Proper 24 Year B: Human Nature

Isaiah 53:4-12
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:35-45

Our reading from the prophet Isaiah has been used to describe the vocations of Israel, of Isaiah, and of Jesus, because no one really knows who it is talking about. The subject is usually called the “suffering servant”, and depending on one’s religious or academic preference, the suffering servant is usually seen to be whomever it is that will bolster one’s opinion. It is a beautiful part of scripture, and the part we read today is only a small part of the entire “Song of the Suffering Servant”. One of the verses we read today is used to describe the human condition of falleness: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way…” That verse, as well as many other parts of scripture, are cited as examples of depraved human nature; we have gone astray, we have fallen from grace, we are bound for hell. However, it seems that if human nature was really one of depravity, then doing evil could not be conceived of as “going astray” – it could only be described as “following the correct course”, because we would be doing exactly what God made us for. If human nature were truly bad, then doing good would be going astray.

That is why, when these and other scriptures are used as a basis to claim the total depravity of human nature, those scriptures are being used wrongly. Human nature is good, because, as other scriptures tell us, God made humans, and all that God made is good. We have gone astray because we have not followed our good nature. We have instead created a second nature for ourselves: a second nature of pride, self-centeredness, and fear. This second nature is a shell we have encrusted around our true natures of joy, peace, and God-centeredness. Our nature only seems to be totally depraved because we have done such a good job at covering up our God-given good natures.

Of course, God knows this, or God would not be calling us to repentance. If we were made to be bad, then there would be no reason for God to want to save us from that, because going to hell would be our proper function. But we know that God does want us to repent from our false nature of sinfulness and return to our true natures of love. God sees through our façade of evil and into our true selves B the selves that God created in God’s image. As our second scripture reading from the letter to the Hebrews tells us: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” We are created in God’s image, and nothing we can do will change that fact, or hide that fact from God.

The embarrassing thing is that we humans have chosen to cover up that divine nature for so long that we really can’t break out of the second nature we have made for ourselves. God knows that, and so God chose to become one of us so that by refusing to be lulled into crawling into that second nature, Jesus could break it open and pull us out. As Hebrews goes on to say: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” God knows firsthand how easy and tempting it is to want to cover ourselves in a shell of pride and hatred, but he also knows how much better it is to refuse that temptation. God has done it himself, and offers us the only escape from our second nature by standing with us, holding out his hand for us to grasp so he can pull us out of our shells of corruption. We can’t do it ourselves B that is obvious. Only by accepting God’s help can we be reborn back to our true selves.

Before we accept God’s offer to pull us out of the hell we have made for ourselves, we ought to be warned about what God’s offer of heaven is like. Jesus tells us about it in our gospel reading this morning: “whoever wishes to become great must be servant, and whoever wishes to be first must be slave of all – not to be served but to serve”. That describes the opposite of our self-serving second nature, so it is difficult for us because we are not used to it. But it is who we are created to be, and in the end it will bring us eternal joy. Sometimes we slip back into our fallen state, but Jesus is always there waiting to pull us out again if we accept his help. It is our choice, and we are confronted with it every day and every moment. Will we stay in our false second nature of sin and greed, or be pulled out of it to be born again into our true nature as God’s Child? Jesus is offering his hand, but we must reach out and grab it. AMEN

Angels With Their Wings Glued On: St. Michael And All Angels 2006

Genesis 28:10-17
Revelation 12:7-12
John 1:47-51

Jacob was a sleazy con man whose life was defined by lying; either he was being cheated, or he was cheating others. Jesus was an honest man whose life was defined by telling the truth even when doing so got him killed. Yet both of them got to see the angels of God, and both got to hear the voice of God announcing their vocations. Maybe their stories are an indication that if we are attentive enough, we can all see God’s angels and we can all hear God’s voice announcing our vocations.

But we have to be careful, because our scripture reading from the Book of Revelation tells us that God is not the only one with angels, and God is not the only one speaking to us. The accuser and deceiver is also trying to get us to listen. When God announces our vocation, that vocation is always to be a blessing to the people around us, and the angels are revolving around God (descending down to us and going back up to God). When Satan announces our vocation, that vocation is always to be a failure, and the angels are revolving around us and our failure (pointing out the bad parts and urging us to cover them up or blame others so things look better than they really are).

