I went to the LCMS church’s Ash Wednesday service. Some items, including some rambling ones:
A. The pastor said that people generally do not get rid of grief. Rather, they find some place to put it. I personally find this to be the case with resentment and bitterness. Some days, it is on the surface of my heart. Some days, it is not. But it is still there somewhere.
B. The pastor said that we can be honest before God and invite God into the broken places of our hearts, and God will heal them with God’s love. I used to do my share of personal imprecatory Psalms, of pouring out my heart before God. It was cathartic. Now, I do not do so as much. It just takes a lot of energy. The same goes for my blogging: I no longer write those honest, gut-wrenching posts that I used to write. Nowadays, I simply try to cope, and I ask God to help me not to allow any negative emotions I have to spill out onto others. I also follow a predictable pattern of prayer, calmly following the ACTS paradigm and praying for my own needs and the needs of others. Would such a method of prayer help me were a major crisis to hit my life? Well, it would be something reliable to fall back on: rain or shine, I can fallow that paradigm, letting it carry me.
C. The pastor talked about God using brokenness to break up hard hearts, making them fertile ground. Negative experiences can also harden people’s hearts, though. But, yes, they can also engender compassion.
D. The pastor’s text was Joel 2:12-19. The nation was having a revival, as people fasted and wept before God. The prophet exhorted them to rend their hearts, not their garments. But, after the ritual, they would put on their whole garments again and go about their daily business. I have thought some about these issues lately. I do a “Church of James Pate’s Brain” at nights, in which I preach to myself a sermon to help me fall asleep. Over the past few months, I have been doing those sermons on my daily walks. I have done series on the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the fruit of the Spirit; currently, I am doing a series on the Sermon on the Mount. I went through “Blessed are the poor in Spirit” and “Blessed are those who mourn.” There are many people—-probably the vast majority of people—-who are broken in some way by life: disappointments, disease, alienation, or loss of a loved one. Of course, mainstream conservative Christianity would deny that all of them are saved, since not all of them have placed faith in Christ as their personal Savior. Are they thus lacking in the blessing that Jesus pronounces on the poor in Spirit and the mourners? A number of Christians apply these first two beatitudes to contrition about sin, which leads to repentance and faith in Christ. But what if one simply does not feel that? Granted, there are places in Scripture in which God tries to get people to see the magnitude of their sin, from God’s perspective: to see why it is horrible, how it hurts others, how it is betrayal of the God who has done so much good for them. But what if the feelings of contrition are not there? And can God command people to rend their hearts and not their garments? Can people control what they feel? Well, hopefully going through the ritual of humility and mourning will help them to internalize that humility and mourning, but it does not always.
E. The pastor said that many Christians try to put on their Sunday best before God and other Christians. Whether I do that with God, that is a good question. I am sure that I rationalize to try to convince myself that I am righteous. But, a lot of times, the crap inside of me is so apparent that I cannot do that. I have to be myself before God. The thing is, that easily falls into resentment against God, specifically God’s standards. On putting on my Sunday best before others, I consider that practicing social skills. People talk about how they love for others to be honest and vulnerable, but that is not necessarily the case. My rule nowadays is to go along and to get along. I do not want to be an emotional mess before other people. I am specifically hesitant to be myself before Christians, who may judge me for feeling this, or believing that, or not believing that, or not behaving this way.
F. The pastor told a story about a Lutheran school in which the teacher was saving a banana for a student. Another student ate half of it and tried to cover up what he did by stapling the banana back together. The pastor likened that to how many people try to deal with their sin problem.
More can be said, but I will stop here.