First in series: Filling in our gaps
So, in case you have been fooled up to this point. Or maybe just haven’t noticed. I am an incredibly imperfect person.
Shocking, I know. But it is very true. I’m imperfect in some very straightforward ways, just part of who I am. Not necessarily my fault, but imperfect none-the-less For example, I can’t sit still, like at all. And as a result people can, at times, feel like I am disinterested in what they are saying, because I am shifting and moving so much as they are talking. Or, I have terrible vision in my left eye. Yes, just my left one. It’s a weird thing. But I am also imperfect in ways that are kinda my fault. The flaw is kinda on me. They are not like terrible things, but show the reality that I am a human being who has deficits. Like, I can talk to much in conversations Or, like I am little over-weight. Or, I tend to disagree just on reflex, I can just be argumentative. Even more than those, for anyone who is still unconvinced of my imperfection. Which I am sure is nobody who knows me well, at all. Those closest to me, I am sure are having no struggle following along with the notion that I am flawed. But, my shortcomings go well beyond these kinda things like “I talk too much”
There are things that I do that are very much in my control, things that I do which are very much my fault. Which hurt other people, or myself Like, I have a hard time acknowledging my emotions in the moment, so they can bubble up at later times. So, sometimes when I am angry it can kinda blow up. Like there is so much in me that it like comes out with hurtful and attacking words. Which often can be meant to belittle the person I am upset with. I mean this happened recently with a disagreement that I had with Vince. Or, I remember years ago when I was living in Australia, and I hit a parked car, I got scared of what would happen, because I was driving a church van. So, I just drove away. I am not proud of those things, but I did them. I want to do better, I am trying to do better, taking steps to be better, but they were 100% my fault. They spoke of not only my behavior, but my character and the kind of man that I am. So yes, I am a flawed, imperfect man. Which makes me so unbelievably thankful that this sermon doesn’t end here, that my story doesn’t end here.
I’ll come back to this.
The reality is I am not alone in this, all of us have shortcomings, all of us have flaws, all of us act in ways that don’t make us proud.
And even more than that, The communities we are a part of are imperfect, SLIDE they can develop shortcomings, Gaps. SLIDE Probably as a result of being made up of and led by imperfect people. This is the case for every circle of friends, every organization, every political party, every mission-driven charity… every (PAUSE) church anywhere, and this is the case for us, BLV. We have gaps. Over the last several months we have been trying to get a temperature from people in BLV on what their experience of BLV has been And as we have been doing this recently it been becoming more and more clear to us what gaps we have. Some of them are just natural results of the personalities that make up this church. Or the personalities of Vince and I as the pastors Some of these gaps are a result of things we have done or tried that haven’t worked out. We were trying out best, but just missed something or what we just didn’t accomplish what we had hoped. And some of these gaps are a result of us doing thing poorly, getting things wrong.
So -- in the spirit of not hiding from our gaps and not just doubling down on principle on how we have done things up to this point -- SLIDE for the next several weeks the goal of our talks here on Sunday mornings is going to be acknowledging our gaps, SLIDE and learning what to do about those: how might we go to God for help in discovering better ways forward? SLIDE And isn’t that the question... What do we do when with our flaws, shortcomings, when we realize we have made mistakes?
Well, Jesus and his disciples seem to speak in unison on this, that what we do is not ignore it, or just try harder to be better, SLIDE To use the words of the of the Apostle Peter in Act 3:19 we SLIDE Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord
What is the call here? To repent, to acknowledge your “sins”, let go, and turn to God for a new way forward.
You know, I think If we are able to separate term “sin” from the way it is often abused or used to shame people in highly-religious, highly-guilt-based environments today,
Well I think that this idea of “sin”, perhaps unexpectedly, can prove incredibly inviting (!) and helpful (!) to us.
For it can be helpful as a kind of catchall word to refer to all of the shortcomings, failures, flaws, mistakes, and brokenness that we have as individuals and as communities.
