Church Street UMC
February 20, 2013
I'm the oldest of 5 children. Some would say this makes me "bossy," I like to think I am "directive" and "helpful." The youngest, Haley, who is 11 is absolutely the baby and all that means. She is delightful, full of life and wonder, and spunk… but, being the baby to 4 older siblings means that she cannot, under most any circumstance say the words, "I'm sorry." We have wondered-- is this a pride thing? Is this a youngest thing? Is this a stubborn thing since she is at the end of a long line of stubborn women?
Several years ago now, I was home from seminary and visiting with my family when Haley got into trouble. I have absolutely no memory of what she did to be in trouble, but I will never forget the aftermath, which is funny and pitiful all at the same time. Haley was about 5 years old at the time, and whatever she did my Dad was not going to back down until she simply said two words, "I'm sorry." He carefully explained why she was in the wrong and owed an apology, she glared at him, frowned, and turned her face toward her shoulder. No remorse. Finally he attempted a positive spin on the expectation of an apology, "if you would just say I'm sorry, then you can go back to playing and we can move on." She refused. Red in the face, eyes turned from his gaze. So, he picked up one doll from her baby collection and said that baby would be exiled to the garage until Haley could do what she needed to do… as soon as the baby doll left her room she cried out with a primal scream, as I would imagine any real mother would do at the sight of her baby being taken away--wait, scratch that--she screamed as if the baby was ripped from her tender lovin' arms. it was a tense moment for the entire house as we hid in our respective corners. Ten minutes later, he went back and calmly said, "Are you ready?" Still refusing, Dad gently carried a second baby doll through the house to the garage, now turned dungeon, and an even louder cry erupted from her little 5 year old body…baby doll 3…4...5…approx. 14 baby dolls later…and everyone else's nerves completely fried she climbed into my Dad's lap, hugged his neck, and mumbled "I'm sorry."
In a culture where we do not apologize for who we are, or what opinions we hold, or how we behave, I wonder if we turn toward our shoulders avoiding God's gaze as God tries to soften our hearts with the humble reality: God is God, and not we ourselves. And so, Lent is a peculiar thing to do… we willingly give up comforts or take on habits, as we meditate on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness and the incredible sacrifice of the cross. And yet, more than ever, what we are really in need of, as individuals and a people, is to see that we are punishing ourselves with self-made dungeons, and in need of a good old fashioned "I'm Sorry" as we begin with Almighty God and go from there.
In Psalm 51, we are invited to join in with an ancient confession, that still rings true to our lives so many generations later. We are all sinners, begging at the door of God's mercy. We believe in God's steadfast love, and yet we are convinced that the door is closed shut when it comes to redeeming our situation, forgiving us of our sin… because we know what we have done or not done.
We know that our marriage is broken beyond repair--or our friendship or our relationship with our child or our coworker.
We know that the words we said will always hang like a cartoon "bubble" in mid-air without the humor and only the shame.
We know what we did in secret, when we thought that no one was looking.
We know that God could never love us, not really, not fully.
Except, that if we would just open our stubborn eyes, we would see the door open and God beckoning us take the hand of Jesus out of the wilderness we banish ourselves to, beyond the heavy load of the cross, to the new life that no one ever thought possible except for God.
So maybe my baby sister's problem is not that the words "I'm sorry" are hard for her to utter… maybe she's the only one that gets just how weighty those words are when they are meant from a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Maybe the challenge for us this Lent is to say "I'm sorry" so that we can mean it, and allow ourselves to move on with the dawn of Easter morning.
Take a moment… examine deep down… what do you know is too much to ask of God? Go ahead, be honest, as God is already the searcher of our hearts, and in silence let's prepare ourselves to begin this journey of Lent with confession.
Remember: In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Amen.