And I Cried.

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Yesterday was a painful day.  I was following the events of General Conference, that world wide gathering of United Methodism which takes place every four years.  It is a time of holy conferencing and communion of the Wesleyan faithful from all over the earth.  I was once blessed to attend the gathering in 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas with my mother.  It was an experience I will never forget and always treasure, so I was devastated to read the news reports and accounts on social media yesterday which relayed the extreme strain and real possibility of a potential break in the denomination.

I love this Church.  It is mine, and that of millions of Methodists.  It is the church of my birth, my childhood, my youth, my adulthood, and my pastorate.  I have joined it with all that I am, and served it with all that I have.  I have made great sacrifices personally to be Methodist clergy, and I expect to give much more during the course of my life.  Just the thought of it being rended caused me great agony, emotionally and spiritually.  So much so that I was overwhelmed, and I cried.

I cried tears the likes of which had not fallen since my first marriage failed, and my family dissipated from the promise made during the worship of Holy Matrimony.  I cried as if I was once more confronted with a brokenness that would never be fully healed in this lifetime, a failure from which no restoration would come.  I cried as if the feelings of betrayal that destroyed my family were once more tangible in the possibility of the loss of my beloved United Methodist Church.  There have been times in my life when the only thing I had was God, and God was readily available in the United Methodist Church.  No denominational break can take God from me, but I fear that this may not be the case for all.  What might the loss of United Methodism mean for others?

There are many who feel loss right now about their place in the United Methodist Church.  They wonder if their identification as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer means that they are denied God’s grace or the love of Christ’s Church.  They wonder if they can be welcomed into worship and the fullness of church life their heterosexual counterparts enjoy.  They have experiences of pain, suffering, rejection, and persecution.  They fight for inclusion.  Many of my beloved family and friends count themselves in these numbers.

Others feel like they are being portrayed as monsters for their understanding of Scripture, and their faithfulness to the current doctrine of the Church.  They feel villainized and unfairly depicted.  Labeled hate mongers and cast as the Judas of this drama, they feel as if they too are misunderstood.  They have loved this Church, tried to be faithful to the Bible, and just to the doctrine.  They have their own tales of struggle and suffering around this issue.  They are the counterpart to the first perspective, and no less in pain.

I cried for both sides.  I also cried for my own: another stuck between the two.  I thought the Church was where all can come before God, no matter their sin or state of being, and encounter grace.  I thought we all fell short of the glory of God, and were looking to grow beyond ourselves into reflections of Christ who died because we all sin.  The sins may differ, but the consequences are all the same: brokenness.  As one whose life was forever changed because of sinful heterosexual sex, I cried that my family of faith was threatened with its own form of divorce.  No one person, perspective, or side is right.  I suspect that there is truth to be cultivated from all sides.  There is no simple truth, no ready fix, no easy path.  However, I believe that the path will be dictated by the desire to walk together or away from one another.

I cannot change the events of General Conference, or the hearts and minds of those elected to represent me and the Annual Conference I serve.  So I turn to prayer.  I pray for God to overwhelm us all with grace, hope, and truth.  I pray that every United Methodist recall the pledge to the Body of Christ in our membership, not just our vision for the Church.  I pray we can hold fast to one another, no matter the side we hold to be righteous.  I pray for the leaders of our Church, both clergy and laity, to endeavor to model Christ as the denomination and the world outside of it look on with bated breath.  Many marriages like my own have failed because one party was all too wiling to walk away.  I pray that we recall our covenant before God to endure until we are parted by death.  There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  No sin can either.  In our collective imperfection, let us model perfect unity.  Let us love in spite of our differences in expression, identity, and perspective on any issue.  May God turn my tears of fear and sorrow into tears of joy, that the United Methodist Church will persist despite all obstacles and present trials.

I have no answers.  I have only prayers, and this incredible faith that God can do all things.  May God’s will be done in and through the United Methodist Church.  Amen.

Transition: The Trial and the Triumph

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The Book of James tell us that God does not change: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 NRS).  Perhaps we can take comfort in the steadfastness of our Lord whose love never ends and grace for us does not waver.  Maybe we need to be reminded of that more than ever when things change in our lives.

