Word of the Week

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like trying new things especially in church life. Honestly, standard worship templates bore me. (And I think if I'm uninspired then I think others must be too!) So, I love thinking of creative ways to organize a worship service. I love making special Sundays of the liturgical year come alive for people.

The truth be told, I have some good ideas sometimes. But then, other times, I fail miserably.

comm5cAnd, such was the case a couple of years ago when I was the pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist Church in Reston, Virginia. It was World Communion Sunday.

I need to preface the story I'm about to tell you by saying that Kevin was out-of-town for the weekend. Very important detail. He usually is the one that gives me that look which says, "Honey, I think you need to re-think that." But alas, on the eve of World Communion Sunday, 2012, I was alone and going over the bulletin. Mentally preparing for the next day, I felt remiss that I didn't plan a more interesting service when I was at my desk the previous Wednesday afternoon working on it.

So of course I went to Google. I found several examples of readings/ activities that could be a part of the communion liturgy. Several seemed easy enough to add in, especially with the bulletin already printed.

One website suggested that I bring several different types of bread to the table to use as a part of communion. Then I was told to invite an elder or deacon to read prayer for that country or region that the bread came from. Then when the time came to eat the meal together, the website suggested: let the members choose what kind of bread they want to dip in the chalice of juice (or wine). This sounded fun! I was sold.

But course, one problem. It was Saturday night.  . . .  I was already in my pajamas. Didn't want to make a trip to the store. Didn't think I'd have time to make a trip to the store on the way to church that morning either.

So off to my pantry I went. Surely I must have something interesting I could offer as "breads of the world" from my kitchen. And this is what I found:

  1. Hawaiian rolls (you know the brand)
  2. Banana bread (I'd just made the morning before)
  3. Pita bread

Though I knew these weren't great choices-- not like the injera (from Ethiopia) or the naan (from India) or even the chapati (from Kenya) suggested on the website-- I decided to go with what I had. I could just change the liturgy to fit what my kitchen offered, right?

So on Sunday morning, I recruited three volunteers to help us pray for Hawaii and the Pacific Islands (with the Hawaiian rolls), for the Middle East (with the pita bread) and Jamaica (with the banana bread). Of course these places needed our prayers but maybe not the best representation of the world as a whole.

Ok, please laugh now. 

Praying for Jamaica with the banana bread . . . and Hawaii with the Hawaiian rolls, really? Oh, but we did!

If that wasn't bad enough, after only a couple of people went through the line at the front of the church there were LOTS (and I mean LOTS) of floaties of banana bread in the chalice. I really shouldn't have made it extra moist the morning before. 

My pastor friends now make fun of me yearly for this snafu. And my Anglican and Catholic friends are horrified.

So word to the wise all of you pastors and churchy types that will celebrate World Communion Sunday tomorrow-- don't get too fancy. Leave the banana bread at home. banana-bread-horiz-a-1600

I’ve Made an Unforgivable Mistake . . . Psalm 51: 1-12

Besides the common saying that “there are two things that you can be certain of in life death and taxes” I would add two more things. You can be certain that human beings will do stupid things from time to time and also not want to admit that they’ve done so.

(This would never happen to anyone in this room, of course).

When I talk today about “making an unforgivable mistake” what I mean by this is more than just forgetting to take out the trash when your spouse asks you to, or leaving your child at daycare too long, or even forgetting to pay your mortgage one month but a point in your life when everything hits a bottom.  A point when the consequences of your actions loom like a dark, dark cloud over your head. And, in such moments of crisis, we have several choices.

When we make such huge mistakes, one choice we have is to lie.

A lawyer friend of Kevin’s and mine practices Fairfax County. He recently told me about a case that came to his attention at his firm.

Two friends were going out for drinks one Friday night and went a little overboard. Instead of calling a cab or another friend to take them home, the two friends got in the car and decided to find their way home. When they began to swerve all over the place and soon found those flashing blue lights behind them, the two men made their choice. They played fruit basket turn over in the car with the passenger coming to the backseat and the driver coming to the passenger side. They curled themselves into a ball like children and pretended to be asleep.

When the officers came to ask who was driving the car, both gentlemen had blank looks on their faces as if aliens had driven them to the side of the road. Neither of them would admit they drove or knew who drove the car, even when they were handcuffed and taken to the station for questioning. It seemed that lying was just easier than telling the truth.

Or, when we make mistakes, we also have the choice to blame other people or influences.

A famous poet once said: “You can smile when all goes wrong and you have someone else to blame.”

I don’t know when is the last time you’ve been in a room with children, but when you are, you’ll probably notice children are more sophisticated than you think at the blame game.

When you get a group of them together and ask, “Who make a mess of the toys? Or, who spit on the floor? Or, who bit the girl sitting in the corner crying?” You probably won’t get a straight answer right away. Even before children and utter complete sentences many of them learn the game of pointing fingers at others. “She did it.” “No, she did it.” “No, he did it.” From the mouths of babes through our adult life, blaming other people is just easier than taking responsibility for our own actions.

