Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Good Shepherd and the Gate

     This week’s sermon runs the risk of being far more lecture than sermon.  But, I have learned that y’all sometimes value lectures, if I am placing it in the midst of understanding your faith better.  I may cringe at what I feel like I’m doing, but y’all seem really to enjoy it.  Now, I have a bit more trepidation because I have been in a number of conversations with colleagues this last week regarding “virtual” or “spiritual” communion and its place in the life of the modern Church.  So, this sermon runs the risk of addressing those discussions rather than the discussions you have been having around your houses.  If such is the case, I apologize.  If it feeds you, . . . well, then, we know God is most definitely at work in this.
     As you have gathered by the music and the prayers, this is Good Shepherd Sunday.  It’s a challenging week to preach because there are only so many ways that one can say “Jesus is the Good Shepherd” or “we are sheep.”  Heck, if one compares people to sheep, people get mad.  They have this idea that sheep are stupid.  Sheep are not stupid.  They are VERY focused on what they can see, and they are very stubborn—like humans.  Thankfully, this week, we are reading the selection from John’s Gospel.  In John’s Gospel, this teaching is actually part of a much bigger selection.  In fact, this teaching by Jesus in chapter 10 begins with the story of the man born blind from birth.
     At the beginning of chapter 9, the crowds ask Jesus if the man sinned or his parents sinned.  The understanding is that the man is punished by God.  No one should be born without sight.  So, to be born that way means somebody did something to upset God.  Jesus, of course, responds that nobody caused the man to be born blind.  God had allowed him to be born blind that God’s glory might show forth in the work and person of His Son.  Jesus famously heals the man with mud made from spit.
     The crowd, naturally, tries to figure out the significance of the event.  Sight is not restored naturally.  From John’s perspective, it is another sign which points to the Anointed status of Jesus.  His healing power is unique because He is unique in His relationship with the Father.  The Pharisees and others, though, as is almost always the case in John’s Gospel, miss the meaning of the sign.  They argue a bit about it before Jesus has to step in and correct their misunderstanding.  That is what prompts this teaching by Jesus.
     I should note that the section does not end until the crowds notice the difference between John the Baptizer and Jesus of Nazareth.  John never performed signs of power; yet all he taught about Jesus, about God’s Anointed and Beloved, are true!  If John was the one sent to make straight the paths and to prepare the way of the Lord, who does that make Jesus?  Many believed in Him because of that understanding.  But that’s a different week!
     Back to our little pericope though.  Jesus calls Himself the gate to the sheep pen.  What does that image mean?
     Have you ever worked on a farm?  I know they are fund to drive by, and we love to look at all the concentric rectangles and squares made by the fences, but have you ever experienced the purpose and needs served by the gates?  Usually, it is a lesson earned the hard way for us city folk.  If we work a farm and find an open gate and close it, what happens?  After the owner yells at us, we learn that gates are open for a reason.  Usually it is a food or water reason.  Maybe the stream is through that gate.  Maybe the troughs are through that gate.  Whatever is there, the animals need it and know it, whatever it is, is through that gate.  If we unknowingly close a gate, we often cause animals to make paths for themselves.  They will look for loose spots in the fence or barge through the hedges or do whatever they can to get to their need.  Sometimes, they will hurt themselves in their efforts.  And the owners are not pleased with us.
     The opposite is also true.  What happens when we open a closed gate?  We are allowing animals access to an area from which they were prevented or restricted.  If it’s the outer gate, the often end up on the farm road.  If we are lucky, no one hits the animal with their truck or tractor.  If we are unlucky, though, the animal might be wounded or killed.  If we open a gate, we are freeing an animal to go where it wants rather than where we need it to stay.
     I’ve seen a few good laughs and conversations on the screen during this.  I guess Tennessee is rural enough that many of us Adventers have done farm work  or know folks who have.  We’ve heard the admonitions to leave the gates alone, ignored them because of our assigned task or perceived wisdom, and received the earned responses.  Right?
     So, what purpose do the gates serve?  Generally, protection or access to a need, like food or water or more land to graze.  Sound reasonable?  Then, what is Jesus teaching the crowds and us?  Right, that He provides access to food and water and that He protects us!  In modern terms, we’d say He gives us our daily bread, and He protects us from evil or temptation or from the consequences of our sins.  Any argument with that understanding?  Good!  It sounds like we are all familiar with the teaching of Psalm 23, doesn’t it?
