Monday, February 23, 2015

Angels in the Wilderness

In my final year of Seminary, I had the opportunity to interview potential students who were applying for admission. I was a part of a small interview team of professors and students. We got to ask people why they had come to feel that God wanted them to be Episcopal priests. And we heard some incredible stories.  There is one young man that I will never forget, Michael.

Michael dressed well and his grades from college were good. But I would have forgotten him entirely were it not for his story. When we asked him why he wanted to be a priest, why devote his life to serving the church, he told us a story from when he was about four years old.

Michael was raised by a single mom. He never knew his dad, who left before he was born. His mom worked as a secretary in a small Episcopal Church. She worked all the time, or so it seemed to him, and he remembered playing in a play pen in the church office while she answered phones. But his mom worried a lot and she had an inhaler and sometimes she just seemed so tired and would just yell at him out of the blue. As a very young boy, Michael became afraid that something would happen to his mom. He had no one else.

One night, his mom woke him up. She was having trouble breathing. The ambulance was coming, she told him as she bent over and tried to breathe. He was terrified. All that fear rushed upon him at once. She managed to walk with him to the front hall to wait. The big red ambulance pulled up with the lights blaring and Michael began to cry. But just as the big men were surrounding his mom, trying to help her breathe, the door opened again.

Three women walked in. They were in bathrobes and nightgowns. They seemed old to Michael, older than his mom at least. He recognized their kind faces from church. One of them picked him up. She was soft and strong. They took him into the kitchen and the men took his mom away.

The women turned on the kitchen lights and sat him down at the small table. They explained that his mom would be OK, that the doctors would take good care of her. And then they decided to make hot chocolate. One of them found some marshmallows in the pantry. And they sat down with him, four of them around the small table. And they talked to him and joked with him and drank hot chocolate and he looked at their kindly faces. And afterwards they tucked him in bed and they promised to stay with him. 

Michael never forgot those three women who came to his house that night. In a way, they were what church was all about for him. They were like angels.

For almost two decades, I have preached on the first Sunday of Lent. We have processed into church not to singing but to the words of a long prayer, The Great Litany, which explores much of the struggles and darkness of our world. And every year, I have focused on this gospel, where Jesus is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, and he is tempted by the devil.

And there is no denying that there is evil in the world. No denying it. Just turn on the news and watch as Christians are beheaded right before our eyes. Just hear the story of a young woman shot in her car because she chased down a man who cut her off. There is evil and there is suffering which happens for reasons that we cannot understand.

And the evil is not just out there, it is in our minds. The Satan means the adversary, the enemy, the tempter. Jesus walked into the desert right after he was baptized. It was the first thing that he did. He had to defeat Satan before he could do the work of God. That had to come first. You and I also must master temptation and know what it sounds like in our own minds before we can help anyone else. We must face our own darkness if we are to follow the light.

And for years I have thought and thought about temptation, how it comes to all of us differently. How much we can hate ourselves in our own minds. How frightened we can become! How critical we can be of one another, how full of worry and anxiety that can cripple us. There is a battle going on in all of our minds between temptation and Christ. That's why, during these forty days, many will give up something that they love, a food or a pastime, so that they can hear that temptation. "Just take a little chocolate or coffee or sugar or meat or whatever it is you vowed to withhold from yourself. No one will see. Maybe I need to take a break from my fast, just today...and then I will go back to it tomorrow." You know the sound of temptation. We all do.

And for years, these forty days have been, for me, a study of the battlefield between me and temptation. But there is something very important that I have forgotten. For years, I overlooked this gospel passage from Mark and also the one from Matthew. I didn't read the Scripture carefully enough. I missed something crucial.

Jesus was not alone in the wilderness with Satan. There were animals there and perhaps more importantly, there were angels. 

Angels in the desert! Usually, we think of angels at Christmas, maybe Easter, but in the dry, barren desert, when Jesus was hot and hungry and tired? The devil came to him but in Mark and in Matthew, angels came too.

Did you really think that God would leave you alone to struggle with your darkness? Did you really think that Jesus, who gave his life for you, would abandon you to master your own mind alone? Are you ever really alone?

Often, I find that when the darkness and the fear come, the angels are not far. Remember on 9-11 how all these people came out to help each other? All our differences went away. Think about the times when you have taken ill and some kind nurse or relative or friend is there. The darkness descends, but then someone shows up to make hot chocolate with you.

I will never forget being terrified before some minor surgery and this man, a nurse I suppose, stood behind me at my head and, just as I was going under, he said, "Don't be afraid. I will treat you as if you were my own daughter."

What are angels? The Scripture speaks of mysterious forces of love and goodness, beings that we often see but that come to us and help us. We can see evidence of the presence of angels wherever their is kindness, wherever there is justice, hope, love.

