“I Know that My Redeemer Lives”

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Frankin, TN + 5th Sunday after Pentecost + June 24, 2018

Readings: Job 38:1-11; Mark 4:35-41


Three weeks ago, you blessed a small group of St. Andrew people — mostly teenagers — before we set off for Affirm, a summer youth camp for our synod. We spent the next week at the University of West Alabama with about 200 other people from Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Our kids spent most of their time in different units that delved deep into issues of faith and life specific to their age group and interests. But every night all of us came together for worship, which was centered around the year’s big theme: Together. Each day had its own mini-theme — worship, serve, work, and love — and our worship team explored how the Church does all those things “together” with God and one another.

I got to spend most of my time with the worship team, helping high school juniors and seniors craft liturgy, music, and a sermon (usually in skit form) based on study of our daily scriptures and theme. The first theme we worked on was “worship together,” so we began worship planning with a conversation about why it’s important that we come together for worship, even though we can worship God on our own. Each person shared what they found most meaningful about being part of a church community. And it was inspiring. Almost every kid said that their church was a place where they felt like they were welcome just as they were; a place where they could get together with other people who were struggling and help support one another; a place where God worked through all our human messiness to create something better than we could do on our own.

But one teen described church life in a totally different way: he called it “a place of tension.” What he meant was that he spent most of his week out “in the world,” hearing all these different messages and advertisements and judgments — and then when he came to church he heard God’s word. And what he heard God saying through the church was different than what he was hearing in other places in his life. And so church was a place of tension, where he worked to navigate through all those different messages and to figure out how God was calling him to live. The community helped challenge him in ways that wouldn’t happen if he only worshipped on his own.

I’m pretty sure I told him right in that moment that I was going to borrow that for a sermon.

Because I’m sure all of us have felt that kind of tension as we’ve worked to sort through all the different messages we receive in our lives. Often what we are sorting through are all these contradicting moral messages: ideas about how we should behave, what our families and communities should be like, what our priorities should be.

Today’s Bible readings draw us to a different set of messages: messages about how we should interpret our experiences — especially experiences of suffering or fear — and what we might think of God based on those experiences.

Our first reading is from the book of Job. You probably remember the basics of his story: Job was rich both spiritually and physically. He had a big, loving family, a huge, fruitful farm, and lots of servants to take care of things. All these blessings did not make him arrogant or lazy; Job remained “blameless and upright; [he] feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). But suddenly all Job had was taken away from him: goods, servants, family, his own health. He was left to wallow in suffering.

His friends tried to convince him that he must have committed some secret sin to make God curse him so. That was the only way they could make sense of what was happening to Job; if someone was suffering, they must have done something to deserve it. Admit you’ve sinned, they said to Job, confess, and God will make things better for you. Other people tried to convince Job to turn his back on God, to curse God right back.

But Job knew that he has been faithful to God, and he trusted that God was just. Standing firm in that faith, Job begged God to come to him and explain why he was being made to suffer so severely.

And finally God did answer Job. Our reading for this morning is part of God’s answer. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God asked Job. Who controls the wild sea, who made the stars, who is Lord over all Creation? In essence, God’s answer came down to: Who are you to try and understand how I run the world?

Ok: taken on its own, that is not the most comforting answer. It’s not very compassionate (how it just downplays Job’s suffering and questions) and it points us toward the mystery of things rather than giving us answers or even much hope. But when we put this response in tension with how Job’s friends responded to Job’s suffering, it is definitely the more hopeful answer. Job’s friends blamed him for his own suffering, rubbing salt into the wound; God assigned no blame, only pointed out that suffering is one of many things that humans cannot understand.

When I was a hospital chaplain, I talked with many patients who were struggling with the question, “What did I do wrong, to earn this disease or this injury?” When people ask that question, coming to accept that their pain is not their fault, but is rather one of the great, infuriating mysteries that we are struggle with…that may actually be the first step towards a better outlook on their situation. And at least it doesn’t make God out to be this scary judge just waiting to get us back for every wrong we’ve ever done; it just leaves us wondering about what exactly God might be up to. That’s the window for hope.

But perhaps the most comforting thing we see in Job’s story is Job’s faith in who God is. Job has a vision of a more hopeful future. As Job’s so-called friends accused him and accused him, calling him wicked, trying to get him to admit how horrible he must really be…as Job felt like he was getting kicked around by God and everyone around him (Job 19:21-22)…in that very moment Job uttered the words that we now sing in Easter hymns: “I know that my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). That Hebrew word we usually translate “redeemer” also means things like “advocate” and “avenger.” So even in the midst of his sufferings Job held fast to his belief that God would, ultimately, show that God was not only just, but also caring, that God would make meaning out of Job’s suffering, that God would redeem that horrible time, that God would make things right. From a human perspective, all of that seems really impossible. Yet Job believed that in the end he would see that God was on his side after all:

I know that my Redeemer lives,

and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

and after my skin has been thus destroyed,

 then in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see on my side,

and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (Job 19:25-27)

And maybe we can find hope in Job’s faith because we see it proved true in Jesus Christ.[1] Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection show us that God does come to redeem and avenge wrongful suffering. Jesus is the redeemer Job prayed for: the face of God on earth, showing us that God stands on the side of those who suffer wrongly or without apparent reason — not accusing them, but standing up for them, standing on their side.

In Jesus we see that great, mysterious, high-above-us God of all Creation that responds to Job: remember how in today’s gospel reading Jesus tamed the storming winds, leaving his disciples wondering, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” That’s the Jesus-is-fully-God thing showing through. And in the person of Jesus God went to those who were suffering — suffering from disease and poverty and prejudice and injustice — and told them God was with them, and helped them.

And in Jesus we also see Job: an innocent man given over to suffering and cursed by people who didn’t understand what was really going on.