     Let’s push Jesus’ teaching a bit more, though.  Who does not know to or refuses to use gates properly?  New workers.  That’s right.  Particularly new workers who were not trained properly, right?  Who else?  They are in Jesus’ teaching.  That’s right!  Thieves and bandits.  Thieves and bandits try to get in by other means.  They climb walls, they dig under fences, they avoid the watcher of the gate, to extend the image of verse three.  When will Jesus use this term again in John’s Gospel?  When Judas betrays Him and brings the armed guards.
     In speculative theology, there is a discussion about Judas, about whether Judas is to blame for his actions to betray Jesus.  Some argue that he was simply filling a necessary role and therefore not liable for his own actions.  I see a couple nods.  Others, in a bit of an effort to redeem Judas and make his betrayal of our Lord seem more palatable, like to float the idea that Judas was a zealot and simply trying to force Jesus to take the crown and throw off the rule of the oppressive Romans.  I see more of you watched some of those stupid shows during Holy Week like me since we were all quarantined.  I admit I was pleasantly surprised, none of the ones I watched claimed the Apostles were aliens.
     We know the answer to this question now, because you and I have the perspective of our Lord’s Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit in our history, but was Jesus’ work or ministry about taking a crown and leading an army in rebellion?  Was Jesus’ ministry about exultation alone?  Or was there a required path of suffering prior to that glorification?  I see some great expressions.  Judas, whatever his motivations, was not about doing God’s will.  Like the other eleven Apostles, He did not understand Jesus’ teachings on His death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  Like Peter, Judas may have had his own plan or expectation in mind.  But, where the other eleven followed Jesus even though they lacked understanding, Judas chose to do things his way.  That is NOT to say Judas was beyond the scope of Jesus’ salvific or redemptive purposes.  Had Judas repented, what likely would have been our Lord’s response to him?  I think so.  I think Judas would have found grace and mercy in his friend, just as did Peter, who denied His Lord three times before the cock crowed.
     Speaking of salvific or redemptive purposes, what does the sheep pen represent in Jesus’ teaching?  Ok, but let’s unpack that a bit.  What does salvation mean?  Ok, we go to heaven.  I’m sure some think that the primary purpose.  Any other answers?  True, it’s where we experience the fulfillment prayed for in the Lord’s Prayer.  There can be glimmers of it here on this earth, but many folks think it unrealized fully until the end of this age.  Any other ideas?
     Let’s think back to the man born blind from birth.  What would have been his answer to that question about salvation?  Seeing!  Absolutely.  But can we call it healing, for general purposes?  Think of the man’s life until he meets Jesus.  He cannot play.  He cannot work.  He is forced to beg at the city gates and depend upon the generosity of others.  Those others, upon whom he depends for generosity, think what about his condition?  That he is being punished either for his parents’ sin or his own.  Do you think there was a whisper or three about him?  Do you think, as a blind man, his hearing was a bit more acute?  What would be the effect of those whispers?  He would learn he did not belong.  He would likely internalize all the whispers.  I am accursed by God.  I have no share in God’s blessings.
     So, what does Jesus really heal for the man?  In giving him his sight, Jesus restores him to the community and to himself!  Can you imagine the discussions for the rest of his life?  Man, do you remember when the Rabbi healed Fred’s sight?  Man, that might be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.  Too bad that Rabbi thought He was sent by God, huh?
     By virtue of that sign of power, that healing, the man becomes a focal point for the town.  Every time people see him, they will be reminded of the healing power of Jesus.  Every time they are reminded of that healing, they will be forced to wrestle with the person of Jesus.  How did He do that?  Why cannot anyone else?  You know, there are these stories that He rose again after His death, but that’s just not possible, right?  Of course, neither is restoring sight.  By virtue of his healing, the man born blind will now point others to God’s saving grace.  He will be a visible reminder of God’s plan for Abraham’s descendants and of Messiah!
     Back to the gate statement.  It is important because it goes to Jesus’ identity, but it is important, too, for Christological and even systematic reasons.  Greek, like many languages, includes the implied pronoun in its verb form.  Just like hablo means I speak in Spanish, eimi means I am in Greek.  Jesus, though, uses the pronoun ego, which means I.  In effect, Jesus is emphasizing the I in I am.  Such emphasis is missed by us because our verb forms require the pronoun to make sense.  We need more than hits or says or laugh.  We need the reference to know who is doing the action.
