Sunday, June 24, 2007

Anniversaries and Elusive Happiness

This time of year is like an emotional minefield for me, never knowing quite how the days will pass, never knowing what might unleash a torrent of unavoidable tears, not knowing if the days might pass in a simple silent remembrance or an almost forgotten whisper.

These days are anniversaries. Friday was the anniversary of my dad's death. This year marks 20 years. He was 55. I was 9. He was too young; so was I. Saturday was the anniversary of the visitation. And today, today is the anniversary of my dad's funeral. And also, what would have been my parents' 40th wedding anniversary. (Yes, his funeral was on their 20th wedding anniversary. He knew it would be--he had said that he'd either die or we'd have the funeral that day when he was sent home two weeks earlier with oxygen, pain medication, and the reality that this was the end of the treatment and the end of this life. I almost wrote sent home without hope, but that's not true. We had lots of hope--hope for a miracle, and also hope for fulfillment of God's promises.)

Some years these anniversaries aren't so bad--sometimes they aren't so good. This year, not so good. I did a wedding on Friday and another was here on Saturday. A lovely couple celebrated their anniversary today and provided flowers. And all these pointed to my dad, pointed to my family. And I wanted to cry.

And Saturday I received a letter I didn't want to get. And I didn't realize how much I wanted things to turn out differently. I interviewed at a congregation not too far away from here. It would require a move--but a move that would be closer to my (step)kids and a move that would allow my husband to keep his current job and commute. I wasn't really sure this was the place for me, but I wanted it to be. I didn't want to hear that a congregation didn't want me--or at least didn't want to talk to me one more time or hear me preach or... I didn't realize how much this would hurt.

And in response, I ended up fighting with my husband, crying and asking only to be left alone. I ended up feeling alone and lonely and sad and hurtful and like happiness was not mine to have. And I know that's not fair. We worked it out and went to bed okay with each other. But still I woke up in the night and lay there for an hour--very unlike me--unsure of where to go from here.

Today, this evening, I feel like happiness is less elusive, but I'm still sad. I'm still tired. I still don't know where to go next. But I'll take today. I'll face tomorrow and go from there. Not much else that I can do.

Friday, June 15, 2007

An Unnamed Woman ~ Luke 7:36-50

My first instinct was to post this asking for thoughts, comments, and responses about whether this will work as my sermon this weekend, but realized that it's what I'm using anyhow, since I won't have time to come up with anything else. So...I still crave thoughts, comments, and responses, just please don't tell me it won't work as my sermon!

I must admit that today’s gospel lesson is one of my favorites. Sure, we don’t know much about the woman in this passage. She’s unnamed. We don’t know if she’s old or young, married or single, mother or not. The only descriptor used for her is sinner. Many have speculated about her identity, trying to make assumptions about what this means exactly or what woman named elsewhere she might be. But the truth is we don’t know. All we do know is recorded in these few short verses.

But somehow this woman’s story resonates with me. She is a sinner who weeps at Jesus’ feet and walks away forgiven. Sounds an awful lot like my story; sounds an awful lot like our story. When we gather for worship, we live this story. We confess our sin, come to the feet of Jesus at his table, receive his body and blood, and walk away forgiven. So, travel back with me to that Pharisee’s house, to that dinner with Jesus. Indulge me as I tell this woman’s story as my own, as I put words in her mouth and speak as if I know the story of her life. Put yourself in her place too; allow yourself to feel as if you are the one speaking. If it’s helpful to you, feel free to close your eyes. Either way, listen to this unnamed woman’s story—this story that is our story too.

I was aware of how sinful I was. I had made many bad choices. Often, it seemed that I could do nothing right. No matter what my good intentions were, I still sinned. Of course, there were times when I did good things or made good choices. However, some people just could not see that in me. All they were willing or able to see were the bad things that I had done. Why could they not see the good in me? Was there really so little? I knew that some of my choices had been contrary to God’s commands. I knew that. I did not need to be reminded of each and every sinful thing that I had ever done. There was nothing I could do to erase the past. If I could have made changes in the things I had done, I would have. But the past was gone and over. If only others could see that this was so, maybe I could do better in the future. It was so hard to do good when no one expected that of me.

And so I came to Jesus. I knew that coming to Jesus was the only way that I could move forward in my life. Maybe he would have pity on me. Maybe he would have mercy on me. I had heard that Jesus accepted all kinds of people. He even ate with many evil people. Maybe, just maybe, he would not turn me away. He would look at me and see me—not all the terrible things that I have done in my life.

But what if he didn’t? What if he was no different than all the rest? What if I had done too many horrible things? What if he couldn’t look past them? I remembered all my bad choices and all I could do was cry when I came near to him. I fell at his feet and wept, wept for all the terrible things that I had ever done, wept in sorrow for alienating myself from everyone by the choices that I had made, wept in the fear that Jesus would tell me to go away and call me a sinner just as all those gathered around him did. I did the only thing I could do. I used my tears to wash Jesus’ feet. I dried the tears from his feet with my hair. I could hear the people all around us telling Jesus how terrible I was and how he should not be letting himself be touched by such a horrible person. I tried my hardest to ignore them as I continued my task of washing Jesus’ feet. I touched his feet with all the love that I had in me. I knew that showing Jesus my love and repentance was the only thing that I had, the only thing that I could give of myself amidst the truth of the terrible things they said. The only gift I had to give to this magnificent Jesus was myself—my poor, broken, sinful self.

And then, the most amazing thing happened! Jesus accepted the gift of myself! Jesus said to me, “Your sins are forgiven.” I couldn’t help but to hope for forgiveness when I came to Jesus, but I was realistic not to expect it. I surely did not deserve it. The joy that filled my being when Jesus offered me forgiveness is indescribable. Jesus forgave me! Jesus did not listen to the voices that were more than willing to condemn me. Jesus’ voice was the one that echoed in my head. “Your sins are forgiven.” I could leave that place with my head held high. I was forgiven. Yes, I was sinful and would always make mistakes, but more important than that was that I was forgiven.

And so now, when I make a mistake, when I sin, I remember the words Jesus spoke to me. “Your sins are forgiven.” I remember Jesus and the hope he gave me. I am able to live my life without the weight of my sinful self constantly bearing down on me. I can live in the joy of forgiveness. And I’m still learning what that means for my life. Each day brings new challenges, new thoughts, new opportunities. Each day is a new day to live in the joy of forgiveness, to lift my head and tackle whatever comes my way. Each day gives me a chance to share this joy with others and to live into this promise. Each day is a new chance to live into the joy of Jesus’ forgiveness.