Monday, March 30, 2015


What kind of parade is this?
This parade is nothing like the parades I have seen,
And I love parades.
I go down to the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit every year,
And I stand in the cold, and I eat it up.
I love the monkeys jumping on the bed, I love the briefcase drill team, I love the distinguished clown corps, and I love to see all of the important people who show up for the parade.
I love the big balloons, and the confetti…
I remember, when I lived on the South Side of Chicago,
When the White Sox won the pennant, and there was a glorious parade to celebrate with black and white confetti everywhere,
Or the parades after the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup.
Wish we could go back to those days.
But this parade we heard about today is nothing like those parades.
There’s only one float, after all.
What are they even celebrating?
What is the victory?
What kind of parade was this, they must have wondered, because it was nothing like the parades they knew, either.
There were parades in ancient times.
The ancient Greeks had a tradition of a parade called a triumph celebrating a military victory.
In a triumph, the king would dress up as the god Dionysus, or later, Zeus,
And he would be carried by a litter of slaves
As the people cried out for the appearance of the god.
At the end of the parade, the king would appear, in costume,
And sacrifice a bull to the god in thanksgiving for the military conquest.
The Romans took over the tradition of the triumph parade,
But in the Roman tradition, the parade became even more tied to military might.
The Romans carried graphic representations of battle that had been won,
Demonstrating the bloodshed in elaborate pictures.
The king would ride in a golden chariot,
And for the occasion, he would borrow the purple robe and golden crown from the statue of the god Jupiter.
The king would wear the purple robe, but he wouldn’t wear the crown.  A slave would carry the crown over his head, so he wouldn’t have to be inconvenienced by the weight of all that gold.
They would carry the spoils of the battle too.
The most famous picture we have of a triumph shows them carrying the menorah from the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
The troops would march next, triumphantly upholding their bloodstained swords,
And behind them, the ultimate display of conquest:
The captured slaves were dragged along, in chains.
Eventually, only the emperor, by law, was allowed to hold a triumph,
Because it was such an important representation of the emperor’s divinity, which had won them the battle.
Perhaps this was the reason, scholars speculate,
That Jesus was killed so quickly after holding his own little parade.
What kind of parade was this, they must have wondered?
The Jews must have wondered,
After all they expected their Messiah to conquer the Roman overlords,
Great crowds to hail his kingly greatness.
Which brings us to the question--
How big was the crowd watching this parade?
Luke only mentions the disciples, over and over again,
He says, the whole multitude of the disciples was praising God.
Well, how big was that “multitude”?  Twelve?  Twenty?
Maybe seventy?
Not much to write home about.
And who were the people in this crowd?
Were they the big wigs of society?
No!  They’re society’s rejects!
They’re nobodies, the people who flunked out of Torah class!
Not the people of note.
There aren’t even any children shouting “Hosanna to the king!” In Luke.
There aren’t even any palms mentioned.
If this was all we had to go on, we’d call it Cloak Sunday, or maybe Donkey Sunday.
While this donkey technically fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah calling for the Messiah to ride in on a donkey,
The next few days won’t fulfill anyone’s Messianic expectations.
As they watch the Messiah, the man coming to restore the Davidic line, bring back the institutions of the righteous worship of Yahweh, conquer the Roman heathens,
As they watch him die at the hands of those Romans, nailed to a cross.
But what kind of parade was this, they must have wondered, the Jews and the Romans, watching,
Just as we wonder, what kind of parade has only one float?
Not even sponsored by Macy’s?
What kind of parade has no bands, not even a little trumpeter out front, only the cries of society’s rejects for its soundtrack?
Where are the balloons?
Where is the confetti?
What kind of king is this, riding not on a litter of slaves, not on a golden chariot, not even on a stately war horse, but on a borrowed donkey?
And as if that’s not humiliating enough, it’s a young donkey.  It’s a colt!
A borrowed young donkey!
What kind of king, for that matter, wears as his mantle a bloody, tattered robe?
What kind of king is coronated with a crown of thorns?
What kind of king has no bull to sacrifice at the end of his parade, this king is sacrificed himself?
What kind of a savior won’t march in to conquer the badguys, do what God said he would do, bring the powerful down from their thrones and lift up the lowly, make a crooked way straight and a rough place smooth?
God could have done it up, couldn’t he?
Don’t we want him to?
Don’t we want him to put on the parade to beat the band, ending with the conquest of those evil Roman warlords?
Why do we have instead this unlikely parade, this anti-parade parade, this dinky little parade that appears to be going nowhere and accomplishing nothing?
This parade that seems to underline its own humble understatement?
What kind of parade is this?
What kind of king could this be?
Could this be a different kind of king than the world has ever seen?
A king whose power comes not from armies, not from bodyguards, not from military or political power, not from his capacity to dominate, but from his capacity to love?
I believe that that is so.
I believe that the message of the little parade we celebrate this day is that his power, the power of love, is greater than the power of power itself.
Because we know the truth.
We know that this poor, uneducated, backwoods carpenter’s son happens to be the incarnation of God himself.
We know that in the moment of his greatest defeat, as he hangs broken and bleeding from a cross, the execution so humiliating it was reserved for slaves, at that moment he is a conqueror greater than any mayor or king or emperor because the great power he wields is the power of love.
That love, which sacrifices itself, bleeds itself out for another, it is the strongest force in the universe, strong enough to conquer any king, any army, strong enough to conquer death itself.
It’s not logical.  It doesn’t make sense.  But somehow, we see it.  Love keeps winning.
How else did a bishop stand in the way of Hitler’s army?
Without assembling troops, without firing a single shot, the people and the church of Bulgaria stood up to Hitler during World War II.
As they watched their Jewish friends and neighbors asked to wear yellow stars, a public outcry began in Bulgaria.
In late 1942, when the Jews began to be packed into sealed boxcars, members of Parliament rallied.
When the proclamation came in early 1943 that all 50,000 of Bulgaria’s Jews were to be shipped away, the people protested, led by Metropolitan Stefan and Bishop Kyril of the Orthodox Church.
On March 10th, 1943, many of the Jews of Kyril’s city of Plovdiv reported to a school building while the Nazis sealed the doors of their homes. 
