Tag Archives: amends

The power to practice love | Sermon for 1 Epiphany

 

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased.”

I am among the most fortunate of people, because I know that my father loved me.

In a picture from when I was just a couple years old, you can see his hand touching my cheek, a simple gesture of physical affection that characterized his relationship with me and our whole family.

Dad and Me Orlando 1970He held me in his arms (and he held my mother and my siblings, too), and he told me he loved me in countless ways. When I shared that picture on Facebook, my sister instantly responded that she recognized his gesture — the “sense memory” is as strong for her as it is for me.

The last time I served as a deacon at the altar with him before he died, a similar account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord was the appointed Gospel reading. After I read the Gospel, Dad got up to preach but then stopped, saying, “I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to sit down, because this is my son, my beloved, and I want to listen to him. I want to hear what he has to say.”

My wife and I have spoken many times about what a blessing it is for both of us to have had this kind of unconditional love in our lives. Even though we do not have children of our own, we have been privileged to share our love with others, especially our “emotional daughter” Anna and our grandson Alex.

You have it in your power to give this kind of love, too. You can be for another person — a child or a grownup — the same kind of blessing that my father was. You can embrace them in the kind of love that God the Father has for all of his children.

Who is your beloved? Who needs to feel the touch of your hand on their cheek and hear from you that you are well pleased with them?

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Jesus heard these words from God at his baptism in the Jordan River.

Baptism was for him, as it is for us, an act full of symbolic meaning.

Our service of Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer outlines several symbolic meanings that the water holds for us.

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior. (BCP 306-7)

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we will renew our own Baptismal Covenant and our baptismal vows.

The vows are not about how to earn God’s favor. Rather, they are promises we make about how we will live as God’s beloved children, how we will “continue forever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Baptism is to us a sign of God’s grace pouring over us; the promises we make are about what we will do in practice to share that grace with each other and with the world.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

That is, will you practice being graceful and generous with your fellow parishioners, your clergy, and your fellow-Christians? Will you practice prayer that keeps you in touch with God and the needs of God’s people?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

That is, will you practice demonstrating grace by standing firm against those who do harm to others, and by recognizing when you are the one doing harm and making amends to those you have hurt?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Being a Christian is meaningful to you; will you practice telling other people about God’s blessings? Will you practice showing them that you have God’s peace?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

We had diversity and inclusion training at my work this week, and we learned that promoting diversity requires conscious action. It’s easy to be with people like yourself, but you have to practice choosing to be with people who are different.

 Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

That is to say, will you practice remembering that every human being craves the touch of a father’s hand on their cheek, the loving embrace of a mother, the gentle word from a friend? Will you practice sharing that love with others and will you practice encouraging those in power to make sure people are being cared for?

As baptized Christians, we are filled with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

That means you have it in your power to practice the kind of love that Jesus practiced. You can be for another person — a child or a grownup, a neighbor or an enemy, someone who is poor or someone in power — you can be for them the same kind of blessing that Jesus was.

You can embrace them in the kind of love that God the Father has for all of his children and demonstrate Jesus’ self-giving love by your actions.

Who is your beloved? Who needs to feel the touch of your hand on their cheek and hear that God (and you) are well pleased with them?

 

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12 Steps of Christmas | Saturday

Step Nine – “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Morning Prayer for this Saturday after the First Sunday of Christmas can be found here.

Who among you loves life *
and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?
Keep your tongue from evil-speaking *
and your lips from lying words.
Turn from evil and do good; *
seek peace and pursue it. (Ps. 34:12-14)

Step Nine, more than any other Step, I think, invites us into an entirely new way of living.

While laying out a sensible approach to making direct amends (perhaps for the very first time) to those whom we have harmed, Step NIne also reminds us that:

Of course, there is no pat answer which can fit all such dilemmas. But all of them do require a complete willingness to make amends as fast and as far as may be possible in a given set of conditions. (87)

Being willing to make amends “as fast and as far as possible” is the practice which really unlocked recovery for me.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Two incidents in my first year of recovery underscore how major a change this was.

First, because I spent a lot of time at home instead of on the road after losing my job, my wife and I had many more occasions to talk — about anything or nothing at all.

One evening, while she was making dinner, we were talking about money (which always triggered me) and I felt myself making my usual defensive responses. The same uncomfortable silence fell over the kitchen until I said, “I’m sorry about how I responded. Here’s what’s happening. Can we try this again?”

When I was working again, the second opportunity to practice making amends came my way.

I have always been a quick learner, a glib and articulate public speaker, but my new job required mastery of significantly more content than I previously had to work with.

When I was presenting to a colleague to demonstrate my competence, we came to a section of material I had neither studied nor prepared well. He very appropriately called me on the carpet, and I felt my cheeks burning with both shame and arrogance.

“How dare he challenge me?”

I took a breath and replied. “You’re right. I did not prepare as I should have. I’m sorry for wasting your time.”

To my astonishment, he accepted my apology and agreed to my request to demonstrate the material again the next day.

The generous response of most people to such quiet sincerity will often astonish us. Even our severest and most justified critics will frequently meet us more than halfway on the first trial. (84)

What recovery has taught me, first and foremost, is that I must take responsibility for my own actions and own up to them when I have harmed another person.

Don’t just “show up and throw up”

Some of the wisdom of Step Nine makes clear that early members of A.A. were professional salesmen, because their teaching is infused not only with insights into human relationships but also a sense of timing and appropriateness.

While we may be quite willing to reveal the very worst, we must be sure to remember that we cannot buy our own peace of mind at the expense of others. (84)

Experience taught the early members of the fellowship that there was a right time for most of the conversations that making direct amends would require.

