Hi friends! We welcomed 27 (!) new members into the church this morning. During a time of physical distancing, we are humbled and grateful for the way God is continuing to work within our church and community. What a grace that we have uncovered!
Here is this morning’s sermon, as well as the video of this morning’s worship.
Peace be with you friends!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 21, 2021
A Fresh Start
Two years ago, I did something that I had not done in well over a decade.
I went to the dentist.
I know. Not good.
I think part of the problem was, at the beginning of my, let’s call it a, “hiatus”, my life was kind of in transition. I was in college and therefor moving back and forth between school and home – my dentist was in Connecticut, but I was spending most of my time in Pennsylvania at that point. Then I moved to Atlanta, which was a permanent residence (we had Georgia license plates and everything), but I was still in school and part of their internal healthcare system and so annual physicals and exams were just not on my radar. Then Bruce and I spent a very short amount of time in Connecticut before finally moving to Rehoboth.
Now I know that this is the point in the story where I should have found a dentist and made an appointment to see them.
(I also know that we have dentists in the congregation, so really there is no excuse.)
But it just kept slipping my mind.
That is, at first it just kept slipping my mind.
But eventually, it was very much on my mind – because I knew I really needed to go.
And the thing is, the longer I went without making that appointment and just going, the worse I felt about it. Because I knew the longer I went without going, the worse any potential problems I had were going to be. I knew the longer I went without going, the scarier it was going to be to walk into that office for the first time. I knew the longer I went without going, the harder it was going to be to admit to the dentist just how long it had been since I sat in one of those chairs.
The longer I waited, the guiltier I felt.
And truth be told, the only reason I ended up finally making an appointment and going to see the dentist was because I had admitted my dental negligence to Jen Healy, who is our Financial Secretary, and she actually held me accountable to make that first appointment. She said to me one day, “I am going to text you at noon tomorrow to make sure you’ve done it,” and so at 11:55 the next day I was on the phone making the appointment.
Accountability partners are a good thing – and I will get back to that in a minute.
As strange as this sounds, it felt really good to finally go to the dentist. It was like I was getting a fresh start. From that point on, I could do exactly what I was supposed to do – go every six months, be a dutiful dental patient. And the best part is that my dentist was so gracious towards me; she said, in such a kind and gentle tone, “I know it’s been a long time, but now that you are back, you are going to come back every six months, right?” And I said, “Yes!” and she said, “Great!” and then we moved on.
It was like a weight had been lifted.
I was doing something wrong.
First I admitted my wrongdoing.
Then I was forgiven.
And finally, I took steps to do better.
This is kind of what happens in prayer.
I was thinking about my experience getting back to the dentist this week as I was looking at the lectionary. This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Psalms; it is a Psalm of David. David wrote this when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba. It is a prayer for forgiveness.
Psalm 51 is what is known as an “exilic individual lament.” A lament is an expression of sorrow or regret. “Exilic” means that it was written in exile and individual means it was not communal, it was written by one person.
One of the reasons I love this psalm is because it demonstrates a crucial, but simple practice that we all should be doing in our lives. David uses this psalm as an opportunity to confess his personal sins; to admit the moments in his life where he has fallen short, where he has sinned, where he has made the wrong choice. David rips off the band aid and puts it all out on the table.
And then David asks God for forgiveness, knowing and affirming that God’s love is steadfast, that God’s mercy is abundant. David is able to boldly admit his brokenness because he knows that God is ready and waiting to make him whole again.
And the same is true for us, today.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,” David writes, “and put a new and right spirit within me. … Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
It must have felt like a weight had been lifted for David when he wrote these words, as if he was getting a fresh start.
And here is the Good News that brings us new life: We can get this fresh start every single day of our lives.
We just have to ask for it.
We just have to ask for it. We have to, like David demonstrates here, admit our shortcomings to God. We have to shed light on our brokenness, without shame or embarrassment. We have to seek reconciliation in real time, knowing that God is waiting for us, believing that God’s love is more powerful than our mistakes, more forgiving than our sins and more hopeful than the hopelessness we often feel as we try desperately to bury our imperfections.
If it has been a while since you have had a conversation with God and admitted the things that you have done wrong and asked for forgiveness, I would strongly encourage you to have that conversation and have it soon. Humble yourself before the cross and admit your shortcomings. Remember what David says in this Psalm – he says that God’s love is steadfast and that God’s mercy is abundant. God is ready to hear you confess your sins. God is ready to shine light upon those sins in order to help you heal from them. God is ready to give you that fresh start so that you, like David, can hear joy and gladness.
I think we all have things in our lives that weigh us down. Some things are bigger and more serious than others, but I think it is important to remember that nothing is too big or too small to receive the grace and mercy of God’s love and forgiveness. Part of our call, as Christians, is to believe the resurrection not only happened in Christ, but that it happens in us; that God is constantly working on us, through us and within us. We have to believe that reconciliation did not just happen when the blood of Christ was shed, but that it continues to happen in our lives today.
The season of Lent is a season of repentance where, at the end of 40 days, we experience resurrection. But as people of faith, we do not have to wait for Lent to come around every year in order to repent; we can pray to God – directly to God – and seek forgiveness every single day of our lives. We can admit the things that are getting worse, harder and scarier the longer we bury them. We can be restored with a clean heart, ready to do the work that God is calling us to do.
The work that God needs us to do.
So I would encourage you today to have a conversation with God – an open, honest and humble conversation. Tell God about the moments where you have fallen short and where you have made mistakes. Be truthful about how you are feeling in sharing this and how you are hoping to move forward. Talk about your stumbling blocks and ask God to help you move them. Know that this is your fresh start – and that it can be, every single day.
And this does not have to be a really formal thing, either, it just needs to be a conversation; a conversation with God where you just talk about what is on your heart, the things you have been afraid to admit, but know you should.
A weight will be lifted. This will be our fresh start. We will be able to do better.
And really quickly – back to the thing about accountability partners. As people of faith, we are called to hold one another accountable. And the thing is, we do not have to know the specifics of one another’s sins and shortcomings in order to hold each other accountable to confess them to God and seek reconciliation.
So use one another; hold one another accountable. You do not have to share your deepest and darkest secrets with our entire church family, but we can all make sure that we are sharing them with God.
Today we are welcoming new members into our church family. Part of being in community – being a member of a local church – is pledging to support one another along our journeys of faith. Today we make this pledge to our new members and they make this pledge to us – this pledge to not only serve God and our church, but one another, in love, friendship and faith. As members of this church, we know that faith does not happen in a vacuum and we are ready to stand together and help one another along our journeys.
Friends, in so many ways, a fresh start is happening right now. Resurrection is coming.
Thanks be to God!