Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Breakfast Partners

Sermon from Sunday, May 5, 2019
John 21:1-19

OK.  This might hurt just a little, but let me invite you to bring to mind something hard:  What’s something for which you have real trouble forgiving yourself?  As Paul observed, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); we miss that mark all the time.  But sometimes the pain of missing the mark doesn’t go away so easily.  And sometimes that’s because you haven’t really resolved the issue with the person you ended up hurting.  And when that person remains part of your life, it’s all the harder to know how to move past the injury. 
That’s where the disciple Peter finds himself in today’s Gospel story.  Now, this is the third time that Jesus has appeared to his friends after the resurrection – twice in the upper room in Jerusalem, and now by the Sea of Galilee.  The disciples have marveled and celebrated that Jesus is alive, and Thomas has had his own famous moment of coming to trust that resurrection is real.  But since Easter morning, we haven’t heard a thing from Peter. 
That’s because Peter is carrying some heavy baggage.  At the Last Supper, after Jesus says someone will betray him, Peter says, No way; not me:  “I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37).  But by sunrise the next morning, Peter has denied Jesus three times, saving himself when the going got tough.  And he’s been carrying that guilt like the rock from which he took his name. 
Peter has no idea what to do with that guilt, now that Jesus is back from the dead.  What do you say to your leader and friend after you’ve pulled the rug out from under him?  So, Peter tries to get on with his life, heading out to do what he knows best – fishing.  But nothing’s right.  Not even the fish will cooperate.
And then suddenly, things get really awkward.  From the boat, the disciples see someone on the beach; and one of them realizes it’s Jesus.  Peter reacts without a lot of thought.  He puts a rope cincture around the work smock he’s wearing, which I guess seemed better than trying to swim in a loose blanket; and he comes ashore.  He wants so badly to be with his friend and his Lord … but he’s got no idea what he’ll say once he gets there.
Meanwhile, Jesus is cooking breakfast for his friends.  It’s loaves and fishes once again, and once again way more than the group could possibly eat.  But no one’s talking.  Maybe the guys are waiting for Peter to break the ice, but Peter’s still got no idea what to say.  So, Jesus takes Peter off to the side for a private conversation. 
Now, in our translation, this dialogue between Jesus and Peter doesn’t make much sense.  “Do you love me?”  “Yes.”  “Do you love me?”  “Yes.”  “Do you love me?”  “Yes, you know that I love you.”  As we hear it in English, the dialogue affirms Peter’s repentant heart three times, symbolically cancelling out Peter’s three denials of Jesus.  But I think there’s more to it than that, if you look at the original language.
As you know, there are three Greek words for “love” in the New Testament.  There’s eros, which is romantic love.  There’s philos, which is deep friendship, the love of a brother or sister.  And there’s agape, which is loving like God loves – love that gives itself away for the other, Jesus’ sacrificial love for us.  Agape is the highest form of love, the kind Jesus calls us all to learn as we follow him.
So, here’s a loose translation of this dialogue between Jesus and Peter (John 21:15-17).
Jesus asks, “Simon son of John, do you love me sacrificially (agape), more than the rest of these guys do?”  Peter says, “Yes, Lord.  You know that I love you … like a brother (philos).”  Now, that’s not what Jesus was asking for.  But even so, Jesus says to him, “Feed my lambs.”  Lead these sheep I’ve given you.
Then a second time, Jesus asks, “Simon son of John, don’t you love me sacrificially (agape)?”  And Peter says again, “Yes, Lord.  You know that I love you … like a brother (philos).”  Frankly, it’s the best Peter can do; at least he’s being honest about it.  And Jesus says to him again, “Well, tend my sheep.”
Then Jesus asks Peter about love once more.  But this time Jesus changes the word he uses:  “Simon son of John, do you love me … like a brother (philos)?”  That’s it?  That’s the best you can do?
And by this point, I imagine Peter is breaking down.  He says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you … like a brother (philos).”  You know I can’t give you the ultimate love you’re asking for, Peter exclaims.  You know I’ve failed you.  Why are you making me say it out loud?!
Of course, Jesus knows Peter’s answer before he asks the question.  Hearing the answer is for Peter’s benefit, because you can’t heal a relationship without taking accountability for the harm that broke it.  Reconciliation requires truth first. 
But that hard truth also paves the road ahead.  Peter has admitted his heart’s failure, love that only rises to the level of friendship or brotherhood.  And Jesus comes back to him as Jesus always comes back to us, with something more – with agape, the love that forgives failure, and heals relationship, and moves forward into a new reality.  “I love you anyway,” Jesus tells Peter.  “Brotherly love will do for now, so get to work.  Feed my sheep.”  But Jesus also warns Peter there’s sacrificial love to come at the end of his road – and that true love, agape love, comes with a cost.  Jesus can say that with authority because he knows all about the costly path of love.  I know it hurts, Jesus says.  But even so, follow me anyway.
So, what does all this have to do with us?  I think it’s stunning that God chooses the least likely candidate – in fact, the disqualified candidate – for the most important job.  Peter, the one you can’t depend on, will lead the newly forming Church and help it navigate the waters of inclusion, exclusion, and persecution.  He’ll grieve as his friend James is killed by King Herod, and Peter will be thrown in prison himself to await the same outcome.  And he’ll receive a vision that changes everything about who’s in and who’s out in this movement, and he’ll help change the rules to open up the boundaries of God’s love to everyone.  Eventually, the authorities will kill him just as they killed his Lord.  But he follows Jesus anyway.  He couldn’t do anything to deserve Jesus’ forgiveness.  He had no business even staying in the movement, much less helping to lead it.  But God’s forgiveness changed the relationship, replacing his heart of stone with a heart of love made new. 
So, I began by asking you to imagine walking in Peter’s sandals, needing to have a hard but loving conversation with someone you’ve hurt.  Now, imagine yourself in Jesus’ sandals instead, walking on feet that have taken the nails of broken relationship.  Think about someone who’s failed you, someone whose sins of omission or commission have taken a toll on your life.  With whom do you need to have breakfast on the beach?
In last week’s Gospel story, when Jesus appeared to his friends, he breathed the Holy Spirit on them and said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).  We often hear that as empowering the Church, through its priests, to speak God’s absolution to people confessing their sins; and that’s true.  But of course, the Church isn’t an institution first; it’s the assembly of those who follow Jesus Christ.  In that sense, we are all called to be people of forgiveness – those who receive it and those who give it.  It’s important enough to make it into the Lord’s Prayer:  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  As Jesus reconciled us with God, so Jesus asks us to reconcile with one another – that we might be one, as he and the Father are one, so that the world might see what God’s way of love looks like (John 17:22-23). 
That sounds like an overwhelming project, and maybe it is.  So, it might be worthwhile to start off simply.  Think again of that person you need to forgive.  Maybe it’s time just to invite him or her to breakfast – and see what our loving and liberating and life-giving Lord will do with it.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Do You Believe in Miracles?