They carried suitcases filled with hastily gathered food and clothing, the few possessions they could assemble.
Their destination, the concentration camp at Treblinka.
On that day, Bishop Kyril held a parade.
He marched with three hundred members of his church to that school.
He publicly stated that if the Nazis tried to pull that boxcar out of town, he and his entire congregation would lay down in front of it, on the railroad tracks.
Faced with this public outcry, and the real possibility of international attention, the Nazi government balked.
Without firing a single shot, the only power greater than power had shown itself to be the power of love.
Not one of Bulgaria’s Jews perished in the Holocaust.
Bulgaria is the only nation in Europe whose Jewish population actually increased during World War II.
Just imagine if the nations of the world had relied on the power of love like Bishop Kyril.
In the place where Bishop Kyril stood that day, a plaque now stands, engraved with a few simple words, his message to the Jews of Plovdiv:
I will not leave you.
I will not leave you.
Those could be the words of God himself.
I will not leave you.
The words of a God born with us in a feeding trough.
I will not leave you.
The words of a God riding in his humble parade on his borrowed little donkey.
I will not leave you.
The words of a God hanging from a cross in his tattered robe with his crown of thorns.
I will not leave you in your weakness.
I will not leave you in your pain.
I will not leave you in your death.
This is the God we worship today. 
This is the king to whom we shout, “Hosanna!”
The king who shows his power not with troops or trumpets, not with chariots or confetti, not with bodyguards or balloons, but with an unyielding, unquenchable, unstoppable, love!
That love will never leave us, brothers and sisters.
That love will defeat every power that is seeking to destroy us.
That love is more powerful than power itself.
And that is why this tiny, humble parade,
With its one float, its borrowed young donkey,
Its crowd of rejects,
Its doomed king,
This dinky little parade,
It is more famous and celebrated than any parade the world has ever known.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fast Food

This morning, I'd like to take a few minutes to reflect…
What is the best meal you have ever eaten in your life? When was it, what did you eat, and who were you with?
I'm sure it wasn't a quarter pounder with cheese.
I like McDonald's when I'm out with the kids and need a quick bite.
In fact Diana goes often enough that she calls it Old MacDonald's.
But McDonald's isn't really food so much as feed.
It's calories, but not necessarily nourishment.
Even if you get the salad,
Eating quickly is not healthy in and of itself.
When you eat fast,
Your body doesn't have enough time to digest and so you don't feel well afterward.
When you eat fast,
Your brain doesn't have enough time to realize you're full and so you eat more.
Humans are meant, not to just inhale feed, but to have meals.
Just think:
What if you cut out the chips from straight out of the bag at 4:30,
And the cookies in front of the TV at 10am,
And the 3am bowl of cereal just because you felt like it?
What if you and I were to eat only at mealtimes, at the table, after taking time, not to mutter grace, but to really stop and give thanks?
If we were to eat only under those circumstances, would we not be healthier—body and soul?
Do we need another diet program, or is what we really need to eat more mindfully, intentionally—to eat more spiritually?
Do we need more fast food, or is what we really need communion?
The people wanted fast food.
They weren't interested in building community.
They didn't see this as a time for giving thanks.
They had come for some entertainment!
An exciting celebrity was in town…and everyone had come out to see a show.
But they got hungry, and they wanted, well, a TV dinner,
Some food on the run.
They didn't want to eat spiritually.
They just wanted to feed and get on with things.
But Christ offered them more.
John 6:10-11—
"Jesus said, 'make the people sit down.'
Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.
Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted."
In the story of the feeding of five thousand, the only miracle story to be repeated in all four Gospels,
Jesus gives a commandment—"sit down."
The people were not already sitting, or he would not have had to tell them.
They wanted fast food, but Christ makes them wait.
He makes them sit down, and then he makes them wait again—
He takes the time, not just to say grace, but to give thanks.
And the Greek verb in John 10:11 is "Eucharisteo."
Perhaps you have heard the word "Eucharist" before.
It's another word for communion—the Lord's Supper.
What we do in communion is giving thanks to God.
Jesus give thanks, and then he serves the meal—to those who were seated.
Why does John give us this strange detail, that they sat down?
And why does he tell us, in this offhand way, that oh by the way, there was a lot of grass around?
Is something more than feeding going on?
The people wanted fast food, but Christ is offering them communion.
But wait, Pastor, you say, this story isn't about communion.
That's the Last Supper you want.
Communion is about Jesus's death.
This story is about abundance and miracle and everyone having enough and by the way, you don't serve fish at communion.
Whose job would that be to cut it up?
And would I have to hold up a smelly fish?
The fish of the Lord, de-boned for you?
Maybe not.
Yet this is a story of communion—because communion, in its root, means relationship.
It's the same root word as community.
And in this story, Christ called the people into relationship with him.
They wanted fast food…but he made them sit.
They thought in terms of individual hunger…but Christ called them to share a communal meal.
They were anxious about their physical needs…but Christ wanted to give them food for the soul.
What is the meaning of these odd details, he made them sit down, on the green grass?
It's about communion.
It's about relationship.
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul."
Jesus makes them sit down, in the grass, by the sea, so he can restore their souls.
They want food; Jesus offers communion.
They want stuff; Jesus offers relationship.
They want bread; Jesus offers himself as the Bread of Life.
Even the fish has meaning:
The word Icthys and the fish symbol were one of the earliest symbols of Christ.
For early Christians, the fish was a reminder of Jonah, who lived in the belly of the fish for three days,
Just as Christ was entombed for three days before breaking forth.
And the acronym Ichthys stood for Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior.
So Jesus is feeding the people with…himself.
He offers them a relationship with him that will satisfy their deepest physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.
He makes them lie down in green pastures; he leads them beside still waters; he restores their souls.
And he offers you and me the same.
This is a communion story because communion is not meant to be simply a memorial of Jesus's death,
A sad meal to be eaten grimly, guiltily, while slow, grim music plays;
Communion is an opportunity for relationship with Christ and one another.
When we share communion, we are mystically united with each other and with God.
He comes into our life, our bodies, and our spirits.
