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Posts from the ‘God’s Family’ Category

Gospel of Fools

Proper 6B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

The Kingdom of God is like when the smallest of seeds grows up, puts forth large branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade (Mark 4:31-32). Jesus’ parable recalls images of the tree of life.  We might expect a great Cedar or Sequoia.

In Glacier National Park in Montana, the Trail of the Cedars is a short walk from the road. Their massive trunks can soar up to two hundred feet high. Some are as much as 400 years old. The canopy of interlacing branches creates an awe-inspiring interior space worthy of a great cathedral. In fact, the magnificent Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain is inspired by a forest. Architect Antoni Gaudi duplicates structures found in nature. The width of the pillars undulates and branch out like tree trunks. Standing inside the Basilica looks more like it grew there than was built there.

It is easy to imagine the kingdom of God in an old growth forest or grand cathedral. But Jesus surprises us. Jesus says the presence and power of God is better revealed in a tiny, no-account seed. This is not the way we expect divine activity to look.  Honestly, it’s not what we wanted either.

The people packed beside the sea listening to Jesus would have known, just as any farmer in the Midwest does, a mustard plant doesn’t have large branches.  It doesn’t grow into a tree.  It’s not suitable for birds to nest in. In fact, mustard isn’t good for much of anything. It’s a common weed.

A rule of thumb for interpreting parables is if they don’t offend you, you’re probably not understanding it.  Until we hear the parable as Jesus own audience did we can’t begin to know what he meant.

Here then this parable of Jesus. ‘The kingdom of God flourishes like crabgrass or dandelions, or the creeping Charlie growing in your yard, next to the sidewalk, and underneath the L platform. The Spirit of God is like a weed.  A weed is by definition, a plant nobody wants.  A weed is a plant that grows everywhere, without tending to it. It just takes over – “so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:32).

Here Jesus topples any self-importance we might have nurtured about our piety and empties all pompous notions about our prized traditions, institutions, culture, refinement, and the arts. The response to Jesus’ message was decisive. The world flung out the parables and gospel of Jesus onto a garbage pile outside Jerusalem and violently put both him and his message to death on a cross. To which God responded creatively, gracefully and just as decisively with a resurrection for Jesus and also for us.  In him was life. God’s free gift poured out upon all people.

To bind ourselves to this gospel is to take our place beside people, places, and things the world has thrown away—starting with yourself.  Whatever flaws or faults you think you have, whatever shame you carry, regardless of the bad choices you made, or the tangled mess your daily life has become, the first step in our disciples’ journey is simply to prayerfully open ourselves and let the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus infuse, encircle, uplift, and heal you. You must learn to love yourself before you can truly love others. Here Jesus surprises us again.  Once we stop running away from what is broken and become reconciled to God in Christ, fear and anger give way to generosity and joy.

Here is the tree of life sown in us like a tiny mustard seed.  Here is the cross around which we gather, the tree into which we are grafted through baptism, the true vine that nourishes us with its fruit in the cup we share today at the altar. It did not appear all that impressive at first, but while nobody was looking it grows like a weed with a creative tenacity and power beyond our understanding. Even now God is bringing something new to life from ordinary discarded people and things that otherwise seem impossible.

The parables of Jesus teach us to see the world with new eyes. When the prophet Samuel went to the house of Jesse to anoint a new king to replace Saul he was sure he had found him the moment he saw Eliab.  But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)   Instead, God directed Samuel to anoint the youngest, the littlest, and by all outward accounts, the least likely to succeed.  Yet, King David became the greatest king in the long history of Israel.

So, I ask you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what do you see?  What do you notice as the fever dream of fear and violence begins to subside by the grace of God?  Where does the spirit of generosity and joy encourage you to do God’s work with your hands and voice?

For three Sundays now, we’ve brought our collective attention to focus on the border and the plight of people in the world who live beyond it.  Jesus led the disciples across borders and boundaries. Jesus lead them beyond their fear, beyond their wants from death into life.  The love of God doesn’t stop at the border. Can we imagine a world where safety, justice, and abundance are so widely shared we will no longer have a need to defend the borders between nations, peoples, and religions?

What would happen to us, our households, our workplaces, our neighborhood, and our nation if we took Jesus’ crazy parables seriously? What if we embraced the parable of the mustard seed as a model for how we live life?  What if we follow this gospel of fools would we see it is not only about the surprising character of God and grace, but an invitation to be planted like seed, to be plunged into the dark earth and there to die alone, in order that our lives might be broken open and our gifts multiplied like bread for the world?  These parables are an invitation to walk with Jesus the way of the cross.

Be the seed. You may find yourself in rocky soil, on the path, or among thorns. It doesn’t matter. Be the seed.  God will give the growth.  Each of you is rooted in the garden of grace fed and watered through faith. Be the seed. Let yourself be planted in whatever place you find yourself.

Four thousand years ago human civilization was born in the land that today we call Iraq. Civilization began with the invention of agriculture and the cultivation of seed.  Today, we multiply them, splice them, and harvest them in air-conditioned cabs guided by global positioning satellites, fertilized precisely according to the need of each plant with the help of drones.  We know all about the bounty created by seeds –are we ready to let ourselves be the seed?

In baptism, the grace of God was sown in us so we might become like seeds of the kin-dom of God in the world.  Thanks be to God.  “For the wonders that astound us, the truths that still confound us, most of all, that love has found us, thanks be to God.” (ELW # 679)

The Disciple’s Great Discovery

Pentecost Sunday B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

What’s important about Pentecost? It is one of the three great festivals of the church with Christmas and Easter.  That’s interesting—to some of us—but not very important.  Sometimes Pentecost is called the birthday of the church. Luke says it’s when God poured out the Holy Spirit on the disciples after Jesus ascended into heaven. We all enjoy a good party and, judging from what we read in the Book of Acts, it sounds like it was a good one.  But a party for other people, in this case, an ancient institution, is not what makes Pentecost important.

What does this young man, Ethan, who will affirm his faith and take his place among us today as a full member of this community, need to know about Pentecost?  It’s the disciple’s discovery about how life works.  It was a eureka moment that unlocked the secrets to living a good and abundant life not only for them, but for us, and for everyone.

The Presbyterian theologian Frederick Buechner says “there are basically two kinds of law: (1) law as the way things ought to be, and (2) law as the way things are. An example of the first is “No Trespassing.” An example of the second is the law of gravity.”

Mostly, churchly people have talked about God’s law in terms of category no. 1, a list of dos and don’ts. These dos and don’ts are the work of moralists and, when obeyed, serve the useful purpose of keeping us from doing too much damage to one other. They can’t make us human, but they can help keep us honest.

What’s so important about Pentecost and the bible is that it offers us more than good advice about ethics.  God’s law in itself, comes under category no. 2 and is the work of God. It has been stated in seven words: “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). Like it or not, that’s how it is. If you don’t believe it, you can always put it to the test just the way if you don’t believe the law of gravity, you can always step out a tenth-story window. (In the following passage, Buechner describes God’s Law.  (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking and again in Beyond Words)

That day in a small room somewhere in Jerusalem where about 120 Jesus followers were hiding the disciples learned that by trying to save their lives they would lose them and those who lost their lives for the sake of Christ are alive forever.  We are grafted into the One life in God. Therefore, be not afraid to give your limited number of days fully to something that matters—because it’s the only thing that really does.

Bible scholar Bill Kellerman points out, “The story in Acts 2 begins in the upper room and ends in the streets of Jerusalem…after what’s been done to Jesus, you’d have to be either drunk or crazy to be shouting his name in the streets and pointing accusing fingers at the executioners.”

They were wanted criminals for being co-conspirators of an executed political instigator.  They were people who knew they had failed.  They could count all the ways they had ignored, misunderstood, dismissed, rejected, and betrayed Jesus when he was alive.

The disciples discovered God doesn’t care about dishing out punishments or giving us what we deserve. What’s important about Pentecost is that God has poured out and continues to pour out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon you

Long ago, nearly a thousand years before Jesus was born, the people of God tell in the Hebrew Bible how the Shekinah glory of Yahweh (fire and cloud from heaven) descended and filled King Solomon’s Temple on its dedication day in 950 BCE (1 Kings 8:10-13).  Before that, they tell how fire and cloud had also filled the portable temple, or Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40:34-35) during the Exodus.

Today for Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:1-13) we hear how fire and wind from heaven descended, not on a tent or on a building, but on God’s people! You received this spirit you at your baptism (Acts 2:38-41) God intends to make of all peoples, of every nation a new sanctuary of living stones. The new temple of God is the human person. “You are that Temple!” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; and Ephesians 2:21-22).  We, individual humans, have become the very Body of Christ alive in the world (1 Corinthians 12:14-30).  The great Shekinah fire and wind of the Spirit transformed fearful fugitives into bold public witnesses.

At Pentecost, we proclaim and celebrate this Spirit of the living God poured out on us today to give us courage, to rekindle our hope, to fill us with compassion, generosity, and the capacity to love—everything we need to live a good and abundant life.

Ethan, I look at you and take the measure of how long I have been here at Immanuel.  You were a toddler when we sat every Sunday in a circle of carpet squares, sang bible songs with Kathy Anderson, and talked about Jesus downstairs in the Olin Center.

It’s no mistake the signs of God’s grace –fire, wind, and water, are all the things that have the power to shape the landscape, sculpt the earth, and literally to move mountains.  That’s how God’s Spirit works in us.  Quietly, mostly subconsciously, little by little, and sometimes, all at once, Sunday by Sunday, the Spirit moves mountains in our soul.  Through belonging together at Immanuel, we are working together, shaping and softening, opening and closing, striving with the Spirit to become a better reflection of God’s peaceable kingdom.  We can’t find inner peace without learning to live with one another in love.

Pentecost is important for teaching us We are all “walking around like the sun” as Thomas Merton says.  A church does not offer a fire insurance policy for the next world. Instead, it’s a place to gain a life assurance policy for each day of our lives.  At church, we learn that our job is not to suppress the Shekinah fire of the human spirit but to be that fire. The night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed to God, “For as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. (John 17:18)   So now, ready or not, the Holy Spirit sends us.

Prune, Prune, Prune

Easter 5B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

I am not a gardener, but I pretend to be one at home.  Raking out leaves and removing the dead sticks and bits of last year’s growth, I noticed the green shoots of this year have begun to form, despite the long cold spring we’ve had.

Growers tell me, good gardening is a ruthless task.  Pull out the weeds and uproot the weaker plants. Divide the thriving ones before they crowd everything else out. Pluck the heads from blooming flowers. Hunt for and destroy malicious bugs and prune, prune, prune everything down to the nub. Don’t worry about disturbing those root systems in the seedling packets: tearing, breaking, and chopping them stimulates their growth.

Of course, what seems like no big deal to do to plants is another thing entirely when done to us, but don’t say we were not warned.  The old Adam and Eve must be drowned in baptism.  We say it so casually. Yet if our gospel is to be understood, then death and resurrection is not something that happened only to Jesus, it’s what the Holy Spirit is busy doing right now—in us! Prune, prune, pruning us down to the nub.

Sooner or later, we realize that life is a pruner. The French composer Hector Berlioz once remarked, “Time is a great teacher. Unfortunately, it kills all its pupils.”  As the years and decades go by our failures start to go by the name, experience, an achievement that qualifies us to bear responsibility and dispense wisdom—truly!

We are rooted in the gospel, planted in the rich soil of Word and sacrament, nourished by tradition and fed by the community of faith. Probably, we don’t do enough to learn about who we are and what we’ve inherited in our scriptures, theology, and liturgy. Beneath the surface, our roots are deeply woven together, but above ground, today’s scriptures admonish us to prune, prune, prune back our expectations of what God is up to, what the future will bring, what it means to be the church and especially about who is included and who is excluded within the life of Christ.

