(From a sermon given on Ash Wednesday March 6, 2019, in Nebraska.)
Why should we look at our brokenness?
What is Ash Wednesday? It is the beginning of Lent.
What is Lent?
Merrium Webster Defines it as: the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting
So apparently Lent is a time when we look at our mortality, our sin, and ways that we are not quite enough. All this is important in our soul’s preparation for Easter. But why?
But what good is it to focus on our mortality? Isn’t it generally looked down upon to look at life as a glass half-empty? Isn’t a low self-confidence considered unattractive. Should we not focus solely on our good qualities, try to build our self-confidence, and praise God for the goodness he’s brought in our lives?
Why should we look at our BROKENNESS?
Our lectionary reading from the psalm is appropriate today.
In Psalm 51 we hear David’s plea as he comes before God, very, very aware of his brokenness. He has just committed adultery with one of his men’s wives, and sent that man off to war to die to avoid the consequences of what he had done. It contains these verses.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
I wrote a story for us today to help us understand why being humbled, and facing our sin and our brokenness is sometimes a very good thing to do. (you can listen to the video or podcast above instead of reading, if you'd like)
Story: Allen Show: The Lent Episode
The ratings had been waning. The Allen show had been running for 4 seasons and the polls said most people thought, Allen Wayne Jr. the unknowing star of the “perceived reality” TV series, was getting cocky.
The Allen show followed one man throughout his work day. But unbeknownst to him, the company he worked for was actually a fully built out filming stage. All the other “employees” were actors. They had legally told Allen he was signing up for a show about him, but like they had banked on, he never read the fine print on the documents he signed when he was hired, so he had no idea. The cameras were in plain sight, but Allen just assumed they were security cameras and nobody really watched them. He had no idea they were broadcasting his life at work to 25 million homes. And he was a hard worker so pretty much his whole life happened at work.
In the past 3.5 seasons the audience loved seeing problems presented to Allen by the other actors, and then watching him solve them in the knick of time. But the number of viewers had dropped to almost half its peak following recently, and viewer polls said it was because Allen was just getting plain old cocky. And nobody liked watching someone who thought he was the best.
So the writers had some tricks of their sleeves. Like the creator, who happened to also be a Methodist Pastor, said, “Allen needs to go through a difficult time of Lent.”
“Allen, I’m sorry. This was fun.” Sharon pointed back and forth between them in front of her cubicle. “I’ve learned a lot, but I just can’t do this anymore.” Sharon worked in the accounting department and had been Allen’s girlfriend. But she had just broken up with him.
“Wait! Why? I don’t understand! What don’t you like... I mean--” Allen couldn’t figure out how to ask it in a way it didn’t sound egotistical.
Sharon let go of his hand, and looked up into his face, such real-looking tears of sadness in her eyes. “My dad always said, It’s not about what everyone thinks of you, but who you are when no one’s watching.” It was a line the Pastor creator had written in the dialogue himself, because they needed Allen to seriously consider things before he encountered what they had planned to happen to him next.
All the writers knew that with scenes like this viewers were scooting to the edge of their seats. This was going to be a good one.
Allen walked, in a daze, back to his cubicle.
His head was actually on his desk when his friend, Jeff, a boss from the marketing department tapped Allen on his shoulder. “Hey you alive?”
Allen shot up, “Uh, what? Yeah. Sorry, it’s just … been a strange day.”
“Hey don’t worry, I won’t tell, bro.” He looked around, most of the others in Allen’s department were still out to lunch. “Take a walk with me. I think you might want to get in on something.” Jeff had risen to his high position quickly, he had only been hired 6 months before and was now VP of Marketing. Definitely a good person to be friends with, even if he was a little shady sometimes.
Allen walked with Jeff through the halls and elevators, making small talk about the football game, and the golf game Jeff played in on Monday. But when they got outside, Jeff’s voice got quieter. “Hey so I have this opportunity that popped up. Thought you might be into it. No one will get hurt. It’s just a loop in the system I think you and I could gain a little harmless cash from. So, here it is: I found out a few thousand dollars goes to one of our shareholders every month. He’s this really rich old guy, but the money has to be spent on assets for insurance or something. But whatever they buy just sits in a storage room so that they can be sold later. So I figured out a way that we can buy those jet skis we’ve been talking about. When we’re done using them after the summer we’ll put them in the storage room and no one will ever know the difference.” Jeff was certainly charismatic. And his reasoning seemed sound. Why not use them if they’d just be in storage. “Whaddya think?” He put his hand on Allen’s shoulder, “I’m only telling you, because you’re my watersports buddy. And cuz I think you’re the type that would understand the … uh utility of it all.” His debonair dark eyebrows raised, waiting for an answer.