And God redeemed Jesus’s innocent suffering; we might even say that God avenged Jesus’s innocent suffering — just not in the way we usually expect redemption and vengeance. God did not answer suffering and death with more suffering and death, by, say, zapping Jesus’s killers with lightning bolts. Instead, God avenged Jesus’s death by raising him to new life. God showed the world that Jesus was not cursed or crazy or wrong; Jesus was God’s chosen one…and even more: that Jesus was God made flesh.

The God we see revealed in Jesus consistently chose to avenge victims of innocent or senseless suffering — and God always avenged them in life-giving ways: by insisting that they were not cursed, that they were blessed and beloved in the eyes of God; by healing them, by restoring them to community; by commanding others to love and care for them, too. And even those who we might say deserved suffering…Jesus forgave them their sins and freed them.

When we are suffering, it’s easy for us to wonder if maybe God is that Watchful Judge out to even the score. The voices of Job’s friends speak in our heads, telling us we must have done something wrong to justify what we are going through. When we see others suffering, sometimes Job’s friends speak up again, making us wonder if those other people must have done something to deserve their suffering: their poverty, their lack of health care, the violence enacted upon them. Often those are the messages we receive not just from inside our heads, but from lots of different places in our world as we try to make sense of the suffering we see and experience.

If we come to church — if we come together with other believers — and have those kind of thoughts inside our head…If we come together wondering if God is judging us, if we are suffering for our sins, if we come judging others too harshly…then I hope the Church is a place where all those ideas are brought into tension with what we know about who God is. I hope the Church is a community that helps us believe that God does not send us suffering because of sins. I hope the Church is a community that holds us as we face down the great and frustrating mystery of suffering. And I hope the Church is a community that helps us hold on to the faith that God will redeem us in the end.


[1] Dorothee Soelle, Suffering, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975) pp. 118-119.

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A Glimpse of Glory

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church + The Transfiguration of Our Lord + February 11, 2018

Reading: Mark 9:2-9


A few years ago I helped lead a group of college students on a service trip to New Orleans. We stayed in the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Even seven years after Hurricane Katrina, the Lower Ninth bore obvious scars of the natural disaster: injured buildings; FEMA’s spray paint; abandoned houses, reminders of neighbors who left to shelter with family in other cities and never returned.

Our home for the week was the Lower Ninth Ward Village, a warehouse turned into a community center — or rather, turning into a community center. It was clear that a lot of work had gone into the place: walls were painted with bright murals; a garden grew in the backyard; one of the rooms had been converted into a computer lab for the neighborhood’s students. This place was an amazing refuge and beacon of hope for its community. But it was also clear that this was a work in progress: we kept discovering, as we cooked, that the kitchen was missing some basic equipment; one afternoon we saw a rat scurry across the kitchen floor, and we hurried to move ALL of our groceries behind the protective walls of the fridge.

On one of our first mornings, one of the young women described the huge bugs she’d seen in our sleeping room the night before. She said she had kept awake for a while, imagining all the kinds of bugs could be crawling around the floor, crawling up the legs of her cot, wondering if they could be dangerous. Finally, she said, she’d fallen asleep, reminding herself, in all seriousness: “God won’t let a bug kill me.”

I think I kept a straight face when she said that. But inside I was shocked. How can you say “God won’t let a bug kill me” while we are sleeping in a building that once had floodwater rising up over its windows? While all around us buildings are still marked with codes showing whether any deceased people had been found inside? While our neighbors for the week are people who were already poor, suffering from a continuing history of systemic racism and poverty, and then were hit by a disaster, and now are still struggling to recover while most of the rest of their city has gone back to normal?

Saying “God won’t let a bug kill me,” especially in that particular place, with the stories we’d been hearing…it sounded hollow and insensitive and, well, maybe a little ridiculous. But, this young woman was only doing something that we all sometimes do, something we are trained to do by a culture that does not want to face suffering or failure or grief or death. She was using her faith as a barrier against her fear of suffering. She was thinking of God as a powerful, protective figure that will make everything go her way, at least most of the time.

But that is not a promise God makes to us. That is not who God is. And there’s a big danger in that thinking: because — as many of you have already learned all too well — there will come a day when something really bad will happen, something that a god who makes things go our way would never let happen, and we will be left wondering if that god really exists. And if that is the only god we know, we will be left wondering if God really exists, or cares about us.

Today in worship we remember and celebrate the story of Christ’s Transfiguration. And I think this story can seem as unreal and disconnected from our experiences as that false god who only lets nice things happen. Jesus suddenly transforms, his clothes blindingly white, and he speaks with two of the greatest Jewish figures of all time, men who had walked the earth a thousand years before. God’s voice declares from the sky: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

A_Proper25-medium

Transfiguration – Mosaic along the entryway to the Basilica of St. Peter, Vatican City. Via Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition

So few human beings in all of history have ever had — or even claimed to have had — such a direct experience of God’s power and glory, such a clear communication from heaven. So we probably come away from this story thinking, “Wow! What an amazing sight that would have been to see!” or “That must really have confirmed for those three disciples that Jesus was the messiah.” Or, if we are feeling cynical or doubtful this morning, “Yeah right, like this one actually happened.” In any case: how do we apply this story to the complications and questions of our life? How does this bright, shining vision of Christ’s glory have connection to our experiences, especially if we’re facing life’s most humbling or devastating moments: illness, death, loss, disappointment?