I have been through much change in the thirty-five years of my life.  I have moved more than nine times, and am preparing for my tenth.  I have been married, and then divorced; a change I never would have anticipated.  Becoming a mother continues to be a daily encounter with change.  My life changed again when I unexpectedly met the man who would become my new husband, step-father to our son, and partner in ministry.  Now I am at the culmination of my journey to ordination and my first appointment as an ordained Elder.  This is change.  It means life in flux, and the transformation of self and circumstance.  I could be frightened.  Some might say I should be scared, but I am not.  I believe that God is at work in my life and my ministry, and God is active in this change.  Perhaps I am foolish to feel so at ease, or perhaps I have reached a point in my faith life where I am so grounded in God that nothing can shake me, unless I let it.

Change can be difficult.  I am deeply invested in my current congregation in Norfolk, VA.  I have been with them for eight incredible years.  They have been invested in me from the first stage of declaring my candidacy for ordination to its completion this June.  We have been through countless trials and tribulations.  We have experienced the fullness of human emotion together, and emerged stronger.  God has knitted us together for a time, and I have been blessed to be bound to them.  But now that bond is being severed.  I am being called to a new congregation, and there is much to mourn about this separation.

The miracle of God is that even in the sadness and mourning, there is so much to anticipate with hope and joy.  I have been granted gifts and graces in ministry which are needed, valued, and desired.  God has moved hearts and minds to send me to Crozet, VA, not least of which is my own.  My hope is not at the expense of my current congregation either.  God has made sure to send them a new pastor with his own gifts and graces, and passion for ministry.  When he arrives, the Holy Spirit will begin to knit him and the congregation together, weaving the next panel in a tapestry of their identity.  While I am only beginning to know him, I know that we serve and honor the same Lord.  I can trust that the God who called me and upheld me, can and will do the same for him.  It is a blessing to fathom the graciousness of God in this time of transition.

This is the tale of only two churches in transition, but spring in the United Methodist Church is a time of profound change for many churches and their congregations.  The Body of Christ is being made and remade all over the world.  There are many who will be frightened of the future, and that is an honest emotion.  There will be others who will find this serene sense of God sweeping over them, and if we find ourselves in that category, then we are duty bound to share that comfort, while still allowing space for the ambiguity of change.  This is a time to draw near to God and one another.  It is an opportunity to cling to our faith rather than digging in our heels against inevitable change.

I am praying for all those who are in the throes of change.  My deepest prayer is that we can allow change to be a time of transition, moving from one state to another with grace and the preservation of human dignity.  God may be unchanging, but in the midst of change we just might see God in the most profound ways, and come to understand the claim God has on our lives.  May any change we experience be filled with tangible signs of God’s presence and providence.  May we stand firm in our faith, even when the ground seems shaky.

Change Over Time

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(Image by Sarah R. Wastella)

I think those of who have been part of the Church for all or most of our lives can easily forget that transformation into a Christian and then into a disciple takes place over time.  I realize that many people have this moment when they are willing to declare their faith in Jesus Christ, but that is often proceeded by encounters with others of faith who inform and provide the necessary seeds for faith to take root by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Even Peter, according to the Gospel account of Luke, first heard Jesus preaching to the people on the shore (Luke 5:1-3), then witnessed the miraculous catch (Luke 5:4-7) before he fell to his knees and pleaded with Jesus to withdraw from him because of Peter’s sin (Luke 5:8-10).  Peter was not ready to follow Jesus then; he asked him to leave!  But it was a turning point, the beginning of a dialogue and relationship that would EVENTUALLY lead to transformation of Simon Peter, the fisherman, into Peter, the fisher of men and women.

Have we so easily forgotten that the Twelve, who followed Jesus for the three years of his earthly ministry, were still confused and scattered at his arrest, trial, suffering, and death?  They started to follow at Jesus’ invitation, but they were not complete then too.  It would take years of encounter, experience, and witnessing the countless miracles (feedings, healings, and mighty acts) to be in a place to finally be transformed into the disciples we know as those who first spread the Gospel of Christ.  I think that Scripture prepares us to be part of the long haul of making disciples.  If we follow Jesus’ model, and I think we should, then we have to cultivate relationship and have a conversation that will last years, and not all of that with words.  While that same sacred text reveals instances when people immediately became believers, we have to recognize that profession of faith, declaring oneself to be a Christian, is not synonymous with becoming a disciple.  A Christian professes belief in Christ, but a disciple follows Christ and his teachings.  This world is filled with those who believe, but not all will follow.  Just as dozens came into Jerusalem with Jesus, believing in him, but only a faithful few followed him to the cross, while the others scattered in fear and self-preservation.  Many profess Christ in their hearts and even with their mouths, but are not willing to take the next step and profess him with their lives.  If every person who self-identified as a Christian lived that out, then this world would be a very different place.  Love of God and love for others would overflow tangibly.

