Sunday, February 22, 2015

On Burdens and Gifts: A Sermon on Matthew 18:15-35

 Scripture can be found here...

Almost all of us have the stories. The best friend who said something cruel. The parent who favored the other child until it broke a heart. The one who lied and lost our trust.  These seem to be the stuff of life: the normal hurts and harms and betrayals that seem to signify the very heart of what it is to be fallibly human. Some, without a doubt, are worse than others. The parents who weren’t merely neglectful, but were abusive, or entirely absent. The sibling who stole from the family. The heart-friend who abruptly, inexplicably, turned away, went silent, and disappeared from our lives.

And, to turn this thing entirely on its head, I suspect we all have the other stories, too, although these are stories we don’t share so often or so openly. Of the times we were the one who disappeared when we should have stayed, or the times when we did not live up to our promises, vows, and compacts. The times when we weren’t there for our children, turned hard-hearted towards a friend or relative. Maybe some of us have even had the experience of asking for forgiveness, and hearing, if not “no,” then a stony silence that told us… the hurt was still too deep, or too fresh, not something they could forgive.

And so, Jesus has a story to tell us, about being the forgiver and being the forgiven. Beginning today, and throughout Lent, we will be reading parables of Jesus—stories, sometimes brief, sometimes just a sentence or two, designed to help us to think and intuit more deeply about a problem or paradox. Parables are not allegories. It’s not always easy to identify who, in a parable, stands for God, for example. Sometimes it is the very last person we expect. Sometimes parables are framed as analogies: they begin, “the kingdom of heaven is like this…” and then we hear a story.

Sometimes parables are hilarious. Sometimes they are horrifying. Today’s is both, though the hilarity, we have to dig for, just a little, because we are not first century Palestinian Jews, and therefore, don’t necessarily catch all the nuance of the tale.

But before the parable, we need the setup. And today’s setup is a long one. It begins with the issue of conflict in the church. What do we do when someone in the church has harmed us? Jesus outlines an incredibly sensible and gentle path towards reconciliation and healing, a path churches still use to this day. At last, Peter raises a critical question. Lord, he asks, if a member of the church sins against me (actually, in the Greek, it’s “my brother,” but we understand it to be a church member by the context), how many times should I forgive him? How about seven?

Seven is a great number. Seven is a symbolic number in scripture, a number of fullness and completion—the six days of creation plus the day of rest. Perfect. Complete. It’s a brilliant suggestion.

No, Jesus says. Try seventy-seven. (That’s what it says in English.) Try seventy times seven. (That’s what it says in the original Greek.) In other words, there is no limit to how often we ought to forgive. None.

This is a hard teaching. I’m not going to sugar coat it. Being hurt—physically, emotionally, spiritually—affects us on so many levels. For one thing, it plays out deep in the reptilian brain where everything is about fighting or running away. For another thing, our conscious minds tell us the story of how it was supposed to be, and that can be hard to let go of. Someone has said, forgiveness is giving up on the idea that we can change the past.[i] Sometimes, we can’t seem to find our way to giving up on that.

And so Jesus tells a parable. There is a king, and there is a slave. And the slave owes the king ten thousand talents.

So, let’s stop right there. A talent was more than fifteen years of wages for a day laborer. This slave owes the king ten thousand talents. So… that’s 150,000 years’ worth of wages for a day laborer. The king orders the slave and his whole family to be sold for cash, but the slave begs him for time to repay. This is the hilarious part. The slave is planning to work so that he can come up with 150,000 years’ wages to pay his debt. The king has absolute discretion. The life of this man is in his hands. He can imprison him, or sell him, or do what he will to get his money back.

He forgives him. He forgives him this debt, which might as well be a gazillion dollars, or a kajillion dollars. A googolplex of dollars.[ii]

And then, the slave does something really unforgiveable: he refuses to forgive someone else’s debt. Another slave owes him 100 denarii—the denarius is one day’s wages for a day laborer. So, this is a debt that could be paid off in less than a year, theoretically. Instead, the forgiven one has his fellow slave thrown into prison.

Of course, the king finds out. And, it turns out, the king can forgive a debt of a googolplex of dollars. But he cannot—or will not—forgive a lack of forgiveness. Well, isn’t that ironic? The king sentences the slave to be tortured.

The parable uses forgiveness of financial debts, which is a relatively simple matter in one sense. The king evidently had the wealth or the magnanimity or both to forgive the ridiculously enormous debt of the slave; but that same slave could not or would not forgive a far more modest, even meager debt.