When we take communion, we allow him in, and that changes everything.
We are fed by God.
All other meals are, in a way, representative of that truest meal;
Because the truth of every meal is that God is feeding us with himself, every day, in everything we do.
I received an email this week that told me something I had never known before—
The very first food and drink consumed on the moon was com"moon"ion.
When Buzz Aldrin went to the moon, that same day, in his home church, Webster Presbyterian where Buzz was an elder,
Rev. Dean Woodruff brought out the bread for Communion, a portion of the loaf had been broken away.
The minister explained that Aldrin took a portion of the loaf with him on the moon trip and at some time during the afternoon, after the moon landing is made, Aldrin would symbolically join the other parishioners in Communion.
Buzz said, over the airwaves, "I would like to request a few moments of silence ... and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way."
I silently read the Bible passage "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me." I poured a thimbleful of wine from a sealed plastic container into a small chalice, and waited for the wine to settle down as it swirled in the one-sixth Earth gravity of the moon. I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer for the task at hand and the opportunity I had been given.
But it is an amazing and beautiful thing that the first food partaken on another planet
Was the food of relationship with God through Christ.
In this time, when there was so much to do, Buzz paused,
Took time, gave thanks, and had something to eat, in communion with his church family, and, in a way, with the whole world.
Communion is a miracle.
How can Christ's body be multiplied?
How can there be enough for all?
Well, isn't love a miracle?
Francois Mauriac said, “To love someone is to see a miracle invisible to others.”
Love is, by its very nature, miraculous.
And so, when we love one another, there somehow isn't less love to go around, there's more.
You see, love, by its very nature, creates something out of nothing.
When we love one another, there's always enough to go around.
When we love one another, there's enough time.
The work, the errands, they can wait. It's time for family dinner.
When we love one another, There's enough space.
Parents always have a couch to spare for a child come home.
Churches always have space for people who need a place to be.
And if we don't we should.
When we love one another, There's enough bread.
If we're operating in love, food will materialize. Trust me. I've been to enough potlucks to know they are all a little bit miraculous.
We spend so much time worrying, anxious, that we won't have enough money, enough time, enough bread.
I'm even anxious this year because we're having communion on Easter.
Will there be enough time?
How can we make it faster?
But in the midst of our anxiety, in the midst of our fear,
Christ calls us—Christ commands us—to just sit down.
And be nourished.
To take time for relationship with the ones we love.
And to take Him in.
When is the last time you sat down?
When is the last time you sat on the grass and rested?
When is the last time you lay down beside still waters?
When is the last time you gave thanks?
When is the last time you fed your soul?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jesus Slept

Everything started out peaceful and calm.
We were out in the bay near Sarasota, Florida, on what was billed as the "sunset tour."
My husband, mother and law, Diana and I watched dolphins play by the side of the boat.
We witnessed pelicans and gulls fly overhead.
We soaked up the sunshine, happy not to be in Michigan in December.
But the sun did not set on our sunset tour;
Instead, within moments, our sunny day turned cloudy and dark.
The wind picked up, the waves beat against the boat,
And we in our optimistic sunwear cursed the lack of protection in the open-air vessel.
We were pelted from every side, my then three-year-old daughter began to wail,
And as the captain began the forty five minute journey to shore,
In my head I heard the strains of Gilligan's Island:
"A three hour tour. A three hour tour."
 Weather, like nothing else,
Brings home to human beings our total lack of control.
I don't want to get into climate change…but I wonder…
As scary as climate change is,
On some level, wouldn't it be reassuring to humans to believe ourselves responsible
For changes in the weather?
To believe that we could control the climate?
Because in general weather is something we can't predict entirely accurately, let alone control.
The most watched segment of any news program is: weather.
And more and more, weather seems to be hyped on the newscast.
The storm of the century!
Polar vortex!
El ni┼ło!
Breaking news: it snows in winter in Michigan!
The newscasters have begun to name winter storms, as though snowfall were a disaster on the level of a hurricane or tornado.
And half the time, they hype the snowstorm such that people run off to the store for new shovels, D batteries, and kitty litter,
Schools peremptorily close and people call in sick to work,
Then when it hits it's a non-event.
And when the big storm hits they've told us we were only gonna get two inches.
When it comes to weather, we are all as helpless as travelers at sea.
The image of the disciples on their little wave-tossed boat, in darkness, is an image of instability, danger, and chaos.
The sea is chaotic because, unlike dry land, it moves, it's unpredictable, it's by its nature dangerous.
Darkness is scary because we can't see and we therefore lose more control.
And to be in a boat is to be apart from the infrastructure of society.
To this day, when you go on a cruise you can't use your cell phone, the epitome of modern lack of control.
I always find myself a bit afraid when driving or being driven after dark.
Add in a rainstorm, and I can feel my heart beat faster just thinking about it.
When the disciples cry, "Master! We are perishing!"
Have you felt that disproportional fear?
Afraid for your life, even though you've been through dozens of storms before and always come through.
It's hard to tell just how bad this particular storm would have been.
The Sea of Galilee is not an ocean; it's a freshwater lake,
Now called Lake Gennesaret,
And it's very slightly bigger than Lake St. Clair.
The Sea of Galilee is a bit deeper, reaching a depth of 141 feet,
So there may well have been high seas and the possibility of drowning.
On the other hand, how could Jesus have slept through the storm,
If it were really so very bad?
The miracles of Jesus cause us to question when Jesus
Operated from his human nature and when he operated from his divine nature.
Theologians have maintained that when Jesus performed miracles,
He did so out of his human nature.
That is, all of the miracles he performed would be possible for human beings
If we trusted God and worked in harmony with the Father.
Here on the boat, Jesus slept.
Jesus was operating as a human being.
The tiny verse Jesus wept, John 11:35, is often cited as evidence of Jesus's humanity.
He wept as we do.
But what if he slept in the boat, not because he was divine but because of his humanity?
What if he was asleep because he was tired?
And while the disciples are flipping out,
Crying it's the storm of the century!
Someone, give it a name!
Get the D batteries!
Jesus is doing what his body and his mind need by sleeping.
Jesus is demonstrating for us a better way to be human,
By refusing to waste energy in worry and fear and instead trusting God and being well.
The storm probably was not that bad.
The disciples were probably overreacting.
It's human nature to want to be in control,
But when we operate as humans are supposed to,
We accept our lack of control and face the reality that we are weak, but God is strong.
We stop worrying about things we can't control and get some sleep.
What are the storms you can't control?
Has a storm of a relationship engulfed you,
And you are so frustrated that you cannot control another human being,
Cannot make them love you the way that you want?
Are you facing a storm in your workplace,
A storm that might cause you to lose your job, or just a storm of frustrating people that make doing your job a challenge?
Are you facing a storm of illness?
Does it seem that everywhere you look, people you love are struggling?
We have had several deaths and illnesses in the church in the past few weeks.
As soon as we think it is over, someone else is struck.
We want to cry out to Jesus, Master, we are perishing!
As a church we face a storm of apathy.
Fewer and fewer people seeing the value of Christianity, of "organized religion."
We look out at empty pews and we fear.
"Master, we are perishing!"
But whatever storms we face,
We are not alone in the storm.
Christ is with us in the boat.
Christ calmed the storm that night, not because the disciples were in danger,
But to show us that God cares.
And to show us that ultimately, the love of God is stronger than the chaos of life.
C.S. Lewis points out that if we were to keep track of the prayers we pray,
We would see that God answers most of them.
Most of the time the hungry find that they will be fed.
Most people who lose their jobs are able to find a new one.
Most people who get cancer beat it.
Most of the time, God calms the storm.
We will weather it. We will be safe.
But even if the storm engulfs us, even if we perish,
Christ faces that with us too.
So do not be afraid, you of little faith.
God made the wind and the waves.
And God made you.
God will be with you in the storm, whatever befalls you.
We see the storm as something to fear,
But could it not be that if we look with God's eyes,
If we consider the satellite picture, taking heaven's view,
We can see that the storm is part of a greater purpose?
When I think back to that day on the bay in Florida,
I don't remember being cold and wet.
I don't remember being afraid.
What I remember is how my daughter clung to me.
How I wrapped her in my body, pulled my shirt over her,
Allowed myself to be wracked by the storm to keep her safe.
I remember feeling her little body against mine,
Felt her complete trust,
And I have never loved anything more.
What is the good news of the storm?
It's the good news of Lent—we are mortal, imperfect humans, and we need God.
In Lent we recognize our sin and weakness,
By giving something up or taking something on,
We recognize in our bodies, minds, and spirits our utter dependence on God.
Storms, too, make us finally stop relying on ourselves,
And, realizing our weakness, our mortality, our lack of control,
Storms make us to cling tightly to our Father.
To trust him, and hold onto him, as he wraps himself around us,
Bearing the wind and the waves to keep us safe.
Is that what God was seeking all along?
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Parable of the Patient Father

This sermon is for the mother who has looked her son in the eye as he tells her he can no longer believe in God.
This sermon is for the sister who hangs up with her brother in tears because he's rejected her, her love, and her message of hope in Christ.
This sermon is for the husband who has given up trying to drag his wife to church, and the grandmother who has brought her grandkids to Sunday school faithfully and watched them fall away, and the father who has seen his sons reject Gospel truth and become disciples of Bill Maher.
This sermon is for all of us who love someone who will not or cannot share our faith.
This sermon is for the prodigal fathers.
When I read Luke 15 this week, I didn't identify with the younger son,
The way I did when I felt for the first time my sin, guilt, and estrangement from God.
I didn't identify with the older son,
The way I have when I feel self-righteous and whiny, telling God about how much I've given up to serve him.
This time when I read Luke 15 I felt the pain of the prodigal father.
While this parable is usually called "the prodigal son,"
As the word "prodigal" means "uncontrolled," "reckless," or "extravagant,"
This has been called the parable of the prodigal father,
Who is uncontrolled, reckless, extravagant, prodigal, in his love for his son.
He lavishes the undeserving child with honor, his ring, his robe, killing the fatted calf;
He calls him his "teknon," in Greek, "little child."
You could translate his words, "my baby has come back to me."
The father's love is boundless. He loses all dignity as he weeps over his beloved child, once thought dead, now come home.
We get to see the beauty of this love.
Jesus shows us the end of the story.
But what if we were to see that father in the middle of the story?
What if we were to observe him on an ordinary day, one of the hundreds, thousands of days of waiting for a son who would probably never return?
The son, in asking for his father's estate, had effectively said "you're dead to me," and left home.
No rational person would ever expect that boy to come home.
He had rejected the love of his father.
If we read the parable as a story of God's love for his children, he's rejected the love of God.
He is the person who has said, "God is dead to me."
Natalie Bolz Weber, who blogs as "The Sarcastic Lutheran," notes the vulnerability of God in this parable.
God allows the child to waste the estate.
God allows his children to waste our lives, to pollute our bodies, to abuse his creation, to reject his love and burn through our inheritance.
God allows his children to spit in his face and wish him dead.
Because that's love.
Love that is forced, obligatory, not freely given is not love at all.
Love has to allow the beloved the possibility of rejection.
I believe that hell, in some form, exists because if God truly loves us, he will allow us the possibility to hate him and abandon him completely.
And if that is true, then God also experiences that separation and abandonment.
Does God feel the pain of his separation from us?
I believe God does.
If you feel the pain of having a child, a sibling, a spouse, who cannot believe,
If for you, that is one of the great tragedies of your life,
Then how could God possibly fail to feel that pain?
We hear the pain of the Father in Hosea 11,
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
    and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
    it was I who healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
    a little child to the cheek,
    and I bent down to feed them….
7 My people are determined to turn from me."
God feels the pain of rejection.
When you worry, when you hurt, because people you love do not realize how deeply God loves them,
When your heart breaks because someone you love chooses a different path,
Know that God is with you in that pain.
Like the father who watched his son walk away.
Before the father showed his extravagant love with extravagant joy,
I believe that father felt an extravagant pain.
For each day of rejoicing at a son come home, there were hundreds and thousands of days when the father feared his son was dead.