Sermon for Sunday, April 28, 2019
John 20:19-31

So, let me ask: Do you believe in miracles?
We usually use that word “miracle” to describe fairly non-miraculous things, honestly – fourth-quarter comebacks or walk-off home runs.  But I think today’s Gospel reading might make us stop short and ask whether we believe in the more amazing kind of miracle, when God empowers a change in the created order and makes a new reality possible in the here and now.
To me, miracles are theologically messy.  We’d like for them to work in ways we can control or at least understand.  We like certainty or, failing that, at least predictability.  If I believe deeply enough or say the right prayers, it would be great if I could know God was going to do something miraculous in response.  We’d like miracles to follow the rules of physics: for every spiritual action, there should be an equal and opposite spiritual reaction.
Of course, miracles don’t work that way.  Sometimes healing comes, and sometimes it doesn’t – at least not in ways we see.  Sometimes God’s power changes lives; sometimes those lives remain the same.  And like the disciple Thomas, we’d find it much easier to believe in God’s astonishing power if we could see it and touch it for ourselves.
Now, Thomas gets a bad rap, being called “Doubting Thomas” because he demands evidence of resurrection.  In fairness, he wasn’t asking for anything the other disciples hadn’t already received.  The rest of them were together on Easter night, hiding out after hearing Mary Magdalene say that morning that she had “seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).  If they’d believed her news, they wouldn’t have been hiding out from the authorities; they would have been out in the streets, telling everyone Jesus was alive.  Instead, they were hedging their bets behind a locked door until Jesus himself passed through it and stood among them, showing his friends the nail wounds in his feet and his wrists.  Thomas just wanted the same proof the other doubters got to see.
So, I think we might be forgiven, too, for wanting to see some evidence that resurrection happens.  Even though Jesus explicitly blesses “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29), it doesn’t hurt if you get to see a miracle every now and then.  So, let me share a couple with you.
One involves someone we see here at St. Andrew’s pretty much every week.  First, a little background: One of our outreach partners is Welcome House, a place here in Kansas City where men struggling with addiction can begin a solid recovery.  It’s a refuge of last resort for most of the 80 men living there at any given time.  Guys come to Welcome House when they have no other option, once their disease has cost them homes and livelihoods and spouses and kids – and they go there seeking nothing less than a miracle, the gift of a new life. 
So, Welcome House had its annual fundraising breakfast last Tuesday.  I was there, along with other St. Andrew’s people.  Each year at this breakfast, the organization honors someone who’s made a huge difference for the men Welcome House serves, someone whose story of enabling transformation for others qualifies him or her for what they call the “Miracle Award.”  This year, the miracle story they highlighted belongs to our own Harold House.
As I said, we see Harold just about every Sunday, but St. Andrew’s is not his first stop.  That’s because every Sunday, Harold begins his morning at a meeting at Welcome House, providing presence, support, and two dozen donuts for the men there.  He’s done that for 25 years now, after graduating from Welcome House himself.  And Harold is the one responsible for connecting St. Andrew’s with Welcome House, the one who brought our partnership into being. 
Harold does this holy work in the world because he is a witness of the miracle of resurrection.  He found new life through Welcome House, and he’s committed himself to sharing that hope with others on the same journey.  If a miracle is, indeed, God empowering a change in the created order and making a new reality possible in the here and now, then I would say Harold’s story is nothing short of miraculous.  And 25 years later, he lives that miracle by serving the guys God gives him to serve, week after week.
Here’s a second miracle story for you, one more distant geographically but close to our hearts.  For more than 25 years, St. Andrew’s has had a partnership with St. Augustin’s Episcopal Church and School in Maniche, Haiti.  The Diocese of Haiti started the school to serve families living on the other side of the river from the main population of Maniche, a community with no bridge across that river.  For many years, St. Andrew’s provided financial support for the school’s operation, teaching maybe 100 kids a year in preschool through sixth grade.  When we would go to visit, on mission trips, we’d see red-tinged hair among the kids there, a sign of protein deficiency.  But you didn’t have to be a physician to notice many of the kids were listless and struggling to learn, simply because they were hungry. 
So, 14 years ago, we took a risk.  We decided to increase our support for the kids at St. Augustin’s by providing a hot lunch every day: nutritious beans and rice, a complete protein.  Honestly, we didn’t know whether this effort would work.  Would the supplies get there consistently?  The road up the mountains to the village was demanding, and our partner priest had five other congregations and schools to oversee, too.  Would the money be enough?  Haiti is a place where food prices sometimes skyrocket unpredictably.  Would the effort be sustainable?  I mean, a single fundraiser for hot lunches is one thing; asking people to give over and over again is something else.
So, here’s the miracle.  Over the past few years, the quality of the education at St. Augustin’s has earned it a strong reputation among the families there, and parents want to get their kids into it.  So, enrollment has risen to 470 students in preschool through ninth grade.  That’s almost five times more mouths to feed – 85,400 lunches each year.  85,400 lunches.  But you all have come through, every year, with the Haiti Benefit Dinner, which happens tonight.  Through ticket sales and your contributions, we’ll fund the hot-lunch program for another year, bringing hundreds of kids the opportunity for a life beyond subsistence agriculture.
If a miracle is God empowering a change in the created order and making a new reality possible in the here and now, then I would say the school’s story is nothing short of miraculous.  And the participants in that miracle are sitting right here, right now; and we’ll gather again tonight for a fantastic celebration of life made new.  As the years of this partnership go on, we’ll keep living out this miracle by serving the families God gives us to serve.
Now, I do not doubt God’s power to intervene in the created order and change things suddenly, with no rational explanation.  After all, God is God, and we are not.  But still, I think most often in our world, new life is a collaborative enterprise, with us blessed to take part in God’s miraculous work.  That's not exactly the most efficient approach.  So, why would God choose to do it like that?  I think it must be because God likes it that way.  Sure, God has the power to flip a switch and change hearts and lives at will.  But how much more fun must it be for the One who creates us and redeems us and sustains us to draw us children of God into the miracle-working?  As every parent knows, it’s much more rewarding, and much more formational, to let your kids do the work on their science-fair projects, rather than doing it for them. 
In theological language, we might put it this way:  Resurrected life is the mission of God in the post-Easter world.  And amazingly enough, God invites us to carry out that mission, asking us to be agents of new life ourselves.  The lives of the guys at Welcome House don’t change without the people who fund its operation, as well as people like Harold House who live the story of resurrection day to day.  The future for the kids at St. Augustin’s doesn’t change without that school, and its teachers, and you providing the wherewithal for almost 500 kids to learn and eat well at least once each school day.  Resurrection happens most often not by singlehanded divine magic but by divine collaboration.  In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his friends, and he gives them his peace, and commissions them as his apostles, the force of new life in the world.  “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus tells his friends, “so I send you” (John 20:21). 
And, so God sends us on this mission – making life new by creating and redeeming and sustaining our world.  Remarkably enough, it’s you and I whom God asks to do the work, blessing us richly, too, in the process.
So, do you believe in miracles?  Do you believe in God’s power to make life new?  I do.  We may not see the marks of the nails today, but I see the Body of Christ here before me, living and active in the world.  Just look around.  Just come tonight.  And just like Thomas, you’ll see Jesus’ hands and feet in the flesh.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Resurrection in the Dark

