Sermons

Falling Upward

I picture it as a beautiful day when the disciples, those small town guys, stood outside the Temple in Jerusalem and admired its workmanship.

It wasn’t Jesus’s first visit to the big city, according to Luke, who tells a story of 12-year-old Jesus going with his parents to Jerusalem for one of the high holidays. On the way home, his parents assumed he was hanging out with the other kids, somewhere in the throng of people on the dusty road. When they realize he was nowhere to be found, they went back to Jerusalem and searched for him for three days. Three days! Imagine how distressed they must have been. Finally they discovered he had been at the Temple all along, talking to the priests, discussing the Holy Book with brilliance well beyond his years.

This visit is different. This time the priests do not admire him. He’s turned over the tables in the Temple, one of the stories that finds its way into all the gospels. He arrives at the Temple and he absolutely goes off when he sees how his Father’s house is being used and misused.

This time they not only don’t like him. They decide he needs to die.

The Temple was in the process of being rebuilt, a huge public works project under Herod’s rule. You might remember that this second Temple, built after the exile, never felt quite like the original in spirit, and certainly was less elaborate. Herod set out to create a legacy for himself by making it more elaborate. So it’s fancy new construction that the disciples admire, only to have Jesus tell them that it won’t last. And it’s not a huge leap to take him literally, because it was only about forty years later that the Temple his companions admired would be laid waste, never to be rebuilt.

Everything’s going to fall down sometime.

Whether they want to hear it or not, Jesus is warning his friends of the troubles about to come. They will be challenged after his death and have to testify to their faith. Their families no doubt disassociated from them, perhaps because of genuine disagreement, but maybe also just to keep themselves safe from political danger. The only hope he offers is that if we endure, we will gain our souls.

It’s important to note that Jesus spoke to the very particular situations of the people around him that day, but that he also speaks to us, so many years later. It’s happened to me, and probably to you, too. Life is going along on the accustomed path, and then without much warning, or perhaps with hints you missed and can only see in hindsight, everything goes smash. It can happen at work, or school, or in our relationships.

We’re all going to fall sometime.

If our faith really matters to us, if we are truly committed to the values that go hand in hand with our beliefs, then we will almost certainly face times when we will be on the unpopular side of arguments, when we will have to speak up for what we believe and identify ourselves with Jesus at great cost.

The cost was certainly great for Jesus, in human terms.

Next week’s gospel reading will find him on the cross.

We all going to fall down sometime. Even Jesus.

It’s the human experience, one he shared with us.

In his book, “Falling Upward,” the Franciscan priest Father Richard Rohr writes,

“Failure and suffering are the great equalizers and levelers among humans. Success is just the opposite. Communities and commitment can form around suffering much more than around how wonderful or superior we are.” (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Jossey-Bass, 2011, p. 158)

Out of what looked like failure to the world’s eyes would come a movement following Jesus, a movement passed down to us over millennia, continually formed and reformed in the face of loss and death and endings, continually born into new expressions of faithful testimony and action.

I’ll be honest. When I planned ahead for this sermon I expected a different outcome for this week’s election. I worried about the aftermath, but I worried about a different set of people being upset and disappointed. Maybe the signs were there, as they should have been for the disciples, but I didn’t see them, or I didn’t want to see them.

Now I’m concerned about my family’s future, and for others who wonder if we will lose rights we gained so recently. At a medical appointment the other day I found myself stammering, hesitant to name my relationship to my wife. We’ve had to reassure our son that no change in a law can unmake our family. And maybe we’re catastrophizing; maybe there is nothing to worry about for us. But the same racism and misogyny I named in recent weeks has been on display for the past five days, making the world seem less safe for some of Will’s classmates. He’s worried about whether kids will bully his friend,

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Rosario Jaime, a Penn graduate student from California, signs the "wall of solidarity" sponsored by the United Minority Council. (philly.com)
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Rosario Jaime, a Penn graduate student from California, signs the “wall of solidarity” sponsored by the United Minority Council. (philly.com)

Meyhar, and we’ve talked with him about sticking up for the students who fall into the category of “other,” labeled for their race or religion or national origin. It breaks my heart for children, for anyone, to be at risk simply for being who they are. You may have read the story about the racist messages sent to all the black freshman at Penn this week, and that is just one instance. For me this feels like the Temple falling down, the structure I built around my beliefs that everyone could have a place in America.

 

Father Rohr says,

The genius of the gospel was that it included the problem inside the solution. The falling became the standing. The stumbling became the finding. The dying became the rising.  (Rohr, p. 159)

We all fall down sometime. Sometimes, even when we try not to, we mess it all up ourselves. It’s human to want some reassurance that everything will come out all right in the end, and this speech from Jesus that stirs up our anxieties gives us only an eternal hope. He doesn’t promise us our lives. He won’t get to keep his own.

Next week, you’re going to take a vote on the future of this church, and some of you already have ballots ready to return to be counted as absentee. One of the ideals of our congregational polity is the give and take that happens in the meeting itself, the noble principle that we give equal consideration to each speaker, letting each opinion be heard, and counting each vote equally. We reach our conclusions in our own ways. Maybe we’ve prayed long and hard about our decision – whether in church business or national politics – or maybe we go with our gut.

Up in Maine, the last community I served still has an annual Town Meeting where decisions are made. It can be scary to share our thoughts that way, right out in front of everybody, but in this case, it’s so important for discerning how you will vote in the end. That’s why there have been so many opportunities offered for conversation with the Consistory, in hopes that all voices will be heard, and there will be one more chance in the meeting itself. If you haven’t spoken, or feel worried about making your voice heard, remember that Jesus promised his disciples words and wisdom for the moment they would be most needed.

And if you get it wrong, well, we’re all going to fall sometime.

But don’t let people tell you falling down means everything comes to an end.