Thousands of days with no communication, no contact,
Thousands of days for the father to hear those words of hate echo in his memory,
Thousands of days for the father to work the fields with his older son, with an invisible wound left where his younger son had left him broken.
Jesus skips those days.
The only hint is when Jesus says that the father saw his son from afar off.
And I only see that hint because of my father.
You see, I have a prodigal father, an extravagant dad,
A father who embarrassed me in the cheering section at Math Olympics when I was eight,
And embarrassed me on the sidelines of my track meets in high school,
And embarrasses me on Sunday mornings now with his prodigal love.
And it was he who said to me, do you know why that father saw his son from afar off?
Because every single day, that father was watching down the road.
Watching, and waiting.
Though he had no reason to watch.
Though he had no cause to wait.
Though his hope was entirely irrational, he watched.
And he waited.
And my father said, do you know why that father came running from afar off?
He said, "any one of you kids, I can see it's you, from the way you walk, from the back of your head, from the shape of your shadow I would know you."
The Father watches.
The Father waits.
What is the very first description of love in 1 Corinthians 13?
Love is patient.
God is patient.
We are called to patience.
One thing I recognized this time reading Luke 15 is that the father does not go searching for his son.
Even though the shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep to search for the one that is lost,
In this parable the father stays home.
And there's a message there.
Sometimes, God doesn't run after us.
Sometimes God waits.
And sometimes we are called to wait for God's children to see the light.
You can tell your child, your wife, your sister all your reasons for believing.
You can preach, you can give them books, you can invite them to church.
But then you have to wait.
Maybe one day he'll fall in love with a godly woman and she'll lead him to the truth.
Maybe when she holds her newborn child she'll see that he's truly a miracle.
Maybe on his deathbed he'll finally see the God who has loved him all along.
Like the waiting father, we can only hold on to an irrational hope that the child will come home.
Waiting is faith.
Waiting is trust that God will act in God's timing, not in ours.
In the black church they say, "He may not come when you want him, but he'll be there right on time."
2 Peter puts it this way: "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance."
In other words, have patience with God, because he's patient with us.
Jesus has not yet returned because there are people God is waiting on to repent.
God can't give us our full inheritance yet because he's still waiting on that younger son.
But if you love your brother, your husband, your wife,
If you love your sister, your grandson, your child,
If you would do anything for them to know God,
Don't you think God will do anything to for them to know him too?
Do you think anything could stand in God's way?
Could anything stop this extravagant, uncontrolled, prodigal love,
The extravagant love that exploded in creation
And set the planets spinning,
The extravagant love that carved the Grand Canyon
And poured Niagra falls,
Wove the wings of the butterfly
And taught the whale to sing?
That extravagant love that somehow used ordinary people like me and my husband,
And our ordinary, imperfect, selfish, impure, mixed-motive love,
To create a miracle like my son,
With his eyelashes, thin as paper, his tiny, blue veined hands, his smile, that when it breaks forth, is like the sun when it rises?
That extravagant love that created the universe,
It will never stop waiting.
It will never give up.
So you don't give up either.
When you pray for that sibling, that spouse, that child, that friend,
Maybe even that prodigal parent,
Keep hoping with an irrational hope.
Keep working in your father's field.
Keep watching down the road.
And trust the prodigal Christ when he tells you one day, that child will come home.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Shouldn't we be as good as State Farm?

You're driving down I-75 in the ice and snow when you see a car stuck on the side of the road.
What do you do?
There are two young Hispanic kids in hoodies with enormous gold chains standing outside the car, rubbing their arms, clearly freezing.
Do you stop and help?
What if it's a woman in her nineties, still inside the car, who probably doesn't have a cell phone?
Do you stop then?
What if it's someone you know from work?
From church?
What if you happen to see your spouse is stuck by the roadside, do you stop then?
Your child?
When you're stuck on the side of the road in a car accident, it's not quite as bad as being beaten by highway robbers and left for dead, but add in a Michigan winter and I'd say it's pretty close.
Whose responsibility is it to help?
When most people have cell phones and everyone's required to have insurance, if you're like me you've never stopped.
You assume people are getting the help they need.
After all, it's someone else's responsibility to take care of it.
His friend.
Her daughter.
Triple A.
All I have to do is say…like a good neighbor…
And you know the response…come on…give it to me…
State Farm is there!
And if State Farm will be there, for the right price, who needs to be a neighbor?
Preacher Nancy Rockwell points out that we pay first responders now,
And maybe that's a good thing.
After all, I possess neither the training nor the equipment to deal with a heart attack,
Getting stuck in a snowdrift,
Or even, embarrassingly, a flat tire.
But it's easy to get into the habit of saying, let someone else deal with it.
When disaster strikes…we send in FEMA.
The elderly…they've got Social Security, Medicare.
The poor…we pay taxes and give to charity…let the government deal with that!
Stranded by the side of the road?
If you're smart, you've paid your insurance,
And for the right price, you'll get a good neighbor! State Farm will be there!
But in a nation where most people claim to be Christian,
Should you have to pay to have a good neighbor?
Whose responsibility is it?
Who is my neighbor?
Who would you stop to help?
A stranger?
Someone of a different tribe, class, race?
An acquaintance?
Your best friend?
Who is my neighbor?
In Jesus's parable, a man is traveling down the highway from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Rockwell points out, it was a highway.
It was I-75.
Everyone had somewhere to go, something to do.
Did the Levite, the priest, did they fail to stop because they didn't want to touch a dead body,
Didn't want to become ceremonially unclean,
Or was it because they had important meetings to get to,
People to see, animals to sacrifice, things like that?
And we, do we stop to help others
Or are we so caught up in our busy-ness that we just drive by?
As I was writing my sermon today, I was wracked by guilt
Because, between the snow, parenting, and family commitments,
I wasn't able to visit church members in dire need.
Whose responsibility is it to comfort the dying?
I want to respond, it's mine.
I don't want to be the priest, the Levite, who is too busy.
I know that my neighbor is not just my family,
That my obligation is not just to them,
But to all God's children.
Have I failed to be a good neighbor?