It’s not so simple when we remove numbers and money from the equation and start talking about the heart.  As for me and my family, I come from a long line of Olympic-level grudge-holders. For a time, one of my relatives could have proudly told you her statistics in this area. She never forgot a wrong, and she never forgave one either. Until, she held a grudge against her own sister for a good dozen years. And then, when that sister’s husband became ill, the grudge was dropped, and all was forgiven. And the further truth is, that grudge had cost my relative. It was a little like being sentenced to jail to be tortured, except she kept the key to her cell on a chain around her own neck. It was time she never got back.

To err is human, to forgive is divine, we are told. So, it might not always be possible to forgive under our own steam. But what feels impossible to us might be possible if we were to enlist God’s help in the matter.

Elsewhere, Jesus tells us that we should pray for our enemies. One tiny step towards forgiveness might be this: to start praying for the person who has injured you. Notice, I didn’t say, “whom you want to forgive,” because sometimes, we don’t want to forgive, and so it’s hard to get started on any action that might lead us down that path. So, rather than thinking about forgiveness, we might think about praying for our enemies, and start there. It's a small thing. But it gives God something to work with.

Many of you know the story of the late Christian Dutch underground member Corrie ten Boom. She told a story of traveling in Germany after the war, bringing a message of forgiveness. The war had cost her family dearly. Though they’d hidden and saved countless refugees, Jews and Christians alike, they could not save some of their own. Corrie had watched her beloved sister, Betsie, die in Ravensbruck concentration camp. She writes,

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear… And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!...

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand…

“‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there…’

“‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

“And I stood there…and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do…

“I knew [forgiveness] not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”[iii]

Forgiveness is not an emotion, and even the most faithful and courageous among us can find it a burden. And though she describes it as “an act of the will,” it was still, clearly, something that could not be conjured up by her will alone. Forgiveness was something she needed to receive as a gift from God. She couldn’t come up with it on her own. She had to ask for it.

Ten Boom suggests that those who were unable forgive the war crimes against them were unable to heal from their injuries. I’ve heard that phenomenon described in many ways, but this may be the best: To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and then discover that the prisoner was you.[iv]

Forgiveness is not easy, it is not automatic. With God, it is possible. It starts with asking God to help us to forgive. If we can’t do that, it starts with asking God to help us to want to forgive. If we can’t do that, it starts with asking God for help, to set this prisoner free. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Ann Lamott.
[ii] The number “1” followed by a “googol” of zeroes; 10(10100).
[iii] Excerpted from “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom, from Guideposts Magazine. Copyright © 1972 by Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, New York 10512.
[iv] Lewis Smedes.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

On Holding On and Letting Go: A Sermon for Transfiguration and Baptism Sunday

Scripture can be found here...

A First-Person monologue, from the point of view of Simon Peter.

Little one, I don’t know who he is. And that’s the truth. Sometimes.

Sometimes I think he is the greatest wonder worker that ever lived. Sometimes I think he is the harshest master I’ve ever had. Sometimes I think he is God himself. And sometimes I think… well, he called me “Satan.” So, I wonder.

Look, I’ve only ever done one thing in my life. I’m a fisherman. I know how to prepare the nets, and repair them. I know how to cast them and haul them in. I know how to bargain with men in whose faces I can read their plan to steal from me, and walk away with enough for my family.

But the first day I saw Jesus’ face… the first time I looked into his eyes, when he looked at my brother and me, sitting there in our boat, and said, “Follow me, and I’ll teach you to haul in a catch of souls.” And he didn’t mean the fish! Well, I knew, little one, that here was a man who was speaking the deepest truth of his heart. I could see it in his face. And my brother and I dropped everything—we dropped our nets, and stepped out of our boats, and never looked back.

Then I thought of him as “teacher.” And he still is, little one! Everything I count as the truest I have ever known I have learned from him. But then… he started his wonder-working, and I was shaken to my core. I’m not a story-teller. I’m not one for dreams that tell you what to do, or when you’ll die. I mostly think those are the result of fish gone bad. But almost immediately after I started following him, my wife’s mother became ill- sick unto death, with a terrible fever. We chased away the children, and called the mourners, and readied ourselves to bury her. But Jesus came in, and looked at her with those… terrible, compassionate eyes of his. And he touched her hand. And the fever left her. Not in a day or a week—in a moment. Her color calmed, and her eyes cleared and opened, and she looked into that face, and smiled, and rose from her bed to follow Jesus too.

And that day, the people in the neighborhood told one another what had happened, and they told others at the market, and soon my house was surrounded by people with fevers, and demons, and leprosy, and paralysis… crowds of people… and every one, every one of them, little one, he touched. And they too were healed.

