The First: Despair. There's a reason that despair is in the list of the Seven Deadly Sins: it is deadly. Despair immobilizes you; because you are certain that failure is certain, you stop trying. You give up, and thus make failure more probable. Also, despair is part of the incurvatus se that Luther speaks of, being curved in on oneself as a result of sin. This sounds harsh and condemning; someone who is in despair surely is deserving of sympathy and kindness, right? Please note: I am speaking about myself, taking a good, strong, honest (even harsh) look at my own demon of despair. Curved in on myself, self-focused, self-absorbed, self-pitying: yep, that sounds about right! Indulging this is indulging the Old Adam in myself, and denying the power of the Holy Spirit to bring change to me. In fact, denying the power of the Holy Spirit, period. Which leads to the biggest reason despair is one of the Seven Deadlies: idolatry. Despair is denial that God is indeed God, and that the future is in God's care and keeping. Despair leads me to think that I know the future, and that God cannot turn it around, cannot use me even if my worst fears come true, cannot be in control if things happen differently from what I want. Instead, my despair is in control, which is a way of saying I am in control. And I have just put myself in the place of God.
The Second: Procrastination. I'm really good at this one. I can put anything off, until it is too late and it doesn't matter anymore. This is the sin I bring to God more than any other. When there is that pause for reflection right before the prayer of confession in the Brief Order, usually I am confessing something I have procrastinated about in the past week. In the case of the Churchwide Assembly, it is procrastinating on preparations. Yes, I've been busy. Yes, there have been some unexpected things pop up, especially in the last six weeks. Yes, it has been difficult to keep focused with some of the information that has been revealed recently. But I have procrastinated on some things that I needed to get done. And now I am scrambling. And some things won't get done, or won't get done right. And they could have. Once again, I will come to God with my faults on full view. And the procrastination feeds right in to the despair I talked about above. And it also works well with number three, coming up now:
The Third: Not Praying. I can pick some really bad times to get distracted from prayer. These last two weeks coming up on the Churchwide Assembly is probably the worst time to not be faithful in prayer. But I haven't been. Oh, I haven't given up praying altogether. But it is the kind of "prayer in a hurry" that doesn't really satisfy. Now, I know that God isn't keeping a tally sheet of how many minutes I spend in prayer per day; nor is He docking me "points" for giving him short shrift most days out the past few weeks. But that's just it: I'm not hurting God when I do this. I am just hurting myself. I am cutting myself off from the one thing that I know brings me strength and peace, even in the midst of things that I cannot control. Why? The Old Adam part of me, the one that has a weak spot for procrastination and despair.
So. Now that the Assembly is almost here, how do I prepare for it? Even though the past two weeks are full of missed opportunities, it is not too late. Jesus met me this morning in worship, in the Word read to me and by me, in the sermon that I preached about Jesus being present for us in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and then in the meal itself. Jesus fed me himself, and he is part of my body as I come into the city of Minneapolis, as I come into this week. My prayer book is next to my computer, and it will not be far from my hands throughout this week. I have heard from many who are praying for the ELCA in this week, and some who are praying for me. That is strength for the journey, and also impetus to make the time for my own prayers, for reading of the Psalms, and being attentive to the daily Scripture lessons. I have a bookmark list of music videos, courtesy of Youtube, that I will be going to in order to combat the despair that may come; and I will share some of those here. And I know the schedule of this week will keep me too busy to have time to procrastinate!
And Jesus is here, and will be here at the Assembly this whole week. I will see Him, both in the places I expect to find Him and in those unexpected surprising encounters where I wasn't looking for Him at all. I believe I will find Him present in and with those who are working for the same things I am working for; but I also think I will find Him in and with those wearing the rainbow stoles and the rainbow shawls, those working and praying for what I oppose. For all of us gathered in the Convention Center this week, with all of our contradictory and opposing agendas and prayers and hopes, I bring this prayer of St. Patrick:
"Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me.
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all who love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger."