A Good Conscience
Psalm 25:1-10 and 1 Peter 3:18-22
1st Sunday of Lent
Jane Shelton, CRE

            It is very appropriate indeed that as we begin our Season of Lent, that we are reminded by Peter of our baptism, by which we are saved.  Peter reminds us that baptism was an early indication that we remove our ways of old, the ways of our life before we knew Christ, and start a life anew, a shedding of our soul skins as we are reminded in our words of confession.
            Peter reminds us that we are washed, and made clean, not in our bodies, but in our Spirits.  In Acts, Peter reminded the Jews that it was necessary for them to be baptized for their impurities, specifically for their contamination through the death of Jesus.
            As we consider having a good conscience, I’m reminded of a saying, “how does he lie on his pillow at night?”  Have you all heard that phrase before?  It is usually applied to someone who is believed to not have a good conscience, someone that has done something so egregious, that they could not possibly sleep well unless they had no conscience at all.
            Our scripture is taking a good conscience a step further to indicate an appeal to God is required to cleanse our very souls.  The appeal goes beyond body to our spiritual selves through which we communicate with God.
            Paul to Timothy, and now Peter to the Israelites, understand and believe that in order to truly have a good conscience, one must have faith through baptism, a faith unfeigned.
            In this term, when we appeal to God for a good conscience, we are speaking of an inward examination of ourselves, our faith, and our trust in God that he takes care of us and our every need, and saves us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
            If we believe this, if we trust this, our relationship with God is unwavering making it possible to have a closer and complete relationship in the presence of God every minute of every day.
            We see this in the very first sentence of our first scripture reading when the Psalmist opens with the words, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  O my God, in you I trust.”  In these words, we see the appeal to God that Peter is referring to for the shedding of a soul skin to have clear thinking, to remove any road blocks, any doubt that leads to any separation that we might cause between ourselves and God.
            The Psalmist pleads to the Lord to grant a good conscience when he says, “make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.”
            Having a good conscience is more than having a guilty feeling when we think we have done something wrong to someone we love.  It is having faith that all the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep a new covenant in Jesus Christ that provides an unwavering relationship with God.
            So how do we maintain this unwavering faith, this good conscience, this total and complete faith and trust in God?  We read scripture so we understand how God has taken care of his people over and over again, even when we abandon God, God does not abandon us.
            We read scripture, we learn the parables of Jesus and a new way to walk in Christ, a new way to love our neighbors, and a new way to experience our faith.
            Another way is beginning this Lenten journey in the wilderness where we can take action to delve deeper into self-reflection, and consider barriers that may stand between us and God preventing a full relationship experience.  We can consider how we remove those barriers, how we replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
            I pointed out to Session a few weeks ago at our retreat that the cross of Christ represents a positive, not a negative.  If you look at it, it is a plus.  Once Jesus died on the cross, God gave us a positive way to respond.  As humans, we often respond with negativity, instead of turning that thought or idea around and making it positive.
            If someone has a new idea, don’t discard it before you have fully examined it in the light of Christ, the positive.  The one that shows us when we have faith, God will make great things happen.
            And last, we can pray.  Prayer is our communication through the Holy Spirit.  It is through the Holy Spirit that we are able to discern God’s direction for our lives.
            I don’t know about you, but when I hear that we communicate with God through prayer, I don’t receive clear, definitive answers, like I would when I might ask one of you a question.  How do we know we are hearing the correct answer?  For myself, I usually don’t, and this is where faith comes into action.  The more you step into your faith, you trust in a God that leads you and takes care of you, the easier it becomes to do it again and again.  When you are able to see results from your faith, your walk with Christ, it becomes easier to trust and put that faith into action.
            Like the Psalmist’s prayer in our first reading, his conversation with God is in essence re-stating what he knows already, he’s reminding himself of what he needs on his current journey, those things that have worked on his past journey, and those things that only God can provide.
            Baptism symbolizes a lifetime commitment to God, a good conscience, a constant changing and updating of our soul skins, and it takes lots and lots of prayer.  Whether that is prayer through meditation, contemplation, lighting a candle, a walking prayer, a silent prayer, a spoken prayer, or a breath prayer, which I like to call a thought prayer.  Whatever the prayer, through every hour of the day, it is our way of being in relationship with God.
            A few months ago, I attended a commissioning ceremony for two of my fellow CRE classmates in Columbus.  One of the sweet ladies of their congregation, Jean Fleisch, had written a poem for them, and I asked her if I might be able to share it with my congregation at some point, to which she kindly agreed.  It’s titled “Someone.”

Someone’s listening to your prayers.
Someone who’s listening really cares.
Someone hears you pray out loud.
Someone hears you in a crowd.
Someone hears you when you’re sad.
Someone hears you when you’re glad.
Someone hears, no matter what
Again, again, and then again.
That someone is our Father God.

We know that He is listening.
So, pray and pray and pray.
Pray for your loved ones and your neighbor
On this important day,
Do not stop then — just keep on.
Pray in the evening or at dawn.
They’ll feel your prayers.
They’ll feel your love.
They’ll thank the Father up above.

          Through baptism, we are putting to death all within us that is opposed to Christ and being resurrected.  We create a new conscience, a new awareness that is good, and we become committed to Christ.  We become a positive being living up to our baptism in the family of God.
Come, let us walk further in the wilderness with Jesus.

(Silent Reflection)

*Cover Art Unsplash+, used with subscription.