Here’s the thing that helps me: the Transfiguration was weird and out-of-this-world for Jesus’s disciples too. That’s why Peter fumbled around as he tried to react in the midst of all his awe and fear of what he’d just witnessed. This story is an out-of-place blip of shiny glory in a life otherwise spent staring life’s pain in the face. As far as we know, Jesus grew up like just about everybody else in his world: poor. In the years of his life we know most about, he wandered around with a rag-tag group of followers, surviving off of whatever food and shelter someone offered them, sometimes scavenging for their own food. And yes, he performed many, many healings: but those demonstrations of divine power also involved staring disease and death in the face, being surrounded by sick people, touching lepers. In Jesus, the God of all glory entered right into the midst of our suffering: experiencing pain physically and emotionally, spending time with the poor and the sick and the dying and the grieving and the angry people.

The Transfiguration occurred at a time when Jesus was really trying to drive home the point that the messiah, the Son of God, did not come to ward off suffering. The messiah would have to suffer and die. Those who wished to follow him would have to follow him into lives of suffering and sacrifice.

The story of the Transfiguration appears in three of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And in each of those books, it appears as part of the same sequence of events — which doesn’t often happen with stories, since the writers arranged each arranged the stories in their own ways. In all three tellings, the Transfiguration is preceded by Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter confessed, “You are the messiah.” And then Jesus explained exactly what that meant: he would undergo great suffering, be put to death, and after three days, rise again. Anyone who wanted to follow him would have to “take up their cross” (Matt. 16:13-28; Mark 8:27-9:1; Luke 9:18-27). All three gospels link this story to the Transfiguration, saying it was about a week later that Jesus took three disciples up the mountain, where they saw him change before their eyes. As they came down the mountain together, Jesus again reminded them that he would soon be made to suffer.

When they reached the rest of the disciples at the bottom of the mountain, a great crowd was waiting for them. The crowd had brought the disciples a boy who was possessed by an unclean spirit. The disciples had been unable to cast it out. So immediately after that moment of dazzling glory on the mountain, Jesus again came face-to-face with the suffering of the world. Jesus healed the boy, and then went on with his disciples, teaching them, yet again, that he was about to be betrayed and killed (Matt. 17:14-23; Mark 9:14-32; Luke 9:37-45).

We understand the Transfiguration best when we see that it is a glimpse of glory in the midst of a life turned towards human suffering. It’s like a peek behind-the-scenes, a vision of the glorious God present there in the suffering of Jesus; and it’s like a promise of the resurrection that would come after the crucifixion. The divine power in Jesus would not keep him from suffering, but it would bring God nearer to our suffering, right into death, and then the divine power would bring new life. That is the promise of the Transfiguration.

Maybe you have a memory bank of moments like the Transfiguration; memories or stories or Bible verses that remind you that God is with you even when life feels awful, that remind you that God will bring new life even from our tragedies.

We would prefer it if God kept suffering from happening in the first place. And I will always insist that getting angry with God after a tragedy or asking why God “let something happen” is a biblical reaction: there are psalms and whole books of devastated and furious laments in the Bible. Still we must remember what we have been shown and promised: what we see revealed in Jesus Christ is not a god who keeps us protected from all harm, but a God who is right there with us when we are suffering, a God who transfigures our suffering from something devastating to something meaningful (even if still painful), a God who leads us to new life even after death. Our lives may never be the same; but God will use the change for a new creation, a resurrection that — like Jesus’s resurrected body — bears the marks of the pain we suffered even while we begin our new life.

These were the promises that sustained the disciples through their years of persecution and martyrdom. These are the promises that we can lean on today, even when we come to our own times of suffering. Amen.

Hidden Burdens/Come to Jesus

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 5th Sunday After Pentecost + July 9, 2017

Readings: Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


Over the last month or so y’all have been involved in a flurry of casting prayers and blessings on members of this congregation as we’ve headed out for youth event after youth event. It started with Vacation Bible School, which was only about a month ago but, to me, already feels like a lifetime ago. This morning, Sandy Vollmer, Pastor Lippard, and a pile of our youth are in a van somewhere between here and Lutherock in North Carolina. In between were other events – Affirm in Alabama, Nights Alive in Nashville. It’s been almost non-stop, and it’s been amazing. You shouldn’t be surprised if you strike up a conversation with me and I eventually start rambling about watching 400 youth dance around to the “holy, holy, holy” song during communion, or how I asked a group of kids what the word “behold,” means, and one little preschooler raised his hand and said, “It kind of means, like, ‘TA-DA!”

Last week Rand Smith and I were chatting before a Worship Planning meeting, and our conversation turned to Affirm: the synod-wide youth gathering that took place a few weeks ago. Rand’s wife, Beth, served on the camp medical staff, as she has for many years, and I’m sure various members of their family have been involved with Affirm for most of its existence. Rand shared with me some of the feedback he’d heard about this year’s Affirm, and eventually he mentioned, “I just learned about ‘Weepy Wednesday…’”

Weepy Wednesday is one of those unofficial traditions at Affirm. According to a conversation I had with Bishop Gordy in the line for the cafeteria salad bar, the Wednesday evening worship service was once intentionally built to be an especially emotional experience, or in Bishop’s words, “They tried to make the kids cry.” But even though that tradition was dropped some years ago, the phrase, “Weepy Wednesday” hangs on – but now it applies to something that happens more naturally but still almost predictably: on Wednesday evening, for some reason, campers will cry.

Maybe Weepy Wednesday happens because the lesson plans each group follows build to their most intense point in the middle of the week. Maybe Weepy Wednesday happens because the campers have started to feel safe with their small groups after a few days together. Probably some combination of things: but regardless, it happens.

My first Weepy Wednesday experience felt like it came totally out of the blue. I was on staff with a unit called Bridges, and we spent the week focusing on the differences between people, the things that turn those differences into things that divide us, and how we can “build bridges” over those divides. So from the very beginning we’d been having intense conversations about our own identities and experiences and a lot of tough topics: racism, sexism, stereotypes, violence. I’d thought we’d already been getting deeply personal.  But for some reason when Wednesday evening came, it was like a floodgate burst open. All of a sudden a dozen teenagers were lying on the floor, crying and sharing their deepest, most hidden hurts with one another. My heart broke when I heard the heavy burdens some of the teenagers were bearing.

