Thursday, October 19, 2017

Reaching Finish

Reaching Finish--October 20, 2017

"The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining." [1 Peter 4:7-9]

My kids love to do the mazes on the back of the kids' placemats when we go out to eat at a sit-down restaurant ("fancy restaurant," to them means, "crayons provided").  They'll play tic-tac-toe, or the dot-game, or color in the pictures, too, but I was noticing the other day as my son and daughter both were asking their mommy to help them with the maze.  My daughter does mazes in a curious turn-taking sort of way, where she'll trace a path for a while, and then stop and tell someone else, "Your turn to keep going..." so that even a maze becomes a team effort.  If their mommy comes to a wrong turn, she'll point it out and say, "I stopped here, because the path became a dead end.  You can start over here..." and then she'll redirect the kids to pick up in the middle again.

So the other day, my daughter is doing another of these mazes tag-team style, and she looks up and says, "Mommy, I came to another dead end.  Your turn."  And the maternal reply was, "Oh, honey--no, you came to the finish of the maze!  Good for you!  This isn't a dead end--this is the finish!  You did it!"

Well, that was good news for my daughter, but beyond that, it was a moment to learn an important distinction.  The finish of a maze isn't a sad thing, or a loss, or something to be avoided--it is the point at which a maze's journey is complete.  The "finish" of a maze, like the finish line of a race, is the intended goal toward which you were headed all along.  It is not a dead end, not at all--it is, in a sense, I guess, more of a "living" end, an end which is reached as the fulfillment, the consummation, of something.  It is, in a word, the point of the whole exercise.  The "point" of a maze is to get to the finish, like the "point" of a jigsaw puzzle is to put the pieces all together into the finished picture of the dogs playing poker, much like the "point" of chopping and cooking and simmering raw ingredients is to create a finished (and therefore edible) meal.  The "point" of a seed is to sprout, grow, blossom, and then make new seeds, which look like an ending but are really beginnings all over again. These all mark "end" points, but they are not "dead ends."  They are marks of completion--they carry a sense of fullness, of having reached the point they were intended for all along.

All that important distinction is carried in the difference between calling something a "dead end" (or even just an "end") versus calling it the "finish" or the "goal."  And all of that, learnable on the back of the placemat at Eat-n-Park.

The difference is critical if we are going to read these verses from what we call First Peter anywhere close to correctly.  We hear those opening words, "The end of all things is near," and a shiver might go down our backs, while we tremble in fear.  Oh no!  The END?  The end of--ALL things?  That sounds horrible--that sounds scary!  That sounds so... final!

Except that when First Peter uses the word that gets translated "end" here, it isn't at all a dead end.  It isn't the idea of throwing something away, or destroying or punishing.  The word is the Greek "telos," which means something more like "completion," or "fulfillment," like "finish line" or like "goal."  It is the destination at which you have been journeying all along that you finally reach after a long trip--which is to say, it feels like home.  A "telos" isn't something to be sad about, any more than you would be sad when you finish the jigsaw puzzle or the meal you have just been cooking is finally ready to eat.  The telos is what it means to see all your hard work finally pay off, to see the project in the workshop finally given its last coat of stain, to see the smiles of satisfied family members eating the soup you made, to hear someone say, "You made a difference here."  

And so, when First Peter says it, the feeling is not meant to be like a closeout sale from the store at the mall that is closing up shop, but more like finally arriving at what the destination has been all along.  It's less like, "The end of all things is nigh--be afraid!" and more like, "Everything is heading toward completion--this is what we have been waiting for!"  It does beg the question why our brains tend to assume this is something to be scared of, when the author himself doesn't seem to be freaking out.  He does take his sentence seriously, and he takes the idea of getting to witness all of creation heading toward its final fulfillment and purpose as something pretty significant to get to be a part of.  But he's not afraid--more like, when you know that the moment of getting to watch the century plant blossoming is getting close, you want to have your eyes peeled.

Heard in the right frame of mind, then, First Peter says something more like, "The goal of all creation is finally getting close--so pay attention and live like every day and every moment matters!"  And when you see it that way, then the next sentence finally makes sense: "above all maintain constant love for one another."  That's because, as we've seen earlier this week, the only thing that really lasts, the only thing that really endures, is love.  Not sentimentality.  Not romance.  Not the socially-constructed insistence that everyone needs to be squeezed into a cookie cutter family with a husband, wife, two-point-five kids and a dog living behind a white picket fence.  But real and genuine love--the conscious choice to do good to the other, regardless of what you get in return or whether you like the other at the moment, the willful practice of compassion when apathy is easier, the determined decision to give yourself away for the sake of another--this is all that ever really lasts in the universe.  Because--and this is the beauty of it really--such love is really the goal of the universe in the first place.  Love is the reason for our creation, and love is what we were intended for.  Love is the Source, and Love is the destination of all things.  Love is the finished jigsaw puzzle, and love is the picture of the dogs playing poker on it when all the pieces are assembled.  Love is the why, the goal, the completion of all creation, so that, as another biblical writer put it, "God may be all in all."

And so in light of that promised future, we practice love.  For one another, sure.  For outsiders, yes also.  For strangers--them, as well.  We know that, too, because when First Peter gets to describing what this "constant love" looks like, the next thought in the train is "being hospitable," which in the Greek is something more literally like, "welcoming the stranger."  

That's what we are called to be about today: the conscious, intentional, radical practice of love.  We will love the people who are like us.  We will love the people who are not like us.  We will love the people with whom we see eye to eye. We will go out of our way to do good to people with whom we strongly disagree.  We will go on the record as people led by Jesus to welcome the stranger, and we will take the time to practice compassion to the people it is easy to be kind to, as well as the people who do nothing but get under our skin.  We do this, not because it is easy, but simply because the finish line, the goal, the destination of all things is nearer and nearer....

...and the goal of this creation in which we find ourselves is love.

Live today like you are walking toward that goal. Live like it's coming toward all of us.

Lord God, pull us toward your intended telos for all creation, and make us to live in your kind of all-embracing love.

