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Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 John 1:6-8, 19-28

We just wrapped up the theology reading group of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Accidental Saints.” For those who may be unfamiliar with her writing, it’s when a Lutheran pastor with a history of addictions, stand up comedy, swearing, and brilliant theology sits down to write non-fiction anecdotes from life and ministry. Her writing comes across as accessible and witty, yet packs in a lot of orthodox Lutheran theology about grace. Through our conversations many of us identified with vulnerability to talk about the ways both she and people in her church and life feel they fall short of various definitions of success. This past week we asked ourselves the question what church would look like if we could be honest about our struggles. Instead of putting on our Sunday best and a brave face what would it be like to share about what we find hard in life. With the caveat that the sharing is voluntary. No one owes anyone their story. But imagine how liberating it would be if we could stop keeping up appearances and confess to God, ourselves, and one another that we find things hard. Without fear of judgment.

          Our reading from Isaiah proclaims that we ought to proclaim comfort to those who mourn and good news to the oppressed. People who are marginalized and struggling most in life are in need of good news. Sometimes we’re good at recognizing the good news of Jesus as it applies to other people, but not so much for ourselves. We rejoice that Jesus releases people from sins, but sometimes we hang onto our own sins. When we think we aren’t worthy of being forgiven. This can take a variety of shapes. One can be repeating to ourselves memories of when we’ve done or said something that wasn’t our best work. When we carry around these memories and replay them to ourselves. That isn’t very loving or grace-filled to ourselves. And the reality is that if we can’t accept the gift of grace for us, it might be hampering our ability to proclaim a gospel of grace to others. When we don’t accept God’s love for ourselves, it affects our ability fully to love others.

          We’ve heard the phrase “hurt people, hurt people.” Meaning that people who have experienced trauma or abuse tend to reciprocate this trauma and abuse upon others, whether knowingly or not. Jesus releases us of our hurt. It’s okay we don’t have it altogether. It’s okay that we fall short. Not that we have to confess everything to others. But when we accept Jesus’ liberation for us, it makes it easier to offer it to others as well.

          Right now I want to give you a moment to pause and think about one thing you need to confess. One thing you carry with you that you want to let go. It could be a regret of something you said or did. Or something you didn’t say or didn’t do. Let’s take a moment silently to lift that up.


Thank you for doing that. Now imagine Jesus forgiving you that thing. Remember the promise of absolution that was professed at the end of the Confession rite at the beginning of worship. Do you believe this absolution is for you? If not, why not? Something to sit with and reflect upon this week.

          On a related noted about accepting God’s grace, recently our family has been watching episodes of Schitt’s Creek together, a CBC comedy, starring Eugene and Dan Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Annie Murphy, and more. The show shares in common with Nadia Bolz-Weber writing that is tightly written and witty. On the final episode of Season Two of Schitt’s Creek, we find the parents Moira and Johnny Rose going for an anniversary dinner in the nearby town of Elmdale. The premise of the show is that the Roses fell from grace as socialites and multimillionaires through the financial fraud of a business partner. They now live out their days residing in the humble motel in Schitt’s Creek. The rural town was the one investment the IRS let them keep after they lost everything else. At the restaurant Johnny and Moir unexpectedly run into old friends from their socialite days. At first Johnny and Moira uncomfortably fall back into their old personas keeping up appearances. They uneasily go along with jokes making fun of the town and restaurant’s humble stature. The discomfort is ratcheted up a notch when their new friends Roland and Jocelyn, who are salt of the earth folks join them at the table. Forced to choose between their past socialite personas of keeping up appearances and new humbler lives in Schitt’s Creek, Johnny and Moira do the right thing. They refuse to score points with their old friends by satirizing their new home and friends. Instead Johnny confronts their friends, asking where they were when they hit hard times. And telling how Roland Jocelyn have been there for them with unconditional love when none of their old friends opened their homes. It was a time of reckoning that was coming in the arc of the storyline. The story pivots from out of place socialites who can’t wait to skip town, to people growing roots in the most unlikely of places. Johnny and Moira choose to lift up their blue collar friends whose clothes, haircuts, and manners are different than where they came from. And it cements their friendship in a genuine way.

          Perhaps this story hits home for so many people because we’ve all had our version of this story play out in our lives. Maybe not quite the riches to rags story of the Rose family. But some version of old friends abandoning us and new friends who are there for us. It’s a human story to take stock of who we count as real friends and whose friendship is conditional upon fulfilling a certain role for them.

          I want you to take a moment to think of a person who showed you unconditional love and acceptance when others didn’t. Let’s take a moment right now - someone who was there for you when you needed it most.

Thank you for doing that. If this person is still with us, when is the last time you spoke to this person? Have you ever thanked them for being there for you? Maybe this week or over the holidays you want to drop them a line, give them a call, or write them a call just to get back in touch if it’s been awhile.

It’s also important that we tell our stories about faith. In part through our conversations with the reading group we are learning how to tell our own faith stories. Not just confession, but interpreting our own lives in terms of the grace and liberation Jesus offers. That’s not something that comes naturally to us in the Lutheran or other mainline traditions. Often we’ve told ourselves that narratives like this are for feeling-based churches whether evangelical, Pentecostal, or otherwise. But that’s not necessarily healthy for us to avoid telling our own faith stories. We too need to articulate our theologies in terms of lives lived. When we tell our stories, and we listen to others tell their stories, we build relationships together as the body of Christ. Through listening generously and with empathy we can be there for each other as followers of Jesus. But that takes building relationships and building trust. Getting to know each other especially in small groups, whether it is a reading group, Stitch n Chat, Women in Faith, Perk Me Up, the choir, or other groups that meet together.

          I want you to take a moment to think about one thing you want to tell about your own faith story. Not your whole biography. Just if someone asked you to tell one story about your faith in 25 words or less how would you begin? Doesn’t have to be polished, just an idea. Go ahead and take a moment.

Thank you doing that. Now that you’ve done that exercise, tuck away that 25 words or less story. You don’t have to do anything with it. Just know that it’s there. And maybe one day you will be asked to share it if you want.

          Wrapping up, know that the good news of the gospel is for you. Remember that Confession, Grace, and Stories of Faith are for you and for us to share. The words of comfort from Isaiah, comforting those who mourn and good news to those who are oppressed are for you. By Jesus setting us free, God also uses us to proclaim release to others who feel they unworthy of grace. We aren’t the only ones struggling in life. Everyone is struggling in some way. Imagine if collectively we can use our gifts and resources for mutual liberation. To release the burdens we carry around with ourselves. Accept Jesus’ release of your burdens today. Amen.