When I think of the new Christian martyrs in the Middle East, I often think of St. Stephen, the first Christian to die for his faith. He was stoned to death. There is nothing more frightening than that, right? But, just as he was dying, what did he see? The glory of God.

I will never make the mistake again, to think that Jesus was left alone with the devil. Just like the women who showed up for little Michael on the night of his terror, so God will never leave us alone in our temptation and terror. Remember that, my friends, as our world is wracked with violence. You are never alone with the darkness. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

True Healing

My friend Neely Towe is a Congregationalist minister. In her retirement, she leads a very popular Bible Study and has mentored a group of priests and ministers, including taking them to the holy land in January. She told this story about their trip.

She and her colleagues were at the Church of the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem. They decided to wait in line in order to climb a series of stairs. At the top of the stairs was the rock on which they believe that Jesus was placed on the wood of the cross and the nails were hammered into his hands and feet. But one of the women in Neeley's group could not walk up the stairs. So Neely, being a good shepherd, stayed behind with this woman and watched as hundreds of pilgrims climbed the stairs to touch the rock and pray.

Neely could see everything as she stood there and waited with her friend. After a few moments, she noticed that there was a quiet man sitting on the side right near the rock. He held a hat in his hand. She looked closer and could see that a cancerous growth was emerging from the side of his face. He sat their quietly, waiting for someone to see him, to give him some money or food. But the pilgrims were so focused on getting to the rock and touching it that they did not see him. They just passed him by. They thought that the holy place was the rock and they gave it all of their attention, but some part of her wondered if maybe it was that man who could best show people about Jesus. And they just walked right by him.

We get awfully caught up in the physical. And no wonder. Our bodies are important. They ache and hurt and give us joy and pain. They demand our focus. But there is much more to life than just what we can touch.

When Jesus began his ministry, people rushed to him in crowds to be healed. Just by touching them, he could make their bodies healthy again. When he goes to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew, Peter's mother-in-law has a fever and all Jesus has to do is to take her by the hand and she is healed. She immediately gets up and serves them. Crowds swarm around him because they want to be pain-free, because he gets rid of the voices in their heads and makes their bodies well again. Jesus can't get any time alone so he sneaks away in the dark part of the night to pray. You get the sense that Jesus got lost in prayer, that he lost track of time, because he doesn't return from praying and the disciples wake up and have to hunt for him to find him.

And when they finally find him, he says that he must move on, to spread the message. And then Jesus says something very important.  He says, "for that is what I came to do." In other words, Jesus did not come just to make our physically bodies feel better. That was not his purpose. It was a benefit of being close to him, that people were cured of diseases, but it was not why he came. He came to do something more permanent, more important than just curing our bodies.

When we are sick and in pain, it is very easy to become wholly focused on finding relief, on a cure. We just want to be healthy. We just want to feel better. But in our haste to seek a cure, we often walk right by our Lord. We don't listen or watch for his presence. Heal me, heal me! We pray as if our bodies can be fixed forever. But our bodies are temples, containers of our souls. They do not last forever. Even the people who were healed by Jesus himself eventually died. Physical healing is possible and real but it is only a short-term solution. And it was not why Jesus came to us.

Physical healing is a short-term solution. Jesus came for a higher goal, to heal our souls.

Ironically, nothing seems to draw the soul closer to God than illness. All of a sudden, life as we know it is changed. We find ourselves vulnerable and alone. The fear and uncertainty of physical suffering can create an opening through which God can enter. Suffering can bring us closer to Christ. And yet, at the same time, it is clear that when Jesus came into contact with someone who was suffering, he healed them. He had mercy and compassion and did not want their suffering to continue. Not once does Jesus refuse to heal a sick person. Not once. But he does run away from all their needs and problems. He could have stayed in one village and continued to heal and cure, but what good would that have done? In the immediate moment, it would have solved many problems, but we would never have known about him today. He would have spent his whole life just trying to protect one village from physical pain and death and for what?

God wants you to be well physically. God does not want you to suffer. But the physical state of our bodies is not what is most important to God. What is most important is not that we touch the rock on which Jesus body suffered, but that we stop to notice the man who sits beside the rock, asking for our help. To seek our own healing is good. To seek the healing of others is better.

Nancy Altman was told, back in the 1970's, that she had six months to live. Her lungs were compromised. She would not be able to breathe. But she prayed. And each day is a new challenge. She was just in the hospital this week for more lung and heart work. But she is still with us. Has she been healed? Yes and no, she still struggles, but she has made it this far, much farther than any doctor could have predicted, and her faith, well, now, that is as strong as I have ever seen. No matter what her situation, she