A Matter of Trust

A Matter of Trust--October 19, 2017

[Jesus said:] "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and I will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also." [John 14:1-3]

Really, the question is whether Jesus is trustworthy or not.

Honestly, that's what this all comes down to--the whole of our hope in God's future, the whole way of life we are drawn into now--it all comes down to whether we trust that Jesus knows what he is talking about, and that Jesus actually means what he says. If Jesus is the sort of person who tells the truth, we are more likely to be able to rely on what he says and live in light of the future he promises.  But if Jesus is the sort who makes wild and unverifiable claims that have to be walked back the next day by backpedaling disciples and official messianic spokespersons, then we would be foolish to stake our lives on his way of living in the world.  If Jesus is the sort who just sort of fires off big talk in a shoot-from-the-hip sort of way, whose words don't mean anything or have any grounding in reality, well, then, we shouldn't listen or believe him when he says that he will gather anybody to himself beyond the reign of death.  We should just ignore him and leave him alone in that case, because you can't seriously devote any of your attention to the kind of voice that just blurts out nonsense and hopes you will forget about it later.

This might seem obvious for a moment--after all, religious people are "supposed" to automatically trust Jesus and what he says. But think for a moment about it: we are so used to it anymore when voices claim to have "authority" and then reveal they aren't reliable.  We all know what it's like to know someone who talks a good game, but never actually follows through... or makes a claim, and then never has the facts to back it up.  We all know what it's like to be let down by someone you put your trust in, who then turned out not to mean what they said, or shouldn't have promised what couldn't be guaranteed, or simply was hoping you would forget they had ever made a commitment.

There's a famous argument of C. S. Lewis from his Mere Christianity about Jesus, one that's often called the Lunatic-Liar-Lord trilemma.  The gist is that someone who says the things that Jesus says, like here in John 14 about having the authority to offer life beyond the grip of death, can only be one of three things: either a lunatic (that is, he's insane like someone who thinks he is Napoleon or a sea cucumber), or he is a liar (that is, someone who deliberately deceives people into thinking he has power over death when he knows full well that he doesn't), or, Lewis says, he must be who he says he is: the Lord himself.  Lewis' point, ultimately, is that we don't have the option of just saying, "Jesus was a fine moral teacher, and that's all," or "Jesus was a respectable Jewish rabbi who didn't want anything more than to teach people to be nice," because Jesus himself doesn't allow that choice.  You don't say things like, "I will come again and take you to myself" about life after crucifixion, if you are just being a nice religious teacher.  You don't get to claim that you in your very person are embodying the Kingdom of God if you are just a respectable teacher of morals.  Jesus keeps saying things that either make him crazy, a con-man, or the Christ.

Now, that said, sometimes I wonder if, in this day and age of ours, we need to add a fourth option to Lewis' argument.  Perhaps we need to ask whether Jesus is not a Lunatic or a Liar, but that other unique phenomenon of our day, the Loudmouth.  Unlike, say, the Liar, who knows what the truth is and cares what the truth is, but tries to hornswoggle you to believe a deception, and unlike say, the Lunatic, who is so detached from reality that he doesn't know what is or isn't real, the Loudmouth is the figure who blurts things out without even caring whether they are grounded in the truth or not.  And because we now live in the era, not only of twenty-four-hour-a-day news channels that have to fill their airwaves with something, but also the era of social media when we are constantly being manipulated by stories, accounts, and messages that turn out to be either partially or completely unfactual but still get passed along and shared because we want them to be true to reinforce our picture of the world, it is now possible to be a Loudmouth who doesn't care if what he says is true or false or whatever.  He just says it, and then blurts out the next thing to make you forget (or at least to stop asking about) whatever the last thing was.

This, maybe, is the pressing question for us in the age of social media and reality TV: can we trust Jesus to tell us the truth about the future he promises us, or is he just one more in a long line of Loudmouths, who just say things without thinking that those words have any consequences?  

That's a vital, life-changing question to ask, because honestly, Jesus doesn't just make claims about an afterlife, but Jesus' statements about God's promised future also dramatically affect what we do with this day, this year, this life.  Take the well-known story Jesus tells that we often call "The Sheep and the Goats."  When Jesus imagines a future moment when it is revealed that loving the people on the margins (the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the prisoner, the sick, etc.) is received as loving him, the question to ask is, "Can we trust him on that?"  After all, if Jesus is just saying stuff because he loves the sound of his own voice, or making these big claims because he wants to distract attention from something else, we could just as easily spend our lives doing something different.  But if Jesus really knows what he is talking about, and if Jesus really is tapping into the truth when he says, "As you did it to the least of these, you did it to me," then claims are made on our lives.  We really will spend our lives, our energies, our money, and our time differently.

For that matter, too, if Jesus is just being a Loudmouth bloviating about things without caring whether it's true or not, then we dare not live now like there is the promise of life beyond death, and we dare not ever take risks with our own lives because we'll be so afraid that something bad might happen and our lives would be unfixable.  If Jesus is just a Loudmouth, we don't have to take his words seriously, and we don't have to actually listen to him--he can just be our figurehead, or our Cosmic used car salesman.  If Jesus is just occupying the role of Loudmouth, and if we know he doesn't really mean anything that he says, we can make him mean anything we like and turn Jesus into our mascot to pretend he endorses whatever we want him to endorse. 

This is actually, I think, what makes the Loudmouth possibility even scarier than the "Liar" or "Lunatic" figures of C. S. Lewis' original argument--at least with both the Liar and the Lunatic, there is some underlying commitment to something that is real, that you could check a liar or a lunatic against.  If a person believes he is Louis XIV, there are ways to either confirm or deny that (for example, is the person in front of you French? ... and dead?). If a person is lying to you deliberately, you can verify or disprove things he or she says against other verifiable facts.  But the Loudmouth is even more insidiously dangerous--the Loudmouth keeps talking and doesn't seem to notices when the things that come out of his mouth have no grounding in reality.  Much less, he doesn't seem to care--it's only what gets said now, and whether you buy it.  If you do, he's got you, hook, line, and sinker, and if you don't, he's upset that you're undermining his credibility.  In all seriousness, I think that if Lewis were living today, he would have had to put something like the Loudmouth alongside Liar and Lunatic as possibilities we have to examine before concluding that Jesus really is who he says he is... and that he can be trusted when he makes claims about God's promised future.

