Monday, April 28, 2014


When Paul famously listed the forces that could not keep us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39), sin was not among them. If I were to make such a list, sin would be at the very top. At this point I should probably state that my views are entirely my own. Please do not blame the Episcopal Church or any of my favorite writers of books or music for what I am about to state.

Sin is small. Stupidly small. It is negligible when compared with the love of God. It is ridiculous when compared with the beauty of the human soul and its image bearing of God. If the devil is the father of lies (he is), one of his biggest ones is convincing the human race that God is angry with us for our sins and that our sins keep us from God.

We have projected our own anger at ourselves onto God. We have attributed our own self loathing to our creator. If we had been sinned against, we would be wrathful and would seek justice. We would want the scales to be balanced. This is a human trait. It is not a divine trait. God is not human. God is not looking for satisfaction like some Mafia don.

For what it’s worth, I believe in the fall of man. I believe that Adam and Eve – or more likely many Adams and Eves fell prey to the lie that they could become like God if they exercised their personal independence. They forgot that they were already like God, made in his image. Our (human) race fell from its original perfection and, hence, evil exists in the world.

I also believe that Jesus turned this “original sin” upside down by holding in his physical being all the pain and evil that our sin brought (and will ever bring) into the world. God, in human form, became all sin and suffered all the torment that we bring on ourselves and others through our sin. Was he paying a price? I know that is the usual language for this redemptive act, but I reject it.

Far from paying the price of our sins, God in human form was bearing the wrong, in solidarity and sympathy with us. It is by our sins that we suffer. They make us wrong, askew, disjointed, not our selves. We are out of place through sin. Jesus did not suffer in our stead; we still suffer. His suffering was salvific because it was offered in love. Love is what saves.

But how do we cure sin in our lives? I’ll tell you how we don’t cure it. We do not cure it by obsessing over it, by making lists of sins and categorizing their seriousness. We do not cure it by counting up our sins at the end of a day or a week or a year. We certainly do not cure sin by noting the sins of others.

God is, quite clearly, the cure. God is the cure for everything. Pray. Go to church. Sing hymns. Receive communion. Pray some more. Read the Bible. Practice virtues. Find Christ in the faces of all you meet. See God’s loving handiwork all around you. Pray even more. Only God can cure you of sin. Only God’s grace, which is already there waiting for you, can hold you, strengthen you, perfect you. It may take some time.

Have you ever seen a small child who is just learning to dress herself? Into the room she proudly comes with her shoes on the wrong feet. She quite possibly knows that something is wrong but she is too new at dressing herself to recognize what it is, much less is she able to correct it. As she gains experience, she will naturally slip her feet into her shoes correctly. She will button her blouse properly and wear her sweater right side out.

We adults know instantly when we go to put a right foot into a left shoe. We know when we bite into a piece of fish and find a bone. Experience. When we become spiritually mature, we know when we have sinned. It feels like a shoe on the wrong foot. It feels like a piece of wrapper stuck to the caramel. We fix it right away.

Of course, some candy wrappers are harder to spit out than others. Some almost taste as good as the candy itself. But please don’t think that God is watching us with a scorecard. There is no wrath in God. There is no hatred, only love. Christ was tempted as we are. Christ feels every bit of the horror we feel when we slip. He feels the sin of the little boy stealing a dollar out of his mother’s purse as well as the sin of the mass murderer. He can handle anything.

The one God will perfect his creation. The fall of humankind that occurred in the Garden left us weak and disoriented, unable to dress ourselves or discern what we are eating or doing. We long for God, and when we attain God it will be as spiritually mature people.  God will wipe away every stain (and every tear) from us. He will bring us into oneness with his divinity. It may, however, take some time. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chocolate Eggs and Jesus Risen

In his lovely reflection on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis remarks on the talent that children have to conflate the religious significance of a holiday with the “merely festal” He tells that one Easter Sunday someone overheard a child muttering to himself “Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen”. The child, bless his heart, cannot disassociate the miracle of the Resurrection from the miracle of candy.

There is a stage in a child’s life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began ‘Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen’. This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety.*

Lewis goes on to say that we eventually grow out of this tendency. For an author who manifestly never grew out of anything, Lewis makes a wondrously naive claim. Can he be so un-self-aware? I appreciate that he had many spiritual gifts; I have benefited over the years from these gifts in his writing. But I find it hard to believe that he didn't, in his very poetic imagination, join the appearance of daffodils and chocolate eggs with the risen Christ.

Ancient festivals, both Jewish and Pagan were magnificent mixes of physical delights, music, food, dance, celebration and sacred observance, the sacrificial offering, the reading of holy texts, chanting. 

I submit that we are not so different today. Those communities thus worshiping/celebrating would have been hard pressed to distinguish what part of their observance was “religious” and what part was “secular,” assuming they even perceived this distinction which historians claim they did not.

We gather in church on Easter Sunday; the organ whips itself into a frenzied prelude. The congregation rises looking proudly on each other in their Easter finery. We grin knowingly at the bouncy children, already enhanced by a few chocolate eggs. The choir marches in and we burst into song.  “Jesus Christ is risen today”

Can you separate this moment of music and joy from the truth of the risen Christ? For me, they are all one. I have no interest in paring away the “fleshly” delights of the holiday. The Puritans tried that and ended up in a dead end.

Our faith teaches us on many levels. We are taught through Scripture. We are taught through homilies. We are taught in the repeated attendance at the Eucharist. We are taught by prayer, by our life’s journey, by each other, and we are taught by creation. It is human to celebrate, to make festivals, to enhance our special moments.