And, if this is the second most important commandment,
The first being to love God, the second to love my neighbor as myself,
Does failing to stop by the side of the road, failing to visit shut in church members as often as I'd like, failing to be the one to go into the homes of the flood victims this fall, does that put me in danger of hellfire?
And so I read the parable again.
The Samaritan stops.
The person least likely to help, with reason to walk by.
He puts the man on his beast of burden and brings him to an inn.
Where he pays the innkeeper to take care of him.
Which of these three helped him?
All three.
Not the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan.
The Samaritan, the donkey, and the innkeeper.
Several biblical scholars point out that the Samaritan was a good neighbor…but he didn't act alone.
The donkey, who had no choice, was the one who carried the suffering man.
The innkeeper, whose job was one thought of as less than holy, he helped the suffering man and received pay for his efforts.
The Samaritan didn't act alone.
He worked with what was available to him.
And, he didn't stay by the suffering man's side the whole time.
This isn't to get us off the hook from helping others.
But your calling and mine is to work with others.
We must remind ourselves: there was a Messiah: I am not him.
As a pastor, I am called to visit the sick, to bring communion, to pray for others and care for them.
But I want to tell you as a church and I want to tell myself—I can't do everything.
I can't even do everything I want to do.
And that doesn't make me a bad neighbor.
Our church understands that, and we all visit, care, and offer support.
We send flowers and we send out the prayer chain.
Could we do better? Absolutely.
One thing I would like to restart is the knitting ministry to create prayer shawls for those who are sick and hurting,
Because I think it will do a lot of good both for those who receive prayers and for those who give them.
I think we are doing a fairly good job of working together with others to care for our own.
And by housing the poorest among us during these cold days, we are being good neighbors to people in need in our community.
We need to recognize that we work together,
And we need sometimes to invite others to help us.
There are others in our community who, like the donkey, like the innkeeper,
Need to be put to work caring for our neighbors.
It's such a wonderful thing to me that we have other churches and community groups helping with the warming shelter.
It's not a bad thing that our church asks others to partner with us to get things done:
The parable of the Good Samaritan tells us it's healthy and right.
We are called to expand our definition of Samaritan.
Not just you.
Not just me.
Who could be doing more?
Do you have family, friends, acquaintances who can help?
We are called to stop taking on all the work and instead helping others to do the work God has called them to do.
We are called to expand our definition of a Good Samaritan.
We are called to expand our definition of a neighbor in need.
Not just my family.
Not just my friends.
Not just my church.
What if our visiting and caring for others were to expand?
If we grow our definition of Samaritan,
If we grow our definition of neighbor,
Brothers and sisters, perhaps that's how God will grow our church.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friday, February 13, 2015

There's No Such Thing As Late To Church

Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. Matthew 20:10

It's the day of the congregational meeting.
There's a larger than usual crowd at Smallchurch, ready to hear the reports of the Sunday School Superintendent, the Sewing Circle, and of course, the Swingin' Sisters of Song, Smallchurch's praise band.
All the usual families are there, in all their usual pews, as the first hymn begins.
Suit-and-Tie Sal sits in the place of honor, as a founding member of Smallchurch. At ninety, he always looks sharp with his silk ties and three piece suits, proudly wearing his founder's pin. Suit-and Tie Sal is a well respected member of the church.
He was usher for many years.
He serves on the church board.
But Suit-and-Tie Sal has a much more important role than any of that.
Suit-and-Tie Sal has been the church's Easter Bunny for fifty years.
Over in the next pew sits Sweater Vest Sam.
Sweater Vest Sam is in his sixties and a new grandfather.
Chair of the church board, Sweater Vest passed out the bulletins for today's service and personally ran off the agenda for today's meeting.
But Sweater Vest has an agenda of his own.
You see, for years he's been the lowly egg stuffer for the church's Easter celebration, known throughout the community as the Bunny Bash.
For decades Sweater Vest Sam has packed jellybeans into little plastic containers.
And at the last church board meeting, as Sweater Vest Sam and Suit and Tie Sal were enjoying a post meeting coffee and shooting the breeze, Sal confided that he was ready to hang up the bunny ears and retire, and he suggested Sam take over.
Sweater Vest Sam at first didn't want the job, but the more he's thought about it, the more he likes the idea of a little fun on Easter. His grandkids will be in church, and he'd like them to see his lighter side.
So Sal's come up with the perfect Easter Bunny voice and perfected his bunny bounce.
He's dreaming of the day he can don the coveted costume complete with carrot
He can't wait for the moment in the meeting when Sal resigns.
But Sam sees only one problem: State Sweatshirt Steve.
Now State Sweatshirt Steve hasn't been a member as long as Suit-and-Tie Sal. He doesn't sit on the church board. He's not an usher, and personally, Sweatervest doesn't think he possesses the necessary gravitas ush-ing requires. And State hasn't done any time on egg duty. Sal chuckles to himself, reflecting that State wouldn't know a jellybean from a jello-shot.
But State Sweatshirt Steve is known as the church comedian, and he's got a lot of grandkids of his own.
Could State Sweatshirt Steve usurp the title of Bunny Bash Bunny for his own?
No. Of course not. Pastor Smith knows that Sweatervest deserves the slot. He's been here since before even the pastor. Surely the role of honor belongs to him and none other!
After the service, the meeting begins. Smallchurch hears from the Swinging Sisters and the Sewing Circle and finally it's time for the report from the Bunny Bash Board.
Suit and Tie stands. With a knowing glance at Sweater Vest, he says that it's time for the ceremonial whiskers to pass to someone not quite so long in the tooth.
Pastor Smith speaks up. "Well, thank you Sal. I don't know who could possibly fill your paws, but there must be someone in the church who's willing. Anyone want to be the new Easter bunny, just let me know sometime…"
SweaterVest eagerly lifts a finger to the air and says, "Well, Pastor, it's a big job, but I'm willing to take it on."
But then State Sweatshirt Steve, rises from his seat. "You know, Pastor, I haven't been here as long as Sal or Sam, but I'd be interested, and I think I could make it real fun for the kids. And no offense Sam, but you know, sometimes it's good to get some new blood in a church."
