I Don’t Know Much About Theology

Racel Held Evans doubt

John 10:22-30 NRSV

I recently read that a pastor in Fort Smith is going to begin a Bible Study series entitled:“Answers to Your Toughest Faith Questions.”  The article listed a small sampling of the theological questions that he would be giving answers to—

How did the Father send the Son if the Father and the Son are one?

How could God, the son, die?

Why was it necessary that Jesus’ body be resurrected?

What does it really mean when we say that Jesus died for our sins?

Now, I was raised going to church every Sunday. I hardly ever missed Sunday School class, attended every Vacation Bible School and went to church camp every summer. In college, I minored in religion. I went on to get a Masters of Divinity Degree and then a Doctorate in ministry. I did some math and deduced that I have written over 1,300 sermons. You would think I would know a thing or two when it comes to theology. But guess what? The truth is: I don’t know much.

The only thing that I really know about theology is that the more I know, the less I seem to know.

Some of you are probably thinking about right now, “if this local pastor is really going to give some answers to those tough theological questions, maybe our pastor, bless his heart, should show up a learn a thing or two!”

But here’s the thing. I know just enough about theology to know that there’s many different ways one can answer those types of questions. In our theology classes in seminary, we studied several different answers to those tough theological questions from several different theologians and then we worked to form our own opinion.

This may surprise you, but that’s about all I’ve got—opinions.

This is part of the reason I could not be happier today to be a Disciple of Christ. With the late, wonderfully honest and thoughtful Rachel Held Evans, I have always “longed for a church to be a safe place of doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it is uncomfortable.”

I believe First Christian Church is that type of church. We call ourselves “Christians” because we have have decided to follow Jesus as our Lord, not because we have figured out the tough questions of faith.

Have you noticed the words that I use more than any others when I am preaching?  Besides “God” and “Jesus” and “good news” and “all means all” and “inclusive love.” The two words that I use more than any other is: “I believe.”  “I believe this to be true…I believe that God works this way…I believe that God desires this…I believe that God wants that….  “I believe God is calling us to…”

I had a parishioner in one of my churches who made an appointment with me so he could tell me that saying “I believe” so much really frustrated him. And he said if I didn’t stop saying it, he might have to find another church!

I asked him, “What would you rather me say?”

He said that I needed to be more authoritative. He wanted me to say: “I know,” “I’m certain,” “I’m confident,” “I’m convinced,” “I conclude…”; not “I believe.”

But, like I said, that’s all I got. When it comes to theology, I theorize. When it comes to faith, I think.  I consider, I ponder, and I wonder.  I lean “more towards.” I surmise, I guess, I deduce, I speculate, estimate and contemplate.  I hope, which, by the way, infers that I also doubt.

And if that exasperates any of you who come to this place Sunday after Sunday in search of concrete, black and white answers, I am really sorry, because if I frustrate you, I know Jesus does.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus’ critics have just about had it with Jesus. It’s the gospel of John and according to John, Jesus can be fairly evasive, ambiguous and hard to figure out.

They come to Jesus, and they ask, “who are you?” And Jesus answers the same way he always answers according to John. He says things like: “I am the vine, and you are the branches;” or “I am the bread;” “I am life;” “I am the way;” “I am the Good Shepherd.”

What is any of that supposed to mean?  It’s all so symbolic, so metaphorical, so figurative.

In exasperation, they demand: “Jesus, show us plainly, directly, and clearly who you are!”

Then, it’s Jesus who begins to get exasperated. “I have been teaching you, telling you, over and over, but you haven’t seen and you haven’t heard. Then Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.”

Sheep?  Now we’re back on the metaphorical, the symbolic, the figurative.

But you know something? I may not know much about theology, but I think I almost get what Jesus is talking about here. And I have a strong hunch that some of you who are here today know exactly what he’s is talking about!

In fact, I do not believe that the majority of you are here today looking for clear answers to the tough questions of the faith. I think you are here this morning because, despite all of your lack of knowledge and misunderstandings, you have heard the voice of Jesus, and you are trying your best to follow him.

Thus, most of you are not going to get upset with me for speculating, because that’s the best you do, speculate.

Like me, you don’t know much about theology.  But you know Jesus.  Maybe not as clearly as you would like, but you know him clearly enough, for you to follow him.

In some inexplicable but certain way, the Risen Christ has come and revealed himself to you. Jesus has broken through and spoken to you. And you have heard his voice as the very voice of God.

Thus, Jesus says in our Gospel, “I and the Father are one.”  In other words, what you have seen and heard Jesus, is as much of God as you ever hope to see and hear on this earth. And that’s why you are here today.

Jesus says: “My sheep know me.” Not everyone knows him. His critics and enemies may not know him. But here’s the good news: by the grace of God you know him. And yes, that in itself is a miracle. But it’s a miracle that has happened to you.

You were sitting all alone one day after your tragic loss, and this peace came over you that was beyond all understanding. And although could never explain it, you knew, you were convinced, and certain and confident that it was Jesus.

Out of nowhere, a memory popped into your mind that brought a smile to you face and a joy in your heart—and you can’t figure it out, but somehow, some miraculous way you knew, you were convinced and certain and confident that it was Jesus.

You were sitting on your sofa feeling sorry for yourself, when a knock at the front door came. When you opened it, in walked your good friend with a smile and an encouraging word. How in the world did they know you needed to hear that word? You can’t put your finger on it, but somehow you knew, you were convinced and certain that it was Jesus.

You thought about spending time doing something you wanted you to do, but something persuaded you to do something for somebody else, and you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt you knew, that it was Jesus.

You decided to visit the nursing home, or you decided to serve a meal at Hope Campus, or you decided to visit someone in the hospital, or you decided to volunteer with Ainsley’s Angels, and while you were there, while you were looking in the faces of the tired and weak, the broken and poor and the differently-abled, you knew, you were convinced, and you were absolutely certain that you were looking into the face of Jesus.

This is the good news behind this rather exasperating episode in John’s gospel for people like you and me who do not have all the answers, who do more pondering than knowing and more wondering than concluding:

Christ is risen and he has come out to meet us, in our doubts and our misgivings, in our misunderstandings and our unanswered questions, in our sin and in all of our brokenness, because he loves us. He loves us more than we will ever comprehend. And he knows us. He has called us by name.