So why it is that there is this pervasive expectation that we immediately condemn the sinful actions of others, expect them to convert to faith in Christ, and be instantly transformed?  While Peter self-identified as a sinful man, he did not stop his sin immediately, but he did immediately start the path by engaging with Jesus.  Peter would continue to sin, denying Jesus the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in suffering and death (Matthew 16:21-23), and denying Jesus himself (Mark 14:66-72), yet he remains an example to all those who would seek to become disciples to persevere over time.  Jesus did not begin his relationship with Peter by declaring Peter to be a sinner and demanding he repent.  Instead he asking him to come along, to be with him as he lived out his divine purpose.  As clergy, I cultivate relationship long before I can speak into the heart to evoke change.  I have to build trust, earn respect, and model what I preach and teach.  Only then do I stand a chance of being a vessel of God’s transformative love and grace.  Even then I am a part of a larger narrative of other faithful followers, disciples who bear Christ’s name and love in this world.

Jesus never modeled a love them and leave them ministry.  He entered into conversation, went to people where they were in their daily lives, and invited them to experience something wholly and holy other.  Some listened, some ignored, but those who chose to continue the dialogue stood the best chance of being truly and lastingly transformed.  But even we who have been a part of the Church for so long should be mindful that we have had instances of rejection of the Gospel, refusal to follow, and backsliding.  We are not perfect disciples either.  While I do not think we claim to be, sometimes our manner of interacting with those outside of the Church communicates a sense of superiority and exasperation with those who have not entered into our fellowship as full members.  We cannot expect everyone to immediately become Christians much less disciples, and we should be quick to engage rather than condemn.  Transformation is the goal of the Gospel and that takes time.  Are we willing to practice patience and invest it in the very people to whom Christ sends us?

A Prayer for the Disciple Drowning in Conflict

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To you I cling, O Lord.

I send my prayers to you,

Hoping you will save me from the tides of conflict.

There are relationships in my life that are filled with strife.

I cannot stand to discover the news of more death, violence, and warfare.

Nations battle nations, people vilify people.

I long for peace.

I desire to live in community with people who want to awaken to a world that is more than this.

I know there are others like me;

Who want something more than the drudgery of making money and spending it.

I believe that there are those who would pursue the treasures of heaven:

Reconciliation, joy, and holiness.

These are the blessings of heaven, a glimpse of the Kingdom to Come.

Help me to walk the path which will bring me to your gates.

May your grace cleanse me so I may enter in.

As I live here and now, I pray that I will be a vessel of your goodness.

I declare my desire to fill this world will acts of kindness and mercy,

Borne of love and compassion.

Do not let the evils of this world overshadow my dream.

Do not let my faith falter in the face of sin.

Gird and guide me.

Save and sanctify me.

In your love, I live.

Amen.

Principles and Policy Collide with Religion: The Kentucky County Clerk Conflict

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If you have been following the drama in the Rowan County Clerk’s office, then you know that a Kentucky public official has refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.  She has now been found in contempt of court, and you can read the update here: Kentucky Clerk’s Office Will Issue Marriage Licenses Friday – Without Clerk.  The topic came up at my Bible Study yesterday morning.  This clerk, an elected public official, is charged with issuing a legal document for marriages, and she has refused to do so since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriages in the United States.  Many religious spokespersons and political leaders have supported her stance.  I do not.  It is not about supporting or opposing gay marriage from a Christian stand point either.  In the United States, couples, both heterosexual and now homosexual, have the right to be legally married.  That may have nothing to do with Holy matrimony.

Holy matrimony is a covenant made before God and consecrated, made sacred, by the blessing of God upon the individuals and the union.  It is officiated by clergy, acting on behalf of the Church, and done within the context of a worship service.  The language is specific and includes prayers, Scripture readings, and the invocation of blessings.  As clergy, I officiate Holy matrimony.  It just so happens that the Commonwealth of Virginia, where I reside and serve a local church, recognizes my authority to perform Holy matrimony as valid for legal marriage as well.  So that, if a couple goes to the courthouse and fills out the proper paperwork to obtain a marriage license no more than sixty days before their wedding ceremony, I can fill out the license, submit it to the court, and then the Holy matrimony is also a legal marriage, but this does not have to be the case.  I can and have performed Holy matrimony without it being a legally recognized marriage.  God does not stipulate that Holy matrimony be a legal change in status for secular institutions and governments.

