An Ash Wednesday Meditation
Psalm 51 (Psalms for Praying)
I have been thinking a lot about confession and recently and I must confess that, as a Baptist, confession is something that comes hard for me.
Last week, I was at a conference for pastors and, during the conference, we had a worship service during which we were supposed to confess the ways that we had been lazy in our relationship with God.
“Lazy?” I thought to myself resentfully as I proceeded to count all the ways I work hard to improve myself and the world I live in.
“I am someone with a good Protestant work ethic!” I thought to myself, “I know the importance of hard work!”
Constantly trying to achieve and measure up, suddenly I wondered, is that really the life to which God calls us?
What does it mean to confess the ways that we have been lazy in our relationship with God?
Now, maybe, you are able to answer that question right away.
But for me, it is hard.
Because I like to be in control.
For me, I began to think about the ways I have allowed anxiety to creep into my thoughts, about how I have allowed my mind to play my fears on repeat rather than truly trusting God with the situations that keep me up at night. I think about the ways I find myself focusing on the pain and suffering in the world and miss out entirely on the beauty and joy of God’s creation.
God created the world so that we could delight in it.
And sometimes I forget that.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that perhaps laziness in our relationship with God does not mean that we did not working hard enough on our self-improvement plan but rather means that we have forgotten what is always present:
God’s steadfast love.
God’s abundant kindness.
The Psalmist pray in the psalm tonight:
“Let me hear joy and gladness.”
Or in the words of today’s version,
“Fill me gladness.”
I wonder if the Psalmist prays those words, because they know how hard it can be to hear words of gladness and love.
Because when we make mistakes,
When we fall short,
When we don’t make the right choices,
It is so easy to dwell on our failures and shortcoming and forget the truth God placed deep within us. As I reflected on the Psalmist words, I realized that confession is a way for us to offer up the mistaken-ridden places in our lives and pray: “Let us hear words of joy and forgiveness because sometimes we forget.”
Sometimes we forget. If there is someone who knows what it is like to dwell on mistakes and forget the truth that dwells deep with us it is Scott Norwood, the Buffalo Bills kicker in the early nineties, who cost the Buffalo Bills their Super bowl win in 1990.
I don’t know if you are familiar with the Buffalo Bills but they are most well-known for going to four consecutive Super bowls and losing each one of them.
In the 1990, the Bills are playing the Giants and worked hard to get there. They are leading at the half but by the end of the game, the score is 19-20, with the Giants leading. With eight seconds left, the Bills are in field goal range and Scott Norwood attempts a 47-foot field goal. Its long enough, it looks good and then, at the last minute, it veers left and misses the field goal. The Bills lose the Super bowl.
Afterward, Scott hangs his head and walks slowly off the field. He describes the magnitude of his miss was “seeping on top” of him – he had let down himself, his teammates and his city. As he describes the moment in an interview, he says, “I still get choked up just thinking about it.”
When it came to returning to Buffalo to see the fans, Scott’s heart weighed heavily. He balked at seeing the fans who had so publically witness his failure and shortcomings. What would they say? He walks out – and to his astonishment – when he walks out, they start cheering for him, supporting him, and chanting his name.
The following is a clip from his homecoming (view from 37:42 to the part where they mention the part about fathers taking their sons out of school)–
“I have never felt more loved.”
They reminded him of what he had forgotten.
God’s steadfast love.
God’s abundant kindness.
This is the heart of confession. We show up telling the truth about our lives – the ways that we are lazy in our relationship with God, the ways we fail, the ways we harm others and the ways that we keep company with fear – and God says to us in response, you have never been so loved.
That is why we confess … we confess for our sins not for God, God already knows, but for ourselves so that in the midst of the painful and messy realities of our lives, God’s steadfast love might seep into every bit of who we are – into the dark nook and crannies of our souls, into our thoughts, our minds, our deeds, our practices, the wholeness of who we are.
Confession teaches us that even in places of failure and mistakes and self-improvement plan, there is always and will be forever more forgiveness.
Let us hear joy and gladness,
Let us know the truth that dwells deep within our being.
In the midst of mud,
And wrong choices,
Super bowl losses
And squandered opportunities,
Let us know the eternal truth: that we have never been more loved.