And somehow, some miraculous way, we have heard his voice. And although will never figure it all out, although we will never be able to wrap our minds around him and all he claims to be and promises to give, we are nonetheless following.

And here is some more good news.  I KNOW, yes even I, one who doesn’t KNOW much about theology— who some say might not know much about anything, from a science book or three years of the French I took— BUT I KNOW, without a doubt, with absolute certainty that the risen Christ is here, and he is calling you and me, and if we answer this call, what a wonderful world this would be.

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A New Teaching

get well cards

Mark 1:21-28 NRSV

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Banks, will always be remembered as one of my favorite teachers. And it is not because she was one of my first teachers, or even because she had such a cool last name. It is also not because of all of the wonderful things that she taught me. Because, the truth is, I do not remember a single lecture or lesson she taught. Mrs. Banks is my favorite teacher, because during that school year when I spent a week in the hospital to have my tonsils removed, she came to see me. She came to my hospital room and brought me cards that were made by my classmates.

It is not the words of the teacher that are remembered, today. It is her actions.

Mark writes that people in the synagogue were amazed at the power of Jesus’ teaching. “They kept asking one another: ‘What is this? It’s a new teaching with authority!’” But notice that Mark does not mention any words. There is no mention by Mark of even a hint of the content of Jesus’ lesson or sermon. For Mark, it is not the words, but the authoritative action of the teacher that is important. This is what made Jesus’ teaching “new.”

Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus is continually portrayed by the term, “teacher.” But Jesus is a different kind of “teacher.”

In chapter four, the “teacher” stills a storm.

In chapter five, the “teacher” raised a dead girl to life.

In chapter six, the “teacher” feeds a hungry crowd.

In chapter nine, the “teacher” cures an epileptic.

In chapter eleven, the “teacher” curses a fig tree.

And here in our text this morning, the “teacher” is the one who exorcises a demon in the synagogue. Jesus is a different kind of teacher, because Jesus is continually putting the word of God into action. Jesus is continually on the move, working and reworking, creating and recreating, restoring, renewing, reviving, healing, saving, transforming, acting.

I think it is important for us to notice the location of this demon. It’s not in all those places we expect to find demons today. This demon is sitting on a pew. A sad reality of this fallen world is that evil is real and evil is present and evil is experienced in all places, even in the church, sometimes, especially in the church.

I believe the church is afflicted with a number of demons today, but the one that perhaps concerns me the most is this demon of defeatism.

Defeatism: We have too many people in the church who have just accepted the evil in this world as normative. We’ve given up that things in this world can get better, that we as a people can do better, be better. Our leaders brazenly look into the camera and lie to us without consequences. A school shooting in Kentucky barely gets noticed. The gap between the super rich and the super poor continues to widen; the poor are denied healthcare and living wages; public education is undermined; husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters are being separated by those who once touted family values; Opioid drugs are killing our children; and we in the church sit back and say that there’s just nothing we can do about it. “This is just the way things are.” “This is the new normal.”  Or worse, we say: “Thank God the Lord is coming back soon.”

We actually have the audacity to call this defeatism, “faith”; instead of calling it what it really is, “demonic.”

I believe the point Mark wants us to hear is that this new, unprecedented teaching of Jesus has the authoritative power today and takes authoritative action today over the evil that afflicts this world. Mark wants us to know that although evil surrounds us, even while we are sitting here in church this morning, although we are tempted to believe that things are only going to get worse, the teacher is coming, and he is coming not with mere words, but with authoritative, imminent action for a better tomorrow.

When this teacher comes and teaches us that there is hope, he is not just “whistling in the dark” or “grasping at straws.”  He is not coming on some “wing and a prayer” “wishing upon a star.” He is not coming with mere words and tiresome clichés. He is coming taking authoritative action.

The teacher does not come with a mere history lesson of God’s past actions, but comes beckoning us to see what God is actively doing in our world today and will do in our world tomorrow.

As John Claypool has said, Jesus comes teaching us that our faith is and has always been “a faith of promise; never a faith of nostalgia. Our faith is always looking forward; never backward.”

Our faith never sulks, pouts or grumbles for the good old days, but always marches for, works for, fights for, and anticipates good new days.

When someone comes to see me who has just been diagnosed with cancer or another dreadful disease; or has just lost their job, their income; or has just lost their spouse to death, or worse, to separation or divorce; or has been afflicted in any number of ways; and I say to them “it is going to be ok,” I am not simply saying “cross your fingers” and “hope for the best,” or even saying something like “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

I am saying with the authority of God, the creator of all that is, the one who has been revealed in Holy Scriptures and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that things are going to be better.

Because our faith that is rooted in the Holy Scriptures is one that has always, and will always, draw us into better days.

When God first approached human beings, it was never from behind (“Hey you, turn around, come back here”), but always from out ahead, out in the future, promising, beckoning.

God came to Abraham and Sarah in their old age with a promise. God came promising that they would one day father and mother a nation. And you know something? Abraham and Sarah did the very same thing that some of you do when I tell you that things are going to be ok. They laughed. They scoffed: “We are much too old to have any future.”

God came to Moses showing him that he would lead Israel into the Promised Land. And Moses responded the same way some of you do, the same way Abraham and Sarah responded: “Nah; not me!  You know that simply don’t have what it takes to have such a future.”

But we know the rest of the story, don’t we? We know the rest of their stories, but we also know the rest of some of our own stories. No, Abraham, Sarah and Moses, nor any of us, had what it takes, but thank God that God did. And God acted. We look back at our afflictions, where we have been, and how far we have come, what we have gained through the storms, and we say something miraculous like, “If I could go back and change anything in my life, I don’t believe I would change a thing.”

This is why we point to our God in a very different manner than people of other faiths point to their God. When we are asked: “Where is your God?” we should never say “Back there,” or “in here,” or even “up there.” Rather we should point straight into the future and say: “My God is out there, pulling me into a better tomorrow!”

This is the teaching that Jesus puts into action, and this is the teaching that he calls all of us to put into action.

It is what compels some of you to give the rest of your lives helping people overcome addiction, teaching people how to read, serving sack lunches to hungry adults or stuffing book bags with food for hungry children. It is what propels some of you to volunteer at the hospital, visit a nursing home, send a card, make a phone call. And hopefully it is what has brought you here to this blessed place this morning, and it is what will send you out to be a blessing in all places.