Or, when we made mistakes, we also have the choice to simply hide, avoiding all consequences put together.

You only need to read a newspaper to check the headlines on CNN to see this scenario played out in a modern context. Especially for those in positions of leadership and/or power, it is a whole lot easier to use your influence to avoid consequences than it is to be full of integrity.

Names like John Edwards, Tiger Woods or even Arnold Schwarzenegger probably bring to our minds stories of scandals gone wrong—simply because these men decided to spend more time covering up the truth instead of facing it.

In our Old Testament reading for the day, we find the poetic work of the great king of Israel, David. A guy who not only lied, blamed others, but also hid when it was discovered he had messed up big time.

My hope is that as we examine this passage today we will look both at the truth our human condition but also that we would find great hope our God whose mercy is never-failing when we think we’ve made an unforgivable mistake.

To get the whole story about Psalm 51, we have to go back to 2 Samuel to learn that David wrote this when all was going wrong for him. Things were especially bad for David because no one, you see, really ever expected him to many any mistakes. He was the golden boy of his generation. He grew to be the man young women swooned over and older women said, “Isn’t he the cutest?” He was seemingly the perfect answer to Israel’s crisis of leadership.

Though his predecessor, Saul had tried to lead the kingdom of Israel both in God’s ways and in defeat of their enemies, his personal jealousies among many other things meant he was unsuccessful. When David came on to the scene, we know had great success over his enemies right away.

The saying went Saul slayed thousands of enemies but David killed ten thousands making David, even more popular because peace started to come to the land. And, even the Lord sang his praise calling him “A man after God’s own heart.” I can imagine how easy it was for David to begin to believe his own press.

But, then there was this beautiful woman bathing on a rooftop. (Now, you and I know about this as a sweet children’s Sunday school lesson. But if we are to read it as adults we know that the tale goes from G rated to for adults only).

Bathsheba was bathing and David. Bathsheba’s husband out-of-town, so David just could not help himself. Even though he could have had any available woman in the kingdom and already had several wives in his household, greed and lust got the best of David. He has an affair with Bathsheba.

When David got word that Bathsheba was now carrying his child, he makes a plan whereby Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah is sent from war so that the child could be thought to be his. Yet, when Uriah refuses to lie with his wife on his furlough from war, David makes sure that this little problem will be disposed of quickly and quietly. David sends Uriah’s troops to the dangerous front lines and soon he’s dead. Pregnant Bathsheba now moves into the palace with David and has his son.

While the cover-up seemed to work and from the outside everything seems ok, all was wrong with David life at this point.

Everything was about to catch up with him too. The man after God’s own heart had committed adultery and ordered the murder of an innocent person. He was hiding his wrongdoing.

David should have known that something was up after Nathan, the great prophet of the country, shows up at his doorstep, but he doesn’t say a word. It takes a convicting story and a truth in your face kind of accusation from Samuel: “You are the man!” before David begins to own up to what has occurred.

Yet the beauty of this David’s response in 2 Samuel 12:3: “I have sinned against the LORD.” David does something that few in our society do when all goes awry in front of their eyes. He says he was wrong. He says he messed up. He stops all rounds on the blame game and he confesses not only these things but that he has sinned against the Lord.

But had David made THE unforgivable mistake? Adulterer, murderer, liar, coveting his neighbor’s wife? You name it, he could easily have been judged by the three strikes and you are out rule of our modern US justice system. To many at onlookers in David’s time, they could have easily said, “Well, get the furnace ready. . . for we know that David guy is going to burn, burn, burn in hell for eternity.”

This leads us to the bigger question of are their unforgivable mistakes?

Well, let’s stick close with what David does after he comes back to his senses of reality. David turns to the Lord. David realizes that yes, he’d done things that had hurt his family, Bathsheba’s family and even his nation, but above claiming that he done wrong against God.

Look with me at chapter 51, verse four: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” You see, David wasn’t trying to do anything to get out of his mess other than recognizing he deserved any punishment he might receive. David was acknowledging that “sin is a problem concerning God and his relation with us. Not anyone else.”

Because of this, David’s confession turns attention back to God.  He recognizes that any real help he could have comes from God. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whither than snow.” In admitting wrongdoing, David says his future lies in the hands of God.

And what David was asking for was not the self-deprecating type of confession “I’m such an awful person there’s no way that God can forgive me” BUT an invitation for God to come into his life and in a new way.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (10).

David asks for God to bring into existence in him what was not there before. To, create in him a different outlook. We know this as he’s chosen the same Hebrew verb that was used to describe the creation of the world in Genesis 1. David desires a new creation in his very being.

Yet, in the end, I believe this Psalm becomes more about God and God’s character than it ever was about David anyway.

Psalm 51 shows us the mercy of God at a level that is mind-boggling to most of us.