Unfortunately, we often listen to Satan rather than God because on the surface it is so much easier to be a failure than to be a blessing. It is easier to give up and blame others for everything than to work to make life better for others and then have that work go unnoticed and unappreciated, but in the end, Satan’s way of blaming others leads to death while God’s way of blessing others leads to life. We know that, but we so easily forget it in our busy and often lonely days. We don’t see the fruit of our work of trying to bless people, so we give up. That is why it is important for us to not ever try to see the fruit of our work, because as we know from the lives of so many saints, the fruit does not appear until they are long gone. Maybe the sweetest fruit takes a long time to ripen. We need to make sure that the motivation behind our work is love, not results. We need to live by faith, not by sight. If we live by what we see, of course we will follow Satan’s way of giving up in despair look how the world is slowly burning up in war and hatred. If we live by faith, we will follow God’s way of blessing make life better for the world around us, because it sure needs some help.

In the end, of course, Satan will be unmasked and his angels will have their fake wings plucked off. The truth of God’s love for each individual will finally be heard over the lies of Satan’s jealousy of us. We can start that process now by living the truth of our God-given vocation of blessing others, as well as by ceasing to spread the lie of other people’s vocations of failure and instead affirming them in their own God-given vocations of blessing us and those around us. We can choose now to whom we will listen, and with whose angels we will work. Do we want to see angels dancing around our shame, or do we want to see angels dancing around God’s love? Will we open our ears to Satan’s announcement of our already failed lives, or to God’s announcement of our lives of hard work bringing joy and peace to the world? Every day and every moment bring us those choices. Every time we choose to listen to God, we open the gate of heaven and enter the house of God. AMEN

Proper 19 Year B: Take Up Our Crosses

Isaiah 50:4-9
James 2:1-5,8-10,14-18
Mark 8:27-38

The prophet Isaiah in our first reading reminds us of two truths of life: life is difficult, and God is always there with us in the difficult times and is stronger than our problems. In the second reading, James reminds us about the difficulties in life; he alludes to the fact of poverty. He makes it plain that we should not add to the suffering of the poor by treating them as less worthy than rich people. Rather, we should prove we are on God’s side by doing what we can to ameliorate other people=s problems. In the gospel story, Mark reminds us that God chose to suffer and die along with us as a human, and if we want to follow Jesus, we must also be willing to suffer and die.

Jesus does not say that suffering and death are in themselves good. He says that losing our lives for his sake and for the sake of the gospel is good. There must be a reason behind the suffering to make it a good thing. There must be a reason to take up our cross, and maybe that reason is because if we don’t take it up, it means that someone less able to avoid it will have it added to his own already heavy and deadly cross. This is a good thing for us middle class Americans to ponder. We ought not feel guilty about enjoying such good fortune, but we do need to examine our way of life so that we are not causing others in the world to suffer because of our greed or laziness or chauvinism (whether or not any of those things are intentional).

God could have avoided the crucifixion of Jesus, but that would not have put him in union with all the others who had been and would later be crucified in Jerusalem, and had he not died, there would have been no resurrection. We have that same opportunity to not use our fortunate circumstances to run away from the plight of the rest of the world. We can do with less so that others can have more. We can stop shouting about how righteous we are so that others can let us know how we can all learn from each other. That seems so painful to us because we are so spoiled, but if we jump off that cross of pain and death, we miss our chance at joy and resurrection.