For our God is a God of promise—A God of hope who is made known more in actions than in words.

I believe this explains what the wife of a colleague of mine said to me under the care of Hospice, just a couple of days before her death.

She talked about her life. She talked about how good God had been to her in the past. She talked about her service through the church alongside her husband. Then she began to talk about her present situation and about the cancer that had returned and had spread throughout her body. She talked about her pain. She said she knew that she had days and not weeks left on this earth. She talked about how difficult her death was going to be for her family, for her husband and children. Then she said with this special smile that I will never forget, “But I’m going to be fine! I am going to be fine!”

She was going to be fine because her God, whom she knew through her teacher, Jesus Christ, had never approached her from behind. But always from out ahead, out in the future, always promising, always beckoning, always acting, transforming, renewing, restoring, resurrecting. Her God was never back there, somewhere in the distant past, but her God was out there, always assuring her that her best days of living, her best days of life, were ahead of her.

And in what she knew to be her last few days on this earth, she  had miraculously been taught to say, “I’m fine. I’m going to be fine.”

Aren’t we all?

 

Invitation to the Table

This table belongs to our Authoritative Teacher. And it is this Good Teacher who is still inviting each of us to it today. Come and recognize that Christ is here. He is still breaking his body. He is still pouring himself out for you. Come, there is room for all. Let us prepare now as we remain seated and sing together.

Commissioning and Benediction

Go now and share the good news with the world that we are students of a Teacher who teaches us from out ahead, out in the future, always promising, always beckoning, always acting, transforming, renewing, restoring, resurrecting. May we share it with our words, but more so with our actions.

And may the love of God, the grace of Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

Come Home

prodigal_son

Hebrews 4:12-16 NRSV

A huge issue facing the church today is authenticity, or more specifically, a lack of authenticity.

People say that churches are full of people who pretend like they have it all together. Churches are full of fake smiles and phony piety. Churches are full of folks who act like they have all of the answers, have everything on earth and even in heaven all figured out.

Almost every week, I will hear at least one person ask: “Why can’t Christians just be real?” Someone once asked: “Why can’t people act the same way in church that they act at home?”

I believe the reason many Christians are so fake is that we still have a problem with the good news of the gospel we call grace. We have a difficult time believing that God truly loves us, accepts us, and welcomes us just as we are.

Because, it seems too good to be true.

I believe we Christians have a difficult time being authentic, making ourselves at home, because we have a difficult time accepting that the extravagant, amazing grace of Christ that welcomes us to be real; and because of that, we also have difficult time sharing grace. So, not only do we hide or deny our sins, we are quick to point out the sins of others. Consequently, we have gotten this reputation in the world for not only being fake, but also judgmental.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:13-13).

Indeed, but sadly, I believe this is where most folks in the church stop reading the Bible. We cannot even think about laying all of our sins bare before the Lord. So we cover it up, hide it, deny it and try to justify it.

And it is obvious to our friends and to everyone we encounter that we phony.

So listen again to the good news:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

But it sounds too good to be true. Doesn’t it? It is almost difficult to hear.

Let us hold fast to our confession. In other words, let us get real and be real. Let us lay bare our sins and authentically approach the throne of judgement.

Wait minute, it doesn’t say that. Does it?

Let us lay bare our sins and authentically approach the throne of grace.

That’s what it says.

And let us do it fearfully.

No, that’s not what it says.

Let us do it with boldness.

That’s what it says.

So, that we may receive our punishment and find correction.

Nope.

So that we might receive mercy and find grace in the time of need. It’s like coming home. Coming home where we can be real, authentic, yet still be accepted and loved.

But it is sounds too good to be true. Doesn’t it? It is all so extravagant, so amazing. It is difficult for us to read, hear and comprehend.

I believe Jesus knew that we would have a hard time with this. That is why I believe he prepared us for it by telling so many stories.

There was a father who had two sons. The youngest had the amazing gall to demand his inheritance so he could leave home. As the youngest, this disrespectful son had no claim to anything of his father’s. Who did he think he was?

Then the truly amazing part: The father takes his “whole living;” (notice how extravagant this is) the scriptures say that he takes all that he has, and gives it to the boy who slips into the “far country” where he wastes every red cent on selfish living. It is only when he finds himself in the time of his need that the boy decides to go back home.

This is where the story gets even more amazing.

“And while he was a long way off,” the father saw him and ran and embraced him.”

Think about this for a moment.

How did the father see him “a long way off?”

Because the father had been looking for him.

Every day this father sat on his front porch gazing down the road, grieving but hoping and praying that his child would one day come home.

And when he finally came home, he ran to him and cried out: “Come and celebrate with me. My child who was dead is now alive!”

I wonder how long the father waited for his dead son’s homecoming. I wonder why the father waited. For all he knew, his son was dead. Can’t you almost hear his concerned friends and neighbors, or maybe even his preacher, telling him: “Old man, it’s time for you to move on. Old Man, you’ve got to get past this. You’ve got to face the facts. He’s not coming back. You got to get over it. Concentrate on your older boy who is still here with you.”

But the father, amazingly, still waited. Most of his friends probably thought he was crazy. Such excessive, extravagant waiting was hard for them to believe.

After all, he really did not know that his son was ever coming home. A young kid with a pocket full of cash first time away from home was an easy target to any would-be thieves and murderers. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?

Still the father patiently, amazingly waited. Every day he kept looking down the road in front of his house. Straining to see, hoping to see his son coming home.

We call this the story of the prodigal son. But William Willimon says that if the word “prodigal” means “extravagant” or “excessive” or “amazing,” it should be called the story of the prodigal father. For when the boy left home, the father extravagantly gave him his entire savings. While he was gone, his friends and neighbors would say that the father excessively waited. And when the boy at last came home, the father extravagantly threw a huge party, holding nothing back. The father loved his son prodigally when he left home, he loved him amazingly while he was away from home and he loved him extravagantly when he returned home with a fatted calf, a new robe and sandals, a ring, and festive music and dancing.

It all seems too good to be true

It is a story of extravagant, excessive, prodigal love. It is a story of amazing grace.

And the good news is that Jesus’ story of the prodigal father is the story about his prodigal Father. And it is the story about our prodigal Father. Our God is a God who, when it comes to grace and love, holds absolutely nothing back.