     In Jesus audience, though, the ego eimi would have a cultural understanding as well.  Those were the words Yahweh used to identify Himself to Moses and others throughout the Old Testament.  God is the great I AM.  Now, we have this Rabbi/Prophet traveling around, claiming to do the will of His Father, claiming to be the Son of God, reinforcing that claim by asserting that He is the gate, by teaching that none can get to the Father, none can receive the blessings promised by the Father, apart from Him.  He is the guard and the access.  If we try to get in another way, say by good works, we are like thieves and bandits.  We are doing it our way and not God’s way.
     Why would God make it necessary for Jesus to be the gate?  Easy.  What can you or I offer in exchange for our lives.  We know from the Scriptures that the wages of sin is death.  Each of us on this screen today is, unless our Lord returns beforehand, doomed to die because of our sins.  There is nothing we can offer to satisfy God’s justice to re-merit our life.  Nothing.  No gift, no work, no sorry.  Nothing atones for our sins.
     That is precisely why He came down from heaven.  The only person who could offer a sacrifice on our behalf that meant anything would be someone who lived without sin.  Only Jesus lived without sin, so only His offering atones for our sins against God and our neighbor.  Now we remind ourselves why the Incarnation is so important.  We cannot live without sin.  Only Jesus always does the will of the Father.  And God cannot ignore sin.  As much as God is love, God is also justice.  Were He to ignore our sins, He would be allowing injustices to continue.  And Jesus, at all times, but especially during His Passion and death, must be singularly focused on the will of the Father.  He chooses to accept the torture and humiliation.  He chooses to accept the death of the Cross.  Were His will to be unfocused for just a split second, were He to stray from the will of the Father for a seemingly inconsequential thing, we would be undone!  Salvation would be undone!
     Jesus suffers all these things for our sakes.  He dies that we might live!  Forever.  And for His faithfulness, for His trust in His Father, God makes Him the Gatekeeper or the Name above every name or whatever title you want to ascribe Him.  Now, the modern world rejects exclusive claims about truth.  I get that.  The only truth allowed to exist is the universal claim that there is no truth.  You might say the world is a descendant of Pilate.
     The world pushes back against His claim.  No, people are basically good.  If Jesus is telling the truth, lots of good people will suffer unjustly.  How do we know He told the Truth?  We have the witnesses to His Resurrection and we have our own Pentecostal moments.  Most of us may not have met Jesus after His Resurrection as did the men on the way to Emmaus or Mary Magdalene or Peter, but our exercise of ministry, with power, in His name teaches us that He has ascended to be with the Father.  That could not happen were He not seated there making intercessions on our behalf and sending the Counselor to aid us.
     And, what kind of gate is Jesus?  Does He deny anyone who accepts His offering of love and grace?  Of course not.  All sorts of wicked people find their way to Him in the Scriptures, and He lovingly restores each and every one of them to their Father in heaven and to their communities.  Every time.  To say nothing of the marginalized and the faithful.  Yes, one cannot get to the Father apart from Jesus, but it is God’s desire that all should come within the reach of His saving embrace. So, when folks complain about our exclusivity, that no one gets in apart from Jesus the gate, they are correct.  But they are flat out wrong when they think we think that God does not want the world to come to Him.  He wants to draw the whole world to Christ.
     What about . . . ?  I get that question a lot.  What about good people who believe . . . ?  Two things.  First, it is our job to introduce others to the Living God, the True God, through Jesus the Christ.  He is the means of salvation promised by our Lord, and we know that promise true because of His loving and determined work on the Cross, His amazing Resurrection, His glorious Ascension, and the resulting coming of the promised Holy Spirit!  We know Jesus told the truth because that all happened!
     But, and this was one of the problems for many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, you and I do not get to decide who gets in the sheep fold and who does not.  The One Who died, rose again, ascended to the Father, and promised He will come again is the One to Whom that authority has been given.  Put a bit more bluntly, Jesus, the one Who willed Himself to stay on that Cross, chooses who gets His grace and who does not.  Our job is to introduce, to invite, to testify His saving grace in our own lives.  But it is He through Whom we and they must enter.  That is God’s revelation to us, and it is certainly John’s message to us on this day, this day that we remind ourselves of the Good Shepherd and the Gate!

In Christ’s Peace,

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

From those who had hoped to those who inherit!

     The story today is well known among us.  It is often referred to as the “Road to Emmaus.”  Ironically, archaeologists cannot tell us for sure where the town was.  Oh, to be sure, there are some educated guesses out there.  Most of them limit themselves to within about 40 stadia of Jerusalem, giving the disciples an opportunity to run back that evening.  But it is a story which, as with many in our Scriptures, has a particularly important teaching or two for a people mostly in quarantine because of a pandemic!