We learn this lesson from Jesus’ follower Philip who was forced to quickly discern how to respond to the Ethiopian eunuch who was brought to him by the Holy Spirit. Philip mysteriously encountered a wealthy Ethiopian official seated in a fabulous chariot in the middle of the desert, in the noonday sun, reading aloud from a scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. He was a black man. He was in charge of keeping the treasury for the whole Ethiopian kingdom.  He was very powerful, and he was a eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).

Jewish purity codes required that a eunuch must not be allowed to enter the Temple.  In fact, no one was allowed to talk with him, or have a meal with him, or even touch him, no matter how rich, and powerful he was (Deuteronomy 23:1).  (Clarice J. Martin “A Chamberlain’s Journey, and the Challenge of Interpretation for Liberation)

Tradition taught Philip to label him as a “dead branch,” someone outside of God’s reign and revelation. And yet, God had other plans to which Philip was open. In Christ, Philip reassessed his answer to the Ethiopian’s question: What is to prevent even me from being grafted into the vine, the living body of Christ?

In this brief encounter, we find the first real test of the inclusive vision of the early church.  We hear council to be open to the mysteries of growth that God brings. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

In our gospel today the disciples are gathered around Jesus while they sat at the table, just as they had done on many nights. They sat around Jesus and celebrated the Passover meal.  It was a night they knew was special, but it’s true meaning and import was revealed to them only as later as they looked back and recounted the events of that night and remembered Jesus’ last words.

I AM, Jesus had said.  “I AM,” he said it in a way that made the disciples think of Moses’ encounter with God in the desert at the burning bush. I AM WHO I AM, God had said.  They remembered other times Jesus had said, “I AM the bread of life”.  “I AM the resurrection and the life.” “I AM the way, the truth, and the life.” “I AM the door.”  “I AM the good shepherd.”  Now Jesus was saying, “I AM the true vine.”

Gathered at his feet at the last supper on the night he was betrayed, the disciples would have understood Jesus was connecting himself to a familiar image of ‘The True Vine,’ a symbol for the nation of Israel.

The prophet Hosea described Israel as “luxuriant vine” (Hosea 10:1). Jeremiah had described Israel as “a choice vine wholly of pure seed” (Jeremiah 2:21).  During the brief period of the Jewish revolt against Rome that began in 66 A.D. and ended with the death of the last hold-outs at the rocky fortress of Masada in 73 A.D., the national symbol of the state of Israel affixed to its coins and emblazoned upon their flags was the image of a vine.

In his last words to the disciples before his arrest, crucifixion, and death, Jesus pointed to this familiar religious image and filled it with new spiritual wine. In a vine branches are almost completely indistinguishable from one another; it is impossible to determine where one branch stops, and another begins. The church is a community connected to the living Word through water and wine. We are nourished by God through faith in Christ Jesus.  We are called to be in the world and for the world but not of the world. As Jesus broke bread, so we are broken for others; as Jesus poured out the fruit of the vine, so we are poured out for all those who are thirsty now.

Jesus told the disciples and tells us the path to a fruitful life “…arises from connection to Christ and to one another, through interrelationship, mutuality, and indwelling.” The communal life envisioned here raises a strong challenge to contemporary Western models of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency. Rooted in grace, God can bring fine wine from flinty soil.  God draws blessings out of the most tragic of events.  God bring new vitality to tired lives.  We draw sustenance from the source of life that is in Christ Jesus.

Each Fall a vine must be cut down to the stub of its trunk to remain healthy.  Each spring, even the new growth must be pruned in order that it may bear more fruit. This is exactly what God is doing now to us as we gather here, as we feast at this table, and hear the word. God, our gardener, prunes away everything getting in the way of our proper flourishing as a living sanctuary of hope and grace.

Toppling Stones

Easter Sunday B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

It might be the first April fool’s joke. The angel said to the woman, “He is not here! But go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6b-7). (Alleluia. Christ is risen!)

But on their way to the empty tomb, the only thing they talked about was how to move the heavy stone. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome quietly went to Jesus that first Sunday morning to anoint a corpse, not to witness a resurrection.  They went to the tomb early on Easter morning, but in their minds, it was still a Good Friday world.  They were preoccupied, not with hopeful anticipation, but with the obstacles they had to overcome. They seem to have all but forgotten, or at least to have discounted, what Jesus had told them: “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28).

I confess, as we enter this Easter season, the tension in my belly often makes me more mindful of the heavy stones being piled up against us than the message handed down from of old of trusting in God’s amazing grace.  Another mass shooting; another person of color murdered by police in their own back yard; another threat against immigrants, Muslims, or Jews; another rule to save us from ecological or financial ruin undone;  another shady deal to personally enrich politicians or to suppress the vote; another blatant attack on truth; another war, on top of the threat of war, on top of constant war since 911 feel like so many heavy stones—not to mention whatever struggles we might be coping with for housing, health, work or love.

This Wednesday, April 4th will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King.  Had he lived, he would be 89 years old today.  I am mindful of the heroes and prophets we have lost.

No doubt, Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome were feeling something like this that first Easter morning.  They were thinking about death and the crushing weight of the threat of death mounded up against them by the Roman Empire, the religious authorities, and perhaps even old friends and neighbors to whom they could no longer safely go home.

Fear is like a heavy stone. This peculiar Easter story without a resurrection scene, with no reassuring words to strangely warm their unknowing hearts, in which the last word “phobos,” or fear seems to almost linger in the air, reminds us that fear was the disciple’s undoing again and again.

Peter walks on the water beside Jesus, until fear sent him sinking beneath the waves (Matthew 14:29).  Out of fear, the disciples failed to recognize Jesus authority over the storming wind and waters, (4:40-41).  Out of fear, Peter suggested they build booths on the mountain of Christ’s transfiguration (9:6).  Jesus’ predictions of suffering and death elicited much fear and consternation (9:32).  In every case, fear isolated the disciples from Jesus. Fear gets in the way of God’s plan for them and for us. “They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8) But, I John writes, “Perfect love casts out fear. (I John 4:18).  Perfect Love is of God.  It falls on everyone and everything like the morning sun or like life-giving rain.