I know, the truth sounds too good to believe, but it is the truth.

Our God waits, with confidence that the far country of sin and death shall not be the last word. Our God waits, ready to welcome us home with a celebration that is more than we deserve, not because of who we are, but because of who God is, namely a prodigal father.

One of the greatest things about this story told by Jesus is that it does not have an ending. Have you ever noticed that? We wonder if the younger boy ever learned from his mistakes and grew up to be more responsible. We wonder if the older brother ever let go of his resentment. We don’t know. All we know is that both boys are finally safe, at home with the father.

Willimon suggests that perhaps the reason the story does not have an ending is because this story is eternal. We know when the party began. But for all we know, the party never ended. Maybe this is a scene of what we all have to look forward to. An eternal homecoming celebration for those daughters and sons who once were dead but are now alive, who once were lost but now are found.

After our service this morning, you are invited to a homecoming celebration that has been waiting for you that Joan Smith, once called “a true vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

When you see the large amount of food that has been prepared for you this day, it may cause you to pause. It is so excessive, so extravagant, you may have trouble believing it. It will seem too good to be true.

But before this service is over, you are invited to another homecoming celebration that has also been waiting for you. In fact, this homecoming celebration is waiting for you each week. The meal is small. It’s just a tiny cracker and a sip of juice; however, when you understand the meaning of it, the truth of it, the love and grace of it, the extravagance and the excessiveness of it, it may also give you pause. For you may have trouble believing it. It will seem too good to be true.

But the good news is that it is true. For it is the truth. It is the good news of the gospel. It is amazing grace, and it is for you.

So, come home and hold fast to your confession.

Come home and be as real and as authentic as you can be.

Come home with all of your sins laid bare.

Come home and approach the throne of grace with boldness.

Come home because you will not be turned away from it.

Come home because nothing in heaven or on earth can separate you from it.

Come home, because this celebration has been prepared for you, even while you were still a long way off.

Come home, because this table has been set for you even while others have judged you, have condemned you, have given up on you, and even have written you off for dead.

Come home, because your God has not given up on you.

Come home, because your God has been waiting for you.

Come home, because his body has been broken for you.

Come home, because his blood has been shed for you.

Come home, because Christ has died for you.

Come home, because Christ has been raised for you.

Come home, because the baptistery has been filled for you.

Come home, because the Word of God is alive and active for you.

Come home and receive extravagant and excessive mercy.

Come home and find amazing and prodigal grace…

this day and forevermore.

This at Last!

My Children
My Children
Genesis 2:18-24 NRSV

We Americans have always had a high regard for independence. We believe in a staunch individual ethic that leads people to step up, step out, and stand on their own two feet. We look up to those who are able to look after themselves, to take care of number one, to be responsible, to be independent. And we tend to look down on those who are dependent on others for their survival.

This is arguably the greatest virtue of our society, the aspiration of every boy and girl. Study hard, grow up, move out on your own, and get a good job, so you can become self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-supporting. And bookstore shelves and YouTube videos labeled, “Do-it-yourself” and “Self-help,” are filled with books and videos to help us keep our independence. Anything else and you are considered to be a failure, worthless, no count, lazy, good-for-nothing. Yes, in our society, independence is what it is all about.

Many grocery stores now have “self-checkout” lines that are almost always available with no waiting. If you are smart enough to check your own groceries, if you have good ol’ American wherewithal and work ethic, if you are responsible and have learned to really be independent, if you have elevated yourself to a place where the assistance of a Wal-Mart cashier is truly beneath you, then you’ve earned the right not to wait in line.

Independence. It is what makes turning 16 and getting your driver’s license so wonderful, and it is what makes the day the doctor or your children take the car keys away from you so dreadful.

Perhaps more than any other day, we fear the day we lose our independence. It is the reason we save for retirement, eat right, take our vitamins and exercise; so we can avoid the nursing home and remain independent to the bitter end.

This is why coming to church can sometimes be confusing, and oftentimes, challenging. We come to church and open our Bibles only to discover that God’s ideals and virtues are oftentimes very different from our own. We come to church to reaffirm our beliefs, only to have God call those beliefs into question.

On the very first pages of our Bible, we learn that the first thing that God said was “not good” was, guess what? Our independence.

“This is not good,” says the Lord, “I will have to keep working, continue creating, to make you a partner, someone on whom you can depend to help you be the person that I have created you to be.”

So out of the ground, the Lord formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air.

And then the man searched high and low. He became acquainted with each creature so intimately, that he was able to give a name to each one. But out of all of the animals that he encountered, and out of all of the birds that he watched, he could not find a single suitable companion, a partner on whom he could depend, with whom he could share a mutual relationship and an intimate communion.

But God did not give up. God was not finished. God was intent on helping the first human be the person he was created to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. However, this time, not from the ground; but from the man himself.

As the man slept, God removed one of his ribs and used that rib to make a woman. Instead of forming another human being from the ground, God split the first human being into two beings and then presented her to the man. It was then that the man said:

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

This at last is the relationship for which have been searching.

This at last is the beloved communion for which I have been longing.

This at last is my partner, my companion, my confidant, my sister.

This at last is someone with whom I can be mutually connected.

This at last is someone on whom I can depend.

This at last is what I have needed to be the person that God has created me to be.

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

But this is not the good news. This is not why we are here this morning, mutually connected, depending on one another, communing with one another.

The good news is God was not finished with God’s new beloved community. God knew that an even greater communion was needed if we were ever going to be the persons that God has created us to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. And, this time, God took it one step further.

God looked at God’s beloved community, and God, God’s holy self, decided to join the community! God came to be with us, and God came to be one of us. God became flesh. God became bone. And God’s beloved community called him “Jesus.”

And one night, as Jesus sat with his beloved community at a table, he took bread and broke it, and blessed it, saying, “This is my body.” Then he took the cup, saying, “This is my blood.”

And here we are today. We have gathered here this morning at a table with Christians all over the world, mutually connected, depending on one another and communing with one another, signing in one voice:

“This at last is bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.”

This at last is the relationship for which we have been searching.

This at last is the beloved communion for which we have been longing.

This at last is our partner, our companion, our confidant, our brother.

This at last is someone with whom we can be mutually and eternally connected.

