When family tears itself apart

As I’ve already mentioned this week, I am really struggling with this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, but I’m only now beginning to get a grasp on why.  Prior to now, I had thought that my dislike for this passage had to do with its lack of relevance to 21st century white middle class “mainline” American Christians.  We who are the majority, who have held a place of privilege in this country for 241 years, who were so tied in with the Colonial government that in many colonies one’s tithe was a government required tax, who know nothing of what it means to be persecuted, how can we dare to begin to think that Jesus’ warning to the disciples has anything to say to us?

I really thought that was what was bothering me, until I started to read my go-to sermon resources, and realized that what I’m really struggling with this week is not that this lesson doesn’t apply to us, but instead that Christians are living out both sides of this dire warning.  It isn’t that non-Christian family members are kicking Christians out of their wills, but that the Christian family, writ large, is tearing itself apart.  For eight years, the conservative members of our family saw themselves as the persecuted ones.  As social structures changed to bring LGBT Americans into equal protection under the law, and denominational structures similarly began to understand that God’s love and sacraments should be made available to everyone, many conservative Christians saw their ability to live out their faith being challenged.  Now, with the other party in the White House, more liberal Christians are beginning to feel that same fear.  They see the rolling back of equal rights protections, cutting of programs that care for the poor, and a seeming disregard for the disabled as a direct attack on their faith in the God of love.

In a time of stark political division, the Church has allowed itself to become a pawn in the political machine.  We are tearing ourselves apart by declaring our sisters and brothers in Christ as anathema, which is precisely what the prince of demons, Beelzebul, would have us do.  The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the Church’s intimate relationship with government, which dates all the way back to the Edict of Milan in 313 (culminating in the Edict of Thessalonica in 380), is antithetical to the Gospel.  By embracing the Church’s incorporation into civil governance, Christianity has come to put the love of social order ahead of the love of Christ.  We have given up our ability to preach the sort of peace that divides good from evil like a sword.  We have abdicated our call to take up our cross for the Kingdom by choosing to live as God-fearing citizens of the State.

martyrdom

Today, the Episcopal Church remembers Saint Alban, the first Anglican Christians known by name, and, not coincidentally, the first English martyr, I can’t help but be struck by his willingness to stand up and declare that though the State may have the power to take his life, his core identity wasn’t Roman or Celtic or anything else, but his defining characteristic was “I worship and adore the living and true God, who created all things.”  While his head my have been removed from his body, Alban’s brief allegiance to Christ never wavered, was never corrupted by the idol of power and prestige, which, I’m increasingly convinced, it probably the better place for the Church to exist: the only place from which we can actually speak truth to power.

Origin Story – An Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

This week’s Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge is seeking out the stories of how you came to be a Christian and an Episcopalian.  The fun, or perhaps quirky, twist being that the 120 word abstract should sound like a superhero origin story.  You can find out more by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.  Without any further ado, I offer you my origin story.

I was a senior in High School and it was Young Life Banquet time.  My YL leader, Flecth, had asked several of us to share our testimonies at the tables of some of YL Lancaster’s biggest donors.  I remember feeling some strange mixture of trepidation and relief as I prepared my story.  I was terrified because my story of how God found me is pretty boring.  I was relieved because I didn’t have to tell my friends’ parents and my parents’ friends about the day I woke up in the middle of a corn field with a needle sticking out of my arm and saw Jesus standing in front of me.  I feel a similar strange mixture today.

I grew up as the quintessential first child.  To this day, I am a ruler follower ad nauseam.  When I was 16, I spent three weeks in Germany with my high school German class.  There is no legal drinking age in Germany, but I still only drank once while I was there, and I still feel guilty about it.  The Church and the moral life to which she calls us has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.  After the youth group at Saint Thomas crashed and burned as I entered into high school, I spent several years bouncing between the CMA church’s youth group and Young Life.  I remember pulling my Saturn over on Manheim Pike one Friday morning to write down the date and time I had invited Jesus into my life, but the truth is, he had always been there.

My entrance into The Episcopal Church happened when I was three years old.  My dad had been transferred from R.R. Donnelly’s home base in Chicago, IL to a brand new plant built to produce TV Guides in scenic Lancaster, PA.  As the story goes, the Realtor my parents used to find a new house was a saintly woman named Jeanne Ritter.  After selling them the perfect house for a family with two small children, Jeanne said something like, “I go to Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Church.  You should try it out.”  They tried it out, and it stuck.