Scholars say, Mark wrote for a church that was small and, on the margins, feeling expendable, and suffering from religious and economic persecution.  To them, the message that God triumphed in Christ despite the dim-witted failures of the first disciples must have come as quite a relief.  I admit, it kindles hope in me too.  After all, here we are two thousand years later. Mark’s gospel is incontrovertible evidence that God can bring faith even out of human weakness, fear, and failure.

Mark draws attention away from the last sentence to reflection on the first one: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).  It’s the beginning of the good news, not the whole story, it’s not even most of the story because it doesn’t end there. You and I are the continuing gospel of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Nadia Bolz Weber)

Mark’s gospel removed the last barrier to the abounding of grace in us: the fear of failure.  The women’s terrified response to the angel’s invitation to “Go to Galilee” brings us face to face with a great mystery of our faith: somehow God’s work will be accomplished through our hands and hearts, despite our own worst fears, and tragic failings.  (Alleluia! Christ is risen.)

The seed of the gospel is sown on good soil.  We tend and toil in the field, but God gives the growth. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Almost always the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”  There were not many Christians who supported civil rights but the movement prevailed.  There were not many Lutherans in Germany who opposed Hitler, but the words and witness one Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer prevailed.  Not many people of faith favored an end to slavery, but a faithful minority made it impossible to sustain.  There are so few Christians in America today who support the inclusion of the immigrant, the Muslim, the LGBTQI community, and the poor; who support democracy; and who urgently call for care of the earth that we seem invisible to the media and the wider culture. But the stones piled against us will come toppling down like the walls of Jericho. We have courage and confidence in our convictions because we know how this story ends.  We know the love of God triumphs over every narcissistic tendency and evil.

The victory is won but the battle continues. It just didn’t matter how often or how miserably the disciples failed him.  Jesus always called them back.  Jesus opens a way to the future.  Jesus opens our eyes and sets us again on the pilgrim path to God. Again, and again, Jesus drives out fear and writes a new script for our lives as we become joined to the undying life of God in the waters of baptism.

This is the hope to which the gospel calls us: regardless how often we have failed, however imperfect our faith is or has been; how many times we were silent when we should have spoken out; no matter how hard our hearts have been against compassion for those who suffer—the outstretched hand of Jesus opens to us today.

The angel’s words are not information but a commission for everyone who hears the call to follow him.  Hear the invitation to continue the kingdom-building work that remains to be done—for that is where we encounter the risen Christ.  Jesus goes ahead of us to Galilee.  He is not in the tomb.  Jesus who casts out fear and leads us deeper into abundant life can be found among the suffering, the needy, the oppressed, and estranged. He lives among us now.  Jesus is with all who share their bread, who give a cup of water, who receive the little children, who protect the vulnerable, care for widows, attend to the environment, and keep widening the circle of a living sanctuary of grace and hope for all.  (R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, p. 596-97) Alleluia, Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

God Sticks It Out With Us

Passion Sunday B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).  If Christmastime is the festival of the incarnation, when God took on flesh to dwell with us; then Passiontide is the feast of the persistence of that incarnation despite the horror of the cross. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” but not so you could kill him. (John 3:16).  The cross is one of the most ingenious and cruel inventions in human history, designed to torture, humiliate, and dehumanize its victims to the utmost. Yet through the power of resurrection God has transformed the cross with the stubborn persistence of grace into a sign of life’s way shown to us by our Lord Jesus Christ that leads into abundance and joy for any who with the eyes of faith have the will to follow him.  God will not abandon you even though you may be and do your worst.

Yesterday’s historic events are the perfect preamble to Passiontide.  (No, I’m not talking about the miraculous run of the Loyola Ramblers who advanced to the Final Four.) I’m talking about the courageous and prophetic youth who took the stage in Washington D.C., before an international audience, in the March for Our Lives.  As hundreds of thousands gathered in rallies across the country the young people of Marjorie Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida took the whole nation to church. Big money manipulation of our politics and blindness to the depth and reality of racism is killing us.  The devastating consequences of continuing to do nothing can be counted in human lives.

We can begin the work of Passiontide with taking the log out of our own eye—by working to rid Christianity and our theology of all violence.  We must honestly reckon with the many and pernicious ways our religion has been weaponized against women, or to legitimate violence against Native Americans, Jews, Muslims, and outsiders.  Walking in the way of the cross will put an end to using religion to prop up self-righteousness, justify xenophobia, or legitimize exploitation of the natural world. We can start with the sober recognition that God didn’t want Jesus to die, we did. God loves us anyway.

Today we followed Jesus with palm branches in our hands and shouts of Hosanna on our lips into the jaws of death.  This week, and through the Three Days, we proclaim, “Death, you will not have the last word.  Death, you will not prevail!”

The Rev. Martin Luther King once wrote, “The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.” The cross and empty tomb proclaim the victory is won but the struggle continues. This is not the end but the beginning of the end. You must know this Holy week is about more than your own personal salvation.  This ground, this day, this week, is made sacred by those who have died to make a better world and by all those who are the victims of senseless violence.  We have been called into the struggle against death and violence by making a living sanctuary.  We must keep enlarging the circle of hope and grace until it includes this whole community, the city of Chicago, and the whole world.  Amen.

Life Everlasting

Lent 4B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who trusts in him may not perish but may have the life of God’s new age” (John 3:16, trans. By N.T. Wright).  Martin Luther said John 3:16 is the gospel in miniature. Yet, despite being so well loved and remembered, this famous verse is also mostly misunderstood.

Former Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar NT Wright has said he assumed at least until his thirties, this verse and the whole point of Christianity was for people to “go to heaven when they died.”  He writes, “It never dawned on us that “heaven and hell” was a construction of the High Middle Ages.”  It comes as a surprise to us that what mattered for people in Jesus’ time was not “saved souls” being rescued from the world and taken to a distant “heaven,” but the coming together of heaven and earth in a great act of cosmic renewal in which all people were likewise being renewed. (N. T. Wright. Paul: A Biography)

Old-time religion is giving way to very old-time religion. 16th century Christianity must surrender its honored place on the pedestal to 1st Century faith.  As in the turbulent days of the Reformation, Christians today are recovering the early Jewish sense of being firmly grounded in history and creation that reorients would-be disciple’s like us to focus on this life while the afterlife recedes into the background.