He scared people. I’ll tell you that. They didn’t know what to make of him. For the life of me, I didn't know either, but before too long, as the crowds grew that came to see him, and hear him, and learn from him, and be healed by him… I began to understand. And then one day he turned to us, his followers, and said, “Who do people say that I am?” He asked us, so calm, like he didn’t much care about the answer. But I can read a man’s face. And I tell you, there was something… was it worry? Was it hope? Something. He wanted to know. He needed to know. And I listened as the others spoke. “Elijah,” one of them said, “Him, or Jeremiah,” someone else offered. He nodded his head at each suggestion, encouraging us. Then Andrew, my brother, said, real quietly, “Some say, John, the Baptist.” And Oh-little one! His face flushed red, I thought he was angry, but then I saw the tears in his eyes. And I knew there had to be some fear. There had to be. Didn’t there? But then he turned to me, and I became bold. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” I said. I almost shouted it. I believed it! Who else could he be?

He looked at me then, most gently, and he said, “Blessed are you, Simon Peter, son of John! You have been listening to my Father in heaven.”

And I thought: He’s the one. He IS the Messiah. He is! And my heart, little one, it about swelled as if to break.

And then, he started—I don’t know—it sounded like nonsense to me. He began saying that it was time to go to Jerusalem, and that when he got there, all the religious leaders would decide it was time for him to suffer, and die—but then, he would be raised up on the last day. And I shouted—then I really shouted, little one—NO! “God forbid it Lord!” And then he turned his wrath on me—there is no other way to say it. He was in a fury. And he said, “Get behind me Satan! You are not listening to my Father in heaven at all!”

It was hard to hear what he had to say after that. He was talking about how we were all going to die. That, we all had to carry the cross. I remember this that he said: “Those who want to hold on their life will lose it, and those who let go of their life for my sake will find it.”

Well. And here I was. Hadn’t I already lost my life for his sake, little one? Let go, walked away from my nets, and my livelihood, and my family, to follow him? To follow and learn from the man with the most trustworthy face I’d ever seen?

Sometimes I think I know just who he is, and then… I just don’t know. I don’t know.

It was a week later, I think. Jesus took three of us, myself, and John, and James, and we broke off from the others, and we climbed a mountain. Higher and higher we climbed. I don’t much care for mountains, myself. Tricky weather in the mountains. I can read the clouds above the Sea of Galilee like I can read a man’s face, but the clouds on a mountain… they can play tricks on you, and that is no joke. So I was uneasy, climbing and climbing, but he must have had his reasons.

And then we came to a more level place, high up, and what should happen. A light… no, a glow. The sun? Maybe it came from behind a cloud? I don’t know little one. But his face, all of a sudden, it became—unrecognizable. It glowed, it flashed. It was the sun, it was brighter than the sun, his clothes too. His robe, which was brown, and his cloak which was another shade of brown—they were white, too white to look upon. It was painful to look upon him, that’s it. His face… it was like… can I say it? It was like looking upon the very face of God.

And then, he wasn’t alone. But there were two men speaking with him, just suddenly they were there. And… how did I know? They were Moses and Elijah. These great men, I’d heard of them all my life. Moses stood there with two great tablets in his arms—I hardly knew how he held them. And Elijah, well, he always dressed strangely, so they say. A cloak made of camel-skin, and a leather belt around his waist, and so that is who the second one was. And there they were—Jesus, and Moses, and Elijah, talking, like… well, like three fishermen standing by the lake. Like they knew one another, from, oh, long ago, and were wondering, how are the fish running today?

“Master!” I called out. I called out! I don’t know what gave me the boldness to do it. “It is good to be here. I will set up three booths, for you, and… Moses, and Elijah.” I heard my own voice, and I thought, I sound mad. No one would ever believe me. I don’t even believe me! And while I was wondering at this, suddenly, a great cloud—not a dark one, but one of those odd mountain clouds you can’t read—bright, and unsettling—it came over us, just sort of fell on all six of us, and John and James and I were on the ground, face down, praying for our lives. Well, we thought our time had come. What with all his talk of dying, little one. We thought we might go up in a chariot with Elijah. But then the voice: a voice like nothing I’d ever heard before. It was like thunder, but it was like whispering, too, and water rushing, and a wave crashing. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

And we looked up, and… it was just Jesus, little one. And his cloak was brown again, and it was his own dear face again, and he was touching us each on the shoulder. And he smiled a little, and said, “Don’t be afraid. Let’s go.” And… we had to let go of that mountaintop, and go down again to the town, because… wasn’t there a boy, possessed, having seizures, and wasn’t his father heartbroken and terrified? And didn’t they need Jesus? Didn’t they need… us? Wasn’t that our life, down there, with the people? And so we went down.

