Saturday, July 26, 2014

It's God's Party, You Can Cry if You Want To………. (But Why Would You Want To?)

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 13th Chapter

Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’ 
He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ 

It was a good thing Rob retired early.  He needed a lot of counseling and his job just got in the way.  After retirement, Rob would call needing some counseling and for privacy, we would head down to his boat house, get out his boat and head out on the lake.  Confidentiality is really important!  We would carry fishing poles, simply as a cover so no one would get suspicious and compromise the confidentiality.  While we were in counseling, Rob didn’t fish for a specific fish.  He fished for what he called “lake run” fish.  If they ran in the lake... he would fish for them.  So, as we did our confidential counseling, we drifted across the lake pulling in anything that got caught on the end of our lines.

The parable of the nets is like that too.  In Greek there are different words for different nets but the word for “net” in this parable means a seine net.  Seine nets aren’t picky.  They pull up everything in their path and that, it turns out, is the nature of God’s Kingdom as well.  God’s Kingdom gathers in ALL of creation.  It’s ALL pulled up onto the beach and ALL means ALL.  Then, when the sorting does finally happen at the end of time, it is the One who hauled the net who does the sorting, putting the good into the bucket and letting the bad flop around on the beach.

One of the fish we caught during counseling was called a sheepshead.  Apparently, most people consider them an oily, trash fish and legally you aren’t even allowed to put them back alive if you catch one.  Rob sees them differently.  One time, he saw some pros cleaning a saltwater relative of this fish and they filleted it leaving the oily, dark layer of flesh on the skin and just keeping the lighter meat.  Rob tried that same technique with sheepshead and found out no one could tell the difference between a sheepshead and a perch when he cleaned it that way and fried them up side by side.  Most people don’t believe it... even after they see it and taste it.  They insist on seeing the sheepshead as “bad” and fit only for the beach.  Rob sees things differently.  Rob MAKES them good and sorts them into the bucket. 

That too is how God works.  Like a sheepshead, we are not exactly “good” as-is, but it is God who MAKES us “good” through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  All the brokenness, sin and garbage that get in the way of us being what God created us to be in the beginning is cleaned away with Christ, leaving you, me and all of creation “good” in the eyes of the One who does the sorting.  

After a morning of counseling, Rob would clean all the fish.  He said he loved cleaning fish and he insisted on cleaning both what he caught and what I caught.  He put the “lake run” fillets in a zip lock and they went in a cooler for me to take home.  Up at their house, Rob’s wife, Sally would have lunch ready and lunch always included her fresh baked bread.  The aroma filled the house.  She always seemed to bake way too much bread for just us, and that meant I had to take fresh bread home with me along with the fish.

The parable of the yeast is like that too.  The woman in the parable uses three measures of flour.  Most people don’t realize it, but three measures will make almost 80 pounds of dough... that’s 52 loaves or enough to make over 400 sandwiches!  Jesus, in this parable, portrays God as a powerful woman who kneads yeast into 80 pounds of dough BY HAND... not to make bread just for her family... not just for her immediate neighbors either... SHE is making bread for EVERYONE!  

Jesus told these parables to challenge people at the core of their faith.  He wanted to draw people in so deeply with a story they could relate to, that they would allow him into the very heart of their faith and there, he challenged everything the people then... and us people now... THINK we know about the Kingdom of God.  God’s Kingdom includes all of creation.  EVERYONE... without exception.  The tree has room for EVERY bird.  The WHOLE field is worth whatever the price.  That pearl is worth EVERYTHING the man owns.  The net gathers EVERYTHING in it’s path and the yeast gets worked into EVERY ounce of that outrageous amount of dough.  All, Jesus tells us, really does mean ALL.  

So God’s Kingdom has a place for all of creation and God has made us worthy of the Kingdom through Christ’s life, death and resurrection... BUT... there’s always a BUT... what about the fiery furnace and the weeping and gnashing of teeth?  That tiny piece of this lesson gets people more worked up than all the rest combined!  People obsess about who gets the bucket and who gets the beach... Who’s going to get a mansion and who’s going to end up in that fiery furnace?  Inquiring minds want to know, and many want to help!
Well, the truth is, God doesn't ask for our help with sorting!  God has, in fact, made EVERYONE “good” and like it or not God's desire is to throw EVERYONE in the bucket.  But the bucket is a gift and like any gift you don’t HAVE to accept it.  If you insist, God will let you flop and squirm on the beach and try to get in the bucket on your own.  God’s not going to MAKE you come to the party.  Hell, it turns out, is only for the people who insist on throwing their OWN party and the wailing comes from the realization that God’s party is the only party that’s any fun. 

