Sorry, not sorry.

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 119:73-80; 145, Jeremiah 7:1-15, Romans 4:1-12, John 7:14-36


Have you ever tried to apologize by telling someone: “I love you?” Has anyone ever tried that with you? It’s a terrible way to end a dispute, because it resolves nothing. “I love you” is not an apology. It is not an admission of guilt. It is not a promise to change one’s ways. At best it is an attempt to appease someone by exploiting their emotional vulnerability in order to avoid conflict. “I love you” may precede or follow an apology; it does not replace it. Trying to do so is merely lip service.

The prophet Jeremiah addresses the Israelites about how they have been paying spiritual lip service to God. They have been profaning the Lord’s name and committing all kinds of crimes and sin, but on the Sabbath they enter the temple and proclaim “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” Like a lover who has had enough of hearing all the right words but observing all the wrong deeds, the Lord declares the words deceptive. They are not sincere enough to wipe clean the offenses of a people who utter faithful words to cover their bases, but live otherwise unfaithful lives.

Love, whether of God or of a person, requires sincerity. When we betray that relationship repeatedly, declarations of “I love you” or “This is the temple of the Lord” do nothing but undermine and cheapen the meaning of those words. They are like pretty paper wrapped around a gift of yesterday’s moldering trash. Eventually the contents leak through and the paper itself is fouled by contamination; the pretty words become an ugly stench. Only when we have demonstrably repented – when we no longer try to excuse our wrongdoing with hollow sentiment – can we expect the relationship to mend. Over time we have to rebuild the trust that our words reflect the state of our heart.

Actions really do speak louder than words. If the only proof of our love and devotion is a bouquet of desperate words which have already begun to stink, we must repent until words are unnecessary.

Comfort: God’s love for you does not change.

Challenge: When you apologize, mean it.

Prayer: My God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins. Amen.

Discussion: What is the worst or best apology you’ve received or given?

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Dishing It Out

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, 1 Samuel 6:1-16, Acts 5:27-42, Luke 21:37-22:13


In some cultures it’s considered bad form to return a dish empty. Say your neighbor prepares a plate of food for you when you aren’t feeling well. You might bake some nice cookies to load the plate before you give it back. That extra touch shows your gratitude.

When the Philistines finally realized they needed to return the Ark of the Covenant to Israel, their priests and diviners warned them not to send it back empty. To do so would show a lack of respect for the great power the Lord had demonstrated. It sounds a little disgusting, but the Philistines fashioned ten gold tumors and ten gold mice to accompany the Ark. These objects symbolized the plagues the Lord had set upon them.

Now they could have just dropped the Ark at the border and run, but that would not have shown they had learned and grown in their understanding of the relationship through the hardships that damaged it. That’s kind of the difference between making an apology and making amends. An apology requires a certain sincerity and an admission of wrongdoing, and is often adequate, but it’s like returning the plate empty: your bases are covered and you’re under no further obligation, but it’s the bare minimum. Amends are the cookies on the plate. They show that you value the relationship enough to put in the extra effort; that you appreciate the circumstances which have made them necessary. Most importantly, amends are not about you or soothing your guilt or grief, but about letting the other party know you are invested enough to genuinely try.

Sometimes relationships can’t be salvaged. Apologies aren’t always accepted. Amends aren’t always welcomed. Such rejection can be hurtful and bewildering, but if we simply recycle that pain as blame or anger, we’re back at square one. The Philistines had no guarantee the Lord would be moved by their odd golden ornaments. Before we offer amends, we should be resigned to be at peace regardless of the outcome, because we have done what we can. Bake the cookies, and leave the rest to God.

Comfort: You are only responsible for what you can do.

Challenge: You are responsible to do what you can.

Prayer: Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt (Psalm 123:3).

Discussion: Has anyone ever made amends to you?

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Feed My Sheep

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 93; 150, Daniel 4:1-18, 1 Peter 4:7-11, John 21:15-25


The third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, it was early morning and they were fishing from a boat and he was on the beach tending a fire. When they came ashore he offered them breakfast. After the meal, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answered, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” though by the third time he was a little hurt. Jesus replied each time by telling Peter to feed and tend his sheep.

As they walked down the beach, “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the [last] supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’” Peter seemed a little annoyed. Maybe that’s because he felt a twinge of guilt when he remembered the question. While Judas was the obvious betrayer, Peter – after saying he would never betray Jesus – denied him three times on the evening of the crucifixion. Afterward, he expected never to see Jesus again, much less to atone for his denials. In a bit of symmetry, Jesus gave Peter three chances to affirm that he indeed loved him.

We all screw up. Sometimes (parenting comes to mind) we screw up in the very act of trying not to. While apologies (if suitable) and reparations (if just) are appropriate, they aren’t the end of the fix. Jesus didn’t demand an apology or a penalty. Rather, he told Peter – the rock upon whom he would build his church – to take care of business. The best way to make amends to Christ, and possibly to almost anyone, is to listen to what matters to them and do what we can toward that end.

Mistakes don’t define you, but how you choose to recover from those mistakes tells you (and others) who you are. If you feel you’ve let down Christ, love him by feeding his sheep. If you’ve let down someone else, make it less about your guilt and more about whatever feeds their souls.

Comfort: You’ll make mistakes. God will love you anyway.

Challenge: Ask yourself whether you currently need to do any atoning, and what that would look like.

Prayer: God of the resurrection, make my life anew. Amen.

Discussion: What is the best apology you’ve received?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group  or visit comfortandchallenge.tumblr.com. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!