     First and foremost, I know some people have loved picking up Eucharist.  I get it.  For some of us, church is not church without communion.  That’s part of why we choose to worship in a liturgical setting.  If we did not need communion, we could be worshipping in other traditions and feel just as fed.  That’s ok.  Our text reminds us today where we meet Jesus as Anglicans.  I asked at 8am.  Thankfully, there were only nineteen other people on, so the answers were not too cacaphonic!  That experience, of course, makes me make this one rhetorical.  As you all would have answered, had I unmuted you, we meet Jesus in the Scripture each day and in the Eucharist.  Ah, I see you shaking the cobwebs to remember your Confirmation classes.  Yes, Anglicans believe we meet Jesus in the Word and the Sacrament.  Why?  In part, our reading from Luke’s Gospel informs our rationale.  How do the disciples respond to Jesus’ illumination of the Scriptures?  Their hearts burn!  What happens at the Eucharist?  Something like their eyes being opened.  Sometimes I will state that I am thrilled to be an Anglican or Episcopal priest because I get two chances each time we gather to help those in my cure see Jesus.  If I put you to sleep with bad preaching, you still may meet Jesus in the Sacrament.  If I give a good sermon, you are blessed to spend twice as long with the Lord.
     I see some smiles and glad most everyone still has their sense of humor after six weeks of Coronatide.  The application is, of course, pretty obvious.  We can meet Jesus just fine in the study of Scripture either through Morning Prayer and the other daily offices or through Bible study.  Such study of God’s Word is true worship.  So, it’s not as if we are withholding something from God or even ourselves.  We all have a chance to meet Jesus every day, multiple times a day, if we are truly seeking Him!  That’s not say, of course, that we will not enjoy getting back into community and celebrating the Eucharist together.  For now, we just live in a season where are brains are more engaged than our mystical sight or hearts.  And while not ideal, neither is it heretical, at least for Anglicans.
     Aside from the teaching that we meet Jesus in the Scriptures and in the Breaking of Bread, there are a couple other great lessons for us.  One, in particular was, I thought, better suited to Jim and Robert’s group, Wrestling with God, though it speaks to any American alive today that deals with, let’s call them passionate discussions, regarding the issues of the day.  When Jim had agreed to launch his group, after he found a partner in crime in Robert, he asked me to brainstorm for names.  One of the first I came up with was “syzeteins.”  I was thinking they could sell t-shirts or coffee mugs and have a blast with it.  Jim, of course, completely ignored it.  I’m not sure he even asked me what it meant, he was so underwhelmed!
     Syzetein is a word which indicates strong debate or passionate discussion.  Luke has used it before in 22:23 and it will appear again in Acts 6:9 and 9:29.  The first reference in the Gospel was the fight among the disciples to figure out who was the greatest.  In Acts, the first references the passionate discussion about Stephen among the members of the synagogue of freedmen, and the second references Paul’s effort to evangelize the Hellenized Jews in Jerusalem.  Syzetein has that sense of passionate conflict, where neither side is willing to back down.  About what are the disciples fighting on the road to Emmaus?  We are not told.  Clearly, they no longer believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but Luke does not share with us their particular debate as Jesus “encounters” them.
     We live in a world and a church that tends to one extreme or the other when it comes to passionate debates, right?  People do everything they can to win the debate or argument, sometimes resorting to emotional efforts or ad hominem attacks, if the sense they are “losing.”  It’s horrible when the Church mirrors the world.  We claim to be seekers of the Truth, of God’s truth, yet we fight down and dirty like the best of any politician.  Our spiritual forbears are the people of Israel, those who wrestle with God.  Put in a different language, we have inherited their mantle and do a pretty good job of arguing with God and one another.  I see some rueful smiles.  Good!  We should see ourselves in that wrestling.  I’ll hear back all kinds of feedback about the music.  I’ve tried to keep it Episcopalian, but we range from organ to praise band to trio to folksy.  Some will love some of it; others will hate some of it.  Many will share their considered opinion, not giving a second of thought to whether others found it edifying or distracting.  That’s syzetein!