Sam is about to respond when of a sudden there is a hubbub from the back of the church.
And up pops Snake Tattoo Sandy, clad in jeans, biker vest, bandana and earring.
Sam knows his from seeing him outside Saul's Saloon, but he's never been in church before.
Snake Tattoo Sandy, suffice it to say, would definitely know a jellybean from a Jello shot, and is rumored to have tasted a few too many of the latter.
Snake Tattoo Sandy speaks up.
"You know Smitty" he doesn't even have the decency to call him Pastor Smith, reflects Sam—"I'm so glad you invited me to this meeting. And by the way, I'm sorry I got here seventeen minutes into the service. And that I tracked mud on your pretty carpet there in the narthex. And that I knocked over your walker, ma'am. Oh yeah, and I'm pretty sure my spike gloves may have torn your hymnals."
"You see guys—" Sandy looks around the church—"Smitty here and me were playing pool at Saul's Saloon on Saturday" Pastor Smith goes to Saul's Saloon? Sam is gobsmacked—"And Smitty invited me to y'all's church service and, well, I really liked what he said about how the last will become first. I guess you can say I've been one of 'the last' a lot of times in life. I haven't prayed in years, and Lord and me haven't been on such good of terms. I mean, I know I'm new and all, but I have been thinking about that the past five minutes or so, and I would sure like to help you all out by being your Bunny Bash Bunny. I think it would really show the Lord that I mean to turn over a new leaf and give my life to Him."
There's a pregnant pause, and Pastor Smith says softly, "Well, it looks like we have ourselves a new Bunny."
Sam smiles to himself. Looks like "Smitty" finally has seen reason. Sweater Vest Sam'll be carrying that carrot before you can say "Resurrection egg."
But then Pastor Smith says, "Sandy, you're hired—but make sure to cover up that tattoo, ok? It might scare the kiddos."
What? How can this be?
Steve mumbles something as he slinks back in his seat.
Sam's mouth falls open.
How could Pastor Smith be so unfair?
This is Snake Tattoo Sandy's first Sunday!
And he showed up late!
How could he get a role so clearly meant for someone who's come every Sunday for years?
Now in a real church, we all know what would happen.
Pastor Smith knows who pays his salary. He knows who has the power in the church.
Pastor Smith, like all pastors, is human.
Sweatervest will get the job.
But what if he didn't?
What if Pastor Smith followed the witness of Scripture?
If he did, Pastor Smith might hand the bunny ears to the guy with the snake tattoo.
And that's a scary thought for those of us who've gone to church all our lives.
It's a scary thought for the Sweatervest Sals and the Suit and Tie Sams,
Who believe we have earned our place in the church,
Who secretly believe we should be rewarded by God for all the good we've done.
Back when Matthew wrote this parable, Matthew's church was full of Jewish Christians.
They'd followed the law for years.
They'd known the Lord since birth.
They'd prayed three times a day, they knew their Torah, and they had been among the first to accept Jesus.
And along came these Gentiles.
Uncircumcised heathens who had worshiped petty, vain, promiscuous so-called gods.
How could such idol-worshipers inherit the kingdom of heaven?
If you could just show up at the last minute, why bother coming early at all?
Why be a Suit and Tie Sal, or a Sweater Vest Sam?
Doing your best and dressing your best Sunday after Sunday after Sunday?
Isn't the reward meant for people who've faithfully served God for years—not for the latecomers, who don't take the time or effort to live a life of respect for God?
I mean, you could live your whole life as a sinner,
You could lie and cheat and steal,
And on your deathbed, say, "Lord, forgive me. Come into my life and save me from myself."
And according to this parable you'd get the same reward as Mother Theresa.
Is that right?
Isn't God unfair?
What is the point of getting to church early?
Of doing the labor in the vineyard?
Of stuffing the Easter eggs?
You do it because you're getting a reward.
But you also do it because the work needs to be done.
We do God's work because we've been called to.
And if God calls you early, you had better respond.
If God calls you late in the game, you had better respond then too.
I think as our relationship with God advances, we don't just do it for the reward,
We do it because the vineyard needs us.
We do it because the kids need their Easter eggs.
We do it because the Master called us.
Often we in the church judge people who don't do as much as we do,
Who don't show enough commitment,
Who show up late or wear jeans.
We even judge the State Sweatshirt Steves, whether we admit it or not.
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard gives four groups; the first group hired, the second group, a third, and the last.
But the commentary only talks about two groups, the first and the last.
The middle group, the medium commitment people, who show up at church, who love the Lord, but don't give an entire life to service? They get the same reward too.
It doesn't matter when you show up early, a little late, or a lot late.
Scripture seems to tell us that the important thing is that you show up at all.
The way this parable's written in Matthew, scholars believe the message is directed at people who would have put themselves in that first category,
Good Jews who were among the first to follow Jesus.
And the point was, don't judge, and don't be proud.
Sound familiar?
Isn't this a lot like what we talked about last week, with the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee?
Well, guess what?
Jesus repeats it because it's important!
We as Christians spend a lot of time talking about justice…
But what these parables are saying is that God's is fundamentally unfair!
We Christians spend a lot of time worrying about being righteous…
But these parables say that the unrighteous will be saved!
We Christians spend some time patting ourselves on the back for our involvement in church…
But these parables call us to constant humility,
To consider others as better as ourselves,
Even if they seem on the outside to be less worthy of God's favor.
Because none of us deserves our wage.
None of us deserves a seat at the table of the Lord.
None of us has earned the body and the blood of Christ poured out, freely given for us today.
None of us deserves to wear the Bunny suit.
We aren't here because we're good enough.
We're here because He is.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Angels of Advent--I stand in the presence of God

Zechariah we can understand.
Zechariah was human.
And Zechariah had his doubts.
He doubted that he would ever be a father.
He doubted whether he was worthy to be a father.
In that time, in that culture,
Children were a blessing upon the righteous.
Children were a sign of God's favor.
So for a priest to be childless,
For his wife to be barren,
Meant that they were cursed.
One or the other must have sinned.
It was a great disgrace in that culture, especially for a priest.
They were good people, "righteous," Luke says.