Sermon for Easter, April 21, 2019
John 20:1-18

Here’s something crazy for you this Easter morning:  Did you ever think about the fact that Jesus rises from the dead in the dark? 
At least as John’s Gospel tells this story, the resurrection happens quietly, imperceptibly, while the world still thinks it’s night, while darkness still thinks it’s won the battle.  Now, movies like to show Jesus breaking free in the brilliance of the sunrise.  The stone rolls away, shafts of light penetrate the tomb, the orchestral score swells, and Jesus steps boldly into the morning.  That’s great for Hollywood, but Scripture tells the story differently – that God preferred to defeat darkness in the dark, when nobody was looking.
Apparently, nobody even knew it had happened until Mary Magdalene came on the scene.  In John’s telling, we don’t know why she’s there; the story doesn’t say anything about her finishing the work of preparing the body for burial.  All we know is that she’s there, and she sees the stone over the tomb’s entrance has been rolled away. 
Well, Mary presumes foul play a second time, the insult of grave robbery added to the injury of crucifixion.  So, she goes to find Peter and John, two leaders of the disciple community.  Peter and John run to the tomb and eventually step inside to investigate.  But they find a tidy crime scene, with the cloth that had been on Jesus’ battered head neatly rolled up and set aside.  Then, unbelievably, the two men just go back home.  With all the compassion of the rock that gave Peter his name, the two guys abandon Mary, leaving her standing there, weeping alone.
So, Mary also looks into the tomb.  There, she sees more than the evidence; she sees angelic beings, and they ask her the question of the day:  “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13).  Now, you can hear this as a rhetorical question, which is where the theologizing goes:  Why weep in the face of new life?  But you can also hear this question as divine compassion for a grieving child of God. 
Well, Mary can’t really hear the question at all or contemplate why the angels are asking it.  In her grief, Mary’s in problem-solving mode; she’s got a body to find.  So, she turns away from the tomb and sees a stranger, who continues the angels’ compassionate questioning: “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:15).  
Let’s hit the “pause” button on this story for a second.  This moment is a fulcrum in time, a hinge point between old and new, past and future.  Mary figures this stranger is the gardener, and she confronts him about whether he might have had a role in the grave robbery.  In this last minute of the old order, Mary is living in the world of death.  She’s looking for a body, managing the details of human demise.  She can’t hear the deeper point in the stranger’s question about what she’s looking for, because she isn’t looking for Jesus.  She’s looking for Jesus’ body, which is not the same thing.  She’s looking to do the best she can to manage the consequences of our mortality. 
But there in the dim of daybreak, with light just painting the edges of the scene, she hears that gardener say, “Mary!” – and she knows she’s stumbled into new territory.  In the compassion of his question and the heart that calls her by name, Mary sees the truth: that death is not the end, that love can’t be held prisoner, and that light shines in the darkest night.
A month and a half ago, I found myself in a peculiar, even surreal, darkness – one I’d never quite experienced, though I’d been in it many times before.  My father was dying – actively dying.  We’d found out just a few days earlier that he had esophageal cancer, and his decline had been blessedly quick.  Now, it was just a matter of waiting for it.  In this odd and beautiful line of work, you find yourself at the bedsides of dying people sometimes.  But it’s not the same when it’s your father. 
And honestly, he was struggling as that long night wore on.  He would try to speak, which made him cough, which I imagine made the pain intensify, which made him move around to try to get away from it.  As many dying people do, he kept reaching out into the air, seemingly trying to connect with something just that too far away to grasp.  But eventually, in the dark hours just before dawn, he calmed and seemed ready to rest.  And soon – with no drama, no fanfare, no angelic presence – he stopped breathing.
After a few minutes, I went out to the nurses’ station and talked with the woman who’d been caring for my father through that night.  She went and found a colleague.  They did the obligatory assessment and assigned a time of death.  She put the steps in motion for others to tend to the body and prepare it for transport.  As she had all though that long night, the nurse did her job carefully, respectfully, lovingly.  Finally, she turned to me and asked, “How about you?  What is it that you need?” 
I hadn’t thought about that.  And I didn’t have a good answer.  So, I stammered out the stupidest and most inaccurate thing I could have said.  I told her, “I don’t need anything, thanks.  I’m fine.”  And she looked at me, and smiled, and said, “No, you’re not.  But he is.  And you will be, because God will raise him, and you’ll be together again.”
What is it that you need?  Why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for? 
In our world, on any given day, death can seem to hold such power over us, bringing us the darknesses we grieve:  Broken relationships.  Broken choices that hurt others.  Long-term illness and slow demise.  The end of life for those we love.  Evil that we seem powerless even to influence, much less defeat – families caught in poverty and violence; people trafficked for sex; children treated as if they were disposable; a political culture of echo chambers and self-aggrandizement, where leaders seem more eager to strut and to taunt than to serve.  Even on Easter morning, for some of us – maybe many of us – pain or bitterness can make these beautiful flowers fade and make the grandest music ring hollow. 
Into that pain, or illness, or loneliness, or sin – into the mess steps someone we probably don’t even recognize at first.  Maybe he’s the gardener.  Maybe she’s a coworker.  Maybe he’s a guy at a coffee shop.  Maybe she’s a nurse, just doing her job.  But what strikes you is that this person, meeting you at the edges of your pain, becomes an unexpected bearer of the light.  She takes you seriously enough to look you in the eye and ask, “Why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?  What is it that you need?” 
Implicit in that stranger’s questions is stalwart trust, despite the evidence, that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it (John 1:5).  In fact, in that moment – in the garden, or in the office, or in the coffee shop, or in the nursing center – in that moment, Jesus Christ himself steps out of the tomb and into your darkness.  Even before the sunrise, he brings you light, not with some empty “everything will be OK” but with a costly victory that comes by defeating evil and sin, and rising from the grave, and making all creation new.  Even the earth itself witnesses to the story, redbuds and daffodils and tulips and forsythias declaring in living color that winter will not have the last word.
And that’s the irony, isn’t it? – the irony of resurrection in the darkness.  Flowers blossom brightest just at the edge of winter’s chill.  Hope lifts us up when despair nips closest at our heels.  The deepest darkness shows us God’s light.  And there we find an unlikely champion, a surprising voice of Good News, who enters into the darkness with us, and leads us out into life.
So:  In this Easter season, I invite you to look deep into your darkness, and refuse to look away, and seek the unlikely face of Jesus Christ.  I invite you to listen hard to the silence of the night, and open your ears to his unlikely voice.  How will you know you’ve found him?  Not because you’ll hear trumpets.  Not because you’ll hear all the answers to what keeps you up at night.  But because you’ll see eyes looking back deeply into your pain, and you’ll hear a voice asking you to share your heart:  Why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?  What do you need?  And then, when that voice speaks your name, you’ll know it’s Jesus, and into your darkness will come the greatest light of all.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Taking You to Paradise

Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
Luke 19:28-40; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 23:1-49

Just in case you were wondering, you’re not the only one who thinks our worship this morning feels like spiritual whiplash.  I know we’ve just walked through it, literally; but I’d like to take a moment to think about the crazy path Scripture has given us in these past 20 minutes.
We started in the Jewell Room, hearing the story of Palm Sunday, Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem.  He asks the disciples to go find him a colt and bring it to the Mount of Olives.  Now, that may not sound provocative, but we have to realize, what Jesus is doing would have been like a leader today asking his supporters to get a bulletproof limo with a security detail, and bring it to him at the Capitol in Washington, and drive him down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.  This was not an accidental parade.  Palm Sunday was a provocation, because everything Jesus did was to remind people of a bigger story his actions were telling – a story about power and authority that reaches beyond secular government. 
In ancient days, the kings of Israel came riding on a donkey or a colt (1 Kings 1:33-35), with people spreading their cloaks on the path along the king’s way (2 Kings 9:13).  And the people of Jesus’ time were desperately seeking a new king to save them from their Roman oppressors.  And here’s the coup de gras, maybe even the coup d’etat:  At the last day, the Day of the Lord, when God would come to be “king over all the earth” and set the world to rights, that final reckoning was expected to begin when the Lord came and stood on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4-9).
So, when Jesus begins his procession down the road from the Mount of Olives, the people begin shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38).  That’s because the people knew what all this symbolism meant – that this was nothing less than the King.  His servant humility notwithstanding, Jesus was making it clear that he was the divine monarch, and that the rival of the day, Caesar Augustus, was just a pretender to the throne.  But Jesus wasn’t claiming any earthly throne, which is the only thing the authorities could understand.  He was asserting his authority as the cosmic King, a king whose reign even the rocks and stones themselves would shout about. 
In our New Testament reading this morning, St. Paul recognizes the same truth that Jesus was claiming there on the Mount of Olives.  Even though Jesus was God, in human form, he didn’t regard equality with God as something for him to exploit.  Instead, he set his cosmic kingship aside, at least for a time, exchanging his divinity and his royal prerogatives for death on a cross.  Now, we say that – “death on a cross” – like we can understand it, but we can’t even come close.  This isn’t an execution; it’s a lynching.  This is death that sucks life from its victim with the torture of slow drowning as your lungs fill with fluid – to say nothing of the pain from the nails in your feet and your wrists.  Yet still, Paul says, that dying man was the one they were waiting for after all – the one to whom every knee shall bend and whom everyone shall confess as the true Caesar, the true Lord. 
But why did Jesus do it?  Why did he need to do it?  This isn’t something a sane person would choose.  In fact, on Maundy Thursday night, Jesus sweat blood asking God to open some other way for him instead.  But in the end, the Lord of the universe chose this.  Why?
Here’s the short answer:  atonement.  That’s one of those theological words people throw around as if everyone knows what it means.  It’s a complicated idea, but the word itself is beautifully simple.  It means exactly what the pieces of the word say:  at-one-ment.  Atonement is at-one-ment.  Our story this morning goes the way it does, with the Lord choosing the worst death ever, in order that you and I might be made at one with God. 
OK.  But what how does that work?
Well, you can answer that question several ways.  You might go toward what the theologians call substitutionary atonement, the idea that God had to subject God’s own child, a part of God’s own self, to the suffering that all humanity deserved for the ungracious ways we turn against God.  According to this line of thinking, we humans could never make amends adequately for the offense of sin, of choosing against God’s direction, so God has to take the punishment for us, sending the Son to the cross.  It’s a medieval idea, actually, coming from the model of courtly justice in medieval Europe.  If a powerless servant were to insult the lord of the manor, the lord of the manor would have to demand satisfaction for the servant’s insult.  But even the servant’s life wouldn’t be enough to provide satisfaction because of the difference in their stations in life.  Maybe multiple servants would have to die for justice to be achieved.  And how could justice ever come if all the servants insulted the lord?  So, medieval theologians looked at this logic and saw God the Father atoning for the insult of human sin not by demanding the lives of countless humans but by giving one life, the life of the divine Son.  They saw it as the only loving way God could balance the scales so thrown off by human sin.  That model does a nice job of accounting for the scandal of grace, the fact that God loves us despite the fact that we can never make up for sin on our own.  But it also raises at least as many questions as it answers about a divine parent who sends a child to die. 
Here’s another way to think about how atonement works:  that Jesus was the ultimate example of a God-shaped life.  The way this thinking goes, Jesus the exemplar came to show us what a life lived for others truly looks like.  He bore punishment he didn’t deserve.  He emptied himself of power and glory in order to take our nature and go through everything we go through.  He showed us how to deal with the ugliness life can dish out – not with retribution or exclusion, but with a heart that bore unbearable pain so others wouldn’t have to.  According to this line of thinking, Jesus dies on the cross to lead us there ourselves – to take up our own crosses; to live for others; to value love at all costs, even at the ultimate cost.  There’s truth in that, definitely.  But if Jesus is just a righteous example, why does this sacrifice have to come from the Son of God?  We know many stories of selfless sacrifice, of people emptying themselves and dying so others might live.  There must be more to the story if the one doing the sacrificing is also God in the flesh.
So, here’s a third way to think about how atonement works.  It highlights Jesus’ powerful divinity just as much as his suffering humanity by telling a cosmic story with a surprise ending.  The way this thinking goes, Jesus, the Son of God, came to vanquish the power of sin and death and open the gate to eternal life for all who trust in him.  He emptied himself of divine power, submitting himself to death in order to trick the power of sin and evil into complacency.  Now, for this to make sense, you have to see sin and evil not as the temporary failure of good human hearts but as a power unto itself.  So, if you can accept that, then Jesus comes as the unlikely conqueror of that enemy, the one who brings God’s power directly into human life, fighting the cosmic struggle of God versus evil on the battlefield of human existence – and apparently losing.  But what evil doesn’t know was what C.S. Lewis calls the “deep magic,” the truth that the power of the Creator cannot be contained by the creation any more than the clay can tell the potter what to make.  And so, this thinking goes, God in Christ lets evil win – at least long enough to prove God’s ultimate power, crushing evil by reversing its victory, which is death itself, and giving the same power over death to all of us who trust in him.  To me, at least, that model of Christ as the victor holds a lot of truth.  I have seen enough of the power of sin and evil to know it’s real.  And I have seen enough of the power of Christ’s resurrection to know death doesn’t get the last word.
At the end of the day, especially at the end of this Palm Sunday, the point isn’t knowing the right model of the atonement.  The point is the truth of at-one-ment between God and us.  For as we heard in that Passion Gospel reading from Luke, death is not the end for those who trust in God’s power, even if the evidence says God’s power is absent.  Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross is the promise to each and every one of us who fails along life’s journey.  Eternal life is not a function of scoring the most points or getting the answers right.  Eternal life comes from turning to Jesus as he hangs there on the cross with us, and trusting him when he makes that most unlikely of all promises:  that you – no matter who you are, and no matter how slim the odds may seem – if you turn to me, even “you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Calling Home

