means of costly forgiveness. In response, human beings are called to become holy by embodying that forgiveness through specific habits and practices that seek to remember the past truthfully, to repair the brokenness, to heal divisions, and to reconcile and renew relationships.

(from the Introduction, iix)

Forgiveness is needed in the world today. Time and time again we hurt each other and participate in the perpetuation of patterns of injustice. This brokenness keeps human beings in constant enmity with each other, with the created order, and with God.

Forgiveness is costly but not forgiving is costlier. Today I wonder who needs my forgiveness and who needs me to ask for forgiveness? How can I be an agent of peace making and reconciliation in the world? How can I be a hearer of a truthful past? How can I lead the community of faith to be a community of forgiveness?

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