What the Rowan County Clerk fails to realize is that her objection on religious grounds is inconsequential because the Supreme Court did not and could not require religious institutions to perform Holy matrimony for gay couples.  There are certainly many Christian denominations and churches that do, but it has never been required by the United States government.  Holy matrimony is under the Church’s purview.  If the County Clerk wishes to belong to a church that does not perform Holy matrimony for gay couples, then that is her prerogative, but to withhold a civil license for a secular purpose is ludicrous.  Her argument is even judgmental and flawed.  While I understand that she is against Holy matrimony for gays, she has been providing legal licenses for heterosexual couples without any proof or knowledge that they are justified to be married from a religious stand point.  She performs no premarital counseling, as I and most clergy do.

Premarital counseling is not just to makes sure a couple understands the gravity of their request to be married or that they have proper communication and conflict resolution skills; it allows the officiating clergy to be comfortable with presiding at the covenantal ceremony.  I will be asking questions that are part of a life long commitment ratified before God.  I need to know that there is no abuse going on.  I clarify that both parties understands divorce is not the way God intends for marriage to terminate, but to last until death parts them.  I make certain both parties desire this union and are committed to it.  I am acting on behalf of the Church and calling upon God to be witness.  I do not take that lightly.  Even as a Christian lay person that would not be the Clerk’s role, and she lacks the training and religious authority to make that judgement call.  I have no doubt at least one heterosexual couple has been issued a marriage license during her tenure for whom I would not have felt comfortable or confident performing Holy matrimony.

No government entity is requiring religious institutions to perform gay marriage ceremonies.  We are still free to keep Holy matrimony as heterosexual or as universal as we please.  Christians need to remember that there are things of God and the Church that are not tied to legal status and secular recognition.  Holy matrimony is one of them.  Even if state and federal governments suddenly stopped recognizing  Holy matrimony as legal marriage, clergy would still perform the covenant.  Just as baptisms and Holy communion have no legal bearing, they are sacred to us and have infinite value to those who partake in their grace.  Holy matrimony and services of death and resurrection (funerals) are the same.  Some Christians need to stop looking for a fight, and taking every opportunity to be outraged.  Instead, let us focus on whether we are living out the Gospel of truth, hope, and love.  There is plenty of work to be done, and fighting over legal paperwork is probably not high on Christ’s list.

A Portrait of Forgiveness

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Forgiveness is a difficult thing to grasp.  It means to pardon, to absolve of guilt.  The adage “forgive and forget” is not biblical, and God never says God will not recall our sins, but rather God will forgive them when we seek forgiveness.  Forgiveness means that we are willing to clear the wrong from the slate, and seek the relationship over punitive measures.  Forgiveness is not about vengeance, but reconciliation.  We may never forget what was done, but in forgiving we promise to not hold it against the other, to wield it against them when we feel angry or hurt.  That promise is difficult, and human sinfulness would quickly and all too readily use the wrongs of the past as a weapon in a future conflict, so even as we forgive we must always be on guard not to slip back into the state that preceded our granting grace to another.

“I can never forgive.”  I have heard that many times in my life, personally and professionally.  I understand the sentiment.  I have felt the feeling, but I have also known grace from God.  I know that there have been times in my life when nothing meant anything until I had that assurance that I had been forgiven my sins.  Those times when you are seeking to be reconciled to God can be the most barren and spiritually painful of human existence.  You can feel the weight of the world and be keenly aware of the magnitude of your sin, and the shame is unbearable.  The thought of being cut off for all time from the life force and sustaining love that is the Lord even now makes my chest tight.  To recall how close I have been to that, and then remember the flood of grace into my consciousness and into the fabric of my being is a liberation like no other.  I try to remember that when I need to forgive.  I try to remember what it felt like that moment I knew that God had once more let the blood of the cross cleanse my sin sick self.  I want that knowledge and visceral feeling to motivate me to do likewise for others.