The ancient Jews to which Jesus preached were creational monotheists. For them, God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay.

So, if only for just a moment, we can clear away some of our deeply held assumptions about salvation, the meaning of this beloved verse, and indeed the entire gospel, a new question naturally arises. If John 3:16 and the Bible are not about getting into heaven what are they about?

Following Jesus is no longer a program for self-improvement or a golden ticket to pass through the Pearly Gates; it’s an invitation to a new community. We are uprooted from a network of relationships that perpetuates injustice, death, and alienation and grafted by God’s Spirit into a network of relationships that brings healing, reconciliation, and abundant life rooted in eternal life itself.

Think about how many things have been determined about your life by the accident of where you happen to have been born. Where we are born accustoms us to unjust privilege or prevents us from access to clean water, education, and the chance to live to adulthood. We are born in families in which we are loved or in families that teach us we are deeply inadequate. We are born with a skin color that conditions our sense of who we are, what we deserve, whom we may love, or fear. This world is set up in ways that lock us into patterns of relationship based on our birth — patterns that separate us from one another and from God.

John 3:16 is Jesus’ invitation to instead be “born from above.” Jesus offers us freedom from relationships that ensnare, and the choice to relate to one another, and all living things, as beloved children of one loving God. It’s a gift and a choice for us to take a new name, enter a new world of healthy relationships, a joy-filled and abundant life that begins now and stretches into forever.

With this new framework of faith, we see forgiveness is not merely something to add to your spiritual resume.  It’s an essential tool every Christian must master if we are to advance our life’s work together of bringing in the kin-dom of God. After forgiveness there is peace.  After forgiveness, our enemies are reduced. After forgiveness, the cycle of violence is broken. This lent we are focused together on learning how each of us can get better at wielding this powerful gift we received in baptism, the power to forgive.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was president of the All Africa Conference of Churches when he made a pastoral visit to Rwanda in 1995 one year after the genocide. He writes, “I broke down… I went to Ntarama, a town where hundreds of Tutsis had fled to the church for safety and sanctuary. But the Hutu Power movement had respected no church. Strewn across the floor were the remains of the horror. Clothing and suitcases were still littered among the bones. The small skulls of children remained shattered on the floor. Skulls outside the church still had machetes and knives in them. The stench was beyond anything I can describe. I tried to pray, but I could not. I could only cry. Rwanda, like the Holocaust and other genocides before it, stands as a testament to our capacity for unconscionable evil, and yet our ability to forgive and heal stands as a rejoinder that we are not made for evil but for goodness.”  (Desmond Tutu & Mpho Tutu. “The Book of Forgiving.” )

We are not made for evil but for goodness.  Tell me, do you believe that? Against the backdrop of that small church in Natuarama, such a statement sounds preposterous and unbelievable.  Except for Christians, the cross and empty tomb of Christ proclaim to us the very same message.  The “world” God loves so much that he sent his only Son includes the enemies of God.  All creatures great and small: empathetic, cute and sweet as well as the hard-hearted, repugnant, and evil are loved by God, transformed and reconciled through the power of love and forgiveness.

Tutu writes, “We can’t create a world without pain or loss or conflict or hurt feelings, but we can create a world of forgiveness. We can create a world of forgiveness that allows us to heal from those losses and pain and repair our relationships. The Book of Forgiving shares the path to finding forgiveness, but ultimately no one can tell you to forgive. We can ask you to do so. We can invite you on the journey. We can show you what has worked for others. We can tell you that the healing we have seen from those who have walked the Fourfold Path is humbling and transformative.” (Desmond Tutu & Mpho Tutu. “The Book of Forgiving,” p. 224)

All of us must walk our own paths at our own pace knowing as we do so, we walk with God. God loves you. For God so loved the world Christ Jesus has made it possible for his followers to be dwelling places of God’s presence in the world, places where heaven and earth come together to renew everything through the powers of love and forgiveness. You have heard it said God’s house has many dwelling places: Yes! God is at home right here in each one of us and in people around the world.  “Salvation unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor” (ELW # 590). See, we are a new creation!

The Abundant Life

Epiphany 5B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

From the prophet Isaiah, we read, “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). These ancient prophetic words, now more than 2,000 years old, are not about the outcome of today’s Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. Instead, they echo a promise, found throughout scripture that life goes well, or at least better, for people of faith as compared to those without faith.  He came that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10b).

In today’s gospel, Jesus is a miracle worker.  He begins with healing Peter’s mother-in-law and proceeds, within the span of four verses, to work through the population of an entire city—healing the sick and casting out demons before heading out to a deserted place the next morning, all alone, to pray. (Mark 1:31-34)

If we are honest sometimes passages like today’s Gospel feel cruel, or at least inaccessible.  What are we supposed to do with Jesus’s healing stories?  Have things changed so drastically since Jesus walked the earth ushering in God’s kingdom with all manner of miraculous signs and wonders?  Where has all the magic gone?

“The problem with miracles,” Episcopal preacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “is that it is hard to witness them without wanting one of your own.  Every one of us knows someone who is suffering.  Every one of us knows someone who could use a miracle, but miracles are hard to come by.”

There is a cottage industry today led by the false prophets of the prosperity gospel who would lead us astray with promises of wealth and success if we could only learn to pray like them.  Yet we know where this path leads.  Sooner or later, real life intercedes. People die, or become injured, chronic illness and old age eat away at precious talents and abilities, and others today will become victims of violence or injustice.

We are confused about what the promise of the abundant life means and also compassionate so like the false comforters of Job sometimes we say silly things —or at least, I certainly have.  Have you heard people say, “God is using this sickness to build your character.”  “God never gives you a test that’s too great.” “Satan is testing you — stay strong!” “God’s timing is different from ours — be patient.”  Or here’s a good one “Have you tried fasting?”  In addition, there a plenty on TV telling you “Send me/my church/my ministry money, and God will heal you for sure!”