This year, at least, I saw my Weepy Wednesday experience coming. One of the units, called Exodus, spends the first part of the week focusing on some of life’s toughest issues, like sin and death. Everyone in the unit carries a brick with them everywhere they go; it’s supposed to symbolize the burdens they bear. On Wednesday evening they finally lay down their burdens: they let go of their brick; they write burdens or sins on pieces of paper and watch them dissolve in water; they participate in a service of group confession, and they are given the option of meeting with a pastor for a time of private confession. Later in the evening, they will lie down on the floor, then someone will take their hand and physically raise them up to their new life in Christ. And the next morning is an Easter party.

I was asked to be part of Exodus’s Wednesday evening because they needed a female pastor for the time of private confession. So once again I found myself experiencing Weepy Wednesday: teenagers crying and sharing the hurts they hid from the world.

And as, once again, I found myself shocked by the stories these teenagers shared with me, I thought: we just never know what burdens other people are carrying, hidden away so carefully.

In today’s reading from Romans, Paul described the burden of his own sinfulness in what I think are some of the most relatable words of the whole Bible (I catch myself thinking them a lot): “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Some of the burdens we bear are like that: Struggles with our own sins, our own tendency to make poor choices, our own bad habits and addictions.  Along similar lines: we might bear the burdens of focusing on our insufficiencies, we might insult ourselves, we might feel like we will never be good enough. We might feel like Paul: trapped and overpowered by something within us.

Sometimes our burdens come from outside of us: other people’s sin affects our lives; in their brokenness, they hurt us; and sometimes the world just turns in ways that injure us – seemingly without reason. We can feel trapped and overpowered by things outside of us, too.

We express this feeling of being trapped by wrong forces within or without in different ways: Christianity has terms like “original sin” and “total depravity,” and in the Bible we often read about people’s “hardness of heart.”

And sometimes we make up complicated rules or formulas for how to escape that feeling of being trapped. If the problem feels so complicated and inescapable, surely the solution must also be complex, some specific set of things that will, like a combination on a lock, click into place and set us free.

Making things too complicated – and being stubborn and prideful and hypocritical about it — what Jesus seems to have been criticizing people for in the beginning of today’s gospel reading. They said they were open to receiving God’s messengers, but when those messengers came, they never fit the bill. First, John the Baptist was too strict and weird. Then Jesus was too lax: he ate and drank too much and hung out with the wrong sort of people.

Next there’s a part of Jesus’s speech left out by our lectionary: where Jesus proclaimed “Woe to you!” to the cities who had refused his message. He did not fit their bill, either.

And then suddenly Jesus switched tone. We hear his prayer: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” The idea seems to be: all these people are applying their complicated rules and expectations, but it only leads them to deny me and you. They stay trapped in themselves and in the ways of the world. But really your offer of freedom is so simple, a baby could grasp it.

And how does Jesus say we can get that freedom from our entrapping burdens?

Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

 That’s it. The big key the messiah offered to finding rest from our burdens and our feelings of being trapped is: Come to me, and I will give you rest.

For us, I think that means two things:

First – and this is probably what you’re already thinking about – is coming to Jesus in that personal, spiritual sense. Coming to trust in a God who cares for you; who offers you forgiveness for your own sin and fights against the sinful forces outside of you. Coming to find peace and rest in giving your burdens to God in prayer, knowing that God will bear those burdens with you. Like in that famous hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer![1]

 There is also another way we who are weary and carrying heavy burdens can come to Jesus, and this one is more physical and more communal. We remember that the Church is now the Body of Christ on earth, and so we learn to come together. We come to trust one another, to get past our fear or our pride and to share our burdens with one another. We come to find in yet another sense that we are not alone in bearing our burdens. And, like the Affirm kids on Weepy Wednesday, maybe we can find a sense of relief and peace in sharing our burdens with one another.

In coming together, we come to Christ.

Let us pray:

We rejoice, O Christ,
for in your tender compassion
you shoulder our burdens and ease our heavy hearts.
Give us the strength to carry each other
as you have carried us. Amen.[2]


[1] Joseph Scriven, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship 742.

[2] From Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Revised Common Lectionary prayer resources, Proper 9 (14), Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, July 9, 2017. Available online: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/prayers.php?id=149 Accessed July 8, 2017.

For Good Friday (and the Moments Like It)

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + Good Friday + April 14, 2017

Reading: John 18-19


In 1928 Dietrich Bonhoeffer — just 22 years old and still too young to be ordained  — preached these words as part of a sermon:

On Good Friday let us not think right away about the fact that with Easter things were given a new direction. We want to think about how with the death of Jesus the disciples saw all hope dashed. Scattered from each other, they brooded in hopeless sorrow about what had happened. Only when we can take the death of Jesus just as seriously as they did, will we rightly understand what the resurrection message can bring.[1]

So I want us to dwell in this hopeless moment with the disciples for a while. They didn’t know would happen next. We may look back and say: they should have known; Jesus told them he would be raised from the dead. But would we have been able to believe that after the whirlwind of betrayal and violence? All the hopes raised by Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the people taking to the streets with palm branches to welcome him, shouting “Hosanna!” — all those hopes shattered just a few days later, after one of Jesus’s closest disciples led the police right to him, after the crowds of Jerusalem suddenly changed their cry from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” It had all changed so quickly, and all the disciples’ dreams of following their beloved leader into a new world hung there on the cross with him, crucified by the same old cruel world that always had been and always would be. The disciples hid themselves away and let that truth dig its hopeless hole inside them: Jesus was dead. It was over. It had all been for nothing.

