Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

Psalm 51
Ash Wednesday
February 13, 2013
William G. Carter
The title of my brief meditation is also the title of a recent book: Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). A friend recommended it after having some trouble with the people where he worked. They were just terrible to him, he said. Apparently the trouble got so difficult that his superiors sent him off to a counselor. After a few high-priced sessions with the counselor, he confessed, “It never occurred to me that I was part of the problem.” So the counselor suggested the book: Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me).

            It’s a revealing read, because it reminds us that all of us have our blind spots. We create stories about ourselves and then adjust the stories if necessary to feel secure. Whether it is public scandal or private tragedy, the news spin can begin in our own imagination. We tell ourselves a story as a way of handling something that has happened. And unless we stay vigilant about the truth, the story grows until it replaces what actually happened.

            In the margin of Psalm 51, the editor says this is the prayer that King David made after he stole another man’s wife. All the particular details of that theft have been sanded away from the psalm. There is no mention that the king already five or six wives, depending on which account you read. He does not confess how he spied Bathsheba bathing, how he wanted her as if she was on the cover of a magazine, how he misused his authority to get her, how he attempted to cover up the sin, or how he finally got rid of her unimaginative husband by sending him to the front line of battle.

            But the psalm does pray, “Have mercy on me, O Lord.” Cleanse me from my sin. I am guilty. Don’t cast me away. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

            We can only pray that way if we are honest that we are the ones who make our own mistakes. Not somebody else. Not the others in the room. We take responsibility for telling the truth about what we have done or what we have not done. That is hard work and it takes courage. It also takes truthful friends who will remind us of the very things that we have pushed out of sight.

            “Against you, and you only, have I sinned.” This is how the Psalm frames it. God creates us in beauty. God calls us to goodness. We goof it up and then say, “It wasn’t me.” This creates all kinds of pain and damage in the people around us. But the initial offense is against the God who intends us to be beautiful and good.

            The psalm says, “Lord, if you want to punish me, I know I have it coming.” And it also says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Because that is the intended destination: restoration. Reconciliation. Bringing broken people back into full relationship with the God who creates us in love.

            So the invitation tonight is to return. To come home. To knock off all the invented stories and say, “Here I am, Lord. You know me. You know who I am. You want my full devotion and here I am.” The Christian life is a continuing invitation to live in complete fellowship with our Maker, Judge, and Savior. It is the invitation to come home regularly and to wean ourselves from all the distractions offered by the world and our imaginations.

            One of my friends has taken to writing hymns. Here are the stanzas that she offers for this day:

Ash Wednesday comes, and Lord, we hear
The word for which our spirits yearn;
Amid this world’s distress and fear,
We hear your loving call:  “Return!”
“Return to me with all your heart—
With fasting, weeping, mourning, too.”
O God, we seek a brand new start,
A new beginning here with you.
You call to us--- the old, the young;
You summon nations strong and weak.
When we have drifted toward the wrong,
You call us back, your way to seek.
O God most merciful and kind,
Your love is not a prize we earn;
Yet in our life with you we find
The joy that comes when we return.[1]

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] © 2011 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

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