Though I attended an Episcopal Church with my family from early on, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be an Episcopalian, to be imbued with the rhythm of life and the words of the Book of Common Prayer really until I entered the discernment process.  It was there that I learned what all those words I could say by heart: from the opening acclamation to the dismissal; really meant.  I guess that’s why I have such a passion for liturgics, Church history, and general church-nerdery these days.  I want everyone to know how these words that seem rote to the outside observer can be living, active, and offer so much more than the rules and guilt that are so often associated with Christianity.

My origin story doesn’t have superhero qualities to it, but I’ve come to realize that that’s OK.  God enters our lives in all sorts of different ways, but most often, it is by way of a simple invitation.  Thanks be to God.

Ask, Seek, Knock

Non-Dispensationalist Christians (go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait) tend to get all uppity about how the Left Behind folks tend to use the Bible and a giant clothes line to justify their world view.  That is to say, they take various key verses, remove them from their contexts, line them up in the particular order of their choosing, and argue that “the Bible says…”  It isn’t a great way to do theology, and it has lead to any number of abuses on people’s finances, families, and lives.  Still, every time I point one finger at someone else, there are three more pointing back at me.  We aren’t as clean as we think we are.

Take Hymn #711 from the 1982 hymnal, for example.  We’ll sing it during at least one service on Sunday.  It is a periennal favorite since Karen Lafferty first paraphrased Matthew 6:33 and set it to a lively tune in 1973.  According to The Hymnal 1982, the original version included only the first stanza and the Alleluia refrain.  Subsequently, verses have been added, as in this version on YouTube.

“Seek Ye First” has grown to sometimes included Matthew 4:4 (cf. Luke 4:4) as well as Matthew 7:7 (cf. Luke 11:9, which is the reason we are singing it on Sunday).  Anonymous sources drew on the work of Ms. Lafferty and cherry picked portions of Scripture that made it work for their theological desires.  Since these authors of stanzas 2 and 3 are anonymous, I can’t say whether or not they are dispensationalists, but I can say that by including the 2nd stanza in our Hymnal, we’re complicit in clothesline theologizing.

All that, to say this, people who grew up over the last 40+ years are fairly familiar with the phrase, “ask, seek, knock.”  It has been turned over and twisted in various ways such that now, it is often thought to read “ask and keep asking,”  “seek and keep seeking,” and “knock and keep knocking.”  I’m thankful to David Lose (gosh, I need to find a different Biblical scholar to offset my David Lose obsession) who builds on his words that I quoted yesterday to say this, “Popular piety has again interpreted this as a call to persistence… It might be more helpful, though, to read Jesus’ instruction as inviting trust – ask, search, knock… confident that you will receive what you ask.  Of course there is no one among those listening that would give a snake or a scorpion to a beseeching child, so how then, Jesus implies, can we not trust that God as divine parent will give us all that we need, including and especially, the Holy Spirit?”

Ask, shamelessly.  Seek, boldly.  Knock, loudly.  And know that the Lord your God delights to give you his best gift, a life of grace in the Holy Spirit.

Do this and you will live!

When the Gopsel lesson is long, well worn, and juicy, the temptation for proof texting is strong.  Part of me want to preach only one line from the great narrative that is “The Good Samaritan.”  As I read it early this morning, and even now a couple of hours later, I’m drawn, strongly, to the saving words of Jesus to the Lawyer “who stood up to test him.”

“You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Lk 10.28)

Even beyond that, I find myself wanting not just to proof text this pericope, but even to proof word it.  I’d love to preach and teach and write an exegesis on one simple word, “live.”  It is rich with meaning, as does its noun form, “life,’ which is where our passage begins.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk. 10.25).

For Luke’s Greek, there are several words to use to talk about life and living: psuche (from which we get soul), bios (as in biology), meno (which means to abide), or, as is the case here, dzaho, which Luke uses in various ways in his Gospel:

  • Luke 4:4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
  • Luke 10:28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
  • Luke 15:13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
  • Luke 15:32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”
  • Luke 20:38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
  • Luke 24:5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
  • Luke 24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

This life that Jesus invites the Lawyer to live isn’t just about the great by-and-by.  It isn’t about “your best life now,” either.  Instead, it is the fullness of life that comes through a relationship with the God of all Creation.  It is the sort of eternal life that begins today and lasts forever as it seeks out the dream of the living God.  Life lived in love of God and love of neighbor is abundant life that can be lived today.