Sermon from March 17, 2019
Genesis 15:1-12;17-18

Here’s something I’m struggling to understand: My father died a week and a half ago.  I was there when he died, sitting with him through the hard, final hours.  My sisters and I took care of the arrangements for his cremation.  With my mother, we planned a celebration of his eternal life and reveled in the love that his life had brought us.  I’ve received prayers and good wishes from so many of you, loving offerings of your beautiful hearts.  All the evidence points to my father’s absence from the life we shared here, and I know his death to be a fact.  But here’s the thing:  I don’t feel like he’s gone.
Now, maybe that’s denial.  I do know grief doesn’t keep a schedule but comes in waves when you least expect it, and those waves will continue to crash on me.  But even when I confront my sadness about the distance between my father and me, it doesn’t feel like the relationship is gone.  So, rather than what I’m experiencing being denial, maybe instead what I’m experiencing is friendship, just now at a distance.
Friendship with a parent isn’t a given.  Early in my life, my father was the authority figure, the provider, the guy who went to work each day, and my partner in playing catch in the back yard.  Later, he was the guy who didn’t understand me and whose advice seemed tired and worn.  Still later, there didn’t seem to be very much for us to talk about, and getting together for family gatherings kind of felt like a routine.  My father and I did share an annual special event – a trip together to see baseball games – and those were good moments of remembering something deeper.  But then there were the other 51 weeks of the year.  There wasn’t anything wrong, exactly.  We were just on hold.
And then, my father did something out of character:  He told me what he needed.  One of his great strengths was his willingness to put the needs of others first; but the shadow side of that is how hard it is, then, to say what you need yourself.  Well, several years ago, my father found the words.  He simply said, “I’d really appreciate it if you’d call home more often.”  He wasn’t looking for some huge change in my life or wanting me to feel badly for the ways I’d been missing the mark.  He just wanted more connection.  So – through regular phone calls, and more-frequent visits, and those annual baseball trips, too – my father and I took stagnation and turned it into a relationship that connected us even when we weren’t together.  We took a good-enough parent-child dynamic and turned it into friendship instead.
So, here we are at the second Sunday of Lent, the season when the Church calls us to mend the ruptures in our relationship with God.  As you know, through this Lent, we’re encouraging you to think about creating a rule of life as way to hold up and nurture your spirituality.  Now, for those of us who find it hard even to give up chocolate or remember to say the Lord’s Prayer at night, creating a rule of life probably sounds way over the top, something more for nuns and monks than for folks like us.  But a rule can be just a few simple practices that encourage us to focus on and strengthen our spiritual lives.  So, through these weeks of Lent, the sermons will flesh that out and ask us to consider what we might do to build our relationship with God, with ourselves, with others, and with God’s creation.  You can also join the CafĂ© 9:15 class, or the parents’ class, on Sunday mornings to learn more about a rule of life – or you can just take home the green booklet in the entryway.
So, this week, the focus is building our relationship with God.  And as you might have guessed, the experience of my father’s death is making me think about my relationship with God differently. 
I sort of missed the boat with the start of Lent this year:  I skipped Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday of Lent; I haven’t really figured out something to give up or take on; and I’ve been feeling kind of badly about all that.  It’s not great form for the priest to ignore Lent.  But I’ve also heard God saying – especially through the kindnesses so many of you have shared – I’ve heard God saying it’s OK give myself a break and let go of the sense of failure, despite how well I hang onto that.  Because building our relationship with God isn’t about getting good grades in religious observance.  Building our relationship with God is about turning an acquaintance into a friendship.
We hear an example of that in today’s Old Testament reading.  As we come to this story, Abram and God are in the process of building an extraordinary relationship.  A few chapters earlier, for no apparent reason, the God of Israel tapped Abram on the shoulder as he was enjoying his life in Mesopotamia and told him to leave his country and his people to receive great blessing in a new land.  And Abram went, apparently persuaded by the power of God’s self-revealing.  But over time – as Abram encountered famine, and used his wife as a bargaining chip to save himself in Egypt, and rescued his nephew’s household from warring tribes – over time, things didn’t seem to be going so well for Abram, who’d risked everything he had on nothing but a promise. 