This at last is someone on whom we can truly depend.

This at last is what we have always needed, all we will ever need, to be the persons that God has created us to be.

This at last is the one who reminds us that we are all interconnected by the love of our God who never gives up on us, who keeps working and keeps creating until the whole creation understands that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

One day, I was talking with someone who was dying with cancer. He told me that his illness had demonstrated to him the things that were truly important in life. He said, “And the funny thing is, that they are the opposite of what I always thought was important.”

He said: “I never knew how many friends I had until I got sick. And I never realized just how important they are. Jarrett, the truth is, ‘We really do need a little help from our friends.’” Before his illness he admitted that what he had valued more than anything in the world was his independence, “but no more,” he said, “no more.”

Then he said: “Maybe that is why God created us to depend on one another. It is like a kind of training.”

“Training?” I asked.

“Yes, training,” he said, “because the most important thing in this life is to reach a point where we learn to be dependent on God, to reach to a point sometime before we die, where we have truly put our lives into the hands of God.”

It was as if he was saying: “No more! Because, now I see it. Now, I get it. In my most vulnerable, most dependent state, now, I know it. This at last is what life is all about!”

This at last is why several of you went out in the pouring rain on Friday to cook and serve a meal in the community soup kitchen.

This at last is why we have purchased a missions trailer and are stocking it with tools to help people renovate or repair homes.

This at last is why many of us are planning to go back to West Virginia and Nicaragua.

This at last is why we are having a meeting tomorrow at Noon to talk about truly being the body of Christ in this world, protestant and catholic, black and white. Because despite their beliefs, despite the color of their skin, they are bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. We are all mutually connected, equal partners, dependent. We are one body serving one Lord.

And this at last is why I held Emmit Brinson’s hand this morning in the hospital and prayed the following words:

O God,

Thank you for those you have placed in Emmit’s life on whom he depends.

Thank you for the love, the care and the prayers of his church family.

Thank you for the love and care of his children and grandchildren,

for the faithfulness of his partner, LaRue.

Thank you also for the love and care of this hospital,

for the wonders of medical science on which we depend;

for we know they are gifts from you.

Thank you also for Emmit’s faith and trust in you,

and for the way Emmit depends on you, daily.

And please let him know that you are not finished with him.

You are still working with him.

You are still creating.

Remind him, and remind all who love Emmit,

that he is in good hands,

for he is in the hands of the Great Physician.

He is in your hands.

Work through all of these relationships

to bring him healing, strength and peace,

especially through the special relationship he has with you through Jesus Christ. Amen.

This at last is why we are here: to be in relationships; to learn to depend on one another; to care for one another; to understand that at last we are all related; we are all united.

And as we depend on each other, we learn to depend on the One on whom we can depend forevermore, the One who came to us at last, the One who came to be with us and for us, the One to show us how to be the people God has created us to be: This at last, our Christ, our brother, our Lord and our Savior, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.[i]

[i] Inspired from: This at Last!, An Intergenerational Liturgy for World Communion Sunday, Nineteenth Sunday of Pentecost year B, written by the Rev. Dr. Laurel Koepf Taylor, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Eden Theological Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri.

Being a Great Church

A little girl our mission team met and helped in Nicaragua earlier this year.
A little girl our mission team met and helped in Nicaragua earlier this year.

Mark 9:2-4, 33-37 NRSV

Today is Consecration Sunday. It is the day that we ask God to consecrate our pledges and bless our commitments—all to make our church great! That is what we want, isn’t it? To be a great church!

But what does it mean to be a great church? Well, we really do not have to ask, do we? For all we have to do is listen, and we will hear countless voices telling us exactly what we need to do in order to be great.

Do you want to be a great church?

As the pastor, don’t ever be too real. Don’t let people know that you are a sinner. Don’t let it slip out that you sometimes have doubts. Make them believe that since Jesus came into your heart you no longer struggle, you never question your faith, and you have all of the answers.

Do you want to be a great church?

Don’t make people think too much. Don’t give them too much to ponder. Don’t make them question those things they have always believed. Don’t ever challenge them. Allow folks to check their brains at the door. Tell them what they need to believe to be a good Christian. Keep it simple. Make it black and white.

Do you want to be a great church?

Make church a little more entertaining. Do you really need to have communion every Sunday? That’s a lot of work. And besides, come on, no one wants to hear about sacrifice, spilt blood and a broken body every Sunday. Trade the bread and juice for some coffee and doughnuts or, on special Sundays, some cheese biscuits. Make church a little more fun.

Do you want to be a great church?

Remove the pulpit, or at least step out from behind it. Do away with your manuscript. Look people directly in the eye and tell them exactly what they want to hear. Give them some chicken soup for the soul. Give them something that will make them all warm and cozy on the inside.

Do you want to be a great church?

Don’t ever criticize folks inside the church. Instead, criticize folks outside the church. Create a “we-verses-those” mentality, an “insider-verses-outsider” way of thinking. And remind the congregation every Sunday that we are “in,” and those who disagree with us are “out.” Make them feel righteous, holy, superior, knowing that while we are on their way to heaven, those who are unlike us are on their way to hell.

Do you want to be a great church?

Look, it’s is fine to welcome all people to church. And I guess it is ok to say that all means all. But you don’t have to say it every Sunday! Don’t over-emphasize it. Don’t over-broadcast it, because that is only going to attract those who are bad for business.

Be careful what you put on facebook. Sidestep anything that might be offensive. Avoid race baiting, and stay away from that rainbow filter.

And you know, you really shouldn’t let some people, you know, those people, serve in any leadership positions. Don’t make them deacons and for God’s sake, never let them teach your children.

And don’t use words like “inclusion” and “diversity” so much. Because, the truth is, we like to be with folks who think like us, act like us and look like us.

Do you want to be a great church?

Don’t let babies, small children, or folks with disabilities disrupt the service. And don’t talk about helping the poor so much. Don’t talk so much about helping the marginalized of society so often. Because, if word gets out, you know what will happen. They will take advantage of us. They will use us until all of our funds run dry!

Do you want to be part of a great church?

Have more programs that are uplifting and edifying for the members. People come to church to be spiritually fed. So keep everyone satisfied, happy and comfortable. Don’t pressure members to do things that are outside of their comfort zones like building handicap ramps for strangers; serving in the Soup Kitchen, delivering Meals on Wheels, assisting the poor with their utility bills, or visiting nursing homes

Do you want to be part of a great church?