You are the man!

What is now an emphatic term of praise, “you da man!”, was once the very voice of disappointment from the mouth piece of God Almighty.  As I wrote about yesterday, David’s actions toward Bathsheba and Uriah were looked upon by God with disdain.  In order to teach David, God sent Nathan to tell him a story.

“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

Rightly and instinctively, David finds the behavior of the rich man unconscionable, shouting, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”  To which Nathan responds,

“You are the man!”

The funny thing about sin is that deep down, we know that we’ve done wrong.  Sin is that which we use to separate ourselves from God.  Sin destroys relationships between people and between us and God.  The consequences of sin can be immediate and rather obvious, or they can take generations to rear their ugly head, but either way, we who were created in the image of a relational God can feel it deep in our bones when relationships are out of whack.  We are that man! Or, that woman!  We seek after our own self interests, leaving all sorts of collateral damage in our wake.  The Good News, however, is that God doesn’t leave us standing atop a heap of broken, smoldering relationships.  God offers us forgiveness, restoration, renewal.  God’s offers us grace, sufficient of all our faults.  Forgive the cheesiness of this last line, God want to turn the accusation, “You are the man!” into praise, “You da man!” through the grace of his Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Poured out to overflowing

The end of the Romans lesson for Trinity Sunday, Year C really got me this morning.  At the end of that big, long, tempting sentence that I begged you not to preach this week, is an image that is too good not to pay attention to.  “…  hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

My mind was immediately taken to the end of Psalm 23, in which the Psalmist declares, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”  It all got me thinking again about the abundance of God.  God pours out his blessings upon our heads so that it runs down our faces, covers our bodies, and even the tips of our toes (an action that was recreated in ancient baptismal rites, but because of prudence, we no longer strip candidates naked and slather them with oil).  God’s love, unfulfilled (this isn’t the right word, but I can’t think of what I want to say) as it was even within the perfect love of the Trinity, overflowed into creation.   God takes that love and pours it into our hearts, but even that can’t contain it.  Ideally, the love of God overflows even our hearts and is poured out into the world through acts of service and compassion, through charity and justice seeking, and through disciples just being present: shutting up and listening to the needs and hurts of another.

God pours out his love into our hearts, but if we bottle it up, we’ve missed the true blessing of sharing that gift with a world desperate for deep relationship.

Completely One

As I read the Lectionary texts for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, I’m feeling less than enthused.  The Acts lesson is an amazing story, but it is, in many ways, self-sufficient.  You could maybe preach on Paul’s “annoyance,” and how even the Apostles were human, but really, is his casting out a demon in a fit of frustration a stronger case for that then, say, his persecution of the Church?  Maybe the whole, post-baptism sin thing that was so important in the middle ages can rear its ugly head again.  The Revelation lesson is probably the weakest of the series in Easter Season.  I’d probably only preach it if I had been doing a sermon series on the book.  Unless I feel really compelled to do so, I never preach the Psalm.  So, here we are, left with the cliche’ of Jesus’ prayer that “we all might be one.”  I’ll try to get myself more enthused as the week goes by.  In the meantime…

We wrap up Easter Season with the tail end of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in John.  Our third, straight week there, to be precise.  So far, as I mentioned above, I don’t really see a new point of entry into this text.  It is what it is.  It is a high ideal, to which, the Church, especially in the West, has failed to live up.  41,000 Christian denominations in the world is a lot more than the 1 which Jesus hoped for.  I suspect, however, that Jesus was speaking of something deeper when he prayed

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

A quick BibleWorks search leads me to believe that being “completely one” isn’t quite what we think it means.  The verb, which has its roots in telo, has a meaning more akin to the King James’ Version “made perfect…” or the Young’s Literal “perfected into one…”  It is used by John in four more places:

  • Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. (4:34)
  • The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. (5:36)
  • I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. (17:4)

  • After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished*, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” (19:28)

I think that rather than Jesus hoping we all might have the same tastes in worship style, he was thinking something closer to what Paul had in mind in his letter to the Philippians (2:5-11):

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If the end (telos) of the Christian faith for all of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus was humility, obedience, and worship of the Triune God, I think we’d be pretty close to fulfilling (teleo) what Jesus had in mind, no matter how many denominations there were on earth.  But, well, I don’t think we are quite there yet.

* This word, translated “finished” has the same root, “telo” and is used only one other time in John, when Jesus says, “It is finished.”