Of course we can always ask the age old question of why God doesn’t just make life sweet for everyone. We can ask all we want, but it won’t change the fact that God doesn’t do that, at least not right now. Right now we have the opportunity to be like God, standing with people in their difficulties and giving them strength to face the world as it is. We also have the opportunity to allow others to stand by us in our troubles, as Jesus was surrounded by the women at the cross. God loves us all, but life is still difficult. May we help others as best we can, whether they are near or far. May we always be sure that God is with us, going through our difficulties with us. May we be willing to take up our cross with Jesus, so that we may one day be resurrected with Jesus.   AMEN

Proper 15 Year B: The Banquet Of Wisdom

Proverbs 9:1-6
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:53-59

Our first two scripture readings today are both pleas and exhortations to live wisely. The first was from Solomon, telling us that Wisdom is calling to us to the banquet she has prepared for anyone who chooses to come to her house. The second is from Paul, telling us that since God has given us a new life in Jesus, we ought not to go back to our old selfish ways, but should wisely make the most of our lives by being thankful for everything God has given us. These two pleas for us to live wisely come from two very different settings: Solomon was a powerful and wealthy king; Paul was a powerless and poor preacher. The two lived a thousand years apart from each other, although they both spent time in Jerusalem. In many of Solomon’s writings, one gets the hint that he believed that some are born wise and others are born foolish, and that can’t be changed; in Paul’s writings, the predestination of the wise and foolish is sometimes hinted at, although some people have made a lot more of that hint of predestination than others.

The aspect of wisdom that is common between the two authors is the fact that wisdom is a gift from God, whether or not we are born with it or are offered it later in life as a choice to make by our own free will. Wisdom is not something that we can produce. Most people now would agree that wisdom is something that all people are offered, and most people would also agree that although it is a gift, it is not fully functional when it is given. We have to show our gratitude and appreciation of God’s gift of wisdom before it can work in us. We have to be diligent in listening to other wise people and in calmly and humbly taking criticism from others, whether or not that criticism is meant to be constructive or destructive (sometimes we can learn more from destructive criticism than from the constructive kind, because even though it is meant to harm us, it is usually true, so we should be grateful for it and do what we can to help the person trying to hurt us). We also have to keep our appetites for food, sex, alcohol, and partying in check, because even though they are good gifts from God, they can easily take over our lives and cause us to be harmful to ourselves and the people around us if we are not careful. All four of these disciplines of gratitude, listening, humility and moderation are based on the truth that we are not the center of the universe and getting what we want when we want it is not the most important thing in the world. True wisdom consists in living the truth that God is the center and source of everything.

Each of us is only a part of God’s wonderful world, but that does not negate our importance, because without everyone living their parts to the fullest, we are all impoverished. Our world is a fallen world because when we choose to put ourselves in the center, we throw everything off-balance and leave a hole in our spot so that others can’t receive what they need from us. God has not built the world around himself because he wants or needs attention. God has built the world around himself because that is the only way the world can be built, and God does not want it to go to waste by being the only one to experience it. The problem for us is that the universe is so wonderful, we want to claim it as our own. There is no need for that, because there is more than enough to go around, and when we are so busy trying to run the world our own way, we forget the joy of watching God run it the way it should be. We deserve more than the tiny universes we create for ourselves; that is why God made the infinite one for us. God gives us the world, as well as the wisdom to realize how wonderful and beautiful it is, whether or not we can ever begin to understand how it works. Our job is to take the wisdom offered to us and live our lives in such a way that it can grow in us and help us live wonderful and beautiful lives in harmony and peace with all the other elements of creation.

God not only gives us the world, God gives us his own self (that is what our third reading from John’s Gospel is all about). We will soon gather around the table up here to be fed by God’s own being. All the wisdom in the world won’t ever help us to understand how that is possible, but wisdom will let us know that we need it. We might not be the center of the universe, but the center of the universe wants to be in us. God loves us so much that he wants to be taken into us. We are offered God’s own life as we gather together at God’s table. Just as we cannot produce wisdom on our own, so we can not produce life on our own. We have to take it from God, who thinks we are worth enough for him to give his own life for us and to us. Taking the center of the universe into us should be a much higher goal than trying to create our own tiny universes revolving around us. One important step to that higher goal is to realize and remind ourselves that the center of the universe desires to be in everyone else gathered around the altar with us also. With God’s gift of wisdom, we will slowly learn to live, think, and speak that truth. It all comes from God, but we have the choice of accepting it or denying it. We will waver between the two every day and every moment, but by admitting that life and wisdom are solely gifts from God, God will help us take those gifts and make our lives better than we could ever have imagined on our own.   AMEN