Little one, sometimes I just don’t know who he is. And that’s the truth.

Sometimes I think he is the greatest wonder worker that ever lived. Sometimes I think he is the harshest master I’ve ever had. Sometimes I think he is God himself. I have so many questions to ask him, and I long to keep that face before me. I don’t know all the answers. I want to keep asking him questions. I want to follow him, little one, because I think I understand… I let go of my life, and I found my life. All in following him. And that’s the truth.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

On Worry and Wildflowers: A Sermon on Matthew 6:24-35

Joan Fontaine in "Rebecca," 1940.

Scripture can be found here....

If you’re looking for a really wonderful old movie, a great grande dame of a film in black and white from the glamour days of Hollywood, it’s hard to find a better one than the early Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, “Rebecca.” It’s a love story, between the fabulously wealthy (and somehow vaguely tragedy-shadowed) Maxim de Winter, played by a dashing Laurence Olivier, and the woman who will become the second Mrs. DeWinter, played by Joan Fontaine. They meet cute in Monaco, of all places, where Joan is the much-mistreated companion of a stuffy, pretentious social climber. Maxim sweeps our girl off her feet, and they marry quickly, returning home to a brooding castle called Manderley on the coast of Cornwall. The castle comes complete with the scariest housekeeper this side of a horror story, one Mrs. Danvers, who appears suddenly and often to scare the daylights out of the young bride. 

It’s a love story, but more than that, it’s a mystery, and a kind of a thriller. The poor bride. She knows something is wrong, but she doesn’t know what it is. Shaky organ music gives us a sense that there must be a ghost. Maxim won’t tell her what’s wrong, even though he’s prone to dark moods and long absences. The new Mrs. DeWinter’s desperation comes out, finally, as she begs her husband to reassure her that everything’s all right. “We're happy, aren’t we? Terribly happy? And our marriage is a success, isn’t it? A great success?” Her husband pats her on the back absentmindedly, and says, “If you say so, then we’ll leave it at that.”

The new Mrs. DeWinter is worried. She’s worried half out of her mind, and no wonder. She doesn’t even know exactly what it is that she’s worried about… Her worry lurks in the shadows, its face hidden, just beyond her sight. And if you want to know the true source of her worries, well, you’ll just have to rent the movie or read the novel by Daphne DuMaurier.

My worries seem so…domesticated, by comparison. Boring, really. I’m worried about things like not getting the newsletter article done on time, or getting backed up on my laundry. I’m worried about driving in the snow, and that the salt all over the streets is going to rust my car. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Nothing anyone would make a movie about, certainly not a movie starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.

OK. That’s not all I’m worried about. I’m worried about my children, in the same ways all parents of young adults worry about their children, plus all the worries that come along being the parents of young people who want to make a life in the arts. And I’m worried about the future, in some general and some specific ways. And sometime my sleep gets abruptly terminated at a time I still consider to be the middle of the night, and these worries swirl around in my head until it’s pretty clear: night’s over. Might as well get up. That’s what worry will do for you.

We’re circling back this week, to chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel, right smack in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And we’re landing on one of the better-known parts of that sermon, the part about worry. Or, rather, the part telling us not to worry.

Jesus begins by speaking of money. If you’re wondering what is the topic Jesus talks the most about, look no further. It’s not war. It’s not sex. It’s not family life or values. Jesus’ most frequent topic is money. And verse 24 tells us why: Jesus regards the love of money as something that has the power to enslave us, to take the place of God in our lives. Don’t let this happen to you, he says. Don’t get the idea you can serve two masters. You can only give your heart to one. And by all means, don’t choose the wrong one. It’s either God or wealth; it can never be both.

Therefore, Jesus says, don’t worry. And the worries he lists are very basic ones: sustenance—food and drink. The lack of clothing. These are not the worries of the elite, or even the middle classes. These are the worries of the poor. At first glance, it almost seems that Jesus is being callous—in effect, downplaying the seriousness of poverty and want, even ignoring them. The letter of James has a scathing retort to that kind of callousness: If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?’ [James 2:15b-16] That’s not Jesus, anyway. That’s not what he’s saying.

