The Fourth Sunday of Easter

“Trust in God’s grace, love, and forgiveness”

In John’s first letter, he tells us today, “We will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask.”

Oh my goodness… aren’t we our own worst enemy sometimes. We are so good at criticizing ourselves in all areas of our lives… our productivity… our parenting… our bodies. We don’t do enough… We do too much… We shouldn’t have said that… We shouldn’t have said that…

Sometimes our neighbors, ads, social media reinforce this self-criticism. Why aren’t you posting pics of your amazing vacation in the Bahamas? Why isn’t your house cleaner? Why aren’t you doing more like Home Depot says you should be?

This criticism can become so much a part of our thought process that we don’t even see it as criticism… we see it as truth… and we start to tell ourselves insidious things like, “I’m not cut out for that.”

I will always remember a woman telling me at an Easter Vigil church party, “I could never be ordained. I’m not perfect enough for that. They wouldn’t want me.” I was just starting the ordination process and was speechless really. Nobody had told me I had to be perfect to be ordained… because I was not and certainly am not… I never will be…

We know that some churches along the way have likely helped this woman feel unworthy to serve. Some churches have projected their internal critical voice onto God and said that God watches us and condemns us… because we are all fallen sinners… not deserving of his mercy.

It is true that we are all fallen sinners not deserving of his mercy. It is true that God watches over us but our scripture is very clear. God is not watching over us sinners to condemn us.

We hear in John 3:17…

“Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Though we are very good at condemning and criticizing ourselves, God did not send Jesus to condemn us. God sent Jesus to free us. To liberate us from the self-criticism and condemnation.

Now that does not mean that we do not confess our sins to God. God asks us to confess our sins and learn from them. And once we confess our sins, Jesus frees us from their burden and makes us a new creation, new people who can in fact live in a new way and make new choices.

It is not God, but evil that keeps bringing our sin to mind. It is evil that encourages us to dwell on our shortcomings such that we avoid or feel unqualified to live the life God has made us to live.

It is evil that poisons our hearts and makes us think that we are not enough, not right, not good, we can’t, we aren’t…

This past week the kids were home quarantined. On Friday, Paige invited me to help present our Hiking Church initiative to the presiding bishop’s office, which has given us a grant to support this initiative. I thought – well perhaps I can zoom on a hike with the kids. Well half way into the hike, the kids and dog got covered in ticks. I must have pulled off 15 ticks from them. We did get them all, but not without a lot of screaming on all our parts. Meanwhile I needed to be on the zoom, so I thought I would just listen in while we picked off the ticks. Needless to say that did not go well. The grantor called upon me and I had to explain as my kids were screaming in the background that I was on hike and covered in ticks and would defer to my colleague Paige who of course did an incredible job.

Now I learned – do not zoom in, in a state like that. Call it a day and extend your regrets for missing the meeting. I could have confessed my error and moved on… lesson learned. But of course I found myself criticizing myself. “What’s wrong with me?” “Why did I make such a big mistake in logging on?” “I’m a terrible supervisor.” On and on…

And by the grace of God I was reminded in John’s letter that “We can be reassured whenever our hearts condemn us that God is greater than our hearts.” God did not send Jesus to condemn us, but to save us. I ought not ruminate on my mistake, but be assured that God is greater than any mistake I made.

So then what happens when we are not so self-critical? For some of us that might feel a bit proud, showy, too confident, ruminating feels so much more comfortable than letting it go and being assured. But John tells us “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask.”

So if we do not live with our heads hanging low, convinced by the powers of evil that we are not enough, not right, did and said all the wrong things, but instead confess our sins and stand upright in the assurance of God’s mercy and redemption then we “receive from God whatever we ask.”

That is grace. When Jesus releases us from shame and guilt even when we do not deserve to be released.  And here John is telling us to trust in God’s grace and love. To trust that God does in fact love us more than we can ever imagine. God does and has and continues to forgive us.

And John tells us, therefore, to have boldness before God. To stand before God trusting in his grace, confident in his mercy and boldly ask.

So instead of sitting in shame for making an epic fail on an important zoom presentation with the presiding Bishop’s office, John encourages me to stand boldly and ask: “God, if it is your will and I think that it is, help us leaders expand this hiking ministry such that it becomes a inspiration to those in and outside the church on a national level.”

One of my favorite pastors decided to start a church 15 years ago with just a few people. He recalls a time when this small group prayed that people would come and hear the word of God from all over the town of Charlotte, NC. At the time, the prayer felt huge, bold. Now just 15 years later the ministry is global with multiple church buildings and hundreds of thousands of members.

John tells us today that we can be reassured even when we are our own worst enemies that God is greater than our self-critical hearts. God also wants us to trust in his grace, to renounce the criticism that bring us down and stand boldly before the Lord.

So in the week ahead, I encourage you to be assured and be bold.

Are you dwelling on your guilt and shame and thinking that you are not enough? Be assured that God is greater than your heart.

When you tell yourself that you are not enough, God says you most certainly are enough.

Are there areas in your life where you are not living into God’s full potential for you? Are you selling yourself short? Be bold before the Lord this week in your prayer time.

Align with God’s view of you and tell yourself you are enough. Seek God’s will and ask. John tells us you will receive and receive more abundantly than you can imagine.