What I am Preaching This Week

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m not big on decisions, but I’ve made one, I’m preaching John 14 this week.  Now that that’s out of the way, it is time to begin praying about and pondering where I should enter the text this week.  And boy, what a text it is: only seven verses long, it is packed with depth.  The whole thing is so chock-full of rhetorical value, the folks over at Sermon Brainwave have suggested that this might be a week in which a preacher focuses just on a single verse, or even a few words, in order to craft a sermon.  As I read the pericope, here are my initial thoughts.

  • John 14:23-24 “Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”
    • The opening phrase of the assigned lesson, the preacher could spend considerable time dissecting what Jesus means by “my word” and what a life lived in pursuit of keeping the word of Jesus (i.e. the word of the Father cf. v. 24) might look like.
  • John 14:25-26  “I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
    • As Easter winds down and we begin to transition into Pentecost and ordinary time, a sneak preview of what it means to live with the Paraclete: Advocate, Intercessor, Helper, Companion, Friend.  This promise (which begins before this pericope begins) will be fulfilled, in John’s Gospel, on Easter Day as Jesus appears in the upper room and breathes the Spirit into 10 of the 11 remaining Apostles.
  • John 14:27a “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
    • JKT has moved temporarily into the office next door to me, which is bad news for my productivity (and his, I’m afraid), but good news for readers of this blog because JKT enjoys word studies.  He wondered about the word translated leave, as it carries connotations of a full removal.  How does Jesus fully leave behind this peace to his disciples?  Additionally, you could look at what it means to have the peace of Christ.
  • John 14:27b-29  “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.  28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.  29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
    • I don’t even know where to begin with this section of the text.  There’s Jesus’ admonition, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” which is a repeat of  John 14.1.  You could preach on the relationship between Jesus and his Father.  Or, you could look at verse 29 and compare it to John’s mission statement in 20:30-31.

Lots of good stuff to preach this week. Now, to narrow it down so I don’t ramble for 30 minutes about nothing in particular come Sunday morning.

I needed Psalm 23 this week – a sermon

You can listen here, or read on.

If my Facebook and Twitter Newsfeeds are any indication of the larger population, this week has worn us all out.  Monday, as we all know, was the Boston Marathon bombing.  Tuesday started the re-launch of the whole sending-Ricin-laced-letters-to-politicians thing that was so popular in the early 2000s.  Wednesday brought the highs and lows of our 24-hour news cycle taking us from relief that the bomber had been arrested to frustration that no one really knows much of anything.  For good measure, a massive fertilizer plant explosion brought us all to the brink of collapse.  And then there was Friday. I’m not a good enough writer to suitably describe the events of Friday, but Friday, most certainly, happened.   We’re tired: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Maybe you’ve come to Sunday worship to regroup, to catch your breath, to get recharged.  Maybe you don’t need me to rehash the stories of the week because you know them too well.  I get that.  I’m ready to talk about, hear about, focus on, something else as well.  So today, as I give thanks that I don’t live in a place like Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan where every day is like the week we just experienced, I am also exceedingly grateful that today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherd Sunday.  I’ve needed to pray the 23rd Psalm with my community of faith all week.

The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; *
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; *
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his
Name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; *
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of
mine enemies; *
thou annointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.[1]

I’m glad that we were able to pray the 23rd Psalm together, and I’m looking forward to singing its paraphrase during the distribution of communion because I think it is the perfect piece of Scripture for where we are today.  We can’t ignore what happened in our world this week, but at the same time, we can’t dwell on it.  We must acknowledge our pain and discomfort, but we need not be defined by it.  Victimhood doesn’t look good on anyone, but a life restored in God is a beautiful sight to behold.  Because of its language of “the valley of the shadow of death” and close association with the Burial Office, Psalm 23 is the perfect scripture to allow us the space to mourn, but the stark reality is that this Psalm is really a song of praise.

“You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.[2]”  Our God is a God of abundance.  He pours out his blessing upon us as both sunshine and rain.  His gifts include the very breath of life, the miracle of birth, the joy of relationship, and the hope of the resurrection.  He is a shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who lays down his own life for his sheep.

“You let me rest in fields of green grass.  You lead me to streams of peaceful water, and you refresh my life.”  Here’s the crux of Jesus’ message in our Gospel lesson today.  As followers of the Good Shepherd, we hear his voice and follow him to eternal life, or what our Catechism calls, “enjoyment of God.”  Of course, we need not wait until the great by and by to enjoy eternal life.  The Psalmist, Jesus, and two-thousand years of Christian tradition are clear that eternal life happens when we allow God to refresh, restore, and renew our lives today.