And because that’s not what he’s saying, he starts talking about birds. Birds and wildflowers. Look at the birds, Jesus says. There they are, just… being birds. They are not punching in and punching out. They are not working hard for the money. They are not planting crops or harvesting them to get their fill of worms and seed. They are just going about the business of being birds, and look at that. They are fed. They are fine. God watches over them.

Will worry make your life one hour longer? Will worry make your life one minute longer?

The same is true for the flowers. When he says, “Consider the lilies of the field…” —Jesus is talking about wildflowers. Things like Queen Anne’s lace and bergamot, buttercups and bluebells. They’re not working for a living either… no flower ever labors over a spindle or a loom. They’re just being flowers. They’re just being. And Solomon, the king whose most famous attribute is his wealth, couldn’t hold a candle to them. Not even in his finest outfit. Not even on his best day.

Will worry make your life one hour longer? Will worry make your life one minute longer?

Again. There’s something here that feels almost like a disconnect. How can Jesus simply say, “So don’t worry about it!” when confronted with a crowd of people who are at real risk for chronic hunger and worse? Because, make no mistake, that’s who he’s talking to. Those he will call, “the least of these, who are members of my family” [Matt. 25:40]. What is going on here?

When in doubt, look closely at the language. There is something interesting going on in the original text. Without getting too heavily into Greek verb tenses, I want to tell you that they are part of Jesus’ argument.

“Therefore do not worry,” Jesus says, “saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ [Matt. 6:31]. Except that the verbs are subjunctives, they are conditional, so Jesus is really saying: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What might we be eating?’ or ‘What might we be drinking?’ or ‘What might we be wearing?” The verb tenses are telling a story of anxiety, of half-heartedness: the worry and fear have reached such a point that they have even colonized the language people are using.

Don’t be half-hearted, Jesus is saying. Be like the birds. A bird is a bird. It doesn’t occur to the bird to worry about where its next meal is coming from. It’s too busy just being a bird, with all its heart and intentions. It doesn’t occur to a wildflower to worry about its appearance. A wildflower is simply reveling in its wild and flowery state. Wholeheartedly.

Be like that, Jesus says. Be wholly yourself, who you are… And who you are, is this: you are beloved children of a loving God. Put that first. Then everything else will call into place.

What Jesus says, specifically, is “strive first for the kingdom of God.” But we need to interrupt this program to clear something up. Until this point in the gospel, Jesus has been talking about the “kingdom of heaven,” and I think we need to get clear what these various words are all about. When we Christians hear the word “heaven,” our default setting is to think of something very specific: We think of a place where God and the angels are, and our deceased loved ones, and we think of it as the place we will go—God willing—after we die. There is one very big problem with this. This is not what Jesus is talking about at all. He is not talking about an afterlife, the pearly gates, the great beyond where we will meet up with the Spirit in the sky. He is talking about the life of faith we live right here, right now, the life that is fully informed by him, and the ways in which he shows us the love of God.

Jesus starts talking about the kingdom of heaven in chapter 4. “The kingdom of heaven has come near,” he says, and what we see is:

·      Jesus gathering together a group of people who will listen to him and try to be like him.

·      Jesus teaching and preaching and telling people the good news about God—how God loves them; about God’s great reversals—the hungry being filled, the mourning being comforted, the meek inheriting the earth.

·      Jesus touching people to cure them of every kind of disease and sickness.

When Jesus says, ‘the kingdom of heaven’, he is not talking about what to expect when we die. He is talking about how we need to live. Jesus invites us to live in a community whose focus is healing and caring for those who are struggling with things like hunger and poverty.  When Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” he’s not talking about an individualistic notion “me and Jesus” salvation. He is talking about whole-hearted devotion to God’s project of people caring for one another.

The big turning point in “Rebecca” is the moment when the second Mrs. DeWinter stops seeing herself as a timid and pathetic person constantly in need of her husband’s validation. A great revelation helps her to recognize that she is a powerful woman, a source of strength and consolation. She blossoms, because instead of being focused on what she lacks, she is now wholeheartedly focused on what she has to give. 

As Jesus looks out at the crowds gathered on the hillside, listening to his sermon, he sees, yes, hurting people, needy people, even hungry people. But he also sees strong people, people who have endured, people who have made do and made it through and who have it in them, not only to survive, but also to thrive. He sees beloved children of God, who have the ability to share that love with one another.

God sees us. God knows what we need. God asks that we train our hearts and minds on who we are and Whose we are. God urges us that we get our priorities clear, understanding ourselves to be God’s beloved children. God assures us that we have been equipped to share God’s love, not in some distant future, but today. Thanks be to God. Amen.