Proper 10 Year B: Called

Amos 7:7-15
Ephesians 1:1-14
Mark 6:7-13

Many times, guests come to the monastery to spend time trying to discern the path that God wants them to take. Sometimes they are so concerned about doing the thing God wants them to do that their lives are crippled and at a standstill because, since they can’t figure out their exact calling, they simply do nothing out of fear of going against God’s will. They want to hear a definite call like Amos in our first reading, or like the twelve apostles in our gospel story. But for most people most of the time, our vocations fit more with our second reading: we are simply called to live and grow in Christ and spread his kingdom in our own normal daily lives. That reading (from Paul’s letter to Ephesus) describes our vocation as normal daily Christians, and it quickly becomes apparent that our seemingly unglamorous calling really has cosmic dimensions and implications: “…he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world…he destined us for adoption as his children…according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will…as a plan for the fullness of time…having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel…”

So even though sometimes, and for certain periods, we might discern specific instructions from God like Amos, Paul, and the twelve apostles did, even when we don’t discern those instructions, we can be assured that our lives are more meaningful than we might ever know. We need to always be open to specific calls from God, and we also need to be open to the fact that they might never come. But we can always use the many opportunities presented to us in our daily lives to be apostles and prophets to the small corner of the world where we find ourselves. We can be assured that by doing just that, we are fulfilling our vocations and being obedient to God. No need for agonizing and doing nothing out of fear of disobeying God’s will. God does have a plan for each of us, but it is probably not nearly as specific and detailed as some people would lead us to believe. The parameters of God’s plans for us are as wide as God’s love for us. The instructions for following those plans are as specific and detailed as our every breath. All we need to do is base every thought, word, and deed on love and respect for ourselves, our neighbors, and God. Of course, we don’t do that, and that is why we always need to admit our need for God’s grace to live our vocations as God’s children. We will fail to follow that path as God’s children every day, and God will forgive us of that failure every day.

There is a book in our library that opens with the statement that the most important question we can ask ourselves at the end of each day is: “Have I loved?” Of course the answer is always yes and no, because throughout each day we both succeed and fail in our vocations. And so we pray every day for God to help us be better apostles and prophets. We read scripture and let it slowly form us into better apostles and prophets. And we come here to gather at God’s table to allow God to feed us with himself as he makes us just what he wants us to be – no more, and no less. God calls us every day and every moment, and that call can be answered every day and every moment by simply living our dull, daily lives with faith, hope, and charity as we spread God’s kingdom in our own dull, daily worlds.   AMEN

One, But Not The Same: Peter and Paul 2006

Ezekiel 34:11-16
II Timothy 4:1-8
John 21:15-19

As Christians, we are all called to be shepherds, priests, and pastors, but rarely does a person’s call fit the usual professional job description associated with those terms. Instead, our vocation to shepherd each other hinges on our being part of the Body of Christ. As Ezekiel reminds us, God is the shepherd. It follows that since we are to be the physical presence of God to those around us, all members of Christ’s Body have pastoral responsibilities, no matter our profession or occupation. Ezekiel also reminds us that we are the sheep, so it follows that our duties lie in both directions; we must be open and available to pastor as well as to be pastored.

We never really know who is looking to us for guidance, and often that person is not fully aware of following our lead, so we must all “fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith” as Paul says, and we must do it in the way that is unique to each of us as different members of Christ’s Body. In other words, we simply need to be our best selves: the image of God we are created to be, because each person’s way of proclaiming Christ is a necessary part of the whole. Even Peter and Paul differed in their approach to evangelism, and the church would have been greatly impoverished had they not accepted their pastoral duties in their own individual ways.

Of course, we should never use the fact of our individuality as an excuse for laxness, stagnation, or complacency. As Paul reminds Timothy: “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out you ministry fully.” Those are not heroic actions in themselves, butt we all know how difficult it is to perform them every day, year after year. Difficult or not, we must never give up, because as was stated before, we never know who is following us as their model and shepherd. Our entire lives must be seen as a function of our priesthood the priesthood of Jesus of which we all partake.