So, God comes to Abram again, which is where we pick up today’s reading.  Abram is thinking God’s promise of a new land hasn’t really panned out.  Plus, even if he does hang onto the land he’s occupying in Canaan, he’s got no one to leave it to; so, it’s basically an empty gift.  So, even though it may seem disrespectful to talk to the Lord God this way, Abram turns to God with some honest questions.  He says, “Look, you brought me here, but how am I supposed to know this land’s really mine?  And if it’s mine, who will it go to once I’m gone?”  So God says, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. …  So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)  Look at the signs I give you, God says, and know that my word is good.  Well, Abram trusts their relationship enough to believe what God has told him.  And God honors Abram’s trust by renewing the promise of blessing beyond his dreams.
This kind of honest exchange between God and Abram keeps going for several more chapters in Genesis, through blessings and crises alike.  There’s God renaming Abram and Sarai as Abraham and Sarah, deepening the covenant they’ve made.  There’s the question of whether Abraham’s son with a slave will be his heir, or whether God can provide a child through Sarah in her very old age.  There’s Abraham’s negotiation with God to save even a handful of faithful people in the doomed city of Sodom.  And there’s Abraham’s time of deep testing, when God asks him to offer his only son as a sign of Abraham’s dependence on God alone.  This relationship between Abraham and God isn’t easy; it’s full of twists and turns.  Their relationship takes work, and faith, and honesty, and investment, and patience.  Above all, it takes connection – like any friendship.  And that’s how later books of Scripture describe Abraham, as nothing less than the “friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23).
OK, so, we’re not Abraham.  Few of us receive the word of the Lord in visions or witness holy fire and smoke to assure us of God’s promises.  But we, too, can be friends of God.  We, too, are inheritors of Abraham’s covenant, the mutual promise that as we invest our hearts and lives to follow God faithfully, so God will invest God’s heart and life to bless us in ways we can’t imagine.  And though we might not see visions, I do think we should listen for the voice of God calling us to a friendship we might never have expected was possible.  Because God asks for our friendship with the same surprisingly vulnerable request that I heard from my own father: “I’d really appreciate it if you’d call home more often.”
In churchy language, we call it prayer.  But as it says in the guide to a rule of life that we’re using this Lent,1 prayer is not about saying the right words at specific times, no matter how much we may love our prayer book and its liturgy.  Prayer is about how we live – being responsive to God’s presence in all the facets of our lives.  It’s seeing God’s hand in the beauty of creation and hearing God’s voice in the insights of people we trust.  It’s looking for God’s direction in situations that might otherwise bind us in anxious fear.  It’s saying “thank you” for momentary gifts of beauty and blessing.  It’s saying “I’m sorry” when we find ourselves headed the wrong direction, and then turning a different way instead.  I think that’s what St. Paul means when he writes about “praying without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) – prayer that’s like breathing, prayer that offers nothing more and nothing less than our whole selves, prayer that brings us divine love in response.  In the same way that God takes mundane bread and wine and makes Jesus Christ present within it, God inhabits the mundane moments of our lives, sitting beside us as our true companion.  As Jesus said to his followers at the Last Supper, “I do not call you servants any longer, … but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).  
Growing a relationship with God isn’t nearly as imposing as it seems.  God’s not asking for heroic efforts.  God’s not demanding that we get all the answers right.  Our heavenly parent is simply asking us to pick up the phone and call home more often.

1.       Society of St. John the Evangelist.  Growing a Rule of Life workbook. Available at: www.ssje.org/growrule.  Accessed March 15, 2019.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Welcome to Spring Training

Sermon for Feb. 17, 2019
1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26