     Passionate discussions are a part of our spiritual DNA.  How we go about those discussions matters, but we are not crazy or sub-Christian for having passionate discussions about things important to God.  Quite the contrary!  If they are important to God, they should be important to us.  And when are eyes are scaled over or our brains in a fog, we should expect a bit of syzetein in our midst.  Best of all, so long as we are loving our partners in those passionate discussions, God seems to tolerate that in us!  Our problem is when we devolve into ad hominem attacks or, worse, try to convince others we know the others are not “real” Christians, as if we can see into their hearts better than our Lord.
     The second lesson I want us to ponder today revolves around the Resurrection.  There is a famous poem that speaks to a popular American ethos.  It’s by John Greenleaf Whittier, and some of you are already mouthing the money part of the poem.  He wrote a famous poem about not quitting, that success was simply failure turned inside out.  The poem ends with the lines For all the sad words of tongue or pen the saddest are these: “It might have been!”
     For many of us, the poem is about perseverance.  Sometimes the difference between failure and success is just a little more work on our part.  Too often, people give up just before they “make it,” whatever the making it really is.  There is some truth in that ethos.  If we quit every time things get hard, not much will be accomplished.  And often, on the other side of success, people will be heard to say how they gave serious thought quitting just before buckling down.  Good, I see the nods.  I suspect that such an ethos is well valued here in Brentwood and Nashville, right?  How many musicians gave up and failed?  How many tried one more show?  Just one more presentation?  Gave it just one more year or month?
     What happens, though, when we give it our all?  What happens when we give it every ounce of effort or talent or whatever we had to offer, and still we do not succeed?  Such is, of course, what the disciples have experienced in our passage today?  The disciples find themselves in that horrible position, we had hoped.  Is there a more lamentable condition in the human existence?  In their case, they had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, that God’s blessings on God’s people were going to be made accessible through Him.  But now they have lived through the events of Holy Week.  Was Jesus glorified, as they understood Messiah would be glorified?  Was Jesus crowned as the heir of David’s lineage and covenant?  Had the oppression of Rome been successfully cast off?  Were the blessings of God bestowed upon them now?
     Their friends and fellow disciples are in the upstairs room lock for fear of those who put Jesus to death.  The two fellows seem to have high-tailed it out of Jerusalem in defeat.  There is absolutely left to commend their faith, so far as they can tell.  So here they are, passionately arguing or discussing, telling a stranger we had hoped.
      Mercifully for them and for us, their and our faith is about to receive precisely what it needs.  The stranger, as we all know, is Jesus.  Jesus begins to teach them from the Scriptures that His death was not only necessary, but foretold!  No doubt they were helped in their understandings with reminders that Jesus Himself had warned them, at least three times according to Luke, that He would be betrayed, die, and rise again before they made it to Jerusalem that final time.  Luke shares with us that they felt their hearts burn at the teaching provided by Jesus.l
     As they reach the town, the stranger seems determined to continue on His way.  They invite Him to stay with them.  As He breaks bread with them, Luke tells us, theirs eyes were opened.  They perceive that the stranger was none other than their Lord!  And they head back to Jerusalem, despite the late hour and the days walk, to tell everyone what they have seen and what they have experienced, only to be interrupted by those in Jerusalem telling them that they, too, have seen the Risen Jesus!  Now, only in light of that resurrection, can they begin to grasp what has truly happened.
     As Christians, we claim to be a Resurrection people, an Easter people.  We claim, rightfully so, that God has the power and has the will to redeem all things in our lives.  We are assured that, when we are finally with Him for eternity, the sufferings of life won’t even be worth a tear to us.  The worst things we have suffered will be like those strawberries we go when we first learned to walk or the battle wounds we got from learning to ride a bicycle.
     Yet we are a people who often claim in our hearts we had hoped.  This month two Advent families have said good-bye, for now, to loved ones.  No doubt when their loved ones got sick the Davenport’s, the Bowden’s, and the Bannister’s hoped for a different outcome.  It is likely that all prayed for God’s healing.  He has the power.  It would be appropriate to hope that He would act.  But He did not.  And because He did not act in this time, they cannot stand at the grave with their loved ones here at Advent, mourning their loss but reminding themselves of God’s faithful promises, saying their alleluias at the graves.
     Others of us entered into marriages we thought would last a lifetime.  We stood before our family and friends and God Himself and promised we would commit ourselves to our loved one just as God committed Himself to His people.  Their love would reflect His love.  Yet, how many marriages have ended in divorce, an ending no one wanted?  We had hoped . . .