“You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.  I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid.  You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.”  There is, perhaps, no stronger a statement of faith in all of Scripture than this famous section of Psalm 23.  There is no inherent promise that evil will not befall us.  Accidents will happen.  Bad people will do bad things.  Illness knows no prejudice.  Thanks to a complicated tax code, death is the only true certainty in life.  However, in the midst of those challenges, the reality is that God is there.  Abiding.  Comforting.  Sympathizing.  God is there.  This is a helpful reminder today as the week past has us reeling.  It was confusing.  It was frightening.  But the Good News is that God is there: in Boston, Massachusetts; West, Texas; and Foley, Alabama.  God is there.  God is here.

“You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch.  You honor me as your guest, and you will my cup until it overflows.  Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house.”  The Psalmist brings us back again to pondering on the overwhelming abundance of God.  This morning [at the 9 o’clock service] we welcome a brand new child into the household of God.  We do so, in full assurance of God’s grace and mercy; giving thanks for his kindness and love that overflows.  At the same time, each of us is invited to recall our own baptism, whether we can remember it or not, as the moment when the God of all Creation invited us to the heavenly banquet.  As we approach the altar and receive a foretaste of that feast, it is helpful to offer thanks for the eternal promises of God’s goodness.

Psalm 23 is one of those amazing gifts that transcend time.  Like the Lord’s Prayer or the Golden Rule, we know it by heart because it is forever etched in our souls.  When times get tough, as they did this week, it is helpful to have things we can easily fall back on.  So today, I’m thankful for Good Shepherd Sunday, for the comfortable image of Jesus tenderly carrying a lamb, for the promise of the heavenly banquet, and the assurance of eternal life starting right now.

I leave you with a prayer, written by a friend who prepared for Good Shepherd Sunday with all the craziness of this week and the added challenging of grieving the death of her mother.

The Lord be with you.

And Also with you.

Let us pray. “Holy Shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, were we celebrate with you forever. Amen.”[3]


[1] Psalm 23 (KJV) from the Order for Burial, Rite I on pages 475-476 of the Book of Common Prayer

[2] The recapitulation of Psalm 23 from here on out is from the Contemporary English Version © 1995, American Bible Society

[3] Posted on RevGalBlogPals site by Rev Dr Mom.<http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.com/2013/04/tuesday-lectionary-leaningssheep.html>  Accessed 4/18/2013.

Nobody said it would be easy – Tuesday in Holy Week

Jesus makes some pretty difficult demands of his disciples.  Like I said last week, he didn’t just teach the 12, but thousands followed him as Rabbi, and he made the same Kingdom claims to them as well.  He invited his disciples to love their enemies.  He invites us to do the same.  He invited his disciples to pray for those who persecuted them.  He invited us to do the same (though I caution that American Christians of all stripes don’t really know what persecution feels like).  In his teaching around the wilted fig tree on Tuesday in Holy Week, Jesus invited his disciples “when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  He invites us to do the same.

Nobody said it would be easy, this following Jesus in the Way of the Cross bit.  My friend Jan wrote a great piece on these difficult teachings as it relates to the two marriage equality issues before the Supreme Court this week.  You should read it.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

These ideas about love, prayer, and forgiveness, while not foreign to Episcopalians, certainly don’t get much play in everyday life.  Heck, we even have Matthew’s take on it as one of our Offertory Sentences (BCP, p. 376), though I guarantee it is never used.  “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Matthew 5:23, 24

Here we have two sides of the same coin.  In Mark, the call is to forgiveness.  In Matthew, it is reconciliation.  One focuses on the offended, the other on the offender, yet either way, the challenge is a difficult one.  One that is impossible without the help and grace of God.  Over the course of the next few days, Jesus will live out his teaching, to the point of forgiving even those who nailed him to the cross.  Maybe, as we walk the way of the cross, we can strive for small gains: forgiving a past preacher who offended us, a teacher who doubted our abilities, a parent who we could never impress, a sibling who built themselves up by putting us down.

Jesus is clear, in order to fully receive the forgiveness of God, we must be about the business of forgiveness in our own lives.  It isn’t easy, nobody said it would be, but starting with small offences will open the flood gates.