But as year after year went by without a baby,
Fewer and fewer people would have even mentioned the possibility.
In time no one would have spoken of their shameful sterility at all.
But as Zechariah stood among the priests, he must have wondered—what did they think of him?
Did they talk behind his back of God's curse?
Year after year—as he came and went, taking his turn in the Temple,
Whenever the division of Abijah was on duty,
When he walked into the Temple,
Zechariah must have felt the barrenness upon him like a stain on his robes.
What had they done?
They followed all the law of Moses.
They prayed.
But in his heart Zechariah both envied the faith he saw in others, even his own wife, and, in a tiny corner of his soul, he despised them for it.
How could this be God's will?
Where was God?
They had done everything right.
If God were there, why wasn't he listening?
Zechariah went through the motions.
He prayed with his wife. Or his mouth did.
But Zechariah had his doubts.
That day, when he came to the Temple, I am sure he had his doubts.
On this day, one priest would enter the Holy of Holies,
To offer incense before the Lord.
They drew lots for this great honor,
The way priests had for years, for centuries.
If Zechariah were to be chosen,
He would go into the Holy of Holies, to offer their prayer in that most sacred place,
And perhaps then, finally, their appeals for a child would be heard.
Elizabeth surely hoped it would be so.
But Zechariah had his doubts.
When the ummin and thumin were thrown,
And the lot fell to him, Zechariah's heart must have sunk.
He would not have wanted to stand before God.
For in his heart he feared God,
Who had cursed him,
Who had abandoned him,
Never showing his face, never hearing his cry.
Zechariah we can surely understand.
Zechariah was human, as we are.
Zechariah had his doubts, as we do.
But can we imagine ourselves instead in the place of Gabriel?
Gabriel, an angel, the messenger of God?
Gabriel, a being without human needs, a supernatural creature,
Who had been there before the earth began,
Who had spoken to the prophets of old,
Who had watched kings rise and fall,
Who stood in the presence of God Most High,
And gazed upon the face of the Divine?
Can we imagine ourselves in the place of Gabriel,
Sent to deliver a message to this doubting soul?
For one who stands daily in the presence of God,
What would it be like to arrive in the human-built Temple,
The brass of furnishings a bit tarnished,
The candles dripping wax on the floor,
The scent of the incense tinged with the scents of human and animal stink,
The carpets worn, the colors faded?
What would it be like
For one who stands daily in the presence of God
To stand before a doubting priest
Whose very faith hangs on such a very small thing
As the inability of the body?
the weakness of the flesh?
For you or for me, it would conjure contempt.
Frustration, disgust to be among all this mortal weakness.
But for an archangel,
For someone who stood daily in the presence of Godliness,
For someone who daily gazed upon the face of infinite Love, it instead called forth compassion.
Gazing upon this shivering mortal, in his doubts, in his shame,
Gabriel spoke with compassion: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard."
For one who stands in the presence of God,
Compassion is more than a frame of mind.
Compassion is simply existence.
That this flawed man's half-hearted, questioning prayer has been answered,
That his doubting, obligatory faith has been counted as genuine,
That God's grace has reached to this disbelieving soul was to Gabriel both good and right,
Such grace, such love, was indeed the truth that Gabriel was sent to proclaim.
And so Zechariah received the good news, not only that he would have a son,
But Zechariah, doubting Zechariah,
Was the first of the New Testament period to hear and know that a new age was coming,
That this child who was coming into their lives would prepare the way of the Lord.
But even then,
Even listening to an angel,
Zechariah had his doubts.
Gabriel could hear them.
Gabriel could see beyond Zechariah's question into his heart.
Zechariah asked an innocent question, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years."
Gabriel could see past the question to the doubt, could see not just doubt, but disbelief, like a dark shadow over Zechariah's soul.
Because for one who stands in the presence of God,
The human heart is like an open book.
Gabriel could see Zechariah's heart.
And so Gabriel gave Zechariah a gift.
The gift was silence.
Because silence allows us to stand in the presence of God.
Gabriel proclaimed, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring to you good news."
"But now, because you did not believe my words, which will still be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur."
The gift was silence.
When our minds are full of thoughts,
Our lips burst forth with opinions,
Our ears ring with noises,
When the rush of traffic
And the buzz of advertisements
And the clutter of things fill our days,
We have no space, we have no time, we have no openness
To hear the message of God,
To soak up His presence,
To absorb His compassion,
To witness His truth.
This was Gabriel's gift to Zechariah.
Silence to wait.
Silence to reflect.
Silence to prepare.
It is to silence you and I are called in Advent.
As Gabriel rebuked Zechariah, you and I sometimes need a rebuke,
For failing to hear,
For failing to believe,
For simply ignoring the angels that sing to us,
Call to us,
Whose wings are brushing against our shoulders in this holy season.
But in this rebuke is also a gift.
The gift is silence.
The gift is an opportunity, in this season,
To stand in the presence of God, as the angels do.
Here is the question—
Who will we try to emulate this Advent, Zechariah, or Gabriel?
Must we live like Zechariah,
So bound by our mortality,
So absorbed by the failings of the flesh,
So discouraged by the weaknesses of the body
That we do not believe the angels when they speak to us?
This passage presents the question—
Can we instead imagine ourselves in the place of Gabriel?
Because the word angel simply means messenger.
Can we become, like Gabriel, messengers of good news?
Can we, like Gabriel, absorb the presence of God so much that, when we encounter the weakness of others, we respond, not with loathing or frustration, but, automatically, with compassion?
Can we, like Gabriel, demonstrate the tough love of God,
Gently helping others to leave their old, weary ways of anxiety and anger and begin a new way of living, a new way of thinking?
Can we, like Gabriel, bring good news to others this Advent?
Only if we, like Gabriel, stand in the presence of God.
Only if we embrace the gift of silence.
Only if we turn to God's word, turn to God's presence,
Only if we take the time to listen for angels.
Brothers and sisters, will you do this with me?
Will you take time this week?
This month?
Amidst the rush of the season, will you take time to stand in the presence of God?
Because if we do, we will not only hear angels,
You and I will become angels for those in need of good news.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.