We shall at once think of a few people who know all about our drinking, and who have been most affected by it. But even in these cases, we may need to use a little more discretion than we did with the family. We may not want to say anything for several weeks, or longer. First we will wish to be reasonably certain that we are on the A.A. beam. Then we are ready to go to these people, to tell them what A.A. is, and what we are trying to do. (84)

We may have an experience like I did, an admission of fault that was met with generosity. In those cases it is important not to think it’s “one and done,” but to remember this is a new way of living.

The temptation to skip the more humiliating and dreaded meetings that still remain may be great. We will often manufacture plausible excuses for dodging these issues entirely. Or we may just procrastinate, telling ourselves the time is not yet, when in reality we have already passed up many a fine chance to right a serious wrong. Let’s not talk prudence while practicing evasion. (85)

This Step is really asking us to act differently as well as to think differently. We are to be quick to admit fault, slow to place blame, eager to take the first step to restore a relationship.

Bearing with one another in love

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians asks for the same eagerness in acting on behalf of others.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1)

Paul is urging the Christians in Ephesus to practice unity, to live like they are one in Christ, united in one calling by the baptism they share.

Likewise, we in recovery are united by the common bonds of suffering and hope that we share. We also are to express that hope in action that seeks the best for others.

For the readiness to take the full consequences of our past acts, and to take responsibility for the well-being of others at the same time, is the very spirit of Step Nine. (87)

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

12 Steps of Christmas | Holy Innocents

Step Five – “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

The readings for the Eucharist on the Feast of the Holy Innocents can be found here. Additionally, the Gospel reading appointed for Morning Prayer is here.

This doesn’t feel like Christmas!

Having confronted the darkness inside us with John yesterday, we confront a ruler’s murderous rage and the killing of innocent children today.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, sure stirs up fierce reactions in us and in the society around us.

But as we considered in Step Four yesterday, we have done a lot of stirring up ourselves — causing grief and pain within ourselves and harm to those around us. Our moral inventory is a long list of the wrongs we have done to ourselves and to others.

holy-innocents-rachel-weeping

Today, Step Five invites us to take the next critical step in admitting our faults. We must talk to someone about them.

So intense, though, is our fear and reluctance to do this, that many A.A.’s at first try to bypass Step Five. We search for an easier way—which usually consists of the general and fairly painless admission that when drinking we were sometimes bad actors. Then, for good measure, we add dramatic descriptions of that part of our drinking behavior which our friends probably know about anyhow. But of the things which really bother and burn us, we say nothing. Certain distressing or humiliating memories, we tell ourselves, ought not be shared with anyone. These will remain our secret. Not a soul must ever know. We hope they’ll go to the grave with us. (55)

Along with good insight about the importance of spiritual counsel, Step Five also highlights two difficulties we will face in the process of making our confession real — for that is what we are talking about — and then of understanding what we must do next.

The first difficulty

Many people think they understand confession in a religious sense, but we too often caricature the worst examples of each other’s positions.

In the Roman Catholic Church, largely because it comprises half of the world’s Christians, the problem with confession to a priest — basically what Step Five is describing — is the sheer volume. If everyone really ought to confess before they go to Mass on Sunday, then priests have to hear too many confessions to make them very personal at all.

Until we actually sit down and talk aloud about what we have so long hidden, our willingness to clean house is still largely theoretical. When we are honest with another person, it confirms that we have been honest with ourselves and with God. (60)

Confession, or seeking the advice of a spiritual director, can have the benefit of making real the spiritual forgiveness we are promised in Jesus Christ. More than just going to the confessional booth, though, this may need to be a longer conversation with a priest or director.

Sometimes we simply need to say our sins out loud; and sometimes we simply need to hear from another person that we are forgiven before we can really believe it.

The second difficulty

For Protestants, the understanding that one has direct access to God through Christ, without the need for a human mediator — while true — may mean that Christians do not avail themselves of spiritual counsel and the assurance of forgiveness given by another human being

The second difficulty is this: what comes to us alone may be garbled by our own rationalization and wishful thinking. The benefit of talking to another person is that we can get his direct comment and counsel on our situation, and there can be no doubt in our minds what that advice is. (60)

While many Protestants participate in regular Bible studies or in accountability groups, simply talking about your struggles and getting advice from people close to you may not have the sacramental “heft” that enables you to believe Jesus’ assurance that you have been forgiven.

What must we do?

The Gospel reading at Morning Prayer is an example of “prophetic hyperbole” — Jesus is using exaggeration in order to make a point.

But Jesus’ point is clear: we must be bold and decisive in admitting our wrongs and working to eliminate them from our lives.

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matt. 18:8-9)

Step Five couldn’t support this notion more fully:

Provided you hold back nothing, your sense of relief will mount from minute to minute. The dammed-up emotions of years break out of their confinement, and miraculously vanish as soon as they are exposed. As the pain subsides, a healing tranquillity takes its place. And when humility and serenity are so combined, something else of great moment is apt to occur. Many an A.A., once agnostic or atheistic, tells us that it was during this stage of Step Five that he first actually felt the presence of God. And even those who had faith already often become conscious of God as they never were before. (62)

So the process of speaking to another person about our wrongs gives us the opportunity to turn and make a new start on our lives.

But on this feast day of the Holy Innocents we must also be mindful that making Step Five also commits us to undoing the harm that our actions have brought to others — the process of making amends that is the subject of Steps Eight and Nine.

May your new start — begun with the honest admission of your wrongdoing — give you the strength to continue making the changes that are ahead of you.

As for me, I will live with integrity;
redeem me, O Lord, and have pity on me.

My foot stands on level ground;
in the full assembly will I bless the Lord. (Ps. 26:11-12)