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Tell it like it is – Ash Wednesday and Lent

We are entering the time of year when a lot of folks on campus are looking for jobs. Seniors are looking for work out in the real world as you approach the end of your years of college. And others of you are looking for summer jobs to help you save a little to pay the bills or get some experience on your resume. As you look for a job you will almost certainly have to go to at least one interview. Despite the fact that interviews have been proven to not be the most effective predictors of success in the workplace, almost every employer out there will conduct interviews of potential candidates.

Resumes, applications, and interviews are stress-inducing prospects for most people. You have to put yourself out there and make the case for why you should be chosen among the hundreds or thousands of other people also looking for work. You have to paint a rosy picture of your numerous strengths and try to explain or minimize your weaknesses. The all-time worst interview or application question ever, has to be:  “What is your greatest weakness?” What are you supposed to say to that question? Name a weakness that is really a strength, like, “I am a perfectionist” and run the risk of irritating the interviewer with a non-answer like that? Or name a real weakness and run the risk that what you say scares off the employer? You can’t win.

I have come across a number of really terrible answers to this question. One person answered the question by saying that she often oversleeps and has trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I’d guess she probably didn’t get the job. Another responded to the question with: “I’m really not a big learner. You know … some people love learning and are always picking up new things, but that’s just not me. I’d much rather work at a place where the job is pretty stagnant and doesn’t change a lot.”  I bet that put a damper on the interview!  And one candidate for a job figured they could joke their way out of the question, by answering, “What is your greatest weakness?” with one word: “kryptonite!”

The job search process might seem to require us to all be Supermen and Women but of course in reality we all have weaknesses. Admitting them is difficult. And not just in an interview. Who wants to admit weakness? Who wants to admit failure? We’d much rather present ourselves to the world as the perfect job candidate who has no real weaknesses and only a pristine and stellar resume. And this desire to show our best side is often true in our relationship with God as well. It is hard to admit our sin to God and each other. We’d much rather look like we have it all together, than tell it like it is.

“But when we are not honest before God in answering the question about our weaknesses we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar.” (1 John 1:8)

These are some pretty strong words from John’s first letter in the Bible. And yet they are consistent with the Biblical witness about sin and truth-telling. God is not interested in jokes or non-answers about our weakness. God knows that everyone of us sins in big ways and small. God can see right through the false show that we put on and shines a light into the shadows that we hide in. But unlike the employer interviewing us, God is not trying to make us squirm or trip us up. God is not trying to see how we will maneuver around the question of our weakness. God just wants us to tell it like it is. Because when we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day in Lent, the 40 days that lead up to Easter. Lent is traditionally a time of repentance and confession where we take stock of our sin, and tell it like it is. On Ash Wednesday we are marked with the sign of the cross in ashes as a reminder of our weakness and that we are like dust in comparison with God. We begin the journey towards the promise of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter by first admitting that we need God and confessing our sin.

There is no spiritual discipline called, “put on your game face and tell God about how great you are.” There is, however, a very important spiritual discipline called confession. Confession is simply telling it like it is. It is admitting to God and each other that we sin. It is agreeing with God about the things that God considers wrong.  Confession is important because God values integrity and honesty. God already knows our failures and weaknesses so it is pointless to try and hide them. But it is important for us to be frank with God and willing to directly admit our sin. If we deny our sin then we also deny our need for forgiveness. We run away from God and fail to acknowledge God as God. If we are not willing to admit our sins then we are lying and indirectly call God a liar as well.

People are not evil through and through. God has made each person in God’s own image and has called us good. But no matter how “good” we are, we also have the capacity to be bad. And on regular occasions we are. We are proud, hurtful, lustful, greedy, hateful, jealous, mean, lazy, and lovers of our selves more than God and others. Not all the time. But often enough. Failing to admit this is like telling the interviewer that our only weakness is kryptonite – except not nearly as funny.

And so we practice the discipline of confession. We tell it like it is.

— Pastor Mark

You are invited to engage in the powerful and freeing spiritual practice of reflection, confession and repentance beginning on Ash Wednesday by joining us for one or more of the following opportunities:

  • Walk the Labyrinth in the chapel at Pres House. The Labyrinth is an ancient spiritual practice designed to help you focus and reflect. It is open 9am-5pm on Wednesday. Watch this short video clip for more on the Labyrinth.
  • Join us for a special contemplative Taize Ash Wednesday service at 7pm on Wednesday night in the chapel. You will have the opportunity to receive the sign of ashes on your forehead at this service.
  • Can’t make the evening service but want to receive the Ashes? Stop by Pres House from 1:00-1:15pm on Wednesday to walk the Labyrinth and receive a prayer and the imposition of ashes.
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