A closer look at scripture and today’s gospel offers some help.  we see Jesus is not very interested in magic.  The urgency of his message is an invitation to live with the mystery of the ‘already-and-not-yet.”  Yes, the kingdom of God has come, and its in-breaking is even now revealed in Christ Jesus. Yet Jesus healed only a small number of people in one tiny part of the world before he died.  He came to proclaim the kingdom of God, not to eliminate the world’s disease and despair.  The abundant life we receive does not make us impervious to loss or rescue us from frailty and finitude. Becoming One with the undying life of God is not freedom from pain, but freedom despite pain.

Our Christian ancestors understood this.  Their embrace of finitude and no longer being afraid their own mortality is what made them different. Because they were confident in the resurrection, fear was replaced with compassion. Because they stood with the sick, the poor, the oppressed, they learned to be healers. They suffered with them.  Their newfound freedom from fear of pain contributed to the beginning of Western medicine and hospitals.  The gospel freed them to participate in improving their lives and those around them.  Unity in the Undying Life of God led them further on the path to abundant life following the way marked by the cross of Christ Jesus.

The early Syrian Fathers Ephrem and Simeon actually proposed that tears be a sacrament in the Church. Saint Ephrem went so far as to say until you have cried you don’t know God. Jesus said blessed are those who weep (Luke 6:21). In this Beatitude, Jesus praised those who can enter into solidarity with the pain of the world and not try to remove or isolate themselves from its suffering. This is why Jesus says the rich person often can’t see the Kingdom because they spend too much time trying to make tears unnecessary and even impossible. (Richard Rohr, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, 2/01/18)

Solidarity with the suffering is the counter-intuitive sign of the abundant life.  It makes us hungry for justice. True systemic change requires a willingness to be self-critical.  I’ve read one of the commercials to be aired during the Super Bowl today will urge citizens to “Please stand up” for the flag and national anthem.  I’m curious what it says about our national pastime that we want to prevent NFL players from exercising their constitutional right to free speech? Their solidarity with the suffering is regarded as sacrilege in our temples of civic religion—where patriotism, nativism, and bad religion are mixed together in a tasty adulterated stew.

But we are called out.  Members of the ekklesia, the church, have been literally “called out” of the world in order to live free of its dictates and to belong fully, at every moment, to God and to one another. To live a just and abundant life in this world is to identify with the longings and hungers of the poor, the meek, and those who weep. This identification and solidarity is in itself a profound form of social justice. (Rohr)

Righteousness is not something we do in private or by being polite; it sums up the global responsibility of the human community to make sure every human being has what they need, that everyone pursues a fair sense of justice for every other human being, and that everyone lives in right relationship with one another, creation, and God.

In our gospel today, Jesus showed us how to follow him into this abundance. Early in the morning, Jesus sought out a deserted place, alone, to pray. The English writer and Catholic teacher Edwina Gateley’s beautiful poem is full of wise advice:

Be silent.

Be still.

Alone.

Empty

Before your God.

Say nothing.

Ask nothing.

Be silent.

Be still.

Let your God look upon you.

That is all.

God knows.

God understands.

God loves you

With an enormous love,

And only wants

To look upon you

With that love.

Quiet.

Still.

Be.

Let your God—

Love you.

Yes, God is infinite and Wholly Other, while we remain finite and deeply known and therein lie the mysteries, as compared to the magic, of prayer. Change, pain, birth, and death are the way of all life along with grace, beauty, love, and joy forever.  This precious and abundant life God has given us all.

Look and Listen

Epiphany 4B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

Anna Kamieńska belonged to a generation of Polish poets born in the 1920’s who came of age during the brutal Nazi occupation, years of post-war turmoil, and the suffocating entrenchment of Communist rule. In spite of this, or perhaps, because of it, she became a woman of faith. “I was looking for the dead,” she writes, “and I found God.”

“Even when I don’t believe

There is a place in me

Inaccessible to unbelief

A patch of wild grace…”

Something in us is always searching, listening for the still small voice of God. Like Siri, or Alexa, or ok google I’d like to think my heart is always listening to receive and embrace God’s grace.  But I think just as often, or perhaps more so, there is something over my heart always listening to defend itself against God and to hold grace at bay.

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” (Mark 1:24) The man with an unclean spirit immediately sees and hears what the others do not. He recognizes Jesus. “I know who you are, Holy One of God.”  Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum. It was among the oldest in the world. By all accounts, it was beautiful, large, and successful. The people are astounded at Jesus’ teaching. They were “ekplessomai,” literally, they were “blown out of their minds.”

Immediately a voice of condemnation arises from among the people. A demon residing there recognized danger. “Have you come to destroy us?”  Jesus provoked an unclean spirit watching and listening to defend itself. The community had a lot to lose after all if the political-economic-religious world they were accustomed to were suddenly to change.

Something in us always watching and listening wants to survive—to defend itself against the gospel.  How often do we recognize the power of the gospel first because of the way it provokes us to say no?  Not just no but hell no. The power of rebellion and sin runs deep in us. Often, we are deaf and blind to its presence.  Yet, again and again, the spirit of God bids us come and wash in the word, be cleansed through contrition and prayer, restore a right heart and mind through baptism, and renew our strength for service with good food from the Lord’s table.

When we are made clean in the spirit we can hear and see the truth again. Healthy religion is not a reward system.  It is not an evacuation plan to another world. It is not fire insurance. When we say “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20) we are announcing our commitment to Jesus’ upside-down world where “the last are first and the first are last” (Matthew 20:16) over any other power system or frame of reference. It means we have changed our loyalties from power, success, money, ego, and control to the imitation of a Vulnerable God where servanthood, surrender, and simplicity reign.

Every generation has its epiphany. Every generation gets a chance to open its eyes and ears to hear and see how unclean spirits have taken hold to dwell among of us.  Today we are being led by young women of color like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi founders of Black Lives Matter, or Tarana Burke founder of the #metoo movement, and by the dreamers who call us to reclaim our heritage as a nation of immigrants.  They are prophets among us.  There are always prophets among us to call us back to the right road. We must listen to our prophets.