What gives me deep hope today, in the midst of a world full of Loudmouths, as well as its share of lunatics and liars, is that Jesus seems to foresee that we will need to ask this sort of question, and he grounds all of his promises in his track record.  Jesus knows that any time he talks about something we cannot see--about the hope that sounds too good to be true of a life beyond the grip of death--he runs the risk that we will run away in skepticism or disbelief.  Jesus knows that we will have had our fill of nonsense-spouting Loudmouths who fill the air with their sound and fury, and that it will be difficult at times to know why we can trust him if we have learned to ignore the Loudmouths.  And so Jesus puts it directly to his followers--us included--and puts his own reputation on the line.  "If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?"  That is to say, "You know me.  You know what I say and how I say it.  You know that I am truthful with you.  And you even know that sometimes I tell you truths you do not want to hear.  If you have known me at all and seen that I am reliable and trustworthy, then, yes, you can dare to believe when I tell you that I will come and take you to myself.  You can dare to believe that there is future beyond the rule of death, beyond the power of our self-destruction, beyond the grip of the grave.  You can dare to believe it, not because you have "proof," but because you dare to trust me... because I have shown myself trust-worthy."

In this life, there will be plenty of voices that ask for you to believe them.  Some of them will be reliable, and some of them will not be.  Some of them will be lunatic-type voices who are living in their own world.  Some of them will be liars who are trying deliberately to deceive you.  And some of them will be Loudmouths who don't even care about truth or falsity any longer, but just say things because they love the sound of their own voices.  And then there will be Jesus. 

Jesus is the voice who stakes it all on his trust-worthiness, and who says, "I have not failed you or let you down before, and I have not shied away from saying uncomfortable truths when I have to.  And now I am telling you--asking for your trust again--that I will hold onto you beyond the power of death.  Live today--go ahead, you can trust me--go ahead and live today like I really will hold you through to life beyond the power of death, and make your choices in this day as though resurrection is more than a rumor.

See--it all hangs on whether Jesus is trust-worthy or not.  What do you say?

Lord Jesus, speak your truth and dare us to live in light of it, today and always.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ready to Be Surprised

Ready to Be Surprised--October 18, 2017

"But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness." [1 Thessalonians 5:4-5]
When you know the who, it is ok to live without knowing the when... or even all of the what.  If you can be confident about the who, you can live with surprise on just about all the rest.
That said, this is one of those days when I want to say to Paul, "Which is it, Mr. Apostle?" Is Jesus' coming supposed to come "like a thief" or not?  Are we going to be surprised, or see it coming? 
See, the trouble is that here in these verses, Paul says that the coming day of the Lord and Jesus' return need not surprise us "like a thief."  That would be all well and good, except a mere three verses back in the letter, the same Paul said to these very same readers, "You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night."  So... which is it?  Will it be like a thief or not?  
Will it surprise us when the promised future comes or not?  Should I get on the bandwagon right now of those radio preachers on our dial right now who are certain they know the day and the year when Jesus will return?  Should I just not think about Jesus' coming at all, because I don't know when he'll come again?  How can Paul say two things that seem utterly contradictory in the space of just two or three sentences?
Maybe we need to talk baseball for a moment.  In a way, Paul's perspective, and really the whole New Testament's position as well, teaches us to be postured like a good outfielder in a baseball game.  You have to be aware enough of what's going on that you can be ready for any pitch to become a line drive to the your part of the field, but you have to be loose enough to run whichever direction the ball comes and patient enough to know that it might not come right when you want a hit to come.  And when that hit comes, of course at one level it will be a surprise--at least in that you can never be quite sure which pitch with which hitter will connect--but you don't have to be caught off guard.  You can be looking for surprises, so that when they come, you are delighted by them rather than upset by them.  That outfielder posture is what Paul is talking about--we know that Jesus is coming, so even if we don't know when, we don't need to be caught off guard by his coming, but can be living now like the Lord of the Universe, who wears scars from laying down his life for creation, is coming still to put right all that is in disorder in the world. 
We don't know what day he will pick to come back to us, so that heaven will come home to earth and God will dwell among humans, but it will be fitting and right when it happens. A good outfielder might not know for sure which pitch will be the one that has your name on it, but if you're paying attention to the game and the players, you'll know which players on the opposing team can hit your pitcher's change-up.  Well, Paul seems to have the same kind of anticipation in mind for us with Jesus--except Paul is convinced that Jesus is not on the other team, but on our own! We don't know the when, but we do know the who, and that helps us to be ready for what to expect when Jesus does after all come to us. We can be ready to be surprised, in other words.
That brings us back to the matter of the who and the when. We can stand a surprise more easily in this life if we know the person who is surprising us.  It helps to know that we can trust the person (Jesus, in this case) who is going to surprise us, too.  I've been thinking this week about the surprise birthday party I threw for my wife a few years back.  Now while she didn't know for sure what I was up to, she was willing to leave the plans for her birthday up to me. There's nothing odd about that.  It makes perfect sense that spouses would trust each other with those kinds of surprises, because there is theoretically already the foundation of a solid relationship underneath.  You don't trust a perfect stranger to take you out for an evening when you don't know where you're going or what will happen, but you can trust yourself to be surprised by someone who has won your trust and who loves you. (Even for those who go on blind dates--which are a notorious gamble at best--a couple meets somewhere they both agree on, don't they?)  And yet when it is someone you have learned to trust, you can let yourself be surprised much more easily. It seems obvious when we're talking about birthday parties and spouses that the difference in being surprised has to do with trust.
So, was my wife surprised when her friends appeared and shouted, "Happy birthday"?  Well, yes and no--yes, in that she couldn't have perfectly predicted what I was planning, but no, she wasn't caught off guard exactly, either.  She could trust that whatever I had up my sleeve would be good and would be fitting with my character and with hers.  My wife might not have known the when of her surprise birthday party, but because she knew who was in charge of orchestrating the day (me), she could trust that the what would somehow seem right.
Well, it seems that this is the same kind of relationship Paul invites us to have with Jesus, too.  We don't know the when of his coming and the great surprise party that will unfold when it happens.  But we do know what Jesus is like. 
We do know the who, and so we won't be (or at least we don't need to be) caught off guard when God's promised future does come.  We may not know the moment it will happen, but when it does happen, there will be something about the moment that will fit perfectly with who Jesus is and how he has related to us before.  We can look ahead with hope rather than with fear because there is a foundation of a solid relationships underneath already. That's because the one surprising us is trustworthy... and we have already seen what Jesus is like.  Whatever Jesus' coming is like, it will be consistent with who Jesus himself is.  There will be no bait-and-switch. There will be no Jekyll-and-Hyde.  The One who triumphs over death by dying for us will be the one who reigns at the last--he does not suddenly change tactics and resort to missiles and armies and threats to get his way.  Jesus is Jesus is Jesus, all the way down.
That's actually really important to be clear about, because sometimes you'll hear religious voices say things like, "Jesus came the first time all meek and mild, but when he comes again, he's gonna let his wrath run wild!"  You get the impression that they think Jesus has split personalities or schizophrenia.  But to hear Paul tell it, the thing that makes it possible for us to face the future with all its uncertainty is knowing that Jesus remains our constant. Paul doesn't think we have to worry about whether we'll get "Merciful Jesus" or "Angry Jesus" or "Lamb Jesus" or "Lion Jesus" or "Peacemaking Jesus" or "Saber-Rattling Jesus"--Paul is convinced that the same one whose power came from self-giving love all the way to a cross is the one who will reign at the last.  Jesus is Jesus is Jesus... all the way down.
So, as Paul says, the day of Jesus' coming does not have to surprise us like a thief--that is, in a fearful, defensive way.  But it can surprise us the way someone who loves you throws you a party--we who have learned to trust Jesus this far in our lives can let our defenses down enough to let Jesus surprise us, and to trust that it will be just what we have been waiting for after all.
O Christ our Lord, we will do all we know to do in this day to let you in and to let ourselves be watchful and hopeful. Surprise us as you will, Lord, but be faithful to your own good character as you do, and we will be joyful in it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The King Versus the Minority Report