Good Friday is a holy time to reflect on this moment of hopelessness and the millions of other moments like it. Such times — when all seems lost — are tragically commonplace. We know them from history: people being captured and enslaved; stock markets crashing; boats sinking; trains of people pulling into internment camps; wars being declared and wars being surrendered. We know hopeless moments from the news: shootings; human trafficking; starvation; bombs dropping. We know hopeless moments from personal experience: job loss; a bad diagnosis; injury; depression; broken relationships; death.

And yet as Christians on this side of Easter, even in such hopeless moments, we hold on to hope. We call this Friday, where we remember Christ’s crucifixion, “good.” We believe that God is there in our moments of tragedy. Why do we hold on to hope? How?

We hold on to hope because we know what comes next in this story and in stories like it. We know stories from the Bible: Joseph was left for dead, sold into slavery, and then imprisoned; but then he became a powerful leader in Egypt and saved his family from a famine (Genesis 37, 39-45). Moses killed a man and ran away from Pharaoh’s punishment into self-exile, but during his exile he was called by God to lead the Israelites out of slavery (Exodus 2-3). We know stories from our own time: John Garrett suffered from a terrible heart condition, but he became a great spokesperson for organ donation. My grandmother was a fairly young widow, but in her widowhood she has learned to drive and overcome her fear of flying and made so many new friends. Your world probably once felt like it was ending, but you made it through.

Jesus was crucified, but the resurrection morning is coming.

As, in the Old Testament, Joseph said to his brothers, so we can say to the moments where hopelessness threatens us: “Even though you intended to harm me, God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20). We believe that one day we will look back on the darkest moments of our lives and be able to see them as the blessed dirt out of which God grew new life again. Jesus taught us this in the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21).

The Good Friday moment, which seem so senseless, which feels like it must be an ending, or a pit we can’t climb out of — God will helps us make meaning out of it and find the good on the other side.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote to a student who going through a time of suffering:

“So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?”[2]

When Jesus was crucified, the disciples felt hopeless, afraid, left with nothing. Even Jesus felt abandoned by God in that moment. But we believe that God was there, suffering with them in the face of the world’s injustice and sin, but ready to use that evil moment for good. Ready to turn tragedy into a miracle, ready to turn death into new life.

And so we can remember in our moments of loneliness and loss, depression and hopelessness: even those moments are blessed by God with the promise of the future.


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, sermon in Barcelona for the third Sunday in Lent, 11 March 1928. Quoted in God is on the Cross, trans. O. C. Dean Jr., ed. Jana Riess, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 102.

[2] Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.

The Lord has been/is/will be my Shepherd

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + Fourth Sunday of Lent + March 26, 2017

Bible Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23


I’m going to begin this morning by thinking about the first of today’s readings. But I know that you all just heard a rather long gospel reading, and your memory banks may have been maxed out by that.  So let’s remember back to that first reading together: back in ancient Israel, in the days of the nation’s very first king, the Lord had decided that king, Saul, was no longer God’s chosen king of Israel, and so the Lord told the prophet Samuel to go and anoint the next king. Samuel was not a fan of his new divine assignment; God was sending Samuel to commit treason against the king — the same king Samuel had anointed himself not very long ago. “How can I go?” he asked God, “If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” But “Samuel did what the Lord commanded,” in spite of his own fears.

The famous Psalm 23 — known as “The Shepherd’s Psalm” — had of course not been written yet when Samuel set off on his mission. According to tradition the young shepherd boy that Samuel would anoint that day would write that psalm years later, when he was known as King David. Still, I wonder if Samuel prayed something very similar to Psalm 23 as he travelled to Jesse’s home to commit treason for the Lord.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures,

And leads me beside still waters.

Of course the Lord was not leading Samuel beside still waters; the Lord was taking Samuel into very dangerous territory, into white water rapids full of sharp rocks.

You restore my soul, O Lord,

And guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.

But was this really the “right pathway”? Setting up a new person to be king, potentially stirring up rebellion, dividing the allegiance of the people?

I’m sure Samuel had a lot of questions for God, and a lot of doubt and fear. Still he moved forward, following God, trusting God even when it must have seemed crazy. On his journey to Jesse’s home Samuel must have been thinking back over all the times God had already been his good and faithful shepherd: God had caused Samuel to be born to Hannah, who had been unable to have children (1 Sam. 1). God had called Samuel by name to be a prophet and leader of God’s people (1 Sam. 3). God had led the Israelite army to victory against the Philistines, and Samuel had been there serving as their priest (1 Sam. 7). And perhaps Samuel thought back on all God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel: leading them out of slavery in Egypt; leading them into the promised land. These memories could have served as reminders, as a foundation to support Samuel’s faith in a difficult, trying moment.

The Lord has been our shepherd.

The Lord has been my shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;

For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Looking back on God’s faithfulness would have helped Samuel to see God being faithful to him in his present moment. He would have remembered that the same God who had been with him and his people for so long, who had guided them and protected them, was there with him on that strange and dangerous journey to anoint a new king. He would have had faith that God would still be with him after the journey and the anointing, come what may.

Of course I don’t know what Samuel actually prayed or thought on his way to Jesse’s home. But whatever his prayer was, it helped keep him moving forward through a time of doubt and fear.

I think people (myself included) tend to look back on prophets and saints and other “special” people of God and assume that somehow they were more certain than us “regular” people. They were more sure of God’s guidance; they had a greater sense of clarity; they had miraculously less doubt and fear and confusion. It’s especially easy to assume that for stories like Samuel’s, where the biblical accounts seem to tell us that Samuel and God were exchanging audible words, that God was speaking loudly and clearly to Samuel in a way in which we long to hear from God.