So, here we are in another weekend of snow.  I don’t know about you, but I need springtime, and I need it badly.  And thankfully, Major League Baseball is here to help us out. 
Spring training began this week, finally.  Pitchers and catchers reported on Wednesday, and full-squad workouts for the Royals start tomorrow.  Then, spring-training games begin this Saturday; and even though those games won’t count at all, I’ll be happy for every victory.  It’s great to see them win, even in Arizona. 
But the point of spring training, actually, isn’t to win.  The point is to get ready to win.  And to do that, sometimes you have to make it through some rough innings in the moment, as you get your team ready for 162 games that do count, leading (you hope) to baseball heaven, the postseason.
For each of us, in our own lives – what part of the season are we playing?  I think many of us live as though we were always in the late innings of the seventh game of the World Series, as if every move might make the difference between championship or failure.  I know I do that.  I get frustrated when I can’t get just that much more done in a given week, or when I miss something I should have gotten right, or when my effort just isn’t where I’d hope it would be.  It seems like I’m always in the late innings; and if I let up, the other team will win.
Now, because of the pastoral nature of baseball, I like to think that Jesus is a fan.  Much as I enjoy watching the Chiefs (especially this season), I do have to say there may be a little more divinity in “coming in safe at home” rather than blitzes and sacks and long bombs.  So, if Jesus is a baseball fan, he’d probably point out that, when I live this life as if the Series were on the line, I’m missing the elegant beauty of what comes first:  spring training.  Because I think Jesus might argue that spring training is exactly where we are in this life – all of us.
Like spring training, the point of our earthly life, oddly enough, isn’t winning today’s or tomorrow’s game.  The point is preparation.  The point is practicing the fundamentals.  You and I are just getting started as we play through a season longer than we can imagine.  Life in the here and now, Jesus might say, is just a warm-up for what’s coming.
Listen again to the point the apostle Paul is making in that First Letter to the Corinthians.  It’s not exactly Paul’s best prose; I think he needed some editing of the redundancies in that paragraph.  But still, his repetition ensures we don’t miss the point:  The resurrection of the dead is the good news on which Christian faith rests.  If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then we certainly won’t be, and all this “heaven” stuff is just a pipe dream after all.  But – Jesus was raised from the dead, “the first fruits” (1 Cor 15:20) of God’s offering of eternal life to all who follow Jesus’ way of love. 
So – if eternal life is real, that means, in the here and now, that we’re just getting started on a life of love that has no end.  We’re just beginning to learn how to play this elegantly beautiful game.  Just as the pitchers and catchers are loosening stiff joints and remembering their signs, just as the full squad tomorrow will start scooping up grounders and putting bats to balls, so each of us is at the very beginning of a very long haul. 
But still, like I said, we have trouble remembering where we stand in this long season of eternal life.  Many of us wake up and charge into each day imagining the championship is on the line.  Others of us maybe find the long season something of a bore, and we want to fast-forward to the joy and excitement of the postseason without putting in all the work it takes to get there.
And that brings us to today’s Gospel reading.  Now, this may seem like a stretch, but hang with me for a minute.  This is a pretty familiar reading, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.  And honestly, it’s a little hard for me to hear.  Now, Matthew’s version is a little less intense.  In Matthew, Jesus says, blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Blessed are the pure in heart.  OK, maybe I can get Matthew’s version:  Pious people are blessed, and the rest of us have some work to do.  End of sermon.
But Luke is a little more “in your face” in the contrast Jesus draws about the life of worldly success versus the life of God’s reign and rule of love.  “Blessed are you who are poor….  Blessed are you who are hungry now….  Blessed are you who weep now….  Blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you….  Rejoice and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:20-23) 
Just that’s hard enough to wrap our hearts and minds around, but then comes the gut punch:  “Woe to you who are rich,” Jesus says, “for you have received your consolation.  Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26) 
It’s tempting to twist ourselves up in some real Scriptural gymnastics to explain that one away.  I mean, let’s be real:  Aspiring to be rich, to be well-fed, to enjoy life, to be well-regarded by our peers … that kind of sounds like the American dream, right?  Who wants to be poor, and hungry, and weeping, and reviled?
Well, as we pursue the good life, I think Jesus is asking us to look hard at what the good life is.  It’s not about working like demons for our own affluence and satisfaction and status in this microscopic chapter of eternal life.  Instead, look at the reading again, and see what Jesus offers to those who’ve chosen to follow him, those whom he calls “blessed” or “happy” in their poverty and hunger and weeping and exclusion.  Look back at what happened in today’s reading just before Jesus speaks those hard words.  “A great crowd of his disciples” and “a great multitude of people” who’d learned about Jesus “came to hear him and be healed of their diseases….  And … power came out from him and healed all of them.” (Luke 6:17-19)  They may be poor, and hungry, and weeping, and excluded … but they’re also healed, on every level you can imagine.
It is interesting that the word “salvation” looks an awful lot like the word “salve,” as in an ointment we apply to heal a wound.  Christ’s healing is what saves us for the long season of eternal life.  And to find that healing, to find that salvation, I think Jesus is calling us to focus on the proper work of spring training:  the fundamentals.
As that great baseball movie Bull Durham puts it, this game is pretty simple.  You throw the ball.  You hit the ball.  You catch the ball.  All the excitement – the double plays, the home runs, the plays at the plate – all the beauty and all the championships come from getting the fundamentals right. 
I believe the same is true about eternal life.  It’s practicing the fundamentals that make us part of the kingdom of God.  The game is pretty simple, too.  You love God.  You love neighbor.  You love one another.  You choose the path of sacrifice when the world says to take what you can get.  You limit the time you spend on what you could have and help someone else get more.  You give money even though you can’t be guaranteed of the outcome.  You make time for a conversation when you don’t have time to spare.  You speak for justice and dignity when you see people suffering.  You ask the name of the person who’s cleaning the halls of the church for you, and you listen to her critique of the times when you’ve passed others by without even so much as an introduction, as she looks you in the eye and says, “It’s good to be seen and not observed.” 
Practicing these fundamentals will not leave us as rich, or as full, or as merry, or as renowned as we might have been.  But they condition us for the long season ahead.  Because our life here is just spring training.  This is less the time to be swinging for the fences, Jesus says, and more the time to focus on getting the fundamentals right. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Looking for a Prophet in the Barbershop

Sermon from Feb. 3, 2019
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:14-21