It can invite us to consider, own, and acknowledge that we are imperfect and need help in life that we can’t give ourselves.
Not as a way to shame us into different behavior, or convince us that we are really truly awful people.
But, as a way for someone like me, with all I shared in my opening, to chart an honest and joyful way forward, given all my flaws, failures and shortcomings.
And with that in mind, the promise here feels quite exciting. That I can have all my flaws, failures… sins wiped out, and that I can find refreshment.
I love the promise there, I long to feel that refreshment, that acceptance, that throwing-off-of-shackles freedom.
SLIDE But I wonder if you struggle, like I do, with this need I feel to “make up” for my shortcomings, “make up” for my failures, “make up” for the behaviors that I regret. I wonder if it is a struggle for any and all human beings to believe that we could be accepted or worthy without some kind of “payment” to earn that dignity.
I need to do something to right myself, to bring myself back to an acceptable level or standing. To justify myself. Yes, I did say that hurtful thing to Vince last week, but look at all the other things I have said to him that were good and kind. Or, Yes, I did hit that parked car and leave, but I spent so much time that year helping the homeless in that community. They must “make up” for the fact that I did that thing I regret. I am a still a good man. I have done enough to be worthy of acceptance and belonging, right?
But, I don’t think this way of thinking or way of living serves us particularly well. I think there is a helpful insight on this from the letter St. Paul wrote to a young pastor named Titus. A passage where Paul is counseling Titus on how he and his community can respond to this reality SLIDE Titus 3 (ESV) 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
As is true in our world today in our own ways, the 1st century world of Paul and Titus also struggled with that belief that people needed to “make up” for their flaws and failures. Sins When we look at the ancient world of the Bible, we frequently see this find a home in literal sacrifice. The earliest writings of the Bible take us to a time when all the world believed in a God (or gods) behind every little thing that ever happened (from “the sun rising and setting” to “the rain coming or not coming” to “this person being powerful and that person being poor”), and the human instinct was to please God so that things would go well for me, or so I could be acceptable or worthy. And the way to please God was through increasingly-escalating sacrifices: birds, and if that didn’t work goats, and if that didn’t work sheep, and if that didn’t work bulls, and of course the scary thing is in some religions we eventually get to “another human”
In our world Today, we do not make literal sacrifices, but that “I need to sacrifice” human instinct remains ingrained in us-- we do this in the form of self-sacrifice or moral heroics. I find myself believing that I must do something, “make up” for where I have gone wrong. I must in some way, earn my way back into favor and worthiness. Or perhaps we attempt to justify ourselves in our own mind, like look at all the work I done with the homeless, surely that makes up for the things I regret. Either way, on these terms I must prove that I am a good man, worthy of God’s acceptance, of love and belonging from others.
When Jesus said, “It is finished,” before he died on the cross, some believe he was saying that the very notion of sacrificial religion was finished and shown to be fruitless.
He was putting to death this notion that we earn our way to worthiness, or to an audience with God, or that we need to pay penance or make amends to be accepted,
He is saying “I will take care of the sacrifice, I will give you an audience with God, I will take care of the penance, I will take care of the work. I will take care of any justifying. It is not done by any act of righteousness by you, but by my mercy, my grace As if Jesus is saying. “if you want to be made whole, made right, restored, forgiven, be unconditionally accepted and loved, Just come to me.”
But the reality is giving up the struggle to prove ourselves and rather relaxing into some sense that God accepts me aside from merit is not always an easy thing to do The free flow of unearned love, what we might call grace, is a reality that we often only discover as a result of coming to the end of ourselves
For so long I tried to prove myself
For years, I worked my butt off trying to be “good man”
Trying to show to the world, my friends, my parents.. show God that I was worthy of love and belonging.
That I could earn it But time and time I failed to live up to being this “good man” as my opening stories made clear But over time I eventually came to the end of myself. It became glaringly obvious that I was never going to Do enough.
