Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ashes on the Altar

Tomorrow night, my church family and I will participate in the ancient Christian ritual of Ash Wednesday.  It will be a time to confess our sin, name our unrighteousness, and reflect on our lives.  As an act of repentance, we will impose the ashes on our foreheads, reminding us of the frailty of our humanity and the power of God's forgiveness.

Of late, however, I've been thinking about the sins of the corporate church.  Recently, I had a friend ask me if the church had ever publicly denounced and repented of the rampant racism of its past.  What a novel idea!  Thus, I've been thinking about what it would look like for the church to walk down the aisle only to have Jesus impose the ashes.  What would it sound like if the church confessed her sins in this age?  How would the confession read?

I humbly and self-critically offer the following as a place for us to start:

- We are sorry for the times we've reduced the gospel to cold rationalism or heated emotionalism.

- We are sorry for the times we've named Jesus as Lord but refused to allow him to set the agenda.  We confess the times when our issues had nothing to do with Jesus' issues.

- We are sorry of the times we've worshipped Jesus without listening to him.

- We are sorry we've turned worship into cheap entertainment and evaluated a worship service through the lens of "what speaks to me" or "what I really like."

- We are sorry for the pastors who have lorded it over their congregations and the congregations who have allowed it.  We confess the abuses of ecclesial leaders who have tried to lead through means other than a towel and basin.

- We are sorry for the times we've run from the truth rather than search after it- for the times we've pitted science against faith as if all truth is not God's truth, wherever it is found.

-We confess the times we've turned people into a means to an end rather than an end in and of themselves.

- We are sorry for the times we've politicized the faith, as if the full measure of discipleship was exhausted at the ballot box.  We confess the times we've allowed the gospel to be manipulated by partisan loyalties and the times we've confused the universal Kingdom of God with national interests.

- We are sorry for the times we've privatized the faith, as if our relationship with God made no impact on how we treat our neighbor or how we strive for justice in the neighborhood. We confess the times we've rounded off the sharp moral edges of the gospel to ensure it never so much as pricked our finger.

- We are sorry for the times we've placed glass ceilings over women, as if the first heralds of resurrection good news were not women.  Since "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female," we confess a sexism that is as destructive and oppressive as racism and classism.

-We confess our explicit and implicit racism, since Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week.  We confess the dehumanization, distance, and ignorance that stems from valuing the color of one's skin over the content of one's character.

- We are sorry for the times we've prized profits over people and allowed the invisible hand of the market to slap the poor in the face.

-We are sorry for our functional atheism- living as if God was not an active participant in this world.

- We are sorry for the times we've been willing to pay the price of war because we were unwilling to pay the price of peace.

- We are sorry for the times we've used the Bible to support our stances- for the times we've used individual verses as proof texts while we ignored the broad strokes of the Bible- for the times we've cared more about being "biblical" than Christ-like.

- We are sorry for the times we've shut doors in the name of the One who tore down walls.

- We are sorry for the times we've complained about the specks in other people's eyes because we were blinded by the logs in our own.  We are sorry for the times we have, like the Pharisees, swallowed camels but choked on gnats.

- We are sorry for the times we've only accepted what (and those) we understood and reduced "reality" to what fit our paradigms.

- We are sorry for the times we've engaged in culture wars in the name of a God who is reconciling all things to himself.

- We are sorry for the times we've shouted at the sinner rather than befriending them, all the while pretending as if we no longer exist in the category of "sinner."

- We are sorry for caring more about going to heaven than heaven coming to earth.

- We are sorry for the times we've cared more about the institutional survival of the church rather than the vivacity of the Kingdom.

-We confess using instruments of fear to motivate people towards a God of love.

- We are sorry for our carefully calculated loves, which were permitted only when it didn't cost us anything.

- We are sorry for reducing the wonder and sacredness of creation to a shallow utilitarianism.

- We are sorry for overlooking the poor, the children, the elderly, and the ostracized in our pews and down our streets.  We are sorry for caring more about the Bachelor than the Ukraine, Syria, etc.

- We are sorry for our fear of speaking truth to power because we doubted God's power.

Before the ashes are placed on our foreheads tomorrow night, they will rest upon the altar.  This seems about right.  Lord, have mercy.

1 comment:

jblakemckinney said...

Great stuff, Preston. Thanks for sharing this.