But many of the people we hold up as special saints admitted feeling doubt and fear and frustration, admitted feeling like God was silent or maybe even absent.

Many of us admire the pastor and scholar Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the faithful life he lived. He chose to stay in Germany during Hitler’s reign there, though he could have stayed in the U.S. or England or any number of safer places. He spoke out publicly against Nazi takeover of the church. When the Nazis suppressed the church that spoke out against them, Bonhoeffer worked underground to train students of the faith. He worked as a spy. After he was caught, he spent a year and half in prison, where he ministered to the other prisoners and continued his writing. He was executed along with fellow conspirators. The story of Bonhoeffer’s death, passed on by a physician who had been an eyewitness, sounds like something out of an ancient book of saints:

I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.[1]

Bonhoeffer is a renowned example of inspiring faith and action in the midst of terrible times. But Bonhoeffer’s outward faith emerged from a storm of inner struggle and doubt. While imprisoned, he wrote this poem about the difference between how other people saw him and how he experienced his own life:

Who am I? They often tell me

I would step from my cell’s confinement

calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

like a squire from his country-house.

 

Who am I? They often tell me

I would talk to my warders

freely and friendly and clearly,

as though it were mine to command.

 

Who am I? They also tell me

I would bear the days of misfortune

equably, smilingly, proudly,

like one accustomed to win.

 

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I know of myself,

restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,

yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation,

tossing in expectation of great events,

powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

 

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

 

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.[2]

Bonhoeffer, like other remarkable saints, experienced the feelings familiar to us: loneliness, helplessness, fear, second-guessing. But still he and the other saints threw themselves on God: remembering God’s faithfulness to their ancestors in the faith, remembering God’s past faithfulness to them, they opened their eyes to find God’s faithfulness even in the darkest of times. Praying until they trusted more, praying in a way that kept them walking with God and trying to be part of God’s work in world.

Bonhoeffer wrote these words as part of a prayer for himself and other prisoners:

O God, early in the morning I cry to you. Help me to pray and to concentrate my thoughts on you; I cannot do this alone. In me there is darkness, but with you there is light; I am lonely, but you do not leave me; I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help; I am restless, but with you there is peace. In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience; I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me…Lord Jesus Christ, you were poor and in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am. You know all man’s troubles; you abide with me when all men fail me…Lord, I hear your call and follow; help me…O Holy Spirit, give me faith that will protect me from despair, from passions, and from vice…Restore me to liberty, and enable me so to live now that I may answer before you and before men. Lord whatever this day may bring, your name be praised. Amen.[3]  

(You can read the full prayer here.)

 When we gather for worship, one of the things we do is call to mind God’s faithfulness to our ancestors in the faith. We do this when we read the Bible, when we sing hymns, when we give thanks for our baptism, and when we celebrate Holy Communion. We remember in order to give thanks to God, but we also remember so we can hear that God’s faithfulness continues down through the generations and into our own lives. We remember so that our eyes will be opened to see God’s faithfulness to us now.

When you go through your own hard times, practice remembering God’s faithfulness to you and to others. Call to mind your favorite Bible stories or verses. Remember how God has worked in the lives of those you love. Remember the ways you have experienced God at work in your own life. Remind yourself of who God is, and then in prayer practice trusting God, even in the times it feels hard to do so. Maybe through that practice, you will come to see the goodness of God even in those hard times.

The Lord has been our shepherd.

The Lord is our shepherd.

The Lord will be our shepherd.

Amen. Thanks be to God.

L23-Goodshepherd-medium

Painting of the “Good Shepherd” found in a catacomb in Rome; from the mid-third century. (Source: Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition)


[1] Bethge, Eberhard. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography. Quoted in the Wikipedia article “Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietrich_Bonhoeffer

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Letters and Papers from Prison (Enlarged Edition). Ed. Eberhard Bethge. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1972). pp. 347-348.

[3]Bonhoeffer, 139-141.

Love Became a Refugee

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 1 Christmas + January 1, 2017

Readings: Isaiah 63:7-9; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23


Did anyone else find the experience we just shared kind of…jarring? Together we sang joyfully, “Love has come a light in the darkness! Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies…” and then I read you a story about what happened to that love. That love was a child under two years old, already marked for assassination by the king. That child and his family had to run for their lives, away from home, away from family and friends and any kind of support system, away from mother tongue and familiar customs and religion, and settle in another country. Behind them, back at home, that king ordered the murder of babies, just because they could have been Jesus. When the king dies, the family returns to their home country, but they are still terrified to return to their hometown in case the new king is after them, too. So they rebuild their lives in another region, Galilee.

“Love has come and never will leave us! Love is life everlasting and free…”[1]

We would hope that when “Love has Come,” the whole world would react like the shepherds in Luke’s story of Jesus’s birth: staring in wonder, praising God, overflowing with joy and hope and goodwill (Luke 2:8-20). We would hope that when “Love has Come,” the whole world would change.

Instead what we see in Matthew’s Gospel is that love incarnate, the baby Jesus, thrown immediately into some of the hardest of human experiences. Like today’s reading from Hebrews said, “he…[became] like his brothers and sisters in every respect.” He (or at least his parents) even felt that feeling of being “held in slavery by fear of death” — not just “we are all going to die one day” fear, but a real and present fear that violence could have been waiting for them every time they opened their door.[2] That little baby and his parents became refugees — an experience shared by 1 in 122 people alive today.[3]

The Flight into Egypt - Matthew 2:13-18

Flight into Egypt, JESUS MAFA (1973). Via Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition.

A Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire, wrote a haunting poem describing what drives refugees like Mary, Joseph and Jesus (and like those we see on the news) to run so far away from home. It begins:

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well4

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

The poem goes on to describe fleeing in boats and in trucks and under fences, the violence along the journey, life in a refugee camp (waiting, waiting, waiting to go somewhere else, sometimes for years), finally going to a new land and being met with confusion and insults and hatred. The poem ends:

i want to go home.

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans

drown

save

be hunger

beg

forget pride

your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear

saying-

leave.

run away from me now

i don’t know what i’ve become

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here[4]

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we celebrated that God took on human flesh and blood and was born into our world as a child. We celebrated that love has come.

Today, on the First Sunday of Christmas, the Gospel of Matthew reminds us what that means. Love has come. But it is not the haughty love-from-above that an earthly ruler might claim to have for his people; it is not a fairy tale love that wipes away reality. It is the love that is willing to live the most difficult of lives, the love that runs toward suffering. It is the love of a God who lived a human life not in power and glory but replete with pain and fear and insults and hunger. Love has come, and it became one of the people that others would look at sideways and wonder “Where did he come from?” Love became the baby of an unwed mother; a refugee and an immigrant; a vagabond; love became a friend to the outcast, the sick, and the sinner; love became a prisoner, an executed man.

(And if we are wondering where God is in our world today, there are some good starting points.)

This passage from Matthew is not only a tale of hardship and violence, of God and God’s people suffering; it is also a story of how God is at work even in those most painful of times. In this story we read that at the same time that God was a child held in his mother’s arms as they ran from danger, God was also giving Joseph wisdom to lead his family to safer places. And we can imagine God at work among any kind strangers who helped the holy family on their way to Egypt; we can imagine God at work through neighbors who helped the family make a home in a new land. Later Jesus would continue God’s embodied work as he healed, forgave, taught, and saved.

God’s work continues today.

When we look for God among the immigrants and refugees of today, we can still see God there.

A few years ago I was the youth minister at Christ Lutheran Church in south Nashville, which is closely connected with a number of immigrant and refugee communities. My Sunday school class was made up mostly of children who had grown up in the war-torn Congo and refugee camps in Tanzania. We were preparing to baptize three young African boys who had just been relocated to Nashville, and Pastor Morgan Gordy mentioned in passing that she didn’t know where their family was going to keep their baptismal certificates.

“I think I’m going to have to get them some frames,” Pastor Gordy said. “They hardly have any furniture. I don’t think they have a dresser with a drawer to keep them in.”

The man standing next to me immediately said, “Why didn’t you tell me they need furniture? I know all kinds of people looking to get rid of furniture! I can get them furniture!”

God works for refugees and immigrants: through those who help them to safety; through those who help meet basic needs of food and housing, clothing and furniture; through those who help them find jobs; through those who smile and help them to feel welcome.

God also works through refugees and immigrants: through the skills they offer to their new community; through the help they provide to their neighbors; through the jobs they create in the businesses they start.[5]

And God works in so many other difficult situations, as many us have experienced first-hand: God is there when we are grieving; God is there in hospital rooms; God is in the jails and prisons; God is on the streets; God is near us when we are lonely or depressed.

There is nowhere we can go where God will not be. There is nothing we will go through that God won’t go through with us.

Today’s gospel story easily comes off as bleak and even horrifying. But it also reminds us: even in the darkest of stories the gospel truth rings out: Emmanuel. God is with us.

mfa_18-652-medium

Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Luc Olivier Merson (1879). Via Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition.


[1] “Love has Come,” Ken Bible (text), copyright 1996: Integrity’s Hosanna! Music. Evangelical Lutheran Worship #292.

[2] Matt Skinner on Sermon Brainwave (podcast), “SB518 – First Sunday of Christmas, January 1, 2017,” Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/?lect_date=01/01/2017&lectionary=rcl

[3] “Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase,” The UN Refugee Agency, June 18, 2015. http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/latest/2015/6/558193896/worldwide-displacement-hits-all-time-high-war-persecution-increase.html

[4]Warsan Shire, “Home.” Read online: www.seekershub.org/blog/2015/09/home-warsan-shire/ or hear Shire read it: www.youtube.com/watch?v=p50wrd2JiX4

[5] Immigrants are 30% more likely than U.S.-born citizens to start new businesses, according to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. See “Immigration Myths Busted” at lirs.org/mythbusters

But for the Grace of God, There go I

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin TN + Third Sunday in Lent + February 28, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9; 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9


 

“There but for the grace of God go I.” That’s one of those phrases most of us have picked up somewhere or other along the way, and we’ve long forgotten who said it first.

The oldest story about that phrase gives credit to John Bradford, a Protestant reformer in England during the violent religious upheavals of the 1500s. He served as chaplain to King Edward VI — the Protestant son of Henry VIII — and then he was burned at the stake during the Catholic backlash of Queen Mary’s reign. But even before his martyrdom he was known as “Holy Bradford” — not mockingly, but because of his reputation as a remarkably unselfish and humble man.

The story goes that whenever Holy Bradford saw criminals being led to their execution, he would exclaim, “But for the grace of God there goes John Bradford.” In other words: that could so easily have been my fate; I’m standing here not because I’m a better person by nature than they are, but because of God’s grace — because of forces beyond my sin or morality.[1]

This is close to the message Jesus communicated to the crowds in today’s gospel reading. Some of the people brought him news: Pilate ordered the death of some Galileans who were in Jerusalem, offering sacrifices at the Temple. Jesus responded, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” In other words: But by the grace of God, there go you.

His response seems harsh, but it makes a little more sense in context. Before these people brought him the news, Jesus had been teaching and telling stories with a common theme: Be ready. Expect the Kingdom of God. Live and work like the Kingdom is about to knock down your door.