David’s sin was forgiven (he was allowed to remain on as king of Israel, and even have another child with Bathsheba after the first one dies who eventually became king Solomon!). It’s amazing isn’t it?

In a culture of logical thinkers, it is hard to believe that God would love us, as he did with David when we make such a mess of our lives sometimes.

It is hard to believe that God loves us unconditionally and can give us clean hands and a pure heart again when we ask because such a love is nothing like we experience even in our best of human relationships.

It is hard to believe the hiding, the lying, and blaming others way of doing things could be exchanged for a better way of being just as we are by a God who longs to create something new in us.

It is hard to believe that our God can make the crushed bones in us rejoice afresh, for such type of hope is not what we see readily in our society today. Such a hope rarely exists.

But, yet, the message of Psalm 51 reminds all of us again today that such unbelievable statements are actually true.

Though you might be sitting in your pew thinking this morning, “I’ve not murdered anyone this week or committed such life altering event such as adultery…. (which I applaud as a pastor) so what is in this text for me?”

I offer you this morning that this text speaks to all of us who in some way or another are wandering around in the messes of our own making.

When we truly get honest with who we are—I know that all of us have some “thing” in the back of our minds that we believe God doesn’t like about us or an act done to us that continues to bring us shame, even years after the act has passed.

But let the excuses cease! Let me be your messenger this morning to remind you that we ALL are offered the opportunity of restoration. Today, we are given this stop of the journey to confess the ways we’ve fallen short of the mark of God’s best for us knowing that as we cry to God: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” that God will do just this.

If you’ve made a mistake, if you’ve made a really big mistake, or if you’ve made a really, really big and unforgivable mistake, I give to you today a God who lovingly desires to keep relationship with you intact, no matter what. Those you hurt may or may not forgive you, understand you, or work on reconciliation with you. Yet this fact remains: you are loved even still. I give you a God today who longs to re-create a clean spirit in you— so that you are whiter, whiter than snow for now and forevermore.


About three years ago now, when I was interviewing with the Pastor Search Committee of Washington Plaza, I was asked: "What is one of the biggest mistakes you've made in your life?" (which is an interesting question by the way).

I'm sure I paused for a minute or two to answer (because who really wants to speak about failures at a job interview), but still remember what I said. And it was, "Times in my life when I have not been truthful to myself. When I have responded to situations in ways that were what others expected of me, or made decisions based on what was more of an acceptable choice, or held back part of myself in hopes that it might make others like me more. "

And, if someone were to ask me this same question today, I believe I'd respond in a similar way-- for when I think great errors in judgment have been made on my part, it usually goes back to a fear or inability to be ok with authenticity at a deep level. I've allowed myself to be beat down by things that people have said to me that are out of line with what I know God thinks of me. Or, I've allowed the puffed praise of others to led me to think more of myself and act in a way that shows I think I'm better than . . .

This week, I was having a conversation with a friend who I've been in relationship with for over 15 years. We've appeared in and out of each other's life stories though we've rarely resided in the same city. We were talking about what makes up the "good stuff" of conversations (at least from my perspective) . . . what makes us tick as people, what makes us deeply sad, and what we fears surround our lives that we rarely say aloud. And a consistent theme emerged: our deepest regret in our lives, even as my friend and I are generations a part in age, all goes back to authenticity.

We've both held parts of ourselves back in our friendships, our vocations and our marriages at different points when the fear that we just weren't good enough, or didn't have the right things to say (or in our case sometimes had too much to say), or even that if people found out what we really thought we wouldn't be accepted as readily.

And, the more I reflected on this conversation since, the more it has enlivened me and saddened me at the same time. Enlivened my spirit because through the sweet words of this kindred spirit friend, I've got some pep in my step again to keep moving in the direction of what I feel God has given me passion to do: to deeply encourage the hearts of discouraged that life in God's hands can be better than we ever imagined it to be. But,  I was also saddened because I know both how few resources of encouragement there are to live life this way (as everything in our culture seeks to tell us we are not right and must be "fixed" by changing our mold from how our Creator designed us to be), and how constantly fear seeks to hold all of us back from living out of this most authentic place.

It's really, really hard, I know to live life from your core of believing so strongly in something about  your vocation, your relationships or just your life in general or even if this truth you know will cause hurt feelings to others you care about, led to criticism or failure, and more sleepless nights of despair than you can count. But, I know for certain that as I see it in scripture, salvation is all about being made whole. So, if we say we are a people who are in the process of "being saved" then, we've got to get to the business of living life truthfully.

And by truth, I mean this: more than avoiding white lies to our bosses, more than admitting to our kids that we aren't supermen and women all of the time, and more than just trying to follow the 10 commandments, but taking the leap of abiding more honestly in this world as ourselves. Living with passion of who we were made to be and not thinking any greater or less of ourselves than God created us when the Lord said we were "made in the image of God."

Let's all stop making the mistake of forgetting and not acting on this great truth. In authentic living, I know there are sweet life moments just around the corner for all of us no matter in what circumstances we find ourselves in now.