As Father Rohr puts it,

I fell many times relationally, professionally, emotionally, and physically in my life, but there was always a trampoline effect that allowed me to finally fall upward. No falling down was final, but actually contributed to the bounce! (Rohr, p. 158)

Believe me when I say this truth is hard-won for me right now. I haven’t come around to it through platitudes or sentiment. I’ve been down in the abyss having words with God this week, and I know it’s true God was right there with me because Christ has been in the abyss of hell himself.

I am disillusioned and disappointed and even distraught, yet I still believe this is the truth. We are people of the Good News. We are people of God’s Hope. We are people of Christ’s Resurrection.

So we do not despair.

We do the work of letting go, and the work of building up again, and the work of arguing with God, and the work of listening to God, which for most of us is a lot harder. We try, knowing another fall will come, another disappointment, another loss, but remembering that whatever happens, we are not alone. It’s the truth, even in the moments when we’ve fallen, and especially when we’re falling upward. In the name of the Creator and the Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermons

Things Hoped For

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

This time last year, I first started hearing about the newly opened Broadway show, “Hamilton,” when some friends of ours went to see it and declared it amazing. The composer went to the same college as my oldest, so I knew a little bit about him. Excitedly, as I do, I started reading all about it, and then reading news about it out loud. Kathryn thought it sounded weird. Why would you want to pay good money to see a musical about the Founding Fathers? Wasn’t that just for history major nerds … like me? It might as well be in French.

Whenever the subject came up, she would give me that look that says, “I don’t want to hear about it.” So I would listen to the music online, and read articles about the composer and performers, but I would close the browser window or turn off the sound whenever she came into the room.

I had no hope of going to see the show, which was getting more and more popular. The seats were being bought up and resold by ticket brokers, and the cost kept getting higher and higher. The only way to get the already expensive tickets at the list price was to watch the Hamilton website to see when new blocks of tickets were released, and to act fast. This all felt beyond my powers, especially since Kathryn didn’t care about going.

It wasn’t the first time I had wished for something that seemed unlikely, even impossible.

It didn’t stop me from enjoying the music, though. And my loftiest Hamilton-related hope was that somebody would think of giving me the original cast recording for Christmas.

When we don’t think something is possible – well, when I don’t think something is possible, I do two things. On the surface, on the outside, for public consumption, I resize my expectations. I might dream a little about what I would love to do, how I wish things would turn out. It’s easier to protect yourself. Don’t hope for too much, and you won’t get hurt.

That sounds pragmatic, and safe, doesn’t it?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 is a famous verse, the kind of thing preachers proclaim and other people embroider on pillows or decoupage on wall hangings. It sounds poetic, lyrical, but what does it mean? Faith is the assurance of things hoped for? If we’re going to get the things we hoped for, if they are assured, then why do we need faith?

I feel dissatisfied with this sometimes, with these smooth words that slide off my tongue.

And I wonder how God’s words sounded to Abraham, big, crazy promises about descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand at the seashore, a ridiculous promise to an old man with not one single child, and a wife too old to have a baby. Leave what you know, go out into the unknown lands, old man, and I will give you a legacy that will never die.

What made that old man think the Lord would come through?

It’s a slightly bigger trust fall than imagining going to see a Broadway show.

A lot bigger than hoping for a CD under the Christmas tree.

We take turns opening presents, and we weren’t too far into the rotation when I opened the Broadway cast recording of Hamilton. I was super excited! When you keep your hopes low, it’s not so hard to exceed them.

When it looked like everything had been opened, I still didn’t have a gift from Kathryn. She pointed to something I hadn’t seen, and Will brought it to me. Edward, our oldest, was sitting on the couch beside me, and as I unwrapped the flat present, I found a nice file folder. I mean, it was a high-quality folder, with elastic things to hold it shut, but…

Inside it were some paper file folders, also nice ones, and inside each one a sheet of paper, with something printed out. The print was small, and I had trouble focusing to see what it could be – tickets? To what?

He didn’t say anything, but Edward shifted beside me, and then my eyes found the word: Hamilton.

Kathryn had been saving up for two months to buy the tickets. There may have been a little subterfuge, a little feigning of disinterest in Hamilton, a little secret listening to the music when *I* wasn’t around.

It’s easy to see these things in hindsight.

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:7-10)

Hear that: “the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Faith is not about ephemeral possibilities and fantastical dreams-come-true. Faith is not an act we perform for God. Faith is knowing God cares for us, even when we can’t see the things we hope for yet.

Abraham struck out into the wilderness with his wife and his servants and his flocks because that’s how faith works. He knew God had his back.

The ticket and the cast
The ticket and the cast

Those Hamilton tickets had to be purchased way in advance. The date on them was July 27th. In the meantime, we celebrated the Grammy the show won, and in June, so many Tony Awards. Then the announcements began of cast departures. I won’t pretend; there were a few moments here and there when we lamented. But by the time we climbed the stairs to our seats in the rear mezzanine of the Richard Rodgers Theater, we were beyond excited to be in the room where it happens.

The whole experience exceeded our hopes.

That’s not just a measure of how the actors performed. We worked through our doubts and came to the encounter with faith it would be a good thing.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

Faith Church is in a time of uncertainty, hoping for a future you can’t quite see yet. Each of you has things hoped for in a new pastor. No one is more aware of that than the members of the Search Committee, who will soon start reading candidate profiles and watching for the one who will be right for all of you.

Hebrews was written to encourage new Christians who also lived in a time of uncertainty. Their community of faith formed with enthusiasm, then suffered negative social consequences – never a happy thing, their friends and neighbors thought they were strange. The early glow wore off, and that group of people they had to live with were clearly not all gathered in the perfected kingdom of God. They were flagging, and they needed a word of encouragement, to remind them of the firm foundation laid for them.

I imagine they wondered why they lived in the time they did, why it was they were the ones up against it, having to defend what they believed.

This letter reminded them of the truth about faith. Assurance and conviction don’t come on our own power or by our own effort. They come from God. They come in knowing God.