Jesus told these parables to tell us that God’s love is big enough and broad enough to gather in ALL of creation.  Our calling as the Church, as the Body of Christ, is to be a SIGN of God's radically inclusive Kingdom in the here and now.  Our job is to live in this world modeling the way God’s net works, modeling that tree... gathering, welcoming and creating a place for everyone we meet and treating everyone in our path as if they were a pearl of great value like they are a treasure just waiting to be discovered.  We aren't the ones who sort, we aren't the ones who decide who goes where.  Our job is simply to tell the world that the One who is throwing the party has made each and every one of us into an amazingly wonderful treasure through Christ and in Christ we are all completely worthy and always welcome at God's party.  Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Parable of the Flaming Bag

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 13th Chapter
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! 

David Weatherill was my best friend growing up in Florida.  Pouring gasoline into fire ant hills and lighting it on fire was honestly, only a tiny part of what we did as kids.  The vast majority was much less dangerous.  We didn’t hurt people or property... at least not on purpose.  We THOUGHT about it, and sometimes planned out every detail of the operation that we WOULD do if our consciences were just a little less naggy, but we didn’t do them.  
One we THOUGHT about but never did was a prank that went this way... We would take a paper lunch bag and put in that bag a giant, fresh, pungent pile of dog poo.  I had a big dog named Duke, so raw materials were NOT a problem.  With the poo in the bag we would sneak up on someone’s front porch just after dark, light it on fire, ring the doorbell and run.  The person opening the door would see the fire and instinctively try to put it out using the only means they had... they would stomp on it!  Of course stomping on the bag would spread that giant, fresh, pungent pile of Duke’s finest all over their shoes and the porch and the mess would be exponentially bigger than if they had just let the bag burn itself out.  For two preteen boys, the thought of poo violently spread everywhere was almost perfect... the thought that it would be violently spread not by us, but by the victim of our prank, elevated this prank-we-never-pulled to perfection!  
Why Jesus chose to tell the parable of the weeds rather than the parable of the flaming bag of poo, I don’t know.  Maybe Jesus didn’t have a big dog... or paper lunch bags.  Maybe his neighbors didn’t have doorbells or maybe Jesus just had way more class than two preteen boys named David and Erik.  But no matter which story you tell to illustrate the point, the truth behind both stories remains the same.  When you and I, who are both saint and sinner... when you and I who have both wheat and weeds in our own hearts... when you and I who are servants of the Kingdom of God and not the Kingdom’s Creator try to stamp out evil, even with the greatest good in mind, even with the most precise means available, even with the best of intentions in the world, we WILL end up making things worse, even while we intend to make things better.
In Jesus’ parable, the enemy comes quietly at night and spreads weeds in the field where the farmer has carefully planted wheat.  In the Greek, the enemy plants a specific weed... a grass that looks JUST LIKE WHEAT when it’s growing.  The enemy knew that.  The prank is carefully planned and the biggest part of the prank is counting on servants like us, in our zeal to get rid of the evil, to make a bigger mess... to pull up both weeds and wheat, doing more damage than the weeds could ever do on their own.  Remember, it’s the stomping on the flaming bag that creates the bigger mess on the front porches of our lives! 
We all know what it’s like to find that someone has planted weeds amongst our wheat to find someone has done something destructive in our lives.  We all know what it’s like to open the door and find a little paper bag on fire on the front porch of our lives we all know how it feels to have someone bring their drama into our lives.  We all know what it looks like... and a big part of how we know what weeds and flaming bags of poo look like is that we all have taken our turn playing the part of the enemy... planting weeds in someone’s field or leaving a flaming bag of poo on someone’s porch.  We’ve all brought up “that” subject at Thanksgiving dinner, knowing Uncle Joe would take the bait and it would lead to an epic Thanksgiving argument.  We’ve all taken unresolved hurts from other people and places and consciously or unconsciously sown those hurts into the lives of unrelated people in unrelated places.  We’ve all felt our control of some situation slipping away and decided to put a flaming bag of poo on someone’s porch so we wouldn’t be the only one in crisis... the only one dealing with a mess.  We’ve all found a reason to invite a friend to join us in our indignation over some slight, real or imagined.  It happens in families.  It happens at work.  It’s happening now in Israel and Gaza and Ukraine and it happens in every single church I’ve ever known.  
So what’s the answer?  What do we DO when someone plants weeds among our wheat?  What do we DO when someone leaves a flaming bag of poo burning on our front porch?  What do we DO with the Hitlers, Putins, Pol Pots and terrorists of our world?  What do we DO with church bullies, conflict stirrers, hurt sharers and antagonists?  
You’re not going to like the answer... the answer, of course, is love.  
Just as the farmer suggests that the weeds and the wheat be allowed to grow together, each receiving the same sun, rain and nutrients from the earth.  You and I are called to love the easy to love in our lives in exactly the same way we are called to love those who make loving them really, really hard.
You know what the people who sow weeds and light bags of poo on fire really need, because, like it or not, you and I have been those people.  When we played the part of the enemy... what we needed deep down was to be heard, we needed patience, we needed healing, understanding, grace, forgiveness and most of all love.  The more someone is causing trouble, sowing weeds and putting bag after bag of flaming poo on your front porch, the more and more and MORE they need to be pulled into the wide embrace of unconditional love Jesus showed us all how to give one another from the cross.  
Our call is to resist the urge to rush in and start pulling weeds.  Our call is to let the bag burn itself out and resist the urge to stomp out the fire.  Our call is instead, to love.  One final note though, about love.  I’ve found that often we Christians confuse that call to “love” with a call to be “nice.”  “Nice” isn’t the same as “love.”  “Nice” avoids conflict, ignores trouble, shies away from confrontation, distances us from difficult people and situations and hopes it all just goes away.  Love, on the other hand, dives in deeper into the relationship when there is conflict.  Love takes the time and energy to look for the deeper hurts.  Love listens not to respond but to understand.  Love creates clear boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not and love insists that those boundaries remain firmly in place.  Love confronts promptly when boundaries are breached but never abandons the relationship.  Love is firm but never hateful, love is clear but never vengeful.  We are called to love.
So, who has sown weeds in your wheat this past week?  Who's wheat have you sown weeds in this past week? In this parable Jesus reminds us, the weeds, both the spreading and the pulling are none of our business.  Our business is to stretch out our arms in radically inclusive love… As I have loved you, Jesus said, so also you should love one another… and remember how much Jesus loved us?  To death… and right back to life again.  Amen.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Listen! No, Really, Listen!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 13th Chapter
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