The King Versus the Minority Report--October 17, 2017

"Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred of them, and said to them, ‘Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?’ They said, ‘Go up; for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.’ But Jehoshaphat said, ‘Is there no other prophet of the Lord here of whom we may inquire?’ The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.’ Jehoshaphat said, ‘Let the king not say such a thing.’ Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, ‘Bring quickly Micaiah son of Imlah.’ Now the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were sitting on their thrones, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing-floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets were prophesying before them. Zedekiah son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron, and he said, ‘Thus says the Lord: With these you shall gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’ All the prophets were prophesying the same and saying, ‘Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.’  The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favourable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favourably.’ But Micaiah said, ‘As the Lord lives, whatever the Lord says to me, that I will speak.’
 When he had come to the king, the king said to him, ‘Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?’ He answered him, ‘Go up and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.’ But the king said to him, ‘How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?’ Then Micaiah said, ‘I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd; and the Lord said, “These have no master; let each one go home in peace.” The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favorable about me, but only disaster?’
 Then Micaiah said, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him. And the Lord said, “Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” Then one said one thing, and another said another, until a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, “I will entice him.” “How?” the Lord asked him. He replied, “I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” Then the Lord said, “You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.” So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has decreed disaster for you.’ " [1 Kings 22:6-23]

Maybe Jack Nicholson was more right than Tom Cruise ever gave him credit for--maybe we really can't handle the truth.

This is one of those weird, likely unsettling, but necessary-to-know-and-to-wrestle-with stories from the family album we call the Bible that I'll bet you didn't learn growing up in Sunday School.  The story of Micaiah the Unpopular Prophet just doesn't translate well to flannel board and Sunday School songs... but it is an important reminder for us that Christian hope, for whatever it does mean, is not the same as saying, "God will make whatever I want to happen happen." 

All due respect to Jiminy Cricket, but the Gospel ain't the same as "When you wish upon a star... anything your heart desires will come to you....." Because, sometimes, what my heart wishes for isn't good... sometimes what my heart wishes for is self-centered and short-sighted.  Sometimes what my heart wishes for is unjust or unkind to someone else God loves.  And sometimes my heart thinks it wants momentary "happy" when the only thing that will really fill it is enduring joy.  That is the difference between baptizing my wish for instant gratification and the ultimate goal of God's good promised future.

It is true that we are a people formed by hope in God's future. But God's promised future is not the same thing as My Personal Wish List, or the American Dream, or climbing the corporate ladder.

It is true that we are nurtured by the hope of a day when everyone would get enough to eat, and where God's abundance makes all cups overflow so that no one needs to live ruled by fear or scarcity.  But that hope does not mean that God is rooting for the Dow Jones to close at higher and higher records every day.

It is true that we tell stories of that promised day when all peoples are gathered at God's table and the unending Resurrection Party, under the shade of the Tree of Life whose leaves are, as Revelation says, "for the healing of the nations."  But that hope for nations is not the same thing as saying, "God is on the side of my nation," or that God automatically wants my country to win the battle... or that God is under contract to underwrite our wars and give a little extra heavenly firepower to clinch the win.

It is true that we are taught to pray for leaders, elected and unelected, local and national, of our land and of other lands.  But that is not the same thing as saying everything that happens in government is a sign that God supports the king.