If Jesus is Lord and head of the church, there is a radically changed religious typography. Rules for who and what is clean and unclean, moral and immoral, righteous and unrighteous must change.  What counts is love and mercy more than piety and appearances.

But this process is slow, painstaking, bewildering, and often painful. The price for real transformation is high. Yet there is something in us deeper and beyond sin and rebellion always listening and searching for exactly this. We are thankful for whatever progress can be made to renew our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

People of faith stumble forward into a dark future they cannot fully see. To follow the leading of the Spirit we must learn to use our peripheral vision rather than look straight ahead because that is how we see best at night. Scripture says Moses saw the burning bush out of the corner of his eye. (Exodus 3:3).

Some part of us is always looking and listening. If Jesus is Lord our selfish selves must die too, which Jesus exemplified on the cross. This is what is called the Good News!  And here is a wonderful surprise: We can surrender to God without losing ourselves! The irony is that we find ourselves when lose our lives in God.

Again, Anna Kamieńska in a poem called Transformation found in a book of selected poems called Astonishments, writes:

To be transformed

to turn yourself inside out like a glove

to spin like a planet

to thread yourself through yourself

so that each day penetrates each night

so that each word runs to the other side of truth

so that each verse comes out of itself

and gives off its own light

so that each face leaning on a hand

sweats into the skin of the palm

 

So that this pen

changes into pure silence

I wanted to say into love

 

To fall off a horse

to smear your face with dust

to be blinded

to lift yourself

and allow yourself to be led

like blind Saul

to Damascus

Something in us was always looking and listening for this.  Something in us already knows. To lead, we must first be led. To build a living sanctuary, we must first be “undone. “To resist ego, orthodoxy, and empire can be accomplished only by the gift of a fearless faith, one that shatters all our illusions, one that knocks us off our horse, one that allows us to be led, like blind Saul to Damascus.” (Robin Meyers, Spiritual Defiance) Then we are like leaven that God has hidden in the imperial loaf. “We are salt and light and seed, and all we have to do is walk straight into that light—the same light that is breaking through these very windows at this very moment. See how it falls on our faces? Do not turn away.” (Robin Meyers, Spiritual Defiance) Look and listen and for the love of God, follow and be clean.

Come and See. Follow Me.

Epiphany 2B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Jesus found Philip.  Philip found Nathanael. They joined Andrew, Simon Peter, and others in declaring eureka! “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41).  The English translation is dry by comparison.  There is joy, amazement, and disbelief in their voice.  Can anything good come out of s–holes like Nazareth? Come and see. Follow me.

Great adventures often begin—because of what see calling us to explore. Longs Peak in Colorado is something like that.  If you’ve ever been to Denver you’ve seen it. Longs Peak is the highest mountain on the horizon. It took me three tries to reach the top.

You get out of bed at 3:00 am to be on the trail by 6:00 in order to reach the summit by 12 noon before the lightning storms roll in. The final third of the hike has is no real trail. There are boulders to climb over, a scree field at a 45-degree incline, and a narrow ledge across a vertical rock face. At 14,259 feet above sea level, the air becomes thin and breathing is difficult. The top is the size of about two football fields and just as flat. Mathematicians calculate you can see 150 miles. It seems farther. I remember someone driving golf balls over the diamond-shaped cliff.  I remember a sailplane appearing as if by magic and circling the summit.  I remember catching sight of the tiny glint of the parking lot where we left our car and wondering if I had enough left in me to make it back down. We stopped for pizza that night and I could barely lift the pieces to my mouth.  We could see it. That’s why we had to climb it.

Who you follow defines what you do and who you become.  We followed a trail most of the way to the top of Longs Peak, but the road to get there was longer. It involved planning and preparation. Following that path meant defining our goals, focusing our energy, organizing our calendar and the commitment of financial resources.  Following gives direction to your life.

Philip, Nathanael, Andrew, and Simon Peter didn’t know they were Christians. They just knew they were thirsty and hungry for something better. They didn’t know they were disciples, or followers until they saw Jesus.  He said to them come and see.  Follow me. He was a walking epiphany, an awakening.  The disciples were among the first in the human family to see something in Jesus that answered their own deepest longing that drew them to follow.

The American Catholic Monk, mystic, and writer Thomas Merton compared baptism to spiritual mountain climbing.  The original, but censored, beginning of his famous autobiographical book about coming to faith and becoming a monk, The Seven Storey Mountain reads, “When a man [or woman] is conceived, when a human nature comes into being as an individual, concrete, subsisting thing, a life, a person, then God’s image is minted into the world. A free, vital, self-moving entity, a spirit informing flesh, a complex of energies ready to be set into fruitful motion begins to flame with love, without which no spirit can exist…” The disciples saw this in Christ Jesus.

Our baptism tells us what we are. Baptism means each of us is created in the image of God and that’s why we’re restless and searching until we begin to conform our lives into the likeness of that image. Baptism means we are loved and accepted as God’s own child just as we are, and yet called by that same love to be and do more than we ever thought possible. Baptism is the beginning of a spiritual adventure.  To say that we are Christians means that Jesus is our epiphany.  We have seen and heard in him who and what we are. Because we have glimpsed the divine and have seen God’s eternal love for all creation in Jesus we follow him in the way that he lived.  Like a mountain beaconing on the distant horizon, Jesus makes visible a new way of living we have learned to call the way of the cross.

Like climbing a mountain, the way of the cross is the slow, painstaking process of faith becoming lived faith in us. The way of the cross is the life-long struggle to transform beliefs into lifestyles and habits with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We do not make this climb alone. Although it is deeply personal and intimate the way of the cross is not merely a project in self-improvement.  It must be communal. It involves us with one another. The way of the cross is learning to beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks by fashioning communities of justice and peace. Come and see, Jesus says.  Follow me.