Jesus’ own disciples worried about how they would survive in the face of hostile authorities and unpredictable crowds, people they previously knew as neighbors. At the beginning of Luke 12, the gathered crowd was so large and unruly that people were trampling each other. After teaching the people and taking questions from the crowd, Jesus turns to his inner circle.

It is the disciples Jesus reassures in the passage we read this morning, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Do not be afraid, he says. Then he goes on. Do not be afraid, but do be ready. Be aware. Be sure what you treasure, what you are keeping close to your heart.

Know who your God is.

Jesus tells the disciples, “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”

What more could we hope for?

Faith is not an act we perform for God. Faith is knowing God cares for us, even when we can’t see the things we hope for yet.

Sermons

Uncomfortable Conversations

Hi. I’m Martha. I share a name with one of the heroines of our gospel lesson (Luke 10:38-42), or perhaps I should say the anti-heroine. If you heard me preach on this passage last summer, you might remember that I called this one of my favorite Bible stories. You might also remember that I leaned on the idea that we can’t hear the tone Jesus uses when he calls Martha out for being so busy and distracted by things that are not all that important from his point of view. I suggested we might consider their friendship, which plays out at greater length and in more detail in John’s gospel, the intimacy Jesus had with Martha and her whole family, and hear his words as affectionately corrective rather than harsh.

It’s a very short story, packed full of possible meaning. These five verses have been translated, studied, deconstructed and reimagined through lenses of literature, historical-critical analysis and a feminist hermeneutic – and given my interest in Martha, I have read a lot about her. The truth is that we can take almost any five verses from the Bible, and depending on our context and, frankly, the preacher’s bias, we can reach some different conclusion. And the additional truth is, I don’t like to do that with this story because, well, Martha.

“Martha, Martha…you are worried and distracted by many things.”

I’ve been like Martha, more times than I like to admit, and that has made me one of her passionate defenders. But for today, I hope you’ll make the leap with me to a different angle on the story. Just this once.

Picture a painful domestic scene, a competition set up between the two sisters. If you’ve ever lived through an awkward holiday meal, sharing space with someone who doesn’t help much, Mary-like, or someone who over-functions, Martha-like, you’ll know what I mean. It’s incredibly frustrating.

As a Martha myself, I feel tempted to say on her behalf, “Get thee behind me, Mary!”

But nothing in the text says Mary is smug, or trying to get the advantage with Jesus, or to tempt Martha to something she should not do. She is sitting quietly at our Lord’s feet, listening.

And if the scripture doesn’t say directly that Martha was brusque, well, the text certainly suggests it.

When I hear Jesus scold Martha, my heart breaks with hers. Because it must’ve felt like the end of the world. She’s living through a little apocalypse, right there in her living room, the same space she set up to make Jesus welcome. She didn’t know she was going to be a guest at one of the original “Come to Jesus” meetings.

Apocalyptic language isn’t just about the words you use. It’s about the feelings of the people hearing them. Jesus knew Martha meant well, with her will to serve, but he also wanted to get through to her. Sometimes we need to slow down and listen. If we don’t, we may miss the message.

I understand this because I am very worried and distracted, by many things, and I often need to figure out how to choose the better part.

Yesterday an alert flashed by on my iPhone, a headline from the Washington Post about a poll they did with ABC News. The story begins, “Pessimism about race relations in America is higher than it has been in nearly a generation.” 63 percent think things are bad, a jump from 48 percent this spring. Have things really gotten worse, or are we simply admitting how bad things are? The poll would seem to indicate the latter, that people who used to deny that racial discrimination played much of a part in our national life are now saying it does.

I wonder if we have reached a “come to Jesus” time?

Memorial to Michael Brown
Memorial to Michael Brown

This is the bleakest public opinion has looked, but the numbers have gone up and down in these polls over the past two years, the two years I have been here with you, ever since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, Black Lives Matter has become part of our national vocabulary, a movement meant not to devalue white people but to remind us of the ways Black lives have been counted as less valuable.

I’ll be honest with you, because why not be? Other than an occasional Martin Luther King Day sermon, I had never preached much about the sin of racism until Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. I lived in the mostly white bubble of Maine, in a fantasy land where racism was concerned.

I believed things had gotten better since my childhood in the segregated South.

I really wanted to believe it.

Because acknowledging otherwise can be hard to do. I know that in the time between Travyon’s death and Michael Brown’s, I let concerns about race slip to the back of my mind. After all, I had a lot of other things to think about and tend to and manage.

It’s easy to focus on our own affairs and lose a sense of the big picture. After all, if we have a roof over our heads and food on the table, if we have a job to go to or families to love, we can be quite taken up with maintaining that status quo. The trouble is that keeping what we have can come at the expense of others, and that’s the situation the prophet Amos was talking about in the Old Testament lesson today (Amos 8:1-12).

Amos is the earliest book of prophecy in the Bible, and he tells the reader right up front that he is not a professional prophet of the kind found hanging around the king’s courts. He is a shepherd, a landowner of the lower classes, and it takes a lot to spur him to speak to the elites of his time. The kingdom of Israel was prosperous, but this time of plenty and success came at a cost to the poor and the needy.

The warning is directed at people who say,

When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” (Amos 8:5-6)

In other words, when will we be allowed to get back to business? When can we cheat our business competitors? When can we buy the poor for cash money? When can we own the needy in exchange for a pair of sandals? When can we sell what’s left in the wheat fields, the chaff that cheats the buyer?

God’s people are messed up, and God sends Amos to give them fair warning. They have misused their prosperity, and that lovely Edible Fruit Arrangement on the sideboard? It’s the end of the line. There is going to be weeping and suffering. Y’all need to get it together, and get your priorities in order. The coming famine will be so terrible it will not just be a lack of food and water. God’s own self and God’s own words will be missing.

Look around at the world, at the news from Nice and Istanbul. Look at the grief and turmoil in our own nation. Listen for the prophets who are speaking to us now. Listen quick, before God’s words go missing again!