In seminary I learned Greek, the language of the New Testament.  They had us learn Greek because sometimes subtle meanings are lost in translation.  So this week, when I read where Jesus said, “Listen!” at the beginning of this parable, I wondered what “Listen!” was in Greek.  It’s a good thing that I looked, because it turns out that “Listen!” translated as, “Erik, you are about to read this parable completely and totally wrong, so delete what you’ve done so far and start over!”  Now, I wasn’t the best Greek student so that might not be a “perfect” translation, but I got the message.   
This parable, it turns out, is the Parable of the SOWER, but what I was about to do and what many people do with this parable is to turn it into the Parable of the FARMER.  We read this parable and assume that God is a FARMER with a farmer’s goal of bringing in a harvest.  Farmers plant to maximize the return on their investment.  I assumed, and I think many people assume, God is a Farmer too and as a Farmer cares only about the GOOD SOIL because it is only in GOOD SOIL that a harvest of 100, 60 or 30 will happen and the assumption is that the harvest is THE thing God cares about.  
But Jesus, this week, reminds us not to “ASSUME” but instead to “LISTEN!”  This is the Parable of the SOWER, not the Parable of the Farmer.  The Sower doesn’t only care about the “Good Soil” that brings a harvest.  The Sower cares about sowing the seeds of God’s infinite and unconditional love, grace, forgiveness and compassion in EVERY kind of soil EVERYWHERE!  The Sower’s goals, you see, are not as narrow as those of the Farmer.  The Sower has important work for those seeds to do in EVERY kind of soil.
When we think of the idea before us, the idea of merging with other churches, we all know people who are welcoming that idea like the hard, packed soil of a path welcomes a seed.  A Farmer might ignore the path or break it with a pickax until it changes, but the Sower has a greater vision for his seeds than JUST a Farmer’s harvest.  The Sower intends, in addition to a harvest, that the birds will eat the seed sown on the path and be fed.  That the birds will then “deposit” that seed right where the Sower intended it to go from the beginning, planted now with exactly the helping dose of fertilizer it needs to grow!  The Sower loves, values and has important work for that hard packed soil on the path to do.  Jesus is reminding us that the people and churches we know who are hard paths, have important work to do in this process which can’t be done by any other kind of soil.
The same is true of the Rocky Soil.  There are folks who see coming together as the final solution, the way out of a financial bind, a way to maintain “the way we’ve always done that” or a path to reclaim the glory days.  Many others know that coming together for shared ministry will be EASY, compared to the work that will need to be done after that, figuring out who we are together and what we're being called to do together as a new community of God’s people.
A Farmer might say that investing in planting in the Rocky Soil is a waste, that if we aren’t all coming together for greater mission, beyond merging, beyond simply survival, then it isn’t worth trying at all.  Except the Sower knows that even quick growing plants without deep roots have something to give.  The Sower has a use for the enthusiasm of the quick growing plants and even for the plants that whither in the sun.  The withered plants make compost and the compost builds the soil making a place for another seed to grow.
Even the seeds that are sown among the thorns... and you know who you are!  Even you, the thorniest soil, has value and is important to the Sower.  The concerns you have are real and important to hear.  They pull the dreamers among us back toward earth.  Even the fears that come out as wild conspiracy theories worthy of wrapping our heads in foil... even THOSE have something of value buried deep beneath them... something important lies underneath even the strangest and most unreasonable fears and panic and it is worth the work to dig down beneath all that and hear what is at the base of those fears.    
In the end, when Jesus says “LISTEN!” he’s challenging our narrow vision of what we think God is doing in our world and the narrow ways we believe God will get that work done!  This parable tells us that the power of God’s infinite love, compassion, grace, forgiveness and the transformational power of what God is sowing among us reaches WAY beyond our limited idea of what “good soil” looks like and is actually at work.... in, with and under every person, every type of soil and in each one of our churches.     
Our call... not our Lutheran call or our Episcopalian call... but OUR call as people of God, as we talk and dream and plan for doing God’s work together in a new way, is that we model what we do after the work of the Sower!  That as we meet and talk and ask questions and plan, we focus on sowing the seeds of God’s love and God’s promise into every single molecule of what we do with reckless, uncalculating abandon and then take the time to step back and simply allow each seed do whatever it is God needs that seed to do in that particular place, person or church at that time.
This exciting (and also terrifying) opportunity that God has set in front of us has admittedly not come at the optimal time.  Prince of Peace has real healing work it still needs to do.  Our congregation is a bit tired, sore and overextended and yet here it is!  So, as we meet after worship today and as we talk and plan and dream and worry in the days to come, may we keep in our minds the Parable of the Sower and that we simply can’t fully wrap our minds around all that the Sower is looking to accomplish in us!  The Sower sees in us much more potential than we could ever see in ourselves.  May this parable continue to remind us that what the Sower has sown is, right now, powerfully working within ALL the soil of ALL the people of St. Andrew’s, St. Barnabas, Christ Church, St. Marks, St. Matthew’s and Prince of Peace and the Sower’s seed will indeed accomplish abundantly far more than we could EVER ask or even IMAGINE on our own.  Amen.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

