Susan Baller-Shepard: #mistakesweremade #lessonslearned



4Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? 6They did not say, "Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?" 7I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. 8The priests did not say, "Where is the LORD?" Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.

9Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children's children. 10Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. 11Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. 12Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, 13for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.


HEBREWS 13:1-8, 15-16

1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." 6So we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?"

7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


Loving God,

Still our thoughts that they might rest upon You

in this time, and in this place. Quiet us, awaken us,

tune our ears to Your voice as You speak in and through our lives.

We thank You for Your presence, all the days of our lives.

Thank You for all the ways you redirect us, when we have lost the path.



         Last time our house got struck by lightning, there was a sizzling sound, in the walls, and a "KaBoom" that nearly knocked me out of my chair, near the window, where just outside, the bolt had landed.

         This time, in June, there were flames, like a large firework had gone off on the ground. The strike hit our well, and blew the cap off the well, we think igniting the methane within, and blew a gauge off the wall, and fried most electrical things and systems in the house. Super fun. Not really.

         Shaking, I called the phone company on my cell phone to report the strike, and I was gabbing to the woman, because I still felt like I was vibrating from the strike, I told the woman this

was the third time I'd been in a house struck by lightning, once at our old home, and twice in this one.

         The woman responds, "Yea, we had this really bad man in town, and his house was struck by lightning three times! Three times! I think God was trying to tell that man something. Blew out a different part of his house each time. Three times....God had to be telling him something....."

Then she was quiet.

"How many times did you say your home's been hit?"

"Three," I reply.

"Yea, um, we'll see if we can get that fixed up for you," she says.


The well did not lose water, just had the well cap blown to smithereens.

A well captures the water that is underground,

whereas a cistern stores rainwater runoff, which was crucial in Jeremiah's time and place, to catch as much fresh water as possible.

Cisterns carved into the porous limestone, then coated to try to help them store as much water as possible. Jeremiah speaks of "cracked cisterns that can hold no water," they are not useful

because what they've been meant to hold,

they can no longer us,

when what we do not hold what God has given us, it drains out of us:

The people have forgotten the God of provision,

the God who has been there in a land of drought...

and we know those places in our lives...

places of drought and deep darkness...


Now, in ancient Palestine, water, was a big deal.

Cisterns are used throughout the book of Jeremiah as a metaphor:

*he's imprisoned in one (Jeremiah 38:6 ), 

*the pagan gods were symbolized as broken cisterns that couldn't hold water (14:1),  *cisterns are used as dumping grounds for corpses (Jeremiah 41:7, Jeremiah 41:7, 41:9).  *And, in our passage today, we read of

"broken cisterns that can hold no water."

The cistern that holds no water.

Fresh water here on earth may prove the most valuable resource in the years to come. Water's the source of life, average adult human bodies are 50-65% water, the infants among us? 75-78% water.

Water: We contain it, we drink it, we rely on it.

This is something we store within. In our cells, in our being.

And, if we don't store it? We get cranky, get headaches, get delusional, and finally, die for lack of it.


This water within us, we can't tell where we stop and it begins, right?

We can't say, "oh, my leg is where that 50-65% water is," no, it courses through us, and if you have big veins, like I inherited, you can literally see it coursing through your hands like blue rivers.


The Lord, in this passage in Jeremiah, says, "they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water."


We give up on God and go around digging for something to satisfy us,

things that are not meaningful, but will ease our angst momentarily,

let us live a lesser life, not life abundant, which God promises us.

We choose: life as we want to make it,

rather than life as God would make it, trusting in God's provision.


God asks of the house of Israel in that time, and of us in this time:

"Why do you go far from me?

Why do you seek after worthlessness?"

And worse yet, "Why do you change your glory for that which does not profit?"

"Why do you forsake me?"

"Why do you forsake me?"


God is appalled, shocked, and utterly desolate when we do this.


To give up on a God who loves us as we carve out our own leaky lives.

To give up on the hope that God can fill us with things that life on earth cannot.


Mistakes were made.

Dumbledore, from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, says,

 "I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being--forgive me--rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger."

Jim Morrison is quoted as saying, "Some of the worst mistakes in my life were haircuts"

And, Weston Agor said, "Making mistakes simply means you are learning faster."

