Note: This semester has been particularly busy and so I have unfortunately not had the time to do as much writing as I would like, but here is the devotion I wrote for the Trinity UMC Lenten Devotion Book:.Peace,
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:8-2:2)
When I was in middle school, I had lots of guilt. I was a sinner. I didn’t say my prayers, I coveted my friends video games, and I began to notice that the girls in school were pretty cute. I remember going to a friend’s church and hearing my first “fire and brimstone” sermon. I was scared. I came home, worried about the status of my salvation. Knowing the place to find all the answers, I Googled “How to be a Christian” and printed off the first site that came up. Wanting to make sure that I did it correctly, I knelt beside my bed and with my whole heart read the short prayer, telling God how sinful I was and how much I needed Jesus. When I was done, I climbed into bed and basked in my newly found sanctification. I was so excited about waking up the next day to begin my new, sin free life. I had Jesus. Who could ask for anything more?
My life of Christian perfection lasted about eight hours, ending dramatically with the daily ordeal of my parents trying to get me up for school. “Honor thy father and mother,” commandment number 5…fail. But wait? How could I have Jesus in my heart, and yet still lead such a depraved life? Now, perhaps these questions sound silly coming from the mouth of a 12 year old, but in this season of Lent, our guilt takes on a heightened significance. As we prepare for joys of Easter, we try to make sacrifices in our daily lives, such as fasting, prayer, scripture reading, or other spiritual disciplines. These Lenten fasts often become a second round of spiritual New Years resolutions, lasting about as long, however, with more guilt. When we fall off the band wagon during Lent, we are reminded not just of our laziness, but of our sinfulness as well.
Jesus sets a pretty high bar for those who follow him. The gospels tell us to love our neighbor and our enemy—to help the poor and the orphan. These are simple in lip service, but much more difficult in real life. What does Jesus think we should be? Perfect? Well…yes. In Matthew 5:48, he calls us to this exact thing. Doesn’t he know how sinful we are? Yes, but Jesus also knows what we always forget. We focus on our sin and our failings, but God’s focus is on grace. That is what this section from 1 John proclaims. Yes, we are called to live lives which are as perfect as our Heavenly Father, but God knows, that we cannot do that alone. It is only by acknowledging our dependence on God’s grace, and on the Holy Spirit who delivers that grace, that we can begin to be made perfect. It is a process. In this season of Lent, as we focus on spiritual disciplines and talk about our call to social justice in the world, let us be aware of our guilt. Guilt can be good. God can use our guilt to show us areas of growth, but guilt can also do us harm. When we begin to feel like we are bad people whose sin is too great, we can allow our guilt to keep us from a relationship with God. When you begin to feel that twinge of guilt let these words be a comfort, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” God is our advocate both when we do great things and when we mess up. God is on our side, and if God is with us, who can be against us?
God of grace and mercy, thank you for this time when we can prepare our hearts to celebrate your saving work on the cross and your triumph of Death on Easter. God, we come before you as a sinful people. Convict us of our failings, but remind us of your grace. Let our guilt draw us closer to you as you work in us to perfect us in love. Amen.