Guest Outpost blog by Andy Kort
I work at a church that likes to plan way ahead. I know this is not unique, but if often catches me a little off-guard. When I met with our music director in late December, it was not to debrief or discuss Advent or Christmas Eve. Rather, we planned Lent – complete with hymns, Scripture and theme. So, it is true to say that I have been worried about this upcoming Lent for sometime now.
But it is not because of worship planning. It is because of my 5-year-old son, Desmond. Back in December, during Advent, Desmond along with his twin sister and younger brother, were full blown into Santa Claus. My wife, Mihee, and I played along. When the kids did something good and listened we told them about how Santa saw it and put them on the “good list.” I honestly can say we told them that God saw it too, and they made God happy. My daughter seemed to get that, but Desmond was more interested in what the big red elf thought. Countless times a day we tell our kids we love them and we frequently tell them that God loves them. Back in December, Desmond would ask, “What about Santa?” Yes, he loves you too.
Then one night about a week before Christmas, as the never-ending Santa and toy list of wants and demands frenzy began to mix with the stress and exhaustion of parents and young children who have all been home all day together for days, it formed a perfect combustible storm cloud waiting to explode. One night it did. As Desmond and his siblings were fighting, crying, yelling, not listening and were working their way off of Santa’s “nice list,” I lost it and in a stern tone I completely regret I turned to Desmond and said, “That’s it. You are on the bad list.” I have never seen him instantly melt to the floor and cry like that before. It broke my heart.
I comforted him as best I could. I assured him that he would be on the “good list” and that I was sure Santa would bring him a Captain America toy. I told him I was sorry for yelling and getting frustrated. But for the whole next week he kept asking me a question that made me feel terrible every time. He would ask, “Daddy, am I bad?” No, Desmond. Of course you are not. You are so very very good.
That’s why I’ve been worried about Lent. I know that we have to take a long hard look at ourselves, our lives and come to grips with our sinfulness. I know that we have to honestly search our hearts and make our confessions. I know that confession is a necessary part of reconciliation. I know about the folly of cheap grace. I know that we all do bad things and we stray from the will of God. I know all of that, and I agree with all of that. Yet, during Lent when we have people recite Psalm 51 aloud and they say, “Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb,” I wonder how many, like Desmond, are wondering to themselves, “Am I bad?” When a funeral takes place during Lent and we use liturgy from the Book of Common Worship, like we do at other times, the congregation prays to God and says, “We confess that we are unworthy of your gracious care.” How many in the pews are thinking, “Am I bad?” In Lent when I talk with them about our inability to avoid and give into temptation, about our human weakness, our total depravity, and our habitual practice of placing so many things before God, how many are thinking, “Am I bad?”
Our church has this cute little tradition of packing away “Alleluias” during Lent. We write alleluia down on pieces of poster-board and put them all in a box until Easter when we’d open the box and then the choir would burst into alleluias. People love it. The choir loves it. I love it. But we are not doing it this year because I decided that we really never should pack away the alleluias.
If every Sunday truly is a “little Easter,” a triumphant day filled with good news when we celebrate the death of death and sin’s destruction, then that would include Sundays in Lent. They are “little Easters” too and the alleluias should be out, free, and running around making their way to whomever in the crowd might need to hear it that day. We never know who might be struggling and what a word of grace and assurance of forgiveness, even alleluia, might do for them, for their understanding of who they are and who God is, and what the church ultimately proclaims – even during Lent. We never know, especially during these holy 40 days and 40 nights, who may be wondering to themselves, “Am I bad?”
To each child of God who, like Desmond, may tearfully melt to the floor in guilt, shame, and sadness I want to say, “No, Beloved. Of course not. You are so very very good.” I think God would agree. Alleluia!
ANDY KORT is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Indiana. He is on Twitter @andykort.