Mistakeswere made is also a phrase used in the wonderful world of Twitter

"Mistakes were made"

because they were

and they are



I went to Twitter,  and found these tweets with phrase:

*DIA James Clapper has apologized for telling Congress earlier this year that the National Security Agency does not collect data on millions of Americans #mistakesweremade

*I have class in the morning whoops #MistakesWereMade

*There should be an app that locks your phone from 10PM til 2AM #mistakesweremade


Commentator William Safire has defined the phrase "mistakes were made" as "[a] passive-evasive way of acknowledging error while distancing the speaker from responsibility for it."

It's a phrase used in business, sports, and entertainment, and in spiritual lives as well.

There's even a book entitled: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), a non-fiction book by social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, about cognitive biases, which  illustrates how humans can do hurtful acts, then justify and rationalize their behavior.

Cognitive biases can lead us away from rational thought and/or good judgment.


Some examples:

Pareidolia - like hearing non-existent hidden messages on records played in reverse.

Ostrich effect - ignoring an obvious (negative) situation.

Irrational escalation - the phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong

Semmelweis reflex - the tendency to reject new evidence that contradicts a paradigm  

current moment bias - the tendency for people to have a stronger preference for more immediate payoffs relative to later payoffs

Illusion of control - the tendency to overestimate one's degree of influence over other external events


Mistakes were made. They were made by us.

"We have met the enemy and he is us," as Pogo said.

We have met the enemy, and she looks back at us in the mirror in the morning, or he is the one who cannot sleep for all he tries to control.

God asks, "Why did you go far from me?"


So think about for a minute, if you were to pray to God,

"God, I've made this mistake...."

What would it be? (a moment of silence here to reflect....)


Mistakes were made.

And, in death?

In death we realize there is no one and nothing we can take with us,

besides God.

In death, we realize the One who is with us, is the One who was with us at birth, and the One who has traveled with us all our days.

The One who grieves when we seriously miss the mark,

who Jeremiah tells us, feels deep sadness when we trade in who God made us to be, for something cheaper, less valuable.


What could be different? Hmmm.....

What do we need to let go of, so we can be empty, for a while,

to allow God to fill that space?


Can you think of a book or movie that illustrates this?


What does it look like, for you, when you feel like your relationship with God is right? What's it look like?

What is in your life?

What is not in your life?


Another phrase used on Twitter is  #LessonsLearned

or #LessonLearned


Some examples from Twitter:

Its highschool. The only thing you should be taking serious is your grades. thats it. #lessonslearned

There comes a time when you have to stop crossing oceans for people who wouldn't even jump puddles for you #lessonslearned

The decisions I have made in my life aren't the best, but without them I wouldn't be who I am today.#lessonslearned

..sometimes the wrong choices lead you to the right places............ #lessonslearned

For all the #mistakesmade, God counters with grace in abundance.

God searches for us, like a shepherd leaving 100 sheep in search of 1, and when he finds that one, cries out to friends and neighbors--

"Rejoice with me!  I have found my sheep which was lost!"


This is the economy of heaven. That none should be lost.

That all might know the deep love and care of God.

Jesus says, "Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God ...

over one sinner who repents." and repentance here comes from the Greek metanoia, word meaning, "to change one's mind or purpose,"


"a transformative change of heart..."


Joy before the angels of God over one who changes her or his mind, or purpose.


She no longer exchanges her glory for something cheap,

but regains and retains her God-given dignity.

He gives up what is worthless for what is worthy.


What is that transformative change of heart for us?


We are here on this foggy day to be transformed by God to let God change us, as we commune with the Living Lord, with the God of our lives.


As we turn to the communion table today,

the place of this communion with God,

I think of the poet Denise Levertov's words

in her poem "The Avowal,"

"so would I learn to attain

freefall, and float

into Creator Spirit's deep embrace,

knowing no effort earns

that all-surrounding grace."


It is in this spirit, then, that we approach the communion table today,

astounded, and assured of the "all-surrounding grace" of God.

Hallelujah! Amen.


Let us pray:

God reign in us,

Living Water,

please nourish and sustain us

and those around us.

God reign in us,

Living Water,

help us hold You close

that your will does not seep out

through the cracks in our lives.

Replenish us with Your Holy Spirit

that we might be sustenance in a parched world,

that made in Your image, with the glory You give us,

we might go forth to share Your love, and Your agenda,

in a world dying of thirst. Amen.




Preached at First Presbyterian Church, Normal IL on September 1, 2013




William Safire quote from Safire's Political Dictionary


Denise Levertov's poem "The Avowal" from The Selected Poems of Denise Levertov  by Denise Levertov, Paul A. Lacey (Editor).