When Jesus Drives, Life Tastes Better

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 11th Chapter
“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John
came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are 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.”

It’s the 4th of July weekend and personally, I can’t think of anything more patriotic than grilling meat and since the Gospel is also all about food and eating, it seems divinely ordained that this sermon focus on grilling!   I love grilling but so often when I find a new grilling recipe it’s so complicated that you need a Master’s Degree in Food Science to pull it off!  Now it just so happens that I HAVE a Master’s Degree in Food Science but when I’m grilling, those super complicated recipes just take the fun out of putting meat and fire together. 

Jesus also had a problem with things getting too complicated.  His problem wasn’t with grilling but with the Pharisees.  One of the things they complicated was the food and eating part of life and so in today’s Gospel lesson, for different reasons, both Jesus and John the Baptist were under fire for their choice of eating habits.  You see, in Jesus’ day social networking meant sitting down and eating a meal together.  That was the way people stayed connected.  By adding extra rules about eating, the Pharisees isolated the Jewish community so they would remain separate from the outside world and that isolation, the theory went, would make it easier to be faithful.  John the Baptist ignored that rule by choosing to eat alone, outside of the community.  Since he didn’t follow the rules by eating with other good Jews, and didn’t act “normal,” the Pharisee’s accused him of having a demon.  John was certainly filled with unusual things like locusts, but not demons.  Jesus got in trouble for breaking the rule in the completely opposite direction.  Unlike John, Jesus did eat with other people, the trouble was that he ate with EVERY single sort of other people!   