Now, if you had told me when I turned the TV on Wednesday night and caught a few minutes of the red carpet for ESPN’s ESPY sports awards that I would hear some prophecy, I would have been surprised by it. As the show began, instead of a joke-cracking host, four NBA players came onto the stage, looking dead serious. They were Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, and LeBron James. (I’ll confess I could only identify one of them on sight.) The story is they approached the producers of the show and asked for a few minutes to talk about the escalating violence in our country. They spoke eloquently and gravely.

Dwayne Wade said,

“The racial profiling has to stop. The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop. But also, the retaliation has to stop. The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention Orlando, it has to stop. Enough. Enough is enough.”

He went on,

“Now, as athletes, it’s on us to challenge each other to do even more than we already do in our own communities. And the conversation, it cannot stop as our schedules get busy again. It won’t always be convenient. It won’t. It won’t always be comfortable, but it is necessary.”

I’m sure there are people who watched, or heard about their statements later who thought they were too hard or easy on the police, or too hard or easy on Black people; maybe thought they were too careful, or maybe they took too big a risk. We may disagree among ourselves on that. But they talked. They called the community of athletes for a “come to Jesus.” I expect quite a few people in that well-dressed and well-off crowd felt the sting of that little apocalypse, a mark that the way the world is now needs to come to an end.

Wade’s words apply to us as well. The conversation about racism and gun violence “won’t always be convenient. It won’t.”

God knows, that’s the truth.

“It won’t always be comfortable, but it is necessary.”

St. Martha, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
St. Martha, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

Jesus had an uncomfortable, necessary conversation with Martha, who he loved. He told her the truth, even though it hurt to hear it. And although Luke doesn’t tell the rest of her story, scripture and tradition let us know that she was a treasured and influential person in the early church, pictured in artwork near the disciples in the garden, known in legend as a dragonslayer, and claimed as the patron saint of cooks.

Our sister, Martha, loved to serve. There are many kinds of service, many ways to help change the world, many ways to change the conversation. We just have to keep talking to each other. It may feel like the end of the world, but I trust in God’s new beginning. I trust there will be more baskets of summer fruit to come.

In the name of the One who sits down with us, and talks truth to us, and loves us into new life, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermons, The Good Samaritan

Who is my neighbor?

While we were at Chautauqua, I met a retired pastor, Curt Ackley, who told me proudly about the church he attends in Sahuarita, Arizona, The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ, in a community south of Tucson and less than two hours by car from Nogales, Mexico. He is proud of the ministry being done there, a commitment to save migrant lives in the desert. The ministry is called Samaritans or Los Samaritanos. Teams of three people go out at a time in a vehicle marked with the organization’s name, at least one of them a Spanish-speaker. The border control agents know what they are doing, going out into the desert to be sure no one is alone out there, to bring food and water, and to make sure people get to safety. Some agents wave; others are more grudging.

The checkpoint behind them, the Samaritans turn onto the Arivaca Road. People desperate to get into this country will pay a guide, and sometimes those guides, who are really in the business of human smuggling, will lie about how far they have to go, will leave behind people who can’t keep up. It’s particularly dangerous for women, who may trade the dangers of life in Mexico for an assault in the Arizona desert.

Kathy Babcock is one of the team members in this story from 2012:

Their journey today takes them down 22 miles of gently curving Arivaca Road. Just outside of Arivaca they come across a truck from Humane Borders and exchange greetings. The Humane Borders workers are putting 55-gallon barrels of water in the desert with the permission of the government.

Babcock doesn’t buy the argument that immigrants are more likely to attempt a crossing because they know there is water placed in the desert by humanitarian groups.

“They have no idea anybody is out here,” she says, adding that she has never come across an immigrant who has heard of the Samaritans or their work. Water or not, they will come, she says.

Immigration is a hotly contested issue in Arizona, and not everyone likes the work the church is doing, Curt told me. In fact, the church attracted a picketer, who would walk back and forth in front of their building carrying a sign that said, “Good Samaritan, Bad American.”

Why would we want to help people who don’t look like us, talk like us, worship like us? That seems to be the frame of reference of the picketer, who also sometimes carried a sign reading “Say No to Social Justice.” That particular church understands its faith in one way, and the protester understands the same faith in another way.

Our gospel story brings us just such a conundrum. You probably know this story so well you could tell it yourselves. You learned it in Sunday School or at Vacation Bible School, right? Jesus is being questioned by a lawyer, which means a person who had great knowledge of and familiarity with the religious law, not our modern-day version of a lawyer. The man pushed on Jesus, and his use of the term “teacher” was not respectful. In Luke’s gospel, the only proper way to address Jesus is “Lord.”

“Teacher,” he wants to know, implying that the real question is “Teacher, if you know so much, if you are so well-informed, so wise, riddle me this!”

“What must I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus knows a lawyer will have the answer to this question, taken from the scriptures he knows well, so he answers with a question. “What does your reading tell you?”

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

They agree on the answer. Yet there remains an underlying question, a challenge directed at Jesus’ tendency to hang around with a questionable crowd: tax collectors, fishermen, lepers, women of the street.

“Who *is* my neighbor?”

Jesus offers a story in response. When my boys were younger we once acted it out in church, with a narrator and a person playing Jesus and another taking the part of the lawyer, probing the meaning of the parable. A collection of volunteer non-speaking “actors” from the congregation portrayed the Samaritan, the priest and the Levite, the victim and the robbers. When they mimed the assault, the congregation could not see the victim, only the fists flying. Although no one was harmed, or even touched, the congregation members flinched and looked away.

This is the story Jesus tells, of a victim beaten almost to the point of death, left in a ditch, abandoned to his fate. This is the story Jesus tells, in which the religious authority figures pass by on the other side of the road, avoiding contact with horror, looking away from suffering, ignoring the outcome of evil. The listener feels a sense of relief when a Samaritan comes along and takes care of the wounded man. Thank God! There is some caring in the world!

