Sackcloth and Ashes

19 May 2021

Psalm 115; Ezra 9:5–15; John 16:16–24

Collective guilt has been on the top of many lists in the last year. Regardless of your political, philosophical, or religious perspective of the collective guilt issues, it does allow us to better understand the pressure that Ezra felt…somewhat.

Ezra was trying to make up for generations of against God. Granted, with the wages of slavery, it’s not as if the US doesn’t have its own weight to bear. Yet, it is not the same insofar as the US is not Israel (whether ancient or modern). There were expectations of ancient Israel that they chose not to follow. The Scriptures were clear. They forgot God and disregarded God so much that they followed false gods made of metal and/or wood.

Ezra knew that there really was no way to “make up” what had occurred. The order of Ezra’s actions should be noted. Ezra “ended” his penitential acts and THEN prayed to God, asking for forgiveness and acknowledging that it would only be by God’s will, grace, love, , and grace that the Israelites could be forgiven.

While many reject the US guilt-debt, the guilt-debts are really quite small in comparison to all the guilt and shame we bear because of our personal, , and corporate sin (this is not to belittle them). As an overly individualistic culture, we object to being held to account for something we think we have no responsibility for. Perhaps it is not the US collective guilt that will be the big turning point for the US and the . Perhaps it will be the recognition that scripturally we do have corporate responsibilities, and it is our individualistic framework that has led us to ignore them.

This continues to be a cultural time of learning. We are learning about ourselves (both good and bad). We are learning about others (again, both good and bad). It’s not as if this is particularly different than how it should be. The exception is that the world is holding a mirror to the church, and the church doesn’t like what it sees. One might argue that the world is holding up a distorted mirror, except that much of the church sees the same distortion as the world.

This pain that we are feeling is one of death and birth. The old self must die. The new one must come alive.

Out of pain, , and being overwhelmed, many are understandably asking God, “what next?” It could be regarding finances. It could be about loving and serving your neighbor. It could be about what’s next for “the church”. It could be how to be more like Jesus.

Jesus told his disciples that they wouldn’t for anything from God when Jesus left. This is the true of the Holy Spirit. When we are fully in tune with God through the Holy Spirit (rather than wants, desires, and even needs), then we don’t need to ask for anything for we will already be in the midst of God’s will, plan, and .

The most dangerous thing to both our individualistic notions and our corporate notions is when we pray to be in God’s will. When we ask that in Jesus’ name and mean it from the , we begin to surrender our will to God’s…and that truly is only the beginning.


What is your perspective of collective guilt? What brings you to that?How are collective and personal guilt different? How are they the same?


Lord, our initial turn to you included our repentance. We know that as fallible beings, repentance needs to be a constant companion. Guide us into perseverance and humility to be people who pursue your in the face of our unrighteousness. Amen.