People shake their heads over the increasingly secular treatment of Christmas (mostly) and Easter. I have certainly shaken mine. But maybe it’s not as bad as we think. Maybe someone is eating a chocolate egg and realizing that Easter is behind it. Maybe without that chocolate egg, that person wouldn't have thought about Jesus at all.

I’m not usually an optimist. There are too few disciples of Christ. Churches are too empty. Our elected leaders are too focused on their own re-elections to do what’s best for the country. People have too much money, or much too little. Nothing is right. 

Certainly, there is money to be made at Easter and Christmas, and people are not shy about exploiting the season to line their pockets. I’m just not sure that the proliferation of secular trappings, of chocolate eggs, detracts from the significance of the Resurrection.

We are human. Who made us human? Who sustains our human lives? Who dwells in our human selves? I think that little boy from Lewis’ book grew up, had a nice family, went to church and died in the arms of our Savior. I also think – actually I know – there is someone right now, who certainly wouldn't dare read this post, but who is eating a chocolate egg and wondering about the Resurrection, about Jesus, about himself. 

*Reflections on the Psalms pp 48-49

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pleadings for Holy Week

This post appears a day earlier than usual because it applies to all of Holy Week.  Not every pleading is tongue in cheek. All are offered with a sense of the wonder at this magnificent time of the Christian Year. 

We all make excuses for backing out of this, that or the other observance in Holy Week, but I hope that you will bring it all to the “table” so to speak. How many weeks are like this? How many more do we even have? 

Please contribute to your Easter Flower fund, if it’s not too late.

Please don’t let your children sword fight with the Palms.

   Please let yourself off the hook for slipping up on your Lenten discipline.

   Please don’t think Jesus died for “your sins.” He died to free us from SIN. Be free.

   Please be especially kind to the clergy and staff of your church this week. They are exhausted.

   Please don’t think Judas went to hell.

   Please wash someone’s feet this week, literally or figuratively.
   Please stay awake one hour with Jesus and pray.      

   Please let your heart break, just once this week.  
   Please don’t think that eternal life starts when you get to heaven. It’s already started. Live it.

    Please make sure that every child finds an egg at your Easter Egg hunt.

    Please sing your heart out on Easter. That’s what it’s for.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Do You Believe This?

Ezekiel 37:1-14: It has a dream vibe for me.  The hand of the Lord came upon Ezekiel and brought him to the valley of the dry bones. Under direction from the Lord, Ezekiel causes the bones to reassemble and gain flesh and sinew and skin. Finally the prophet breathes life into them and they live. It is the house of Israel he is told and the people who lost hope will live, will inherit the land and know the Lord.

Hearing this passage as a follower of Christ, the foreshadowing of the Resurrection and Christ’s kingdom come to earth is plain. 

An even plainer foreshadowing of the Resurrection is the raising of Lazarus. John 11:1-45 Jesus deliberately waits before returning to Bethany where he has been called because of the grave illness of his dear friend. He waits until Lazarus is dead before going.

It just about kills him to see his friends in such grief. He is rebuked by both Mary and Martha for his delay. Even bystanders remark “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

In this story, for me, Jesus’ purpose becomes stunningly clear. Yes, he heals people, teaches people, corrects wrong ideas and priorities. He feeds the hungry, blesses children, acknowledges the outcast and on and on. But none of these are his purpose. These are happenings along the way.

His love for humankind overflows into great acts of generosity and kindness. His love finds a voice in parables and in the beatitudes. But Jesus came to earth to redeem humankind, to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham, to restore us to grace, to conquer sin and death.

By raising Lazarus in this heart wrenching way, he focused his followers on death and resurrection. The raising of Lazarus provides the structure, the support, the stage setting, so to speak, for the Resurrection of our Lord. One empty tomb. Then another empty tomb.

Martha says that she knows her brother will rise on the last day with everyone, but Jesus stops her. No, he will rise today. Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

“Do you believe this?” he asks her.

“Do you believe this?” he asks each of us. It's a hard thing to believe.

Everything Jesus has done points to this one thing: life. Jesus, “without whom not one thing came into being” is here on earth to restore his creation to life. He does this by dying a hideous death on a cross and then rising on the third day.

This is a physical action in the physical world. Just as raising Lazarus was a physical action in the physical world. Jesus wanted his followers to see Lazarus come back to life so they would have a frame of reference for his own resurrection. There would be no doubt for them. There should be no doubt for us. The Son of God did not incarnate to tell stories or to make blind folks see or to make lame people walk.

He came to save us. Our Savior.

I know there are people who don’t believe in the physical resurrection of Christ. I know there are Christians who avoid that particular issue. I understand that a “spiritual resurrection” through building of the church and gathering faithful followers is a “thing”.  And I’m not drawing a line in the sand or throwing down a marker or whatever people do when they want to start a fight.

If Jesus died and rose from the grave, if he redeemed all mankind, as I believe he did, then it matters hardly at all how many people actually believe it. Redemption happened without our consent, without our support, without our faith. We benefit from it, but our testimony is not required. Jesus died for believer and unbeliever alike. He died for people who never heard of him and who will never hear of him. He died for people who actively work against his kingdom.

God works in each of us whether we are aware of it or not. When, however, we are open to belief, to faith, to the miracle of our creation and redemption, we enjoy a different experience of life. The kingdom is real and we are in it. Eternal life is true and we are living it.

Believing or not, we are redeemed. Following Christ or not, the kingdom has come. The wedding garments are hanging on hooks in the hallway. It’s our privilege to put one on or just wait outside. The grace - and it is amazing - of belief blesses. It opens. It comforts. It waits. Do you believe this?