One aspect of being a shepherd which both Ezekiel and Jesus mention is the task of feeding the sheep. A good shepherd leads the sheep to the food and allows them to eat. As good pastors, we must never cram things down anyone’s throat or spoonfeed them when they ought to be capable of sitting up at the table with good manners. Such actions befit tyrannical cult leaders, not church members. As John Chrysostom told his congregation in Constantinople: “Jesus is the shepherd of sheep, not of wolves.” We also need to do ourselves and everyone else a favor and not allow anyone to cram anything down our throats, or demand to be spoonfed when we are capable of doing it ourselves. Just as we never know who is following us (consciously or unconsciously), we need to be aware of our role models and choose them deliberately and wisely, rather than just blindly following someone we do not even realize is leading us.

Accepting our individual status as shepherds, priests, and pastors is difficult at times and can seem a burden, rather than the joy it should be. Perhaps we can take encouragement from another famous pastor: John, a contemporary of Peter and Paul. Once again, John had his own unique ways of shepherding the people around him, the most famous of which was to simply raise his hand and remind the church: “Little children, love one another.” That might seem simplistic, but that is really our only job; everything else is peripheral. If we are faithful to the task of truly and actively loving each other (and sometimes that is quite a chore), then the other duties of being a pastor to those around us will fall into place as Love sees fit. “Little children, love one another.” “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” “Jesus is the shepherd of sheep, not of wolves.” If we truly love God, our neighbors, and ourselves, we will feed and be fed, and we will walk through the valley of darkness and fear no evil; for the Lord is our shepherd, and we shall not want. AMEN

Trinity Sunday Year B: Temple Of Words

Exodus 3:1-6
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-16

On May 9th (the yearly remembrance of the dedication of this church building), we read about Solomon constructing and dedicating the temple in Jerusalem. Solomon admits that God could not be contained in the temple, or even in the whole of heaven and earth. But Solomon also realizes that the temple can be a focal point for people to encounter God, and so asks God to hear the prayers of those praying in or toward the temple. Today we celebrate the construction and codification of a system of beliefs about God. Like Solomon, we need to remember that God cannot be contained by words, or even in any religion or philosophy anywhere at anytime. But we can remember that our historical trinitarian creeds (just like the temple in Jerusalem) can be a place for us to encounter God and grow in our relationship with God.

Solomon was guided by God in building the temple, as were the church councils in building our orthodox, catholic, trinitarian creeds. But just as the temple was built using human hands, hearts, and minds, so were our creeds. Being human constructs, both the temple and the creeds are therefore imperfect and incomplete. That does not mean that they are wrong; it simply means they are not perfect and complete. Only God is perfect and complete, and only God is truth. Anything else can only be a tool to reach truth.

Creeds, confessions, prayerbooks, catechisms, and councils have sparked violence and hatred throughout history. Maybe one day we will be over that phase. We don’t have to (and shouldn’t have to) believe every theory of God that is put forth, but we can see if pondering them can strengthen our own beliefs, and we can politely disagree with people while not condemning them. We can also be more comfortable with letting the mystery of God remain a mystery rather than always trying to systematize and coordinate our beliefs. The church councils were made of men who were necessarily products of their time and culture – steeped in the philosophical framework of their day, no matter how prayerful and holy they also were. If the creeds were to be hammered out by church councils today, they would be different, because even though the Holy Spirit would be guiding the framers, those framers would be products of a different time and way of thinking. That doesn’t mean they would be wrong; it just means that they mystery of God would be expressed using different concepts, and the unspeakable would be spoken of using different words.

We should be grateful for the work our ancestors did in hammering out the current orthodox understanding of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we must always remember that it is God who is to be worshipped, not our system of belief. Just like this church building or the temple in Jerusalem, a codified system of belief is meant to be a tool to bring us closer in our union with God, and to constantly strengthen that union. We must never misuse the tools God gives us. We must never use them to harm others or to bar them from God. With prayer, thought, and work, we can use our official doctrines to help bring even those who do not accept them closer to God. Instead of the all-too-common abusive pattern of using them to hurt people, we can instead choose to use them to help bring the healing, joyful peace of God to the people around us. That is why we are here and why we say we believe what we believe. We are worshippers of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of us all and the entire universe – the God who loves us all dearly, no matter our ability or inability to put our love into formal statements.   AMEN

Easter IV Year B: Know Thyself

Acts 4:23-37
I John 3:1-8
John 10:11-16

Our readings from John this morning speak of knowing and seeing ultimate reality, and both acts hinge on Jesus. In the gospel, Jesus says: “I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me, I know the Father.”, and in the Letter from John, the author speaks of our relationship to Jesus, saying: “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Putting the two together, we can make the conclusion that by coming to know Jesus, we come to know God and ourselves. As we pray more and live more like Jesus, we slowly learn the meaning of life.

