I had been a fairly confident young man. I was studying music. I was going to be an orchestra conductor. And, as any musician will tell you, you need to have a bit of an ego to stand in front of 50 to 100 equally ego-obsessed individuals and suggest that your way is the best way. Confidence was one quality I was not lacking.
When you’re young and haven’t experienced failure. The first one can flatten you.
Without sharing the gory details, I had a few big set backs, both personal and professional. After which I found myself in church hearing the words from the prophet Joel in the language of the old Anglican prayer book:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. (Joel 2:13)
For me, these were words of refreshing honesty. Strange truthfulness. Perverse openness.
Failure felt dirty. But there was good news in knowing that my failures, my limitations, my brokenness, could be offered as a gift to God.
Not that God was offering worldly success in return. But that God wanted from me the parts of my life the rest of world didn’t even want to know about.
God wanted my tears. God wanted my anger. God wanted my disappointments and my regrets. No one other than God could take what the world calls ugly and dirty, and transform it into a gift for the Almighty.
So now, Lent is, for me, a time of devastating honesty. Honesty about myself: where I’ve failed. Where I’ve succeeded. Where I’ve fallen short of what God wants for me. Where I need God’s healing in my life.
Sometimes Lent is the spot where pain and pleasure intersect purging me of all that limits abundant living.
But other times Lent requires more from me then I’m ready to give. Because my sin is too great.
But what I’ve learned foremost is that sin is the great equalizer. The grand leveler. None of us gets off scot-free. When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he sings to them of the song of Jesus. He describes for them the entrance of sin and rebellion into the world. We are those who have gone astray, who have preferred our wills to God’s will. The results of this sin are all around us. The history of this past blood-stained century, the headlines in this morning’s paper tell the story.
Yet to this story Paul contrasts the story of Christ. Christ brings life to our death-dealing ways. Christ offers forgiveness for all our sins. In Christ, it’s like God starts all over with creation, from the beginning, and sets us toward a new future.