Preach what is popular. Instead of preaching extravagant grace, preach “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Instead of preaching social justice, preach “God helps those who help themselves.”

Then Jesus comes, and he asks:

“What are you talking about?”

We are silent.

But Jesus heard us.

He sits down, calls all of his disciples together, and says: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he brings a little baby out of the nursery; and taking it in his arms, he says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

In other words, Jesus said: “Stop worrying about being the greatest and start worrying about the least. And when you do that, when you take care of those who cannot care for themselves, when you feed those who cannot feed themselves, when you clothe those who cannot clothe themselves, when you welcome those who usually feel unwelcomed, especially by organized religion, then you will be welcomed, and you will be blessed by the one who sent me. You will be sanctified and you will be consecrated.”

I do not believe it is a coincidence that these words from Jesus are recorded in the same chapter as “The Transfiguration” of Jesus, that scene Jesus appears to the disciples, dazzling, in all of his transformed, consecrated glory, with Moses and Elijah representing the law and the prophets.

Holding that baby in his arms, it is as if Jesus is asking: “Do you want to dazzle the world? Do you want to be transformed, transfigured and consecrated? Do you want me to bless your pledges and sanctify your commitments? Then listen to my voice and listen to the voices from the law and the prophets.”

Jesus is saying remember the voice of Moses who commanded:

If there are any poor…in the land…do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. …Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need (Deut 15:7-11).

Never take advantage of poor and destitute laborers, whether they are fellow Israelites or foreigners living in your towns. …True justice must be given to foreigners living among you… (Deut 24:14-16).

Jesus is saying to remember also the voice of Proverbs, as we learn exactly who God consecrates:

…blessed are those who help the poor… Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him (Proverbs 14:21, 31).

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord— and he will repay you! (Proverbs 19:17).

And listen to who is not blessed by God:

Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need (Proverbs 21:13).

A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty (Proverbs 22:16).

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed (Proverbs 28:27).

So,

Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

Remember the voice of the Psalmist…

Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; (Psalms 82:2).

And remember the voice of Isaiah:

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool (Isaiah 1:17-18).

“In other words,” says the Lord, “when your pledges help the least, when your commitments side with the poor, I will transform and transfigure them. I will consecrate them!”

“Do you want to know how to have a successful consecration Sunday?” asks Jesus. “Then listen some more to Isaiah:”

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains of injustice. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. The Spirit of God will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply, ‘Remove the heavy yoke of oppression…Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon’ (Isaiah 58:6-10).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want us to be a great church. I want us to be a consecrated church. I want us to be a transformed and a transfigured church. I want us to be a Christian Church that is welcomed and blessed by God. I want us to be Disciples of Christ who are led forward by the Lord’s Spirit like the dawn, a light shining forth into the darkness. I want us to be a church that radiates love and light. I want us to be a church that dazzles the world!

More than once, I have heard Billy Lovic talk about serving some of the most impoverished folks living in our hemisphere in Nicaragua He says something like: “It is hard to describe, I have never felt more at one with the Holy Spirit than I do when I am with those folks.”

I can just imagine those impoverished children looking up at Billy, at the compassion in Billy’s eyes, at the love of Christ in Billy’s smile, and I can imagine those children being dazzled his presence!

Today is Consecration Sunday. However, the consecration of our pledges will depend on what we do throughout the year. It will depend on how we serve. It will depend on where we serve. And it will depend on whom we serve.

Ashamed of the Gospel

ashamed of the gospelMark 8:27-38 NRSV

Next Sunday is Consecration Sunday. It is the Sunday that we are asked to prayerfully commit ourselves to the 2016 budget of this church and to serve on a ministry team, and it is the Sunday that we will ask God to bless those commitments. Members will receive a pledge card in the mail. If you are not yet a member, if you wish, you will be able to pick one up from an usher.

We are doing this, because for almost two years now, I have been preaching that, perhaps more than anything else, the church needs to re-discover its mission to be the church, to be the body of Christ, to be the very embodiment of Christ in this world. As Christ, we are to continue his ministry in this world, doing the very same things that he did while he was on this earth: offering healing to the sick, hope to the despairing, comfort to the troubled, grace to the sinners, love to the hateful, and life to the dying.

Now, if this is like any church that I have ever known, there may be more than a few of you who are thinking: “I just don’t believe I am ready to make such a commitment. I have some things that I need to work out first in my life. My faith needs some work. I have my doubts. I have questions. I have so much to learn, so much to figure out. And I have some very personal issues to deal with. I have this problem with anger. Sometimes I act or say before I think. So right now, if you don’t mind, until I can get my act more together, learn a little more, I think I will pass on this pledge card thing.”

Well, here’s my response to that: “Have you ever met Peter?”

You know, Saint Peter. The one Jesus called a “rock” and said, “on this rock, I will build my church.” The one Roman Catholics recognize as the first Pope. Perhaps you’ve heard of St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Peter: the one whom Jesus loved and trusted to carry on his ministry in this world.

Well, let me tell you a little more about this Peter fella.

One day, he is out on boat with the other disciples. It is the middle of the night, and there’s this big storm. The wind is howling. The waves are crashing against and into the boat. And as you could imagine, they were all scared to death. But then, Jesus comes to them, walking on the water, saying to them to have courage and fear not.

But Peter…Peter has some doubts. Peter has some questions. Peter needs to work some things out: “Lord, if it is really you, then command me to come out on the water.” And Jesus responds, “Peter, you of little faith.”

Later, Jesus is instructing Peter about discipleship. Jesus talks about being humble, lowering one’s self, even pouring one’s self out. Jesus talks about selfless, self-expending, sacrificial love, being with and for the least of these.

But Peter…Peter has some issues. Peter has some things to learn. Peter gets into an argument with the other disciples about which one of them was the greatest.

After Jesus prays in the garden, surrendering himself to the will of God, offering himself as a sacrifice, Jesus does not resist arrest. Jesus practices what he teaches and turns the other cheek.

But Peter…Peter loses it. Peter acts before he thinks. In a fit of anger, Peter fights back. Peter draws his sword and begins swinging it Jesus’ captors, cutting the ear off of one.