And honestly, the good things I did never really “made up” for my failures.
I don’t think that car I hit when I was 18 was “made up” for because I served food to the homeless folks in my community. And even if I thought it did, I have an never ending list of things I need to make up for No, eventually I got tired, I was defeated by how flawed and imperfect I am And It was the best thing that ever happened to me
Because I finally turned for help. And I found Jesus there eager to help me Thankfully Jesus’ solution to being imperfect, flawed, making mistakes - is not to ignore it, or to try harder, or to attempt to “make up for it”. His solution is own, acknowledge, and ask for his help. Also known as repentance. And then in turn, experience his grace. To Accept that I am accepted whole heartedly Now I think this kind of Grace is something we have to experience And this is why each week we hope to not just tell people about God, but lead people into their own personal experiences of God, of his healing, and guidance, and acceptance, and forgiveness, and..Grace Because when faith in God becomes based on what someone else told me, Outside of our own inner experience of this kind of God, These descriptors like grace and acceptance are just words And I wonder if this is why religion so often feels to be ritualistic, moralistic, doctrinaire, and contentious; on both the Right and the Left. Because not enough religious people actually experience this kind of Grace themselves. They are still trying to fight some sort of battle to prove themselves, show themselves as justified and worthy But, I have found that accepting the grace God has for me, is more peaceful, more joy filled, less anxious. Not easier or less challenging, but I have found that I have made more strides forward towards being the “man I want to be” with God’s help, than I ever made on my own. And so, we are going to try this as community. We are going bank that by turning to God, and owning our gaps as a church, not hiding or trying harder, God will met BLV with grace and he will help us find a new and better way forward.
So my takeaway for us today is in few parts.
First is something super concrete you can try this week. I invite each person here try out repentance with someone you have wronged
Just say sorry to someone you have wronged, or hurt
Own that you did whatever it was to them, and say sorry. Don’t try to defend yourself, or excuse it away, but just say sorry.
All the while trusting that you are accepted and loved, and worthy, even though you did whatever you are saying sorry for. And the opportunity here is that your sense of belonging and acceptance with God, only feels more unconditional as you own this and still discover you are accepted by him wholeheartedly Just a quick note, maybe think of someone that you think apologising to would be a positive step in growing in relationship. Where that kind of vulnerability would maybe be welcomed. And the second part of my takeaway is to see yourself as stakeholder here at BLV over the next several weeks as we go through this process of corporate repentance - I think it can be easy to fall into a mindset that says, yeah “they” are totally right, that is a gap of “theirs.” I think we may all be better served over this to think more along the lines of “we” have these gaps, not to say the VInce and I and the leadership of the church don’t bear some particular responsibilities in these gaps. Hopefully you hear us owning that. But, I encourage you to think of this as “our” gaps because I believe that each one of us here has a role in making the church better. I believe that there are some gaps that God maybe inviting you specifically to help us fill.
I think our church is best when each of us are bringing our unique perspectives and gifts to the table. The whole reason we realized these gaps is because people in this community took ownership to share what they were seeing and what we were missing. And I wonder if you might actually find yourself empowered, excited to one of the unique pieces in helping BLV become everything we hope it can be
In moment we will enter into a time of singing and prayer. And I invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along and dancing. Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you. And, as we are doing that we will have a team of people in that middle section who would love to pray with you. It’s a safe and good group of people, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice.
And the last part of my takeaway for you today, is consider praying with someone here today.. I want to invite you in this time we are about to have - if there is something about yourself, something you have done that you don’t feel particularly feel proud of. If you are feeling in touch with some flaws, or failures, or mistakes in your life. I want to encourage you to go to that middle section, and just share it with one of the folks back there. If you have never looked to God in this kinda way before Or if you have done it many times before I think you will discover that God may have something powerful and perhaps surprising for you in that time.
Pray for BLV repentance
Pray for Individual repentance