That's a hard notion for us to get behind, or even to understand.  We tend to think only one move ahead in life--we are playing tic-tac-toe while God is playing chess.  We have a way of thinking only about the immediate, the right-in-front-of-us, the headlines of a win or a loss for today's news... and we assume that God must be in favor of our instant gratification, too.  But hope in God's promised future is not the same as saying, "I want it all, and I want it now--the big car, the big house, the prestigious job... all the day after I graduate."  Like the old line says, if you want crabgrass, you only have to wait a couple of days for it to grow; if you want an oak tree, you have to be a little more patient.  God's promised future is a lot more like an oak, it turns out, and here we've got these shortsighted little crabgrass wishes.

That difficult lesson is at the heart of this strange story about a little-remembered prophet named Micaiah.  Micaiah lived during the days of the rotten king Ahab, who was--as the book of Kings will be quick to tell you--greedy, self-absorbed, corrupt, and easily persuaded to do whatever other people told him was a good idea (ask his wife Jezebel about that).  Ahab surrounded himself with yes-people, including a whole official system of palace-approved, government-sanctioned prophets, whose job was basically to tell the king that God approved of whatever he wanted to do.  Raise taxes to build a new palace?  Sure, said the prophets, God would want you to have a nice place.  Seize property violently from one of your own citizens illicitly and cover up your shady dealings so no one will find out about it in the papers? (His name was Naboth, and the cover-up didn't last long.) The prophets all promised to look the other way and give their implicit blessing on it... and to give the impression that God was okay with it, too.  And then here in today's passage, King Ahab has gotten into saber-rattling and is debating about whether or not it's a good idea to go to war and pick a fight at a place called Ramoth-gilead.  And once again, the official court prophets all nod sycophantically: "Oh, yes, Your Majesty, Oh Great One!  God will give you the victory!"

And the scariest thing of all in this scene is that everybody actually thinks that God wills for Ahab to lead this battle, and that God has promised a win for Ahab.  Every one of the official court prophets truly believed they had God's official stamp of approval on this battle plan... and it didn't hurt that it's what the king wanted to hear.  It's so easy to take the idea that God "makes all things to work for good..." and twist it into sounding like, "God wants my bright idea right now to succeed, on my terms," regardless of what it does to anybody else.  That was Ahab and company--they took the true and right hope that God will be victorious in the end and twisted it to sounding like God would grant Ahab victory on any given day.... because, of course, God must be on Ahab's side... and God must always be in favor of "winning."

Except... not.

Eventually Ahab worries that maybe his yes-men, court-prophets, and administration-approved religious spokespersons are only telling him what he wants to hear, and he goes to the one voice he knows will not pull punches with him.  Ahab goes to Micaiah, the prophet who never has anything positive to say about Ahab.  (Interestingly enough, the Bible doesn't fault Micaiah for that, or accusing the prophet of unfair bias--the Bible just acknowledges that there was nothing good to say about Ahab, the greedy, self-centered, short-sighted, buck-passing charlatan.)  And at first, Micaiah is just going to let Ahab hear the party line again--"Oh, sure, your highness... I'm sure you'll win big today in battle.  You'll win so big we won't be able to believe it."  But Ahab pushes the cynical prophet... and Micaiah pulls back the curtain with a minority report.  "Yep, you're right, Ahab--the other prophets were just telling you what you wanted to hear, and they had convinced themselves that God was speaking.  They fell for a lying spirit and willingly bought into the deception, because that's what court-appointed, administration-approved prophets do.  Yep, you're right, Ahab--I'm here to tell you that you're gonna go into battle anyway because you're a moron, you're gonna lose, and you're gonna die."

See why nobody invited Micaiah to their parties?

Of course, he was right.  The problem wasn't the truth--the problem was that a giant ego like Ahab couldn't handle the truth.  Ahab wanted to co-opt the assurance of God's ultimate victory and tell himself that God was giving him the short-term win on the battlefield.  Ahab wanted to assume that God's promised future meant he could get what he  And Micaiah said, "No."

Like I say, this isn't an easy story to hear, or to think about.  But it is an important one.  It is vital for us to know the truth in this story, because otherwise we will sell out the good and solid hope of God's real promised future and trade it for the counterfeit of our own personal wants and whims.  And when we discover--as we surely will in this life--that everything on my personal wish-list doesn't come true, we will need to know in that moment that it isn't the failure of God's strength or the faultiness of God's promises.  God's promised future is real and sure--but it is not the same as me getting whatever I think I want, and it is not the same as my town having a boom in business, or an uptick in my state's economy, or even my country's national interest.  Saber-rattling Ahab was sure that because he was supposedly leading "God's nation" that God must want him to "win" all the time... and that was a lie.  God's promised future is always bigger than just me-and-my-group-first.  Micaiah's story, rough as it is to hear, reminds us of that.

Today, the challenge is for us not to sell out the good and wide and spacious hope of God's promised future, which is good for all creation and all peoples, by trying to trade it in for our short-sighted, self-centered wishes.  Don't settle for less than God's real promised future.  Don't sell it short.  And don't let court-appointed prophets just tell you what you want to hear. 

Listen for the truth from the minority report voices like Micaiah's, the truth that may be harder to handle, but is what we need to hear.

Lord God, don't let us settle, and keep putting honest, good voices around us to tell us what we need to hear, even if it is not what we wanted to hear.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What Will Last