And in our text this morning, Jesus foretells that garden event. He talks about being rejected by organized religion. Jesus is essentially saying:

“When you preach the word of God that cuts like a sword; when you love all people and try to teach others to love all people; when you preach a grace that is extravagant and a love that is unconditional; when you talk about the need to make room at the table for all people, even for folks called “illegal” or “aliens”; when you stand up for the rights of the poor and the marginalized; when you proclaim liberty to the oppressed and say that their lives matter; when you defend, forgive and friend sinners caught in the very act of sinning; when you tell lovers of money to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor; when you command a culture of war to be peacemakers; when you tell the powerful to turn the other cheek; when you call religious leaders hypocrites and point out their hypocrisy; when you criticize their faith without works, their theology without practice, and their tithing without justice; when you refuse to tolerate intolerance; when you do these things that I do,” says Jesus, “then the self-righteous-powers-that-be will rise up, and they will hate. They will hoist their colors, and they will grab their guns. They will come against you with all that they have, and they will come against you in name of God. They will do anything and everything that is in their power to stop you, even if it means killing you.”

But Peter…Peter has some serious issues with that. Peter says to Jesus: “No way! Stop talking like that. This is not right. You are crazy. We will not let this happen!”

Then, having had about all that he could stand of Peter and his nonsense and excuses: his doubts, his questioning, his anger, his lack of faith, his personal issues, all the mess that he needs to work out, Jesus responds to Peter with some of the harshest words ever recorded by Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan.”

Jesus, calls Peter, “Satan.”

And yet, that did not stop Jesus from loving Peter, from using Peter. Jesus kept teaching Peter, kept calling Peter, and kept leading Peter to do his work in the world. In fact, that did not stop Jesus from calling Peter to start his church in the world.

So, if you are not ready to make a commitment to Christ and his church, and if your excuses are: that you have doubts; or you have questions; or you are just not ready; or you have some issues to work out; or even have days you feel unworthy, even have days you know you resemble Satan more than God; then you are going to have to come up with another excuse, because as Peter teaches us: with Jesus, those excuses simply don’t fly!

So, what is it that is really keeping us from committing ourselves to Christ and his church?

After Jesus is arrested, Peter goes into the courtyard of the High Priest. It is a cold night, so he gathers with some folks who had started a fire to warm themselves. A servant girl begins staring at Peter and says: “This man was with Jesus. He traveled around with him doing the things that Jesus did, saying the things that Jesus said.” But Peter denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not even know this Jesus.”

A little later, another saw him and said: “You are a disciple, a disciple of Jesus who defended, forgave and friended sinners. You welcomed strangers, visited prisoners, clothed the naked, gave water to the thirsty, and fed the hungry. You restored lepers, elevated the status of women, gave dignity to Eunuchs, and offered community to lepers. But, again, Peter denied it.

About an hour had passed and another man began to insist saying: “Certainly this man was with Him, for he is a Galilean too. You called out hypocrisy on the behalf of widows. You challenged the status quo on the behalf of the sick. You disobeyed the laws of God on the behalf of the suffering.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!”

Perhaps Peter’s denials had nothing to do with his lack of faith. Perhaps his denials, his refusal to take up his cross, had to do with shame.

Peter’s failure to pledge his commitment to Christ and his church had nothing to do with his doubts and his questions, because, as Jesus pointed out over and over, those excuses simply don’t cut it. Peter’s failure was shame.

Peter’s failure to start his own ministry team had nothing to do with his personal issues or poor anger management. Peter’s failure had to do with shame.

Peter failed to make a pledge; Peter failed to commit himself to Christ and his church, because he was ashamed.

Peter was ashamed of the gospel: What the gospel stood for, and for whom the gospel stood.

Peter was ashamed to love, because living among voices clamoring to take their country back from foreign invaders, it was more popular to hate.

Peter was ashamed to turn the other cheek, because it was more popular to draw a sword or get a gun.

Peter was ashamed to identify with the least, because it was more popular to identify with the greatest.

Peter was ashamed to share his wealth, because it was more popular to hold on to it.

Peter was ashamed to side with the poor, because it was more popular to ridicule them for being “lazy” and “entitled.”

Peter was ashamed to welcome immigrants, because it was more popular to dehumanize them by calling them “aliens.”

Peter was ashamed to defend sinners, because it was more popular to throw rocks.

Peter was ashamed to stand up for the marginalized, because it was more popular to call them “abominations.”

Peter was ashamed to visit those in prison, because it was popular to treat them as animals.

And Jesus said: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

So, are we ready to commit? Are we ready to give sacrificially and serve graciously? If not, what’s our excuse? We must remember, with Jesus, a lack of faith, having a lot of questions and some serious issues, or not having ourselves together simply doesn’t cut it!

Could it be it is because we are somewhat ashamed? Are we ashamed of the gospel? Are we ashamed of what it stands for, and for whom it stands?

The good news is that Peter dealt with his shame. Peter made his commitment. Peter turned in his pledge card. Peter joined one ministry team and started another. And, this one Jesus called “Satan,” helped start the church and has been named by the Church as its first Pope.

And the good news for us this morning is that we still have a little time to deal with our shame.

Without God, All Things Are Possible (and Probable)

without god2 Samuel 11:1-15 NRSV

Psalm 14 NRSV

Ephesians 3:14-21 NRSV

A wonderful facet of Holy Scripture is its sheer candor. Unlike much of other ancient literature, the Bible does not protect its greatest heroes from their shortcomings and failures as sinful human beings. Absent of any spin and bias, the writers tell their sordid stories with astonishing honesty.  Their misconduct and foolishness are laid bare, with remarkable objectivity.

All who take time to study the Bible are privy to the impatience of Moses, the skepticism of Sarah, the reluctance of Jeremiah and the cowardice of Peter. But of all the offensive exploits of God’s special men and women, perhaps none is more despicable than David’s dealings with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.

David’s treachery is even greater when we compare it to Uriah’s fidelity. Uriah is faithfully defending his country when David learns that Bathsheba is expecting with his child.

David thinks: “I have to cover this up.”

David deceitfully pretends to inquire about the war’s progress, but his real purpose was to devise a reason for Uriah and everyone else to assume that the unborn child naturally belongs to Uriah.

