A Lent Reflection for Wednesday, March 8th
By Rev. Corenna Boucher Hoyt
Lectionary reading: Psalm 128; Ezekiel 36:22-32; John 7:53-8:11
Selected passage: Ezekiel 36:22-32
Ezekiel 26:23-26,29-32 NRSV (emphasis added)
23 I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations and which you have profaned among them, and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
29 I will save you from all your uncleannesses, and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field abundant, so that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you shall remember your evil ways and your dealings that were not good, and you shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and dismayed for your ways, O house of Israel.
It was 2 a.m. as I sat in silence with a distraught high school friend when she suddenly whispered, “I don’t want God to give me a heart of flesh, my heart of stone keeps me safe.” She had been abused and abandoned in unthinkable ways by those who were supposed to keep her safe. I had to affirm her. She was right, her heart of stone kept her safe!
“But,” I told her, “There is nothing left for a heart of stone but to shatter. A heart of flesh can heal.” She began the slow road of healing. As I watched her transform into a generous, compassionate, thoughtful woman, she often struggled with feelings of unworthiness and, at times, self-hatred. There were times she ran; literally running states away, to escape God and people who loved her because it was just too much to accept the kind of love she was being offered. She did not feel worthy. She remembered all the awful things she had done. She knew she had not earned this love, so she would run to people who treated her as poorly and undeserving as she felt.
The first time I read, “It’s not for your sake I will act,” in verse 32, I wanted to cross it out! Yet, as I walk with this high school friend, these are words she needed. They are words of relief. When she did not see herself as worthy, she needed to know that, sometimes, what God is doing in her is not for her; the blessing God is pouring onto her is not for her alone.
Yes, God has given all for you, more than you can imagine. Yes, God will restore you. Yes, God has great things for you. Yes, he has poured out grace upon grace, AND, sometimes, what he does is not for you. It is for his witness in the world; it is for the next person. When God's unfathomable grace is more than we can accept, verse 32 can help us create room to allow God to transform our hurting and hard hearts. God has created space for us to receive gifts and grace that we have not earned and do not deserve. He does this before we believe ourselves worthy. He does it before we repent or change our behavior. Sometimes he pours out this grace because he is correcting his witness that we, in our hard-heartedness, have damaged. Sometimes, like my high school friend, this is the only way we are ready to receive his grace.
AND he invites us to reckon with our behavior. I confess that my hard heart has allowed me to do unkind and selfish things. My sense of unworthiness had caused me to run from being known and loved, but also from loving and knowing. It has allowed me to have a hand in the hurt, loss and neglect of others.
When we don’t run from the abundant grace of God, when we allow it to begin to soften our hearts, we are invited to also recognize our mistakes. This passage tells Israel, “be ashamed and dismayed for your ways.” God does not ask us to wallow in shame or self-hatred. Rather, when we recognize how our own hard-heartedness has impacted those around us, we can begin to participate in the healing and abundance God is offering, and our hearts will be softened, even unto ourselves.
The Message version says, “What a mess you made of things.” Take some time to honestly examine the messes that your communities and you, personally, have been a part of. What have you done and what have you have left undone? How have your communities contributed to mess and hurt? Pour out the guilt and shame onto Jesus, who is both our sacrificial lamb and our scape goat. He will remove your sins as far as the east is from the west.
Imagine what peace, justice and grace can look like for yourself, your family, your community. Confess these desires and dreams to God. What abundance is he offering you?
How is he calling you today to soften your heart toward yourself? A friend or family member? The community? How can you participate more fully in what God is restoring this week?
Lord God of Justice, Love and Mercy,
gather all the scattered pieces of my heart and life. Clean me from all thoughts, actions and feelings that would close or harden my heart. Free me from idols of self-doubt, shame, comparison, pride and control. Save me and renew a right spirit within me. May the fruit of my life be gentleness, grace, mercy, humility, justice and your power made perfect in my weakness. Show me today how to live courageously, using all you have given me to further your Kingdom righteousness and reconciliation. Lord, soften my heart, even onto myself so I may fully experience the renovation you are doing in me.
About the Author
Corenna has a lifetime passion for ministries of reconciliation and healing. She enjoys speaking and preaching for various ministries. Corenna is an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor, sent as a missionary to Young Life in Rhode Island, where she lives with her two sons who enjoy church, martial arts, music and outdoor activities together. email@example.com