If I Were Preaching, Lent 1A, Reflectionary

For Lent, look inside

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5, First Sunday in Lent

“You were a little weak on evil,” said the older pastor good-naturedly, as if the intellectual exercise were paramount. Behind the closed doors of the chapel at my home church, dozens of delegates, both lay and clergy, were discussing my ordination paper. We stood near tables laden with refreshments for the reception planned with hope of a favorable outcome. “Weak on evil,” he repeated, “and a little soft on sin.” 

I had been feeling pretty good about my paper, in which I quoted a seminary professor who said, “Sin is anything that gets in the way of our relationship with God.” I wrote it down word for word when I heard it in class, and I typed it up later, so I wouldn’t lose it. 

Was I soft on sin? Or hopeful about the potential for goodness in God’s creation? I preferred the latter interpretation. 

Despite all this, I was approved that day and ordained a few months later. (Pictured after my ordination on 10/6/02, with my kids, in the same space at Woodfords Congregational UCC in Portland, Maine.)

Unfortunately, the ensuing years have shown me that my professor’s assertion assumes we will be able to see ourselves honestly enough to recognize disruption in our relationship with God. Since then, I have seen too many news stories and exposés recounting the abusive behavior of faith leaders who preached one way and lived another, unable or unwilling to see the contradiction between their teaching and their living. Take into account leaders in other fields who call themselves followers of Jesus, and add on professionals who carry authority over others, even parents and guardians, and we can see the picture clearly. This sin, this evil, is not a stunning exception. 

I can see how soft I was on sin, that of others, and my own. Have I swung over too far? Today my distress over the world may have made me too partial to total depravity. 

Even so, I don’t want to be the preacher who condemns others; Jesus certainly told us to beware of critiquing the splinter in someone else’s eye when there is a log in our own. From a homiletic perspective, it’s probably more effective to talk about temptation when engaging the texts from Genesis and Matthew this week. Even the temptation to gain something we might otherwise view as positive – knowledge – risks a behavior – disobedience – that pushes us over the boundary into sin. Here’s where I get tangled up. I go down the side paths, wondering “What is our view of disobedience?” My subjective view – does it count as disobedience if the rule is nonsensical or, worse, prejudiced or hateful? – may not be trustworthy and certainly emphasizes a suspicion of worldly systems over an emphasis on relationship with God. 

On this Sunday when people will be comparing notes (or avoiding conversations) about what they are planning to give up for Lent, we could propose a season of conscious self-evaluation. We could take on a purposeful examen. What is my motivation for the choice I am making, whether it is for action or inaction? What are the ramifications of the actions I take? How might the outcome impact me, and others, and the world? And where do I experience God as I examine my actions? 

Look inside, and try to be clear with yourself. Look inside, and ask:

  • Why am I doing this? 
  • What is the potential impact?
  • Who is influencing me?
  • Will my action or decision exhibit love for God, neighbor, and self?

For Lent, let’s look inside.

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Lent 1A, Liturgy, Reflectionary

Selah (a confession and pardon for Lent 1A)

One: When the psalmists did not know what to say, they built pauses into their prayers with the word “Selah.” (Say-lah.) As we enter a time of prayer, we will mark our silences with the same word. Selah.
Many: Selah.

(a time of silence)

One: Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Many: It is a good feeling to be forgiven, to know God cares for us enough to take care of everything.

One: Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Many: When we have done things well, God can see it. When we have been honest, God will know.

One: While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
Many: O God, you knew all the things on my mind, but they still weighed heavily on me. 

One: For day and night your hand was heavy upon me. My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Many: I can’t hide things from you. I don’t know what else to say. 

One: And so we say it together.
All: Selah

(A time of silence.)

One: Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity.
Many: I opened my heart to you, Lord.

One: I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
Many: I did confess. I do confess.

One: And you forgave the guilt of my sin. 
All: Selah

(A time of silence.)

One: Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Many: It feels good to be forgiven.

One: God hears our prayers and forgives us. This is the Good News that brings new life.
All: We thank God for it. 

You are welcome to use both the Confession, drawn from Psalm 32, and the image in worship.

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Reflectionary, Transfiguration, Year A


Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain.

Exodus 24:18 (Transfiguration Sunday)

In the short-lived hiking phase of my life, I made it to the top of half-a-dozen mountains in New Hampshire, and I carry a vivid memory of the view from one on an overcast day. Atmospheric conditions masked the reality I knew from a past trip to this mountaintop; instead of 360 degrees valleys and peaks, it looked like a sea of billowing waves in shades of bright grey, the mountains like little islands, with barely a difference in color-shading to mark where the sky began. It was the same view, and not the same; something I expected, yet something I had never seen before.  

“Moses went up into the mountain of God,” Exodus 24:13 tells us, onto a mountain covered with a cloud, but not just a cloud; it was the glory of the LORD. Moses waited for six days while that glory “was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain;” at the foot of the mountain, the people could see it. God put on a show for them, but when Moses did not come down again for forty days, in their fear that he was gone for good and that there God was not going to save them, they melted all their gold down to create an idol to worship instead. 

Peter, James, and John went up the mountain with Jesus, and they saw Moses and Elijah talking with him. They were fine until “a bright cloud overshadowed them” and the divine voice spoke, echoing the heavenly affirmation at Jesus’ baptism. Awestruck, fearful, the disciples threw themselves on the ground. They were in the presence of – what?!? Could they trust their perceptions?

In this era of propaganda and marketing, social media and political campaigns, our perceptions are being messed with all the time. What are we noticing? Has truth changed? How do we know if what we are seeing is real or true? 

On the Day of Transfiguration, nothing essential about Jesus changed. What changed is what the disciples knew about him. They had known a friend, a teacher, a wise person; now they experienced the brightly blinding presence of the Divine declaring Jesus to be Son of God.

That day on the mountaintop, I let myself rest in my weather-addled perceptions. Maybe the clouds had something to say to me. To know the truth, be open to noticing something unexpected. We are the ones who will be changed. 

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