Welcome to Scout Sunday – which explains why the first several rows are filled with kids in uniforms, and why Scouts are serving as acolytes, lectors, and ushers this morning.  This is our annual opportunity to celebrate the ministry of Scouting.  Now, maybe that sounds odd, to describe Scouting as a ministry.  But after all, Troop 16 is a part of St. Andrew’s, not simply an outside organization using our building.  So, if that’s true, there must be some significant overlap between the church’s mission and Scouting’s mission.  So, how is Scouting a ministry?
We’ll there are definitely connections in what the Church and Scouting teach.  After all, the Scout Law says – say it with me if you know it – that a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.  In the Church, we’d be on board with young people learning to practice all those values, but it’s that last one where we intersect the most – being reverent.  In fact, if you look at the Scout Oath, you find the intersection runs deeper than we might realize.  The Scout Oath begins this way:  “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law….”1  So, a duty to God is part of what Scouting is all about.
But Scout troops are part of all kinds of religious and civic groups, so that “duty to God” plays out in lots of different ways.  Each tradition is free to carry out religious training as it sees fit.2  In the Episcopal Church, Scouts can earn four religious emblems as they grow up – God and Me, God and Family, God and Church, and God and Life.  Honestly, I don’t know the specifics of those programs as well as I should.  But I think our readings today might suggest that we should add a recognition that isn’t currently part of the program.  That would be a merit badge for serving as a prophet. 
Now, for that to make any sense, we have to know what a prophet is.  In the Bible, a prophet is not a fortune teller.  A prophet may get a glimpse of what’s coming as part of the message he or she receives from God, but the point isn’t to forecast the future.  The point is to be a spokesperson, delivering the word of the Lord and calling people to follow God’s ways.  That’s what it means to be a prophet.  Prophets speak for God – whether they want to or not, whether it serves their interests or not.
We get two examples this morning, from Jeremiah and from Jesus.  Our first reading was about the call of Jeremiah as a prophet of the Lord, an experience that probably scared the living daylights out of him.  He’s young – maybe actually a boy, maybe a very young man.  But no matter his age, he’s isn’t ready when God tells him he will be a “prophet to the nations” (1:5).  Jeremiah tells God, “You’ve got the wrong guy.”  But God quickly says – no, I’m not asking you to do this based on your own wisdom and power.  Instead, “you shall go to all whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of [anyone],” God says, “for I am with you to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:7-8)
The second example of being a prophet comes from Jesus himself.  He’s in his hometown synagogue on the Sabbath; and he’s just read out loud from the prophet Isaiah, where God is proclaiming good news for the poor, and release for the captives, and healing for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.  Jesus finishes his reading, sits down, and gives them the shortest sermon ever: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  Jesus himself is one who will bring relief to the poor, the captives, the afflicted, and the oppressed by bringing God’s way of love into everyday life. 
Well, the people wonder what makes him say that, given that they’ve known Jesus forever.  This is his hometown crowd in Nazareth, where he was raised.  They know him as the carpenter’s son – a good kid, but hardly somebody who speaks the word of God.  Jesus gets it; he knows they’re not going to give him his due.  But still, he gives them God’s “truth” (4:25):  that just because they’re on the right team, just because they’re part of God’s chosen people, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily doing what God asks.  After all, he says, several other times in Israel’s history, God has blessed outsiders instead of Jewish people who weren’t living very faithfully.  The hometown crowd doesn’t appreciate that kind of honesty, and they don’t like having their feet held to the fire by some carpenter’s son; so, they try to throw him off a cliff.  Being a prophet is risky business.
I think those two stories tell us something a little challenging.  First, God chooses unlikely people to be prophets.  In Jeremiah’s situation, God turns people’s expectations on their heads, asking a young nobody from a little village to be the one to speak God’s word to “nations and kingdoms” (1:10), telling the leaders how they and their people need to follow God’s path.  But God doesn’t stop there.  Like Jeremiah, we may not think we have the words to say on our own.  But I believe God chooses each of us to be a prophet, at least from time to time – when we find ourselves in situations where what we see and hear around us runs counter to God’s way of love. 
Let me tell you a story – something that happened 30 years ago but still sticks with me.  I had moved to take a job in Jefferson City, and I was only 23, with all the confidence of someone who hasn’t yet learned just how little he knows.  I needed a haircut, so I went to an old barbershop, a place that must have been there for decades.  I came in, and the barber invited me to step right up – a tall, muscular guy with a big smile, huge hands, and a buzz cut.  We made small talk as he put the cape around my neck and got started with the scissors.  It’s an odd situation, asking a stranger to cut your hair – he’s the one with the power, and you never quite know how that’s going to turn out. 
Well, as he cut, he started telling jokes, jokes I’m sure he had told a million times.  As he started out, he was pretty funny; but before long, it got ugly.  He was making fun of women and black people.  He must have thought it was OK because there were only white guys sitting there in the old barbershop.  But suddenly this huge, friendly-looking guy with the big smile was speaking sexism and racism.  And I had to decide what to do.
I would love to be able to tell you a David and Goliath story, that I confronted the barber about his ugly language even though he was the one with the scissors in his hand.  But I didn’t.  I just got quiet.  And as I was leaving, I had the perfect opportunity simply to tell him a holy truth:  that I wouldn’t be back because what I’d heard him saying didn’t align with how God tells us to talk about one another.  That was the truth; I knew I’d never go back to that barbershop, so saying something wouldn’t have put my future hairstyle at risk.  But I didn’t do it, and I’ve regretted that failure ever since.
So, why didn’t I, when what he said was so clearly wrong and I had nothing to lose?  Part of it is the culture of niceness – after all, my mother taught me, and maybe your mother taught you, that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.  But you know, we don’t find that lesson about being nice anywhere in Scripture.  Instead, we find what we heard this morning: God saying, “You shall speak whatever I command you; do not be afraid … for I am with you to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:7-8)  
It’s not just the Scouts who have a duty to God.  When we renew our baptismal covenant, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We promise to strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being.  Now, that kind of a promise can feel too big to keep:  How am I supposed to promote justice and peace, especially when we can’t even agree about what the word “justice” means?  Well, respecting the dignity of every human being sometimes comes down to the simple, and countercultural, act of not letting “nice” get in the way of speaking for God.  Because you never know when the prophet God’s calling is you.

1.      Boy Scouts of America.  “What are the Scout Oath and Scout Law?”  Available at: https://www.scouting.org/discover/faq/question10/.  Accessed Feb. 10, 2019.
2.      Boy Scouts of America.  “Manual for Chaplains and Chaplain Aides.”  Available at: https://www.scouting.org/resources/info-center/manual-for-chaplains-and-chaplain-aides/.  Accessed Feb. 1, 2019.