Then Jesus returns to the question, and again asks another one. Who was the *injured man’s* neighbor?

The lawyer knows the law, and he answers the question correctly. The neighbor is the one who showed him mercy.

Amen!

But wait. Who was this neighbor?

That’s the uncomfortable core of the story.

The person who showed kindness was not a member of the victim’s own community. The person who showed kindness was from a despised group.

He was a Samaritan. And while we have co-opted that word to mean caring, and we have added the word “Good” to describe him more fully, a Samaritan would have been low in the estimation of the original audience of the gospel.

good-samaritan
He Qi, “Good Samaritan” (2001)

Although they followed the same religious Law, the two groups each thought their own interpretation was correct. Samaritans were descended from the villains of Jewish history, from rapists and murderers. New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine writes that a Jewish crowd hearing the story would have expected a priest and a Levite to be followed by an Israelite. To change the pattern this way “would be like going from Larry and Moe to Osama bin Laden.”

The lawyer wanted to hear Jesus explain the letter of the Law; instead Jesus taught him the spirit of the Law. No one is outside the neighborhood of God’s Love. From the man on the Jericho Road, modern-day Samaritans draw inspiration for their work on the Arivaca Road.

Neither of them are safe routes.

Just before Easter I was over in Harrisburg visiting some Faith members, and I’ll be honest with you, my grip on Harrisburg geography remains pretty sketchy. I blame this on Google Maps. I rely too heavily on a voice that tells me when to turn, and haven’t had to really learn the shape of things. I was way, way out on Derry Street, heading back toward 83, on my way home. But when I turned from Brookwood onto 17th Street, there was a back-up so bad on 83 South that cars were lined up beyond the on-ramp into local traffic. I pulled into a parking lot and regrouped. I didn’t want to crawl across the bridge. There are other bridges, right? Surely I could make my way, well, thattaway, and get to a place I recognized and make my way home through Lemoyne or Camp Hill. I turned back onto 17th Street the other way, then took a left on Derry, and I prayed that the Google lady would get me somewhere recognizable.

Then I realized I must be in Allison Hill, and reflexively, I locked my doors. It embarrasses me to tell you this, but it’s true. I didn’t breathe deeply until I saw the bridge that would carry me over the railroad tracks to the part of Harrisburg I know better.

I’m ashamed by how relieved I was. I’m ashamed to be so racist.

When I think about this parable, this old, familiar story, I want to be the good guy. I want to be the one who helps another human being, without worrying about whether we dress alike, or worship the same way, or have the same skin color. I want to think I am one of those good people who is above the prejudices so common in our country.

I want it after this horrifying week of violence, in which we saw Black people killed by police officers on video. I want it after this terrible week, in which a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest organized with police cooperation turned into a massacre that also played out on our television and computer screens. I want to be a person who can help make things better, who can engage in conversations about guns and racism and policing, about white privilege and white supremacy, and what our Lord Jesus Christ taught that can help us untangle the mess we’ve made. He taught us that no one is outside God’s love; all people are our neighbors. He taught us that the first requirement to be a neighbor, to love our neighbors, is to show them mercy.

I don’t think we can reach a future of mutual mercy without first confessing our urge to pass by certain places and people as quickly as we can.

I don’t think we can reach a future of mutual mercy without first confessing our urge to lock our doors, to lock our hearts.

Kathy Babcock got started helping migrants because three days after she moved into her house, two migrants knocked on her door and asked for food and water. It leaves me wondering. Whose neighbor am I?

Because this isn’t a story about who is a neighbor to us. It’s a story about what it means to be a neighbor, to love another as we love ourselves.

Remember the picketer? One day he came to the door of the church and asked to speak to the pastor. “I’ll be away for a few weeks,” he said, “and I didn’t want you to worry that something had happened to me.” He figured they would care. He trusted they would show him mercy. He knew they would be neighbors to him, too.

In the name of the One who never passes us by, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Life and death: GV Samaritans comb desert for immigrants,” Green Valley News, October 10, 2012.
  2. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, Amy-Jill Levine (2014: HarperOne), p. 95.
LGBT, LGBTQ, Orientation, Sermons

One and Many (a sermon after the massacre at Pulse)

When a disaster occurs, or a terrible thing happens in the world, when a bomb goes off on the sidelines of a marathon or a shooter unleashes hatred in the form of ammunition at a political event or an elementary school, we all shudder, and as we listen to the news stories or read the follow-ups in the paper or online, it’s human nature to look for a story, for a person with whom we identify.

For me, that person, this week, was a young man named Luis Vielma, one of the first faces I saw when photos of the victims in last Sunday’s Orlando shooting began to circulate online. There were so many of them, 49; for some reason I attached myself to this one.

Here’s what the New York Times reported about him:

Luis Vielma was an Emergency Medical Services student at Seminole State College and was enrolled in a CPR class this summer.

The college president, Dr. E. Ann McGee, released a statement on Monday saying, “We are saddened by the tragic events this weekend and the loss of one of our own, Seminole State student, Luis Vielma. We continue to think of, and pray for the victims, their families and friends, the LGBT community, the Hispanic community, our students, and all of Orlando. These events have truly shocked and saddened the Central Florida community.”

Luis Vielma
Luis Vielma

Mr. Vielma also worked at Universal Studios at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. His high school friend Eddi Anderson told the Tampa Bay Times that Mr. Vielma loved his job there.

J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter book series that spawned films and the theme park, mourned Mr. Vielma’s loss on Twitter, posting an image of the smiling young man in a Hogwarts costume.

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The picture captivated me.

He’s young, smiling, pretty adorable, wearing a grey v-neck sweater vest and a white collared shirt and a Gryffindor tie. That’s gold and burgundy, in case you don’t know your Harry Potter house colors.