     Not a few of us have likely found ourselves on the short end of interviews.  Ever find yourself lusting after that perfect job or promotion?  I see some nods.  Did you ever feel you were the perfect person for that job or promotion?  Yep.  Ever get passed over for reasons that seemed . . . insincere or unfulfilling?  You know that feeling . . . We had hoped . . .
     Ever become a parent?  Ever have that determination or feeling that you were going to be the best parent ever?  That your son or daughter were going to be parented the way you wished you were?  Then you changed that first diaper and stuck the baby with a pin?  Turned your eye or attention for a moment, resulting in a fall that scared toddler and you?  Ever found yourself repeating the same phrases of your mother or father, phrases you promised yourself and that baby in your arms you would never use on them, only to find yourself using them?  Ever do everything right, as far as you can tell, and still found your child suffering, for blaming you for their need for therapy, for a broken relationship between you and that baby whose smell still live in your memory?  We had hoped . . .
     Ever found yourself looking for a group to which you could belong, looking for your “tribe.”  Maybe you thought it was a special club; maybe you thought it was a church?  Whatever group it was, you knew you would be valued for who you are because of the shared values.  But when you “got in” you found the group gave you no sense of belonging?  We had hoped . . .
     Ever believed you could be an agent of change?  Have you ever sold out completely in support of a cause or a political candidate?  Ever found yourself convinced that whatever the cause was or whoever the candidate was, you were willing to do whatever was necessary to lift a profile, get support, see someone elected?  Maybe you found yourself distanced by friends and family, but you knew what you were doing, you knew who you were supporting, was good for all of them and you?  Then, once your mission was accomplished, once your support was no longer needed, you find the cause did not fill that void within you, that the cause did not help as you expected, or that the politician was just like every other politician?
     I could go on and on and on and on.  Likely, as I have been sharing times where we had hoped, you were thinking of times where you had hoped, where you had been convinced you were wrong or gullible or whatever to have believed in someone or something.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we know that lament well.  Some of us know that lament too well.
     But like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we also know the only one in Whom we can place our hope and never be disappointed, never be failed.  Last week, I reminded us that we know Jesus was raised from the dead by the simple fact that all of us have been empowered to accomplish something that glorifies God.  Had Jesus not died, been raised, and ascended, you and I would not have those pentecostal experiences.  Some Adventers even shared their mystical experiences this week.  You and I, like those disciples 2000 years ago, though, know the truth of the Resurrection. All of us.  What prompted these disciples to run back to Jerusalem?  What caused Peter, as we reminded ourselves last week, to switch from denying knowing Jesus to a serving maid to proclaiming to Jerusalem and to the Sanhedrin that Jesus, the Anointed of God, was the only way to right relationship with Yahweh?  What prompted someone to share with you their faith?  What prompted you to believe?  What caused you to accept the promises of God and the claims of His disciples through the ages?
     The Resurrection!
     If Jesus was raised from the dead, we need not be a people who stay in the we had hoped.  We become a people who can still hope, who can still look to the future, because, if God can redeem death, then every other redemptive need in our lives and experiences pale by comparison.  If Jesus can be raised and vindicated for His faith, then we know, we who have been baptized intoHis death and promised a share in His Resurrection, that we, too, will be commended for our faith and vindicated for our belief.
     That is not to say these we had hoped moments do not hurt.  This is not to say we should ever floss over those I had hoped moments of our life.  As a liturgical church, we remind ourselves that suffering is real, that the world wants to squash the hope out of us, that God’s enemy, our spiritual enemies, want us to fall away, to abandon that hope that is within us.
     That’s why, my fellow travelers on our own roads, we are called over and over and over again to remind ourselves of the truth of the Resurrection.  We are called by God to study the Scriptures, to see the patterns of redemptive suffering contained in those pages, so that we might see them in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.  But even then, my brothers and sisters, we are called to gather, to break bread, to remember His death, to proclaim His Resurrection, and to await His coming again, that we might be given eyes to see and ears to hear His work in our lives and the world around us, and that we might cling desperately to that hope only He can give us—that our Father loves us, that our brother Christ has restored us, and that, one glorious day, we will live the hope that He has planted within us.
     So often, it is easy to accept that our sin is too powerful or that His enemy really rules this world, as He claimed when he tempted Jesus.  So often, it is easy to become those who had hoped.  The Resurrection of Jesus, my friends, is that first step into the glorious life He has promised, that we might leave behind the fears and failures of those who hoped and become the heirs, the firstborn sons and daughters, He has called us each to be!

In His Peace,