“Yeah, let me check to see … what the water levels are supposed to … uh … be like this summer and I’ll try to let you know by tonight.”
“Good, because if you aren’t in on it I’ll just find someone else to be my best friend for the summer.” He winked, but the way Jeff was, Allen thought part of him was serious. The viewers were really on the edge of their seats now.
That night, sitting at his desk while working late, Allen sent a one line text to Jeff. “I’m in.”
But the next morning as he was walking into work at 9, several people were walking out with sad and angry looks and boxes of their belongings. It wasn’t until he saw Sharon, struggling to wipe her eyes on her blouse while trying to carry her box, that it really hit home.
Allen stopped her, “Sharon! What’s going on?!”
“Hey Allen,” She awkwardly rubbed her eyes on her shoulder again, almost dropping the box. She was a superb actress. “Something happened. There was a sort of conspiracy where this big investor guy called up Niko, you know, the president, that Niko, last night and said “Someone has been buying stuff with his payouts, and he wanted justice. He demanded that accounting be restaffed because the whole department had always seemed untrustworthy to him.” She sniffed. “He’s invested millions in the company or something so that’s why they have to listen.”
Allen was speechless. “I … I’m sorry, Sharon.”
She nodded, too ashamed to look back at the man who she used to “love.”
Allen stumbled up to his office in a daze. The talk was all over the office. He was unproductive the whole day. He felt so much guilt. He had gotten away scott free and the damage had already been done so what could he really do to help? He thought about confessing to his boss. But they would fire him and that would mean he would lose all the rungs of the corporate ladder he had worked so hard to achieve.
He thought of Sharon’s crying eyes and was reminded of what she had said again. It’s what you do when nobody’s watching.
At 3:00pm Allen stood up, feeling sick to his stomach, and walked slowly down the hallway toward Niko’s office. It was all a big daze. He was about to throw everything in his life away. He had realized how fragile all of his success could be. Relationships. Performance. Friendships. Possessions. All the things that had been telling him he was winning at life. But now he was about to throw it all away. Why was he doing this?
Allen got to the door and looked in. Niko was writing on a paper, and it looked like he had had a hard morning, letting people go. Allen swallowed and knocked lightly.
“Hey. It’s Allen, isn’t it?”
“Yessir. Allen Wayne Jr.” He swallowed again. “May I talk to you, please?”
The slightest, peaceful smile relaxed Niko’s face. “You bet, Allen.” Allen closed the door behind him.
After this episode the show’s ratings soared to heights that dwarfed the original numbers. Later, the show’s creator was interviewed by a Methodist journal and they asked him, “We know Allen eventually got his job back, but why did you decide to make Allen lose everything?”
“I think all 15 million viewers would agree that he had to go through that in order to become the best person he could be. And this is why we Christians need Lent every year, because when we take a good hard look at our sin, and the ways we are failing, we see things that need to be looked at. And only when we face those things, can we let God do what he wants to do in us.”
Now I’ll read a few more verses from Psalm 51. Listen for the ways God uses David’s awareness of his sin for David’s good.
Here is Psalm 51:9-11 again, but now through verse 13 as well.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
But is it all about What God is doing inside of us? Is it all about self? Look at the very next verses in David’s lament.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
When we let God do a work in us, we are better equipped to give that love and wisdom that healed us, to others.
Story from my life
I have a story where I was confronted with my brokenness. I dated a girl who was far more confident than me, far smarter than me, and this made me feel like I often had very little value. After we broke up I had a very difficult time of seriously questioning my worth. Feeling desperate, I asked a very good friend what worth he saw in me. He replied, “Ross, The main thing of value I see in you, is that you understand brokenness.” That was the last thing I wanted to hear. That was like confirming to Allen that he had lost all the rungs on the corporate ladder. But then my friend said, “But it is because you understand brokenness that you can help all the broken people around you. That is the value I see in you.” It took a while for my heart to process that but eventually I began to believe that God used my weakness and time of brokenness to prove to me my real worth.
Are you in this type of season? Are you scared to go into this type of season? God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
So why should we look at our brokenness? Because it allows God to renew our understanding of ourselves, to be aware of our need for him, invite him to change our lives, and give that renewed self to help others.
What I’m not saying is that God wants us to be negative all the time. But a season of seriously looking at our sin and confronting our weakness can let God do some much needed growth in our lives, so we can then bless others with it.
Raw Spoon, 2-20-19