Beautiful Witch
Lucy – 2005

Lucy was in the fifth grade when she wanted to dress as Hermione for Halloween. That child is a planner, so we started in August collecting the pieces of her costume from various catalogs and stores. The piece de resistance was a Gryffindor scarf I made for her, like the ones the kids wear in the first Harry Potter movie.
I braided her thick straight hair the night before, into dozens of tiny plaits; when we undid them the next morning she had a huge head of wavy hair more like young Hermione’s – as seen in the movies – and she went off to school delighted.

At recess, kindergartners ran up and asked to hug her.

I’m telling you all this because I love my girl and don’t want anything bad to happen to her. Lucy turns 21 today.

Luis Vielma was 22. His funeral was yesterday. Somewhere his mother, Tina, is still weeping.

Whose story touches you?

At a vigil service outside my wife’s church this week, we read all 49 names, with a little bio of each. Many were Hispanic, about half of Puerto Rican background. Some were parents who left young children behind. Some were couples; a double funeral will replace a wedding for some. Some were successful in their work and others were just trying to get their lives together. They were executives and hairdressers and pharmacy technicians. One was a mom who went to the club with her son, because she loved to dance salsa. It was Latin night, you see, and the people who gathered at Pulse felt safe to dance and be together, in a nightclub they saw as a kind of sacred space, a sanctuary.

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. 

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? 

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

A multitude, keeping festival. That’s Psalm 42, verses 1-4, from this week’s lectionary. Here’s the thing. No matter what year we live in, no matter what country, no matter what our native tongue, these ancient songs of lament and hope, of question and steadfast belief, have something to say to us, to say for us. They remind us that people don’t change all that much. We celebrate and we grieve. We sing and shout, we weep and mourn.

We’re more alike than different. Luis the soccer player and Lucy the singer, one a Catholic boy and the other a Protestant girl, both confirmed in high school, both their mothers’ beloved children, their fathers’ talented darlings, with friends and classmates who would say kind things about them, and teachers who would praise them, and pictures taken dressed up like students at Hogwarts.

They are more alike than different, except for one thing. I can call my daughter on the phone today, or FaceTime with her, send her text messages with birthday cake emojis. Luis Vielma’s mother can only weep and pray.

By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”

As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. (Psalm 42:8-11)

All week I’ve been thinking about how terrifying it must have been, hiding in a dark nightclub, wondering where a murderous person with a gun had gone or held hostage by him, wondering if anyone would care enough to help. Lots of them called or texted their mothers, some who would die from deadly wounds in their bodies.

And here’s a thing that is hard to hear as a Christian, hard for me to hear from my UCC colleagues who are there in Orlando as trauma responders: some of the survivors don’t want to talk to religious people. They don’t think we really care, or that if we do, it’s only in the service of changing them to be more like us.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)

In his letters to young churches, Paul writes something like this on three occasions. It’s nothing new for human beings to be obsessed with their differences, with finding ways to collect themselves in groups based on their characteristics, their language, or their names for God. He wrote to the Galatians because other evangelists had come among them, from a group called the “Judaizers.” The Galatians were suddenly thrust into a huge debate among the early Christians that applied only to men. On one side, the Judaizers wanted all followers of Jesus to live by Jewish law, and that included circumcision. Gentile converts wanted to follow Jesus, but they didn’t want to fulfill that particular expectation if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Paul thought it wasn’t. He wrote to assure them that through the power and grace offered of Jesus Christ, they were all one.

Paul writes something like this in three epistles, but this is the only time he mentions gender, what people in his time would have understood as one noticeably obvious and definable marker of difference. We have a much longer list of differences today, related to orientation and identity. Yet Christians have mostly been on Team Tradition with their definitions, and we have used those definitions not only to exclude but to persecute people who don’t match them just the way we like things to be. We may look back at our first century ancestors and say, “Why were they worried about something so unimportant?”

I ask you, “Why are we?”

Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Luis or Lucy: we are many kinds of people. We could define ourselves solely by our differences. Lots of people do, because it makes them feel safe, because it makes them feel righteous, because it makes them feel right. The people preaching circumcision wanted everyone to commit to the thing they believed mattered most.

When we are ready to condemn others for their differences, to define them as outside the circle of human consideration and divine love, we create a climate in which hatred and prejudice seem natural and sensible. When we combine this evil spirit of condemnation with the ready availability of semi-automatic weapons, we sentence ourselves to the kind of fearful scenes that played out in Orlando and the aftermath of suspicion and despair that continues.

It’s too easy to attach that evil, hateful spirit to one particular religion. We can find it in any religion and no religion. We can find it in the Orlando area churches now expressing sympathy for the very lives they have reviled in the past. We can find it closer to home, too, anyplace we convince ourselves that we are the only ones Jesus would care about, the only ones Jesus would want to save.

You see, Jesus went to places and ate and drank with people who the religious authorities disapproved. We’ve got him all wrong if we try to turn him into some kind of elitist priss-pot. We’ve got him wrong if we prioritize any characteristic above his love for humankind, for all kinds of humanity.

My prayer for the church and for our country is that we might embrace the idea that Paul teaches in his letter. Jew or Greek, slave or free, we are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul made it clear, not once or even twice, but three times. The culturally insurmountable conditions of his time made not one bit of difference in the eyes of God.

May it be so in our time as well.

We are many, but we are all one in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermons

Helpless

It was a dark and stormy night, not long after I graduated from college. I went to bed early, then woke in the pitch black night and realized the power had gone out in my parents’ home. I thought immediately of my grandmother, who had a first-floor bedroom. I didn’t know the time; my electric clock gave no help, and this was long before a handy cell phone could help me. But I knew my night owl grandmother might still be awake. I pictured her helpless, unable to use her walker, helpless. I got out of bed, straining to see if any light might be shining. The thunder and lightning had ended earlier, but the rain continued; no moonlight broke through the clouds.