What Will Last--October 16, 2017

"For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming?  Is it not you?  Yes, you are our glory and joy!" [1 Thessalonians 2:19-20]
A lot more ends up in the garbage pile or the recycle bin than we would like to admit.
Look--at some point, you've got to be honest about what will last, and what is therefore worth putting your life and energy into.  That is probably a pretty widely acceptable bit of advice.  And we should just face it directly here: a lot less endures than we imagine.  And therefore knowing what really lasts is worth it in life.
Now, you don't have to be Christian, or even practice any religious faith, to think it's wise to spend your life doing something meaningful and to leave a lasting legacy.  In one way or another, that's largely what culture is--various people's attempts to do something worthwhile with their lives to leave behind an enduring mark on the world.  The sculptures, statues, and temples of ancient Greece.  The pyramids of Egypt.  The world's canon of great literature.  The innovations and great theorems of science, or the best of philosophy and political science.  They are all the results of people doing their best to contribute something to history and, in one way or another, leave an imprint on the world that will last. 
Everybody wants to be remembered.  Everybody, from the least and the last who are too lowly to speak up, to the most pompous blowhard touting his own supposed greatness, wants to think they have made a difference and left a mark on the world.  So for us Christians today, we should perhaps begin with a little honesty ourselves and admit that we are not the only ones saying in the public square, "Leave a legacy for those who come after you." We are not the only ones teaching our children at home as they grow up, "Do something that will last." 
The Pharaohs left a legacy, too--although they are crumbling in the desert wind in Egypt now.  Alexander and Augustus (and a long line of empire-building would-be "great ones" after them) left an impression on the course of world events--although neither of them, nor any of their successors, could create an empire or an order that would last forever as they had hoped.  No imperial decree, no executive order, no engraved granite monument ultimately holds up--these things are simply not durable enough to last in the big scheme of things. No--if you want to do something that will outlast the crumbling of monuments and the forgetfulness of history toward its mediocre and overrated figures (no matter how "great" they imagined themselves to be in their own time), the thing to do is clear: love. What really does make the perspective of the Gospel stand out among human attempts to be remembered is that we have never been convinced that it had to do with monuments, buildings, endowments, or achievements.  As Paul shows us here in 1 Thessalonians, for us who name the name of Jesus, what will last is loving other human beings. 
When Paul gets nostalgic and starts wondering what his own legacy will be, he skips over his dramatic daring deeds, and he makes no mention of his own writings.  He never asked for a stone to be chiseled with his name on it, and he never had a portrait commissioned so that we could remember his likeness. He had no need to talk about how popular he was, how great a job he was doing, or whether he looked tough to anybody else. When Paul thinks about what he will have that he can hold up before Jesus at the Lord's return, he thinks immediately of the people he has loved with the gracious, self-giving love of Christ, and he is satisfied.  He has pinned his hopes of glory and joy on love, and on loving actual human beings, other real selves with real faces, and Paul is convinced that the love that has held them together in this life, even across miles, will last when he stands on the brink of eternity. 
What we do out of love for others--or, perhaps it is better to say, what Love himself leads us to do for others--will last.  Love, even if given in gestures that are forgotten in an instant or invisible after a moment, will endure.  To hear Jesus tell it, the things that get brought up on the last day will not be the number of monuments left with your name on them or the number of dollars you left behind in a bank account, or even for the the Alexanders and Augustuses and other would-be "great ones" among us, how many years your empire or administration lasted.   By Jesus' reckoning, it is the food given to the hungry, the visits to the lonely and imprisoned, the welcome given to the outsider, the tiny acts of courageous solidarity with those who have been pushed to the margins, and the clothes and tables and dignity shared with the poor--in other words, momentary actions of love--that will be the subject of discussion on the day when everything else is stripped away. 
Love will last, and love can never be in the abstract; it always involves concrete words, actions, and presence for real persons.  But the actions, words, and presence through which we offer love might occupy only fleeting moments of time, or seem like they hardly mattered.
This is part of the peculiar way we who worship the God of Israel and Jesus, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, see things.  Whatever our activities, if they are offered in love to the God who has loved us first, or if they are offered in love of neighbor, stranger, and enemy (because God has taught us to bend our love outward to them as well), they will last, even if they seem completely forgettable to us.  C.S. Lewis writes, "All our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not."  In other words, the cup of cold water offered in Jesus' name--or the dishes washed, or trash picked up by the side of the road, done out of love--will last in the end.  But even our proudest accomplishments, tallest towers, brashest imperial decrees, and best works won't even come to mind if they are not offered up in love of God or neighbor.
And now comes the really beautiful, but also really strange, wrinkle in all of this: because it is love that matters, and because Jesus shows us love as a self-forgetting act of putting the other first, we won't be looking to leave a legacy when we are loving others.  We will just be loving others, and discover on that great future day that it is love that has mattered all along.  Paul doesn't think to himself, "How can I be remembered?  I know--I'll make a lot of friends in Thessalonica who can vouch for me in heaven!"  He has already established those relationships.  He has already loved these people before he even considers that they are his "legacy."  Loving them was not merely a means to an end--we don't love people in order to get a crown one day in heaven.  To hear Paul tell it, the people we have loved with Jesus' kind of love are our crown.  We don't love others as a back-door way of loving ourselves or getting our names remembered.  When I love I am able to forget myself, but the God who has fashioned the universe and who is Love still remembers.  But if I am using love as a tool, as a way of getting something for myself or some lasting legacy, then it is a pretty sure sign I don't really have love in in the first place, but a cheap knock-off that will turn my finger green. 
It's almost like the rule of thumb should be, If you are trying to get yourself remembered, you are most likely to be forgotten, along with the rest of the world's dime-a-dozen self-promoters.  But in those moments where you can lose yourself, you are investing in something that will outlast the letterhead of any empire or emperor.
The ones at the judgment seat in the parable who have fed the hungry and visited the sick and loved "the least of these" say they didn't even realize they were doing it for Jesus--they have been blessedly clueless all the while!  That's the beautiful, peculiar paradox of Christian love--we know it is the only thing that will really last, and yet we are not looking to make ourselves last when we offer love to someone else.  You are looking out for the well-being of the other while you are doing it, only to find in the end that the other will be your joy and your crown.  Today, let us do something that matters, something that will last.  Today, let us love.
O Eternal God, give us the vision and wisdom to see moments, even brief instants, when we can love the people whom you have placed in our lives.  We pray it in the name of has shown us what love is, Jesus.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Becoming Who We Are

Becoming Who We Are--October 13, 2017

"Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is."  [1 John 3:2]
The whole Christian life is about becoming who and what God says we already are

If that seems like a bit of a brain twister, it's probably a sign that we're onto something.