That knowledge of God, Jesus, ourselves, the universe and everything in it that we obtain from living in God is not really intellectual or academic knowledge, although that is a part of it. It is existential knowledge – built into our bones and our soul; it is experiential knowledge – something we do; it is intimate knowledge – like the Biblical term for sexual union; it is instinctual knowledge – like knowing how to breathe; and it is habitual knowledge – like learning how to ride a bicycle or play a musical instrument by practicing so that one eventually does not need to think about it in order to do it.

The knowledge and vision we receive from abiding in God and following Jesus is the knowledge and vision of reality, because God is the basis of reality. God is the only means of existence. Everything else exists because God brings it into being, and so the only way to ever experience truth is by seeing God as the source and basis of everything, including ourselves. The more we come to know God, the more we come to know ourselves, because we are made in the image of God. So as this existential, experiential, intimate, instinctual, and habitual knowledge grows in us, the more we become like God (our origin). We become more peaceful, joyful, and creative as we become more like the creator and source of peace and joy. We become more loving, merciful, and tolerant even while keeping the highest standards of morality as we become more like the loving, merciful, and tolerant judge of the universe who expects mature behavior from us and yet knows firsthand from his incarnation as Jesus how hard it is to always exhibit it.

As we grow in this knowledge and vision of Godliness and humanness, all the fear and falsehood that we put between ourselves, God, and each other slowly melts away as we realize there is no need for fear. We become more like God and more our true selves. We are not God, and we do not become God – that would be short-changing our humanity. We are beautifully human and will become more proud of and grateful for our humanity the closer we grow to God. Sometimes it seems like we grow too slowly, or even regress. We can’t control our growth (only God does that), but we can foster the growth that God gives us, and we can avoid those things that we know will cause us to regress. God has a high enough opinion of us to give us the freedom to discipline ourselves, rather than forcing maturity upon us. If God’s opinion of us is so high, ours should be, too. As Jesus says: “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” John tells us what Jesus and the Father know about us: “Beloved, we are God’s children now”. He goes further and tells us what we need to always remember about ourselves: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

One way to purify ourselves is to stop living the lie that we and others are not good enough for each other, for ourselves, or for God. We are God’s children now. We don’t need to wait to start acting like that. We can be grateful for and respectful of our lives and the lives of those around us. We can honor our common humanity and encourage each others’ maturity as we all struggle with the temptation to stop growing or even regress back to an infantile state. God is with us the whole way. We are worth enough for God to call us his children, and we are worth enough to call ourselves and each other that, too.   AMEN

Lent V Year B: Jesus Saves

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:1-10
John 12:20-33

Emphasis on the death of Jesus as the act that brings about the forgiveness of our sins and puts us in union with God leaves a bad taste in many mouths. That is not surprising; it seems to make God a fan of death. Another reason for the growing lack of enthusiasm for so much importance placed on the death of Jesus as the source of our salvation is the fact that it has been a dominant theme for several generations, and so we feel the human need to swing the pendulum away from it and on to another way of thinking, just like we tend to do in the areas of politics and fashion. Swinging back and forth between what are often termed “theories of atonement” has been common in Christian history, and that can be surprising and unsettling for some people who insist on the need to believe in a set doctrine explaining exactly how “Jesus Saves”.