Jesus’ invitation to discipleship is also an invitation to wellness.  The old preacher W.C. Coffin wrote, “The incarnation says as much about what we are to become as it does about what God has become.”  “The Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14).  We are called to love and serve the Lord, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Somehow, the poisonous idea that discipleship must force a wedge between our spiritual life and our earthly selves has crept into Christian consciousness.  Yet scripture could not be clearer.  We are not disembodied souls. We are bodies.  As St. Paul reminds us today in 1 Corinthians, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 6:19).  Paul admonishes us, therefore, that the life of discipleship calls us to be good stewards of our bodies. Exercise is part of your spiritual work.  Respect your bodily needs and learn to love your limitations for these are what make us appreciate one another.

We are embarked upon a spiritual adventure by our baptism into Christ.  It will call upon us to plan and to make preparations. Following the path revealed by Jesus means defining our goals, focusing our energy, organizing our calendar and the commitment of our financial resources.

Here at Immanuel, we measure progress toward this goal to the extent that we together are a living sanctuary of hope and grace.  This is why we do what we do that gives purpose and direction to everything we undertake and to what we strive to become. A living sanctuary is a place people feel safe.  It is a place to renew trust and become a community of mutual respect and care. Sanctuary is a place where we come to know the depth of our own human dignity and hear the still small voice of God.  Sanctuary is the place we make together for others to see and hear the living Christ in us. Sanctuary is a beacon inviting and welcoming the poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

We’re keeping ourselves honest and telling the story of ways we’re making progress toward this goal in a piece in today’s This Week and the E-newsletter called This Is Us.  Sometime later today look for it to read testimonies of young people in the ECT youth group.

Jesus extends an invitation to discipleship and the way of the cross that is not a command.  Each of us must hear God’s call for ourselves, wrestle with the obstacles, and respond in faith with the lived faith we do together. Come and see.  Follow me, Jesus says.

Love is God in Me

Baptism of our Lord B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1). Biblical cosmology was inspired by cutting-edge work by the ancient philosophers of Babylon.  They pictured a flat earth standing on pillars.  Underneath was the realm of the dead.  Sitting on top they imagined a large dome separating the heavens from the earth.  The stars were said to be small holes in the dome through which the light of heaven could be seen to be shining through.

It sounds ridiculous to us, of course, but to this very day every time you hear someone say ‘heaven is up’ and ‘hell is down’, this is the understanding of how the universe is organized they’re talking about. And this is exactly the kind of universe, Mark says, was torn apart when Jesus was baptized.

From the very beginning of Mark’s gospel, the heavens were ripped open as Jesus burst free from beneath the waters of baptism.  God broke the barrier between heaven and earth.

Now what is opened can be closed again.  But what has been torn apart must remain open for all time. Through Christ Jesus, Mark says, the realms of heaven and the realms of earth have become mixed together.  God is now everywhere up close in, with, and under us throughout the world.

God is with you.  It’s a theme Mark repeats as Jesus first breaks upon the scene and when he leaves it, Jesus’ entrance and exit.  At the moment of Jesus’ death on a cross, as Jesus breathed his last, the curtain in the Temple that separates the profane from the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38).

It means that God cannot be contained in our holy spaces. God is loose in the land.  God’s presence fills the world.  God’s light shines from the darkness of human hearts.  It means the church cannot set conditions for God’s involvement with you. Baptism is not an if-then. If you are baptized then God will be part of your life.  God is already always and everywhere part of every life.  Period.  When will these old discredited ideas be finished among us?

Your baptism is not for God but for you.  Baptism is God’s gift, not a prerequisite. Just as the spirit of God moved and brooded upon the waters of creation, so God creates order and blessing from the chaos of our lives. The Spirit of God intercedes and prays for us without ceasing. God is not too big or too busy to care. The Sacraments are a way of speaking that goes beyond mere words to become an indelible part of our identity: Behold, God says, you are my beloved child.

From baptism, we learn that it is God’s very own voice that speaks to us of the dignity of every human life.  It is God’s own life that gives our own its infinite depth.  It is God who counsels and guides us in the quiet, dark hours.  It is God who pushes and cajoles us toward our calling and mission as artists of grace. It is God who shines the light of creative grace upon our feet and casts a light on our path.  It is God who has brought us together –God who strengthens and prepares us to work in concert with the Spirit as members of the living body of Christ at work in the world.

It is part of the majesty and glory of God that God is not only the creator.  God is a creator of co-creators.  God is a lover of artists. God delights to see what new and beautiful things we can make from what God has given and God laments the tragedies wrought from our ignorance and evil—forever.  What we do, or do not do, or allow to be done in our name, has real consequences. Our identity as baptized believers in Christ is our call to work together to fashion communities of hospitality and grace.

Jesus baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry.  Likewise, our baptism has a public dimension for us to become peacemakers.  Jesus, the lamb of God, became a scapegoat.  He took the blame for upsetting the social order and was sacrificed for us on a cross in order to end all scapegoating, violence born of vengeance, jealousy, fear, and disloyalty.  Jesus appears to the disciples and said, peace be with you.  My peace be upon you. I refuse to be part of your sin accounting game anymore. At his baptism, Jesus ripped apart the ability of any religious or secular authority to separate people whether by gender, race, color, ethnicity, morality, religion or zip code. Community in Christ is not based on fear of our enemies or anger at outsiders, but rather the unity we share as children of God.

Baptism makes explicit what already is. You are a child of God among a diverse family of God with many brothers and sisters.  Baptism is God’ invitation to work together to make our lives and our communities ever more closely reveal the likeness of God in whose image we are created and whose mark we indelibly bear. Behold, the manger of the infant Christ is prepared within you.

The Catholic Italian author Carlo Carreto (1910-1988) wrote, “Love is God in me.
Yes, love is God in me, and if I am in love I am in God, that is, in life, in grace: a sharer in God’s being…If charity is God in me, why look for God any further than myself? And if God is in me as love, why do I change or disfigure God’s face with acts or values which are not love? (“Love Is for Living”, quoted from Carlo Carretto: Essential Writings, Robert Ellsberg)

In Christ Jesus, God tore apart what we had come to believe was how the world is organized and how it works.  “So [by baptism] if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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