I have known my share of pain and suffering at the hands of others.  I have known the ultimate betrayal, and I have survived.  I now thrive in the aftermath of all of those times precisely because I have forgiven.  I do not seek retaliation, or suffering in kind.  That would only perpetuate the cycle of suffering, and I see no reason to continue the pain I have known.  I want it to die.  I want to hang it up on the cross and leave it there to wither and fade.  I want life and hope to grow forth from the space that forgiveness makes in me and in the lives of others.  I know the hard and too often unspoken truth that reconciliation is not synonymous with restoration, but forgiveness does not rest on the certainty of restoration.  Restoration is something God can do for us, not something that we can make happen here in this world.  Even when I have been willing and wanting, restoration has not always been possible, but the forgiveness made something new possible.  I have learned to live out a new way of being, one where I am free to leave the chains of pain and suffering in the past.  I have been liberated by Christ’s offering on the cross, and I offer that to all who offend me.

If I could paint a picture of forgiveness, it would be a small, but perfectly crafted ice sculpture of whatever image you prefer.  Its beauty carved, and meticulously so.  So lovely that we wish for it to remain that way for all time, but then sin happens, and it fractures, maybe even breaks in two.  We grasp it in our hands, holding it together as if by doing so we could will it to mend.  Yet the image has been destroyed from the form it once held.  Our hands become cold, achingly cold.  We could open them and let what remains of the sculpture fall to the ground and shatter, or we could let the life blood within us circulate in our hands, warming and morphing.  With time, it becomes transformed from the application of body heat, and the ice melts.  Water rushes out from every seam.  It flows between our fingers and down our arms.  It drops to the ground and nourishes whatever lies beneath the soil.  Something hidden and unknown soaks in the life-giving water, and will grow forth in time.  But now our hands are free, liberated to open and grasp something new.  They may reach out to others, or clasp themselves in prayer.  They can become the means by which we help what was thirsty under the ground and out of sight emerge and thrive.  While we thought we would hold tight to that ice sculpture forever and wanted nothing more than to do just that, we now have the opportunity to do something different, but just as loving and amazing.  Perhaps if the other is willing, we will carve a new sculpture together, or maybe we will accept that the sculpture of before is forever lost.  Either way, God wants to help us discover a new purpose for our hands and our lives.

God wants to let forgiveness be the beginning of healing and a new wholeness, not just for us, but for the other one too.  If you have pain and have suffered at the hands of another, then forgiveness is not something God is making you do.  Forgiveness is something God models for us, so that we can discover how incredible it is to be emancipated from the bitterness suffering breeds.  Rancor would suffocate the life out of the spirit, smothering the joy God intends for every person.  Forgiveness is opening the door to a world of hope and new blessings, unknown but promised in Christ.

The Sin of Scapegoating

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The Sin of Scapegoating

“Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task.  The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:21-22 NRS).


(Image by Sarah Wastella)

While the term itself, “scapegoat” is not in the Bible, the concept comes directly from Scripture.  In the Book of Leviticus, the Law of the Lord, made provision for the collective sins of Israel to be expelled from their midst.  The text outlines the High Priest laying his hands upon the head of the goat, transferring the sins of the people, and then sending it off into the wilderness.  Thus the sins are sent out of the presence of people and the Lord who dwells in their midst.  The notion of scapegoat is one humankind seem to have a natural affinity towards, probably because it takes the burdens of our guilt and bears them.  We do not like to be wrong, guilty, or at fault.  We appreciate the notion that someone else can be to blame.  I have always suspected that this is why so many Christians cling so tightly to the concept of a devil who cajoles us into sinning against God.  Jesus, while explaining what it truly is that defiles a person, tells the disciples: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.  For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Matthew 15:18-20 NRS).  Jesus blames our sin and the evil it creates in the world on our sinful inclinations, the evil intentions of our heart, not a devil, or Adam and Eve.  If we are looking for a scapegoat for our sins, someone to hold responsible, we need to look no further than the closest mirror.

We are held responsible for our sins by God.  We break the will of God when we sin, and we seek God’s forgiveness to be absolved of our guilt.  When the High Priest transferred the sins of the people to the goat, it was with full acknowledgment of who had sinned, and what those sins were.  It was a purposeful action.  It was not a case of “we are not really at fault, so this is just a fail safe.”  They had to repent, and that requires acknowledgement and ownership of the actions that caused evil to God and others.  There is no forgiveness without repentance, no grace without the will to receive.  We have to be honest about what we have done; honest with God and ourselves.