If one wants to get a glimpse of some of the theories of atonement that have been presented throughout church history, there are books in our library that carry that information, and they can be interesting and edifying. To be honest, I like some of the theories and dislike others, but what I really believe is that some of the truth is probably found in all of them. Theories don’t save; “Jesus Saves”, and maybe the important thing is not how but what and why. The what is a covenant between us and God, written in our hearts, stating that we and God belong to each other, as we heard in our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. That covenant is ratified by Jesus as our priest, as we heard in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. The why is God’s love for us and the desire to bring us closer to God’s self, as we heard Jesus say in the gospel reading: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Jesus was lifted up from the earth on a cross, and we must admit that hanging from a cross is quite a way to get someone’s attention. Even with all the other thousands of people who had been crucified before and have been crucified since, God got our attention with that one, and has been drawing people to himself ever since.

The death of Jesus is an important aspect of God’s gift of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is important because death is a part of life, and God lived and still lives a full human life as Jesus. We might not ever understand all the facets of all the “theories of atonement”, but that is ok, because our union with God is not dependent on our understanding. Our salvation is dependent on God, who has already given us eternal life, joy, and peace. God wants us to have a relationship with him, not with a theory. So he lives with us, dies with us, and enters a new eternal life with us. God is here with us – his Holy Spirit is praying through us, binding us together with each other and with God’s self; God is here with us as we gather to be fed by God; God is with us as we leave the church and go about our daily lives. God is hanging on a cross, drawing us to himself, and God is risen from the dead to be with us always.   AMEN

Lot Went With Him: St. Benedict 2006

Genesis 12:1-4a
Ephesians 3:14-19
John 15:9-171

Our scripture from Genesis is often used to inspire people to set out toward the unknown, leaving everything behind as we follow God’s lead into a totally new life. However, the very end of the story this morning does not fit that ideal situation. It says very specifically: ” Lot went with him.” If one reads further, one learns that Abram also took his wife Sarai and all of their combined possessions. Abram faithfully followed God in to the unknown, but he did not leave everything behind. We take our past with us always, wherever we go. We can choose to let it be a hindrance on our journey, or we can choose to let God transform it into a help for our journey. Just as we can give God our past, we can give God our future, as Abram did when he left his home and went where God directed. We can choose to worry about our future, or we can choose to rest in the fact that God will use it for our good no matter what it might bring us. Living in the knowledge that our past and future are in God’s hands and trusting God with our lives allows us to live joyfully in the present, as we are ” being rooted and grounded in love ” and as we are ” filled with the fullness of God”, as our second scripture reading from the Letter to the Ephesians puts it. It allows us to ” abide in God’s love ” and lets our ” joy be complete ” as Jesus tells his disciples in our gospel this morning. It frees us from a lot of worry and stress so that we have the time and energy to ” love one another “, and it gives us the stability we need to ” bear fruit that will last ” as Jesus says.

The call to give God our past, present, and future comes only from God, but it is not given only to famous saints or biblical figures. God want every one to freely give their lives to him so that those lives can be real. Life comes only from God – it is not under our power – and until we recognize that, our lives aren’t real; at best they are pale imitations of true life, at worst they are walking deaths. We can choose to pretend that our lives are under our own control and in so doing lose them, or we can choose to acknowledge and rest in God as the source of our lives and so live more truly than we could ever have imagined. Abiding in God won’t necessarily make life easy we can see that by looking the human life of God in Jesus but it will be fruitful, based on love, and eternal. There’s no denying that some events in our past can be crippling and we ought not to make light of them. In the same manner, sometimes events looming in the future can be overwhelming. We shouldn’t deny all that; it is right and good to grieve over those things, but we don’t have to let that paralyze us. God can transform it into good grief that helps us to learn from our past and prepare for the future, while not letting them consume our lives. Our past, present, and future are all parts of us that God can use to bring us to true life. We must not deny them, fret over them, or pretend that we are in charge of them. They are from God and God will give us what we need if we only take it from him and abide in him as the source, meaning, and completion of our lives.

That is true not only for us as individuals, but also for us as a monastery. There is good and bad in our past. We don’t know what the future will bring, but most likely there will be good and bad in it, too. The only thing we can be sure of is that no matter what has happened and what may happen, God can make good out of it for us, if we only allow it. It may not turn out the way we expect or want, and we should be thankful for that, because our hopes and desires are so tiny. God will make things better than we could ever expect or desire. May we look with love on our past as we take it with us into the future, knowing the one sure thing is that God is with us. AMEN