Making Restitution

Rev. Phyllis Kersten

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the Israelites: When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt and shall confess the sin that has been committed. The person shall make full restitution for the wrong, adding one-fifth to it, and giving it to the one who was wronged.””

Numbers 5:5-7

One of my favorite authors is Louise Penny. Her regular cast of characters includes the colorful residents of the tiny Canadian village Three Pines – like the poet who carries a duck named Rosa in her arms wherever she goes. But her main character is Quebec police inspector Armand Gamache.

Gamache shares “four statements” with new recruits that can help them become “great officers and even better men and women.” (A Better Man, p. 14)

The statements? “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I don’t know. I need help.”

It occurs to me that at least three of these statements – maybe all four – are key to confession: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I need help [from you, God.]” And maybe also, “I don’t know [how to do better, be better, on my own, without you.]”

But today’s text from Numbers talks about more than confession; it talks about “full restitution” needing to be made to the ones wronged. A national conversation has begun in our country about the wrongs done to African Americans – from slavery to Jim Crow laws, to the repeated efforts to deny Blacks the right to vote, to the Southern states rigging rules so that Black World War II veterans weren’t eligible for the education and housing benefits guaranteed by the G.I. Bill, to the sentencing of African Americans to longer prison terms than whites committing the same offences.

How can we Christians participate in this national conversation about making “restitution” today?

Prayer: Lord, teach us to confess our sins and make restitution to those wronged. Amen

Darkness cannot stand

Ash Wednesday: February 17                                                          Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

1 John 1:5-10

9/11/2001—an entire city baptized in the ashes of The World Trade Center. And in the early morning, darkness covered an entire city as the buildings came down, and the body count went up. And darkness cloaked the world.

In the COVID-19 pandemic we have now experienced a 9/11 death count for each and every day the pandemic persisted. Mothers buried children. Spouses watched as their significant other slipped into their eternal rest. Lifelong friends waved eternal goodbye. We buried our dead—and darkness cloaked the world.

In a world of such darkness, it can be easy to become discouraged. Beyond the global pandemic, beyond the international attacks—we have daily personal pandemics and attacks. Depression, broken relationships, missed time, livelihood loss, motivation loss—and so on.

In 1 John 1:5-10, God tells a different story. Using our own reason, thought, or strength—it is easy to slip into darkness. But when we put our trust in God most high—his light breaks the darkness! Where we have slipped into sorrow, through his blood we are rebirthed into marvelous light. This pandemic of darkness, this attack of the enemy—it cannot stand against the Lord! 

This Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge the consequences of darkness—death. But as we receive the ashes, we are reminded that through the work Christ has done on the cross, Light has broken forth. 

So let there be light.

Prayer: Oh, Lord of Light. May you illuminate our path in life. The darkness that we experience in this world is no match for you. Let your light shine upon us, and may it guide our way home to you. In Christ’s name we pray—Amen.