He told one parable about a servant who is left in charge of the property while his master is away. The servant thinks, “Well, I’ve got some time before the master comes back,” and he starts acting like the king of the place. The tyrannical king. This guy beats the other servants, gorges himself on the food, gets drunk on the wine. But then the master comes back sooner than he’d been expected — and the servant is in big trouble (Lk. 12:41-48). At the end of the parable, Jesus spoke another of our now-common phrases: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.”

Then Jesus gets on the crowd listening to him: Why is it that you can look at a cloudy sky and figure out that it’s going to rain, but you can’t figure out what’s going on in this time? And why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right, instead of waiting for a judge to punish you (Lk. 12:54-59)?

The author of this Gospel linked these teachings directly to the scene in our gospel reading for today. He wrote, “At that very time there were some present who told [Jesus] about the Galileans” who’d been killed by Pilate.

Why did they pick that moment to tell Jesus about the tragedy? Based on Jesus’s reaction to them, it seems like they were saying that the Galileans got what was coming to them. Were the messengers trying to prove that they were on the same page as Jesus? “Oh, we can see what’s going on in this time. God’s judgement is here; just look at those sinners who got punished in Jerusalem!” Were they thinking, “Oh, I see what you mean, Jesus. Those Galileans got punished, just like that bad servant in your story”?

But they didn’t get it. Jesus’s point had been that we must each be ready, we must each live like the kingdom is here. But these guys deflected the message: they weren’t taking in Jesus’s words and thinking about how they could live differently; they were saying, “Hey Jesus, those are the guys you’re talking about, right?”

But Jesus defended the victims of the tragedy. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” You’re not that different than those Galileans cut down by Pilate’s viciousness; you’re not that different than the 18 people who died when that tower fell in Jerusalem. But by the grace of God, there go you, too.

When we see tragedy befall others, we often tell ourselves that it couldn’t happen to us; we’re different. It’s a way of protecting ourselves. Even if the tragedy is so horribly random as being in the wrong place at the wrong time: underneath a tower that collapses; on a street corner in Kalamazoo when someone drives by with a gun. We’ll do mental gymnastics to try and make up a reason why this would happen to that person, but not to us. It helps us feel safe.

I always remember the time I took a group of college students to New Orleans for a mission trip. We were staying in the Lower Ninth Ward, freaking out a little about the size of the bugs in our sleeping area. One young woman said, “I reminded myself that God wouldn’t let a bug hurt me.” I was unnerved by that statement, since we sat in a building that had once held water up to its ceiling, in a neighborhood where houses were still spray-painted with the number of bodies that had been found inside. Did we have a special status in God’s eyes compared with the people living there when the levy broke? No: but by the grace of God, there go I.

When the tragedy is more obviously human-made, we even more frequently tell ourselves it couldn’t happen to us. When a pattern of racism or sexism emerges, the majority of people find ways to explain that each individual in that pattern somehow deserves it. When there is a report of a rape, there is always a contingent of people explaining how the victim did something to encourage it, or to let it happen. In the U.S. there is a common attitude that if a person is poor it has to be because they’re lazy.

Even when a person did do something to cause their fate, can we really think of ourselves as so very different? The guys I meet in jail definitely did something to land themselves there. But when I hear their stories, I can’t help but wonder: “If I had grown up in a neighborhood where I had to watch my back for shootings; if all the people around me were addicted or dealing; if my own father had pushed me in front of a moving car…if I’d been born into your life, would I have been so different?” I know some heroic people are able to climb out of such horrible situations with more righteousness; I’m just not so sure I would be one of them. But by the grace of God, there go I.

If each individual is totally to blame for their suffering, than that means we have enough control over our lives to protect ourselves. But today’s gospel reading reminds us of what we all already know: life is much more chaotic and fragile than that. Bad news can come at any time. Accidents happen. Sickness happens. Housing markets crash. People hate one another and hurt one another for stupid reasons. And we all struggle with sin. But by the grace of God there go all of us.

But Jesus said more to the bearers of bad news than, “Be thankful; that could have been you.” He says, “Repent.” He says, “Change your ways.”

One of the problems with thinking that “they got what they deserve” and “It didn’t happen to me, because I’m different,” is: that response doesn’t demand anything of me. In that way of thinking, the world is as it should be. Nothing needs to change. Certainly I don’t need to change.

But one of the fundamental messages of Christianity is that the world is not as it should be. The world is broken and tangled up in its own sin. And each of us is part of that tangled mess.

The “good news” side of that message is this: There is some suffering we can work against; some sin we can turn away from, some goodness we can build up.

One of Jesus’ main messages to the crowd that had gathered around him was: don’t wait till you hear death’s knock on your door. Don’t wait till you see the Son of Man coming on the clouds to judge what’s right and what’s wrong. Start untangling yourself from that mess of sin now. Start living in God’s Kingdom now.

Our gospel reading ends with a parable: the landowner wants to cut down a fruitless tree; the gardener wants to work at it for one more year. I don’t think Jesus is saying: “God wants to you down for your lack of good works, but I’m trying to buy you some time.” That doesn’t fit with what Jesus said, just a little while before: Do not worry; God cares for you. “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:22-32).

I think what that parable is getting at is: if we take the hard, nihilistic but not unreasonable view of life: we’re all waiting for the ax to fall, one way or another. But now, we have time. Now, we have a gardener caring for us. We are being fertilized with the good news of the gospel, with God’s love and mercy, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with all the material blessings we receive. Now is the time to repent; now is the time to bear fruit. Now is the time to live like God’s kingdom is already here.


 

[1] “John Bradford,” Wikipedia. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bradford. Accessed 2.29.2016. The earliest extant mention of Bradford’s use of the phrase is in Edward Bickersteth’s A Treatise on Prayer (1822).