In the deep darkness, I felt my way blindly across the upstairs hall, guiding myself by the door knob of the linen closet, and then the bathroom, then across to the stairwell. I crept carefully down the stairs, toes exploring each step, hand on the railing. I knew its temporary end meant I had reached the landing and needed to turn right. I kept on, slightly more confident, but guarding against missing the last step. At the foot of the stairs, I took a left into our family room, the site of many obstacles. I waved my right hand in front of me, counting off in my mind to identify the upholstered texture of an armchair, the smooth cabinet of the TV, the sharp corner of the ledge in front of the big, brick hearth, and finally, aha!—the wide mantelpiece. I felt along until my hand touched the familiar textures of cardboard, brass and wax.

I struck a match and lit a candle. I could see again!

By the light of the candle I made my way to my grandmother’s bedroom, where I found her still sitting up in a chair across from her now-dark TV, relieved to see me, rejoicing to see at all.

Becoming blind is scary. Realizing you cannot see is world-altering. And realizing you’ve been blind to the truth can change your life.

Bartimaeus had the typical job for a blind man in his day. He was a beggar and sat by the road wrapped in his cloak. He could not see, so he listened carefully to the news being shared by all those who went by. When the word came that Jesus was near, he already knew the man by name and reputation. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!!!” He cried out so that everyone could hear. It must have seemed obvious what kind of help he wanted: relief from the perpetual darkness that limited his life, a return to sight, and a new beginning in which he could navigate and operate like all the sighted people who surrounded him.

It’s quite a scene, this short story. Jesus hears the man calling but does not go to him. He has the man come to him.

He has the blind man come to him.

Then he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Some years ago, I was in a clergy support group where several of us were wondering what would come next for us in ministry and in life. The facilitator suggested role-playing as a discernment tool. We would rotate the role of God and bounce questions back to each other, in hopes the answers would become visible. Simple enough, but when my turn came, I was afraid to say the words out loud. I’m an extrovert, and sometimes I don’t really know what I think until I’ve heard myself try saying it out loud. That’s great if I agree with myself!!

But it’s not so great if I hear the words and have second thoughts about them.

In the clergy group, I knew my colleague, who was a close friend, was not actually God; what made me so anxious? Looking back, I think I might have been afraid of getting the real God’s attention.

Because think of standing right in front of Jesus and hearing him ask, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Think of having to answer that question truthfully, of having God’s full attention.

James and John never hesitated, demanding to be seated on either side of Jesus in his glory. He asked them, in all seriousness, whether they were prepared to go through all the things he would experience. This conversation comes right after Jesus predicts his own death for the third time.

By now you would think they would have a good idea what lies in store: arrest, torture, execution. You have to wonder if they actually believed him, if they even came close to understanding what he was saying.

I think they probably didn’t. Remember in a story a few weeks ago the disciples were arguing about who was greatest among them? We are probably looking at the agitators right here. I think they still imagined something glorious in earthly terms. They swore they could do what he asked of them, but he disappointed them with his answer. It was not his to give, not his to arrange the seating, not his to elevate them. They didn’t understand what was coming.

They were blind. Suppose they had answered like Bartimaues?

“What do you want me to do for you?”

“My teacher, let me see again.”

The blind man asked for vision to be restored.

I think back to the day almost a decade ago when I couldn’t bring myself to put into words what I wanted and needed from God. Had I done it, I might have seen a way forward. I might have been healed of my blindness about myself and my personal history. I might have seen things a new way instead of holding on stubbornly to my familiar, uncomfortable existence. I had a life that wasn’t wrong exactly but also not quite right. I had an uneasy sense that although I worked for God, I wasn’t quite following Christ’s lead. But it felt easier and safer to stay on the side of the road, wrapped in a cloak, than to call out for help. I guess I wasn’t ready that day.

Maybe that’s why I have a secret sympathy for James and John. After all, they were among the first to follow Jesus, leaving their father in the boat with his nets, leaving behind the work they knew so well and a family business besides. They left the comfort of their home town and family life and the local synagogue to go out on the road with a man who did wonderful things but attracted dangerous attention from the authorities, a man who kept telling them his end was coming.

Jesus heals two blind men in Mark’s gospel, bracketing the three predictions of Jesus’ death. The first, in chapter 8, gets a healing balm of Jesus’ saliva, then a laying on of hands. This one comes easier. It’s almost like Jesus went into town looking for a blind man to cure, just to make the point: the disciples were blind to what was about to happen. Weren’t they listening when he said the first would be last and the last would be first?

They didn’t understand who he was, or what he needed from them.

He asks Bartimaeus the same question he asked James and John.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

“My teacher, let me see again.”

If we really want to see what’s going on, we need to meet Jesus halfway.

I wasn’t ready that day in my support group, even though it seemed like a safe place to put things into words. I was afraid of the ways my life would change. I had gotten comfortable feeling my way around the house of my life, blind but managing. I couldn’t say the words out loud:

“Lord, I don’t know what you want from me. Help me to see it.”

When I finally did, a few years later, I felt like Bartimaeus. I called out for God’s attention. I got up off the side of the road. I threw off a cloak of self-protection. I asked for healing of my blind fear.

It felt like God said, “Your faith has made you well.”

I’ll confess that the changes that came into my life were a little scary at first. Everything didn’t become magically easy, the path smooth, the answers certain.
But I could catch a glimpse of where I was going, as if the dark house had been illuminated, the power restored.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

These stories aren’t about getting what we want. They are about feeling our way to the moment when we are ready for a revelation. They are about coming out of the deep darkness and striking a match to light the way. They are about casting aside the cloak of all that is in the past and following the one who came to save us. They are about seeing what God wants.

So, what do you want God to do for you?

Teacher, may we all see what you want for us. Amen.

(A sermon for Lent 2, NL Year 2 – February 21, 2016 – Mark 10:32-52)

Mark 10:17-31, Sermons

That Would Be Enough

It’s that most wonderful season of the year, when we gather together all our financial information not only to meet with our accountants or tax preparers, but for those of us with college students, it’s time to do battle with the almighty FAFSA and its elitist cousin, the College Profile. Mind you, we are extremely grateful for the financial aid our daughter receives. Doing the paperwork is well worth the trouble in the end, but there are always moments in the midst of it when we wonder how anyone could be expected to keep track of all these things.

