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Accepting our need for forgiveness

May 17, 2022

Daily Scripture

Psalm 32:1-7; Luke 18:9-14

Psalm 32

1 The one whose wrongdoing is forgiven,
whose sin is covered over, is truly happy!
2 The one the Lord doesn’t consider guilty—
in whose spirit there is no dishonesty—
that one is truly happy!
3 When I kept quiet, my bones wore out;
I was groaning all day long—
every day, every night!—
4 because your hand was heavy upon me.
My energy was sapped as if in a summer drought.
5 So I admitted my sin to you;
I didn’t conceal my guilt.
“I’ll confess my sins to the Lord,” is what I said.
Then you removed the guilt of my sin.
6 That’s why all the faithful should pray to you during troubled times,
so that a great flood of water won’t reach them.
7 You are my secret hideout!
You protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of rescue!

Luke 18

9 Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: 10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Asking God or people for forgiveness, and accepting it, starts with being honest. Often our first challenge is to be honest with ourselves. Most of us are adept at rationalizing even our biggest failings. And we repeatedly see in the lives of public figures that even if we know we’ve missed the mark, we think we can hide that from others (oddly, even from God!). The psalmist wrote that keeping silent, trying to hide the truth, drained him of energy and life.

  • “The choice is yours. You can continue to carry the burden of your sins, or you can allow the Lord to take it from you and set you free, as he wants to do….The process begins with acknowledgement and sorrow.” * Do you find it hard to admit your mistakes and missteps to yourself, others or God? How can you open your heart to allow God to give you the courage to be honest?
  • How do you see yourself at your deepest level in relation to most others—as “less than” or “more than”? How can Jesus’ image of God’s forgiveness and love for the outcast tax collector help you see more clearly how God values you? How can God’s loving grace help you maintain a healthy sense of spiritual need without sinking into a sense of contempt, either for others or for yourself?

Lord God, show mercy to me, a sinner. Remind me daily, hourly, of the truthfulness and the necessity of that prayer. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Leawood's modern worship services, as well as at the West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

It’s weird writing this insight shortly after another mass shooting was carried out in Buffalo. For those who haven’t read about it, the shooter had written a manifesto about why he did it, and it was entirely based on white supremacy. The shooter claimed that black people were trying to replace white people, and referenced numerous false claims that white people were dying quicker than black people. He chose the neighborhood he shot at specifically because it had a higher percentage of black people. This is a clear-cut, textbook example of racism in America.

Looking at today’s passage, it would be easy for me to approach it from an abstract level, speaking in theoreticals and cute anecdotes. That’s not what I’m going to talk about today.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable today focused his prayer not on being better or combating evil, but rather on distancing himself from it—absolving himself of dealing with any of the evil in his life or around it. It’s a behavior I see not just in religious exchanges, but everywhere. We, as humans, hate the feeling of indebtedness, and complacency becomes a much more enticing option to avoid guilt and discomfort. We see this in personal interactions, such as when we make excuses for ourselves rather than make a sincere apology. We see it in business relationships, where we make excuses for favoring one party over another so we don’t have to deal with our own implicit biases. And—you probably see where I’m going with this—I frequently see it in racial discourse as well.

Already, media coverage of this shooter is going the route they do with many instances of racism, calling him a lone wolf and blaming mental illness. (Side note, I have a serious mental illness. Mental illness alone does not cause people to be racist or shoot people. There’s no evidence that mental illness is the cause.) We want to believe that people who do things like this belong locked away in remote wards and that the people we interact with every day would never do this. Much like the Pharisee, we don’t want to focus on doing better or combating this evil; we instead seek to distance ourselves from it. If we admit that the polarizing content the shooter consumed is just as available on Facebook as it is in the darkest corners of the internet, it forces us to confront some uncomfortable possibilities about ourselves. It’s so much easier when it’s someone else’s problem.

I doubt any of us would say we like racism. None of us would say we support the shooter. But I have to admit, as a white person, my thoughts on the matter too often resemble the Pharisee: At least I’m not like that sinner! It’s much easier to draw that line of distinction than to admit that, regardless of how I feel about racism, much of it is baked into systems of power and privilege that I rarely have to think about. I’ve never been treated differently because of the color of my skin; many people don’t have that privilege. And regardless of how I feel about those systems—even if I hate them—I benefit from them. I didn’t ask for this privilege, but it’s been given to me. Unless I am actively fighting injustice—unless I am fighting against racism everywhere—I am complicit. Being a silent observer means allowing systems of injustice to continue doing as they always have.

So how do I deal with that? If racism is a major systemic issue, what can I do about it? Ultimately, everyone’s going to have a different specific answer for that, but it’s going to start with praying like the other guy in Jesus’ parable: “God, show mercy to me, a sinner!” My sin, too often, is simply silence and inaction in the face of injustice. But we cannot simply wash our hands of this and distance ourselves from it. We cannot turn our backs on racism and expect anything to change. We cannot ignore injustice as if it’s not our problem. Our response, and our prayer, must be one of taking responsibility for the solution rather than expecting it to work itself out. Anything else is inadequate.

(Editor’s note: The Church of the Resurrection is committed to actively working for justice, including racial justice. Click here to find our growing body of resources to help you think and pray about your personal response to taking responsibility for the solution.)

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Hamilton, Adam. Forgiveness: Finding Peace Through Letting Go (Kindle Locations 281-282, 287). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.