I believe that the lack of responsibility for our actions and words is part of the moral decay in the world today, especially in American culture.  I have been the one who has hurt others, and I have been the one hurt by others.  There are times when I might have been able to stave off pain and suffering I have endured, but maybe not.  Sometimes nothing we can do could prevent our suffering when someone else was determined to cause it.  The sin of causing suffering is only compounded when we try to blame someone else for inciting our sin.  No one makes us sin.  It is a choice to do what we know is wrong according to the Lord.  It is to speak or act in such a way that we know will cause harm.  Granting grace and forgiveness does not mean that we should ever blame the victim, the one who bore the evil sin brought.  No one deserves the evil another’s sin visits upon them.  That’s why I was taken aback by the words of Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of the Pretenders, in this article published by The Washington Post: “Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde says women can be at fault if they are raped”

Sexual assault is one of the greatest perversions of sex.  It is to take something meant to bless and turn it into the means of hurting another.  Nearly one in every five women in the United States have been sexually assaulted, whether successful or not, even to attempt it is a violation, a sin against the intended victim.  With so many of the female population being victimized, this is statement about the way women are understood, rather than the way women act, speak, or present themselves.  As someone who was sexually assaulted in Middle School, I was shocked to read Ms. Hynde’s remarks.  I was further stunned to discover that she was once raped.  According to her own words, Ms. Hynde blames herself.  It is a dangerous line of thinking.  This is where legalism and God distinctly diverge.  There are no sins of opportunity.  We will ourselves to sin, and God makes no distinction between planned sin and improved sin.  It is all equally sin.  Perhaps like so many others Ms. Hynde makes a distinction.  Maybe she thinks she could have prevented what happened to her.  Maybe, maybe not.  We can spend all our lives conjecturing, but that will never change was happened and what is: a sin was committed, someone was violated, and suffering entered into a life against the will of God.  God never blames the victim in Scripture.  Only the sinner is held responsible for their sin.  Legalism can forget this, and strip the victim of their dignity by placing the blame sinfully back on the one who was hurt.

People make poor choices.  This cannot be denied, but in the face of the truth that people who make good choices can still be made to suffer from the sins of others, our choices may have nothing to do with the sins others commit.  I believe that connection can only be made and validated by God.  If God wishes to make that known to a victim, then that is God’s business, not mine or anyone else’s.  We do not have any right to lay the sin of one person on the head of another.  God never told the High Priest to lay his hands on a human being, but an animal.  When I was sexually assaulted, I was wearing a tunic length shirt, leggings, and sneakers.  I was trying to get my books out of my locker before my next class.  I cannot imagine how I incited the assault.  The reality is that a male wanted to express his dominance and in a sexual manner.  He did so, and that was his sin.  He didn’t even know me.  If I had been twenty-five, dressed to go out dancing at a club, and with someone I had once dated, it still would have been his choice to sin, his guilt, and not my fault.  We are all inclined to sin, and God has given all of us the power to resist.  The tragedy is that some will not.  They will sin, and then add insult to injury by blaming the one they hurt.  Follow that line of thinking and meet with disastrous, sinful consequences: “she wanted me to hit her,” “the child kept testing me as if he wanted to get beat,” “he disrespected me so I shot him.”  The battered wife does not deserve her beatings.  The abused child does not deserve their abuse.  A false sense of respect does not justify violence and death.  The victim of sexual assault is not at fault.  Jesus did not deserve the abuse and death he suffered either.

We scapegoat because it makes us feel better, spreads the guilt around.  By making someone else even partially responsible, we have lessened our burden, but God does not share that mindset.  My sin is mine.  Your sin is yours.  Only I can take responsibility, and only I can repent of what is mine.  The same goes for all people.  While we spend so much time and energy trying to pass the blame, we could just be honest and seek forgiveness.  God is ever ready and willing to forgive the one who repents.  Even if other people are not willing to model this graciousness, God will exonerate the victims we have failed to shield from scapegoating.  Then we will all have to account for the times we participated in scapegoating another person.

Prayer:

Have mercy, my God.

Forgive me for my sins, those I commit according to my will.

Help me rid myself of the will to blame others.

Help me take responsibility for my sin, so that I can repent.

Sin destroys the good you created, and the love you give.

It perverts the blessings you bestow, and makes evil a real presence.

For those I have wrongly blamed, I cry out my shame.

For those I have made suffer, I reject those ways.

I cling to you, and seek your grace.

Let me stand with others against the sin of scapegoating.

Let me speak up for those who have been silenced by unjust words of condemnation.

Allow me to be a vessel of your love.

Amen.