And we often reach a point of mild hysteria along the way.

This year it came as we researched the value of our cars. Kathryn drives a used-when-she-bought it 2001 Honda Odysse, thus called because the “y” in Odyssey long ago dropped off the back of the van. She asked, “Want to hear how much my car is worth?” “Sure,” I said. “$942.” Let that sink in. “And yours…” she said while typing, “is worth $517.”

“What?!??!!! That can’t be right,” I insisted.

I drive a 2005 Volvo V70. It has to be worth more than her Honda. The tires cost more than that!

I don’t think of myself as someone who gets wound up about the value of cars, but I didn’t like hearing mine be devalued. And as it turned out she had the year wrong; mine is worth a whopping $1702.

If we were to follow the counsel of Jesus to give up our earthly goods and use them to care for the poor, these two cars would not go very far, although at least they’re long since paid for. Would that be enough?

What *would* be enough?

This gospel story asks all of us that question. It’s a warning to the faithful, not scolding but loving. The riches of this world get in the way of our relationship with God.

It’s hard to hear that even when we consider ourselves to be fully committed people of faith, and it’s no coincidence that this is the story of a person who defined himself the same way, a striver in his religious practices who wanted to take it all one step further.

“Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

He went away grieving. Jesus didn’t ask him to tithe a full ten per cent, or to set up an endowment fund for widows and orphans to be managed carefully by a board of trustees. He didn’t ask him to go to a state college instead of the Ivy League and give  the difference to a deserving poor student. He told the man to sell it all and give the money away and follow him.

What would be enough?

One of the suggestions for a Lenten practice floating around on Facebook features a picture of a big black garbage bag, the idea being that you spend Lent picking out one thing each day from your closet that you no longer wear or need, then at the end give away the bag with forty items of unwanted clothing…

I’m not against giving away clothes to those in need, but please note the key phrase in that description is “no longer wear or need.” Give away your excess and at the end you will be rewarded with a more manageable closet! That’s a fine life practice, to pare down the unnecessary, but since this suggestion has been adopted by fashion websites urging people to get rid of their old and out-of-style clothing for their own sake, it’s easy to see how far from Jesus’ intent this can get, quickly.

Valentine's Day is hard in Lent.
Valentine’s Day is hard in Lent.

Lent has traditionally been a season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We take on practices or try to give up habits with the intention of becoming closer to God, making space not between clothes hangers but for spiritual pursuits outside of our ordinary schedule. We make space for prayer and contemplation, space for cultivating a deeper awareness of God through some new or renewed spiritual practice, space for hunger and desire we ordinarily slake with chocolate or wine or whatever one’s pleasure might be. Perhaps we create space in our budget to save money and give it to those in need, even space created by the lack of the thing from which we fast. These activities come at a cost; we give up something we like or enjoy or even zone out on in order to make more space and time for relationship with God.

The first Sunday in Lent usually brings us a passage about Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness. Mark’s is the shortest:

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

It’s Peter he calls Satan later on, in a passage we read on Ash Wednesday. “Get thee behind me, Satan,” Jesus says, when Peter tempts Jesus to think of a scenario in which things are easier, an end to the story that does not result in arrest and torture and death. Peter wants to keep his beloved teacher with him. We can understand that. We are tempted by the things we want, the things that make us feel secure, our sense of the value of things we have purchased.

Volvo-V90
Volvo’s bringing sexy wagons back and the new 2017 V90 proves it. You know you want it.

The other day we saw a “leaked” picture of the new Volvo wagon, a V90 described by one car website as “one hot family hauler.” It looks so shiny; the version pictured is silver.

I immediately said, “But it’s not just that it’s pretty. You feel so safe in them, with all the air bags.”

Get thee behind me, Volvo.

It’s a danger for preachers and readers that we want to narrow this story and make it only about the Rich Young Man. *He* had a lot of money, and clearly that was *his* problem. But that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus goes on to assure the disciples that it’s harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. How can anyone be saved, they wonder?

“…for God, all things are possible,” Jesus tells them.

Peter, who is never afraid to get himself into more conversational trouble, says, “But seriously, man, we already gave it all up to follow you.”

What *would* be enough?

Jesus goes on to say some things we may find a little obscure: he makes it pretty clear that following him in this life doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be poor and have nothing. That we should listen carefully is signaled by the beginning of this speech, “Truly I tell you.” Listen up! Here it comes.

“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

It all sounds great until we get to “persecutions.” We won’t necessarily be poor, or lose our families forever if we follow him, but there are going to be some ramifications, some consequences, some persecutions. If we accept the invitation to follow him, we have to be ready to lose what matters to us.

Mark 10:17-31 Agnus Day copy
From Agnus Day

Jesus made sure the Rich Young Man knew the basics: we show love for God by following the commandments that keep us in good relationship with others. He looked at the Rich Young Man not with scorn but with love. It’s important to remember that. Then Jesus told him the deeper truth: he needed to do more than fulfill the basic requirements. Doing his best meant giving up the things and the status that made the Rich Young Man feel secure.

He just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

What *would* be enough?

Maybe it’s enough to try our best. We don’t know what that means for other people; sometimes it’s hard enough to know for ourselves. Trying our best means being prepared to be wrong sometimes, as Peter was. Trying our best means giving it all we have. Trying our best means giving up whatever keeps us from following Christ.

God took human form in Jesus and told us the truth: it’s going to be hard to follow me, but try your best.

We build it right into our covenants with God and one another. When we are baptized, or when we join the church, we affirm that we want to follow God, but because it’s hard we say, “I will, with the help of God.”

*That* would be enough. That would be enough.

And it’s a lot.

“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God, all things are possible.”

Thanks be to God, who is enough. Amen.

((A sermon for Lent 1, NL Year 2 – February 14, 2016 – Mark 10:17-31))