After all, most of the really important things we believe as Christians boggle our minds if we spend any time at thinking about them. (In his book, Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr quotes some of the great Eastern fathers as saying, "If you can explain it, it isn't true," meaning that ultimately we can't completely unravel the mystery of the faith, and that if we think we understand it all, it's a sign we have probably missed the boat somewhere.)  So, back to the mystery du jour:  the Christian life is a matter of becoming who we are.
Again and again throughout the Bible, Christians find themselves bumping up against the idea of things being already-and-not-yet with us and God.  Jesus is Lord of the entire universe, and yet there is still coming a day when he will be revealed fully to all as Lord.  The Reign of God is among us, Jesus said two thousand years ago, and yet the same Jesus also still taught us to pray for that same very Reign to come, and for God's will to be done on earth the way it is done already in heaven.  Eternal life begins now, the New Testament writers say, but it also yet to come beyond the bounds of death.  There are lots of places where we live in that already-but-not-yet tension as believers in Jesus.
Well, here's one more for the pile:  John tells us here we are God's children now, and he says it plainly and assertively as something we can take to the bank,  But John also points us forward to something that is yet in store for us, something that is to come, something we are not yet experiencing fully.  "We will be like him," John says, referring to Jesus.  We will be like Jesus, the One in whom we have met the face of God.  In other words, we are God's children already, but we will be made to be fully like God's Son at the last. 
That's really what this whole life is about--being formed into the likeness of Jesus--the "Son of Man," which is really a way of saying, "the Truly Human One." It's all about being shaped more and more fully into the likeness of Christ. It always has been. Not beards and sandals of course, but becoming like Jesus in the ways that matter. 

This life--which also then includes this day--is part of how God is shaping us to be made like Jesus, so that, as John says, "when he is revealed, we will be like him."  That is an important thing for us to remember, because it is very easy for us to slip into thinking that this life is just a matter of biding our time until we get to heaven, or that we just have to trudge through the days and keep our nose down as much as possible so that we can just skip ahead to the good part of life after death.  But Jesus, it turns out, is just as much interested in life before death.  And in fact, Jesus has gifted us with a community of people who are placed around us in this life-before-death to be used as instruments whom God uses to shape us to be like Christ.  That community is called church.  Sinners though we are, every last one of us, in God's great cosmic genius, the Spirit uses each of us to work on all of the rest of us.  And together in community, we learn how to love like Jesus, how to be courageous truth-tellers in like Jesus, how to serve in humility like Jesus, how to embrace those deemed "unacceptable" and share a table with those on the margins like Jesus, and how to weep and rejoice like Jesus. 

When we go out to serve others--whether on far-out mission trips or just down the road to the clothes closet or working side by side in our own church buildings--part of what is happening is that you and I are being changed, too.  For whatever other good we are doing for others on our mission trips and with our clothing drives, God is using those moments to form the kind of people we are becoming--so that we will come to look like the kind of children God says we are already.  When we hold hands together to pray in a circle, when we come to the Table to receive the bread and the cup, when we are gathered around the Word each Sunday, God is shaping us to make us to be like Jesus.  God has already called us and claimed us as "children of God," but that is not the end of things--God continues to make us to be what God says we are already.
So for today, we look out on the hours in front of us before we go to bed again, and we can see the open possibility that God will be at work on us today--and through us at the same time, too--to make us all more fully to become like Jesus.  The question, then, to ask, over any given moment, any given action, any given word, any given choice in the day, is, "Does this make me more like Christ... or less?"  Does this reflect who Jesus is faithfully, or distort his face with my own self-interest?  Does this bring out what is of Mercy in me, or push his presence down under layers of apathy and indifference?

We rarely get around to asking questions like that in our day.  We have a way of asking less and less these days, and shouting or declaring more and more--talking (yelling, really) past each other, rather than asking ourselves the difficult probing questions, like, "What will this choice do to me?  How will it shape me?"  Instead, we have a way of shouting instead, "I have a right to...!"  or "People who don't see things the way I do must be godless heathens and disrespectful ingrates!" rather than asking, honestly and vulnerably, whether our own attitudes, words, and choices are really aligned with Christ or not.  We like to imagine that I am already a fully perfected, spittin'-image-of-Jesus full-baked saint, and anybody different is clearly out of step with The Truth, rather than allowing the possibility that God has put other people in my life--people who may think through their faith differently from the way I do and arrive at some conclusions different from mine, no less!--deliberately, in order to shape me.  We have a hard time imagining that God might have put people in my life, with whom I disagree sometimes, in order to shape me into the likeness of Christ in ways I may not be ready yet to see that I need.  But that is part of the infinite genius of the living God--God reserves the right, and has the cleverness, to work through people I am not prepared to see that I can learn from... much less to learn the ways of Jesus from. (Of course, Jesus himself has a way of calling attention to the way the religious so-and-sos of his day needed to learn a thing or two from the tax collectors and prostitutes...)

The challenge in this day is allowing the possibility that the living God is not only working through you--like you are already a fully formed, perfect vessel for channeling Jesus--but also that this same God is working on you at the same time, always both at the same time, like a riverbed channels water along and is shaped by that water at the same time.

We, children of God already, are being made to be more fully like the Son of God.  And it will be happening, if perhaps in small ways that we will have to be vigilant to notice and recognize, even today. 
O Great and Gracious God, we pray for your presence and blessing today on us, to make us more fully to become who and what you say we are.  Let us be your children, and let us live as your children as you keep shaping us in the image of Jesus today.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rotten in Denmark

Rotten in Denmark--October 12, 2017

"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies...." [Romans 8:19-23]

Things are not okay.

There--let's just say it.  Grit your teeth, pull off the Band-Aid, and let's say it: things are not okay.

They are not okay here.  They are not okay there.  Things are not okay anywhere.

Forgive me if that sounds vaguely like the  depressing opening line of a rejected Dr. Seuss book, but we do need to be clear, crystal clear here, rather than either sticking our heads in the sand or thinking that the "Christian thing to do" is always to play the role of Pollyanna.  

No, in fact, the Scriptures themselves give us both the example and the ability to face things and say it out loud.  Things are not okay...anywhere.