To be fair, the Pharisees were trying to help.  They saw the Ten Commandments as life’s steering wheel and steering by the commandments is what kept your life out of the ditches.  The Pharisees, honestly wanting to help, added additional rules so you wouldn’t just stay out of the ditches, but by following these extra rules you wouldn’t even get close to the yellow line!  Unfortunately, even with good intentions, the extra rules made life too complicated and in the end, the people lived for the rules rather than the rules helping them live for God.    

More, it turns out, is not always better.  THAT is why I like The Webber Big Book of Grilling.  This is the one grilling cookbook that cuts through the technical mumbo jumbo and just gets down to what really matters:  Meat, some simple ingredients and fire.  That approach makes it a pleasure to grill and, here’s the key, because it’s not so complicated, it encourages me to grill more... not less.

THAT is what Jesus was doing as well.  He wanted to cut through the technical mumbo jumbo the Pharisees had piled onto God’s Law because all those extra rules weren’t actually helping the people get closer to God; in fact most often, they were distracting people from being faithful and some people just gave up all together.  Jesus offered a different approach.  Instead of worrying about all those extra rules of the road... simply let Jesus drive!  That’s what “take his yoke upon you” really means.  The easiest way to go down the path of life toward the peace and fulfillment God wants for all of us is not by adding complicated rules and doctrines.  The easiest way is to simply allow your life to be steered by Jesus... by living the Jesus Way... by giving instead of getting... by loving God and loving neighbor.

Of course, there are a million other things out there, besides Jesus, that offer to drive our lives for us and promise peace and prosperity in return.  If we follow their plan, buy their product, put on their yoke, get more money, grab more power, buy better gadgets... if we just get MORE THEN our lives will be so much better!  But, when we yoke ourselves to money, power and stuff, we ironically don’t get more peace even though that’s what we wanted!  We simply get MORE and that MORE becomes an even greater burden to our lives.  Then, feeling less peace, we try to hold on even tighter, get more control, get more stuff, climb higher, step on more people and it all becomes an endless cycle that continues to drain life instead of give it. 

The difference between yoking our lives to Jesus and yoking our lives to all the other things that promise life, but fail to deliver, is that all those other ways always say you need MORE to be at peace, while the Jesus Way teaches that the more completely we give our life away, the more we live for the other, the more we focus on loving our neighbor, the greater the peace... the better the life we will have.   Now, I’ll be the first one to admit - I can preach it… but when it comes to living it, “Yeah, verily, I stinketh at it!”  Like the Apostle Paul, I don’t seem to do what I want to do, but do the exact thing that I hate.  It shouldn’t be that hard, just let Jesus drive!  But the reality of being human is that sometimes it is easy for me to let Jesus drive but at other times I just have to insist on driving myself and invariably I find my life rolled right into one of those ditches and up to my neck in muck.

The Good News is that no matter how well we trust and no matter how well we stay on the road or end up in the ditch... no matter how well we let Jesus drive or insist on driving ourselves, God’s love for us is complete.  Now, God would RATHER that we enjoy the journey of this mortal life and the way to do that is by following the road God, through Christ, has laid out for us - giving of ourselves, loving God and loving neighbor.  God would LIKE for us all to stay out of the ditches simply because, well, God loves us!  But God isn’t going to heap on extra punishment for falling in the ditches… the muck you find there naturally is it’s own unfortunate reward.  The truth is that God really does LOVE us and created us to live an abundant life, not one spent covered in muck… but whatever way we choose, as we choose day by day, God’s love for us will always be with us.

You see, life is like a beautiful 2” thick Prime Ribeye steak given to us as a gift by God.  It is ours to do with as we would like.  We can choose to take control and cook it ourselves and it will inevitably taste like it was baked in an oven to flavorless leather OR we can give it all of it to Jesus and our lives will taste like it was given a perfect dry rub, seared and finished on a hot grill to a perfect medium rare and served with a well aged red wine.  The Jesus Way, it turns out, is simply better it doesn't need to be any more complicated than that!  Amen.