He encourages Uriah to go home to be with Bathsheba so the adulterous affair might not be revealed.

However, Uriah’s integrity and loyalty to his comrades on the battlefield supersedes the hospitality of his wife. Uriah sleeps out back in the servant’s quarters, explaining to David that this was his way of keeping faith with his fellow soldiers.

Frustrated, David tries once again by getting Uriah all liquored up.  However, even while intoxicated, Uriah remains faithful to his comrades by sleeping on the sofa.

Uriah’s loyalty to his troops is especially remarkable when we remember that Uriah is not even a native Israelite, but a Hittite. Yet, his personal code of conduct, his unwavering fidelity repeatedly stands in the way of David’s deceitful plans.

And here is when the story really goes awry. Frustrated by the fidelity of Uriah and knowing that as soon as the child is born it will be clear to all that adultery had been committed, David spirals out of control, desperately, deceitfully and audaciously ordering the death of Uriah.

Perhaps we have all heard the hopeful words of Jesus recorded by Matthew, “With God, all things are possible.” Well, the story of David reveals that the opposite can also be a true.

It was the 19th century Russian philosopher Dostoevsky who penned the phrase, “Without God, everything is permissible.”  Without God, things are quick to go awry, get out of hand. Without God, we all have the propensity to spiral out of control. Without God, everything is possible.

As the Psalmist warns, without God all behavior that is foolish and destructive is not only possible, it has no limits.

Without God, God-created sexual attraction is transformed into selfish lust leading to the objectification and dehumanization of others and sometimes to betrayal, deceit, and even murder.

Without God, a little money earned fosters insatiable greed leading to the exploitation of others, especially the poor.

Without God, the understanding that all of life is a gift from God, that all is grace, is twisted into an egotistical and entitled pride leading to all kinds of bigotry and exclusivity.

Without God, power derived from birth, inheritance, dumb luck, is used to dismiss and to oppress, to abuse and to misuse, those born without power.

Without God, the holy call to forgive as we have been forgiven is replaced by a call to resentment, revenge and malicious acts of violence.

Without God, lies and propaganda breed fear, and fear breeds bitterness, and bitterness breeds anger, and anger breeds hatred, and hatred can provoke a man to take a gun into a movie theater, into a school or into a church and start shooting the innocent.

Without God, narcissism, sexism, racism, extremism, despair, murder, limitless atrocities are not only possible, they are probable.

Walter Brueggeman has correctly observed that: “It is the knowledge of the reality of God present and at work in our world and in our lives which sets limits to destructive possibilities.”

David’s problem was simply a lack of this knowledge. David had become so powerful, so confident and so proud, that he became blind to the reality of God present and at work in our world.

David imagined that he was somehow exempt from the supreme law of God to love his neighbor as himself. David lived his life, made his decisions, and acted out without knowledge of God, as if God did not exist. And it was this self-indulgent lifestyle which brought destruction to him and his family.

I want to suggest that the prayer in our epistle lesson can help us to avoid such foolishness or madness—madness of which we, including yours truly, are all capable.

One does not have to be a King to forget who we are and whose we are. For all of us, perhaps especially us Westerners living in the 21st century, there exists the danger to go too far with our freedom. We are tempted to cross the line with our liberty. In our sinfulness and brokenness we tend to forget that the world in which we live in is bounded by the mysterious but trustworthy love and law of God. We sometimes forget the reality of God present, at work in our world and at work in our lives—we forget that all of life is bounded by God’s inexplicable, but unfailing grace.

I believe the prayer for the church at Ephesus needed to be David’s prayer and needs to be our prayer today.

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.

We need to know that God’s connectedness with us is so intimate and so personal that God, God’s self, has named us. God is as close to us as good parents are to their children. We need to know that God cares for us and nurtures us and loves and suffers with us like a devoted parent. We have all heard the phrase, “only a mother could love that man!” God’s love for us is always present. There is no end to its trust, no failing of its hope. It stills stand when all else has fallen. And this love is all we will ever truly need.

I  pray that, according to the riches of his glory that you will be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

We need to know that when we are physically weak, God can and will make us spiritually strong. God can and God will strengthen us to overcome temptations and trials. God will be our conscience and help us through the knowledge of Christ to replace our lust with respect, our resentment with forgiveness, our hatred with love, our disregard and disdain for the poor with a conscience for justice.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.

We need to know that God loves us more than we can possible imagine. This is why the Bible can be so honest and so objective. This is why this book is a canon of candor. This is why misconduct and madness can be laid utterly bare. David can be as sinful as a person can be, and, by the grace of God, be remembered by the Apostle Paul in Acts as “a man after God’s very own heart” (Acts 13:22).

Think about this:  If David understood the breadth and the length and the height and the depth of God’s love and God’s grace, would David have gone as far as he did to cover up his sins?

God’s love for us is so great and so big, that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from it, through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Thus, with God, when we expose our sins, when we reveal our shortcomings, when we lay bare our brokenness, when we confess our anger and hate, we are enveloped by an amazing grace that is greater than our sin.

But, if we ignore our sins without God, never confess it, pretend it doesn’t exist, conceal it by calling it by another name, try to somehow justify it, then, well, anything is possible.

The good news is that the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love is so great and so intimate and so personal that it has the power to make all that is destructive in this world simply impossible.

Without God, things can go completely awry. Without God, all Hell will break loose. Without God, all things are possible. But with God, there are many things that are impossible.

With God, unforgiveness is impossible.

With God, absolute loneliness is impossible.

With God, being completely lost is impossible.

With God, utter despair is impossible.

With God, being unaccepted, unloved and unworthy is impossible.

With God, spiraling out of control into utter madness is impossible.

With God, saying things or doing things or voting for things that harm our neighbors, especially our neighbors whom the Bible calls the least of these, without a conscience that that names these sins and calls us to repent to obey the supreme law of God to love neighbor as self is impossible.

With God, coming to church, praying, singing hymns and listening to a sermon without a divine call and a holy conviction to leave the comfort of this sanctuary to go out into a dangerous world to be the church, to do the things that Jesus did, lifting up the lowly, seeking out the lost, healing the sick, speaking truth to power, and confronting and challenging and exorcising all kinds of evil, is impossible.

With God, total destructiveness, eternal death, and all Hell breaking loose is impossible.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.