That might sound hopelessly bleak as an assessment (although, again, take a look--Paul himself is saying the same thing here in Romans, about the "groaning" of this whole hurting creation that is currently in "bondage to decay"), but in truth, the recognition that Things Are Not Okay comes from a place of hope.  The followers of Jesus are people who dare to live by the hope that all creation will be put right, and because of that, we can be honest about what is out of sorts now.  In fact, the only way that things can be put right ever is by first saying out loud that they are not as they ought to be yet.  

That's why, after all, the first step in any Twelve Step program is admitting that there is a problem--or, in the language of the AA Big Book, "that our lives had become unmanageable."  Only the things we dare say out loud can be addressed and dealt with--that's why the supremely evil Voldemort in the Harry Potter books thrives on being called "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."  

And so, as Paul does here for us in his letter to the Romans, part of our calling as people of hope, part of our vocation as people being moved by Mercy into God's future, is to be able to say, like Shakespeare's Marcellus, when something is rotten in the state of Denmark...or, as Paul sees it, in all of creation.

And what, precisely, is it in creation that is "rotten"?  

Well, maybe rotten is just the right word--Paul's phrase is that all of creation is in "bondage to decay," which is to say, that death itself, Death as a "power," as a "force" you could say, is at the core of what is wrong.  Death as a Power leads us to be afraid of death--and when we are ruled by fear of death, we are then led to fear anyone and anything that we think might cause death or pain or destruction, and pretty soon that includes us fearing one another, or fearing when you have more than me because scarcity means hunger means death.  Death as a Power leads us to bend inwards, to become concerned only with self-interest, with survival rather than life in its fullness, with preserving me-and-my-group-first rather than seeing ourselves connected (as God intended) with all creation, and with all other humans.  What is rotten is our capacity as humans to destroy what God made good... to twist and bend and distort what was intended to be bountiful, abundant, and beautiful... to taint and infect and pollute what was made to be fresh and life-giving.  

The difficult thing that has to be said is that we--yes, us, human beings, including you and me--have a way of spreading death around.  We ravage our farmland with chemicals and industrial-scale demand in order to keep up with the pressure of the market, only to leave the land spent and unable to keep pace.  We kill one another with an increasing numbness to the reality of the preciousness of human life.  We let ourselves be ruled by fear of "those people," (with each of us having a different picture perhaps of who "those people" are that we want to scapegoat as causing all our problems), which leads us to indifference, hatred, or hostility.  We have collectively decided that because in our society, we should all have limitless access to screens on infinite little and big devices, all of which stream new and flashier distractions at our eyes, that it is acceptable how the rare metals needed to make our phones and tablets and such are all poisonous to the miners and cause them to get sick from thorium exposure.  Our desire to consume, and then throw away, rather than to fix what is broken, spreads death around this whole hurting creation.  And our desire to look backward wistfully to some imaginary time in our minds when things were "great", rather than to look around now and deal with what is not okay in the present moment is one more way of making it all worse by ignoring what is really wrong.

The problem is deep within... us.  The problem is something inside each of us that goes rotten--that is all bound up with the reality--and fear--of Death.  Fear of death leads us to hate other people who make us feel threatened.  Fear of death leads us to hoard... and then to get comfortable with our abundance coming at the expense of others getting to eat.  Fear of death leads us always push for more... bigger... newer... rather than finding a balance and a life inside good boundaries.  Our fear of Death makes us jerks to one another, and our denial of the consequences of that fear just makes it worse.  Played out at the micro level of your or my day-to-day life, it is that same fear that keeps us from stopping to help the stranded person by the side of the road (they might be trying to scam us!), as well as what keeps us from standing on the side of those who are threatened, vulnerable, and endangered (we don't want to risk our own comfort, livelihoods, or lives!).  We--yes, you and me--are infected with the decay from which the whole world is also crumbling, too.

That's what's rotten in the state of Denmark, and indeed the whole world.  That is what needs to be faced and dealt with.  It is our fear of "decay" and "futility," as Paul puts it, that leads us actually to infect more and more of creation with death.  We are part of the problem.  And now all of creation groans to be put right, because our actions affect the whole.

Our hope, in the face of all of that rottenness, is that God promises not to let our own ashen Midas touch be the end.  God, Paul says, is well aware of how all of creation is tainted, and how we human beings spread the sickness with which creation is groaning.  And God has promised to bring a whole new creation to birth--the same but new, ancient but fresh, original but renovated.  But that news only means something if we are willing to acknowledge that all of this is wrong in the first place.  

And that is important in all of this: even our confession, our naming, of the brokenness of creation is itself a kind of witness to its hopeful restoration.  Like C. S. Lewis was fond of pointing out, our seemingly innate sense of justice--that feeling of anger and upset when things are not "the way they are supposed to be" and when people are mistreated--is evidence that there IS in fact a "way things are supposed to be." And if we are pre-wired for justice, then it would seem that there must be a Source from which that notion of justice comes.  That, Lewis says, is part of what convinces him that God is real--our universal human sense that justice should be done... even if we cannot often agree of what that justice should look like.  If we have been built with an internal compass that agitates us when someone is taken advantage of, or oppressed, or picked on, it is a sign for us that there is a Someone who cares that justice ultimately be done, who has made us to be wired in such a way.

Today, then, there is good news:  the brokenness of creation, ourselves included, can be named--because God promises that at the last all creation will be put right and freed from being entangled with death.  And with that news, we can also be people capable of telling the other truth first--that there is something wrong with us, too, as well as with all this whole world.  The promised future God holds out for us is the very thing that enables us to have the courage and vision to say where things are broken and out of sorts now.  The promise we hold onto that "all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be made well" is the thing that gives us hope enough to say, honestly, right now that things are not okay.  And it gives us reason, as well, to spend our lives making the worlds we inhabit look even just a glimpse more like that promised future day.

Let us, in this moment, then dare to be hopeful enough to say "things are not okay" in the world around us, and then to be about God's work of living in line with the promised future when all is restored and refreshed.  Let us be courageous enough to tell the truth, and hopeful enough to bear that truth and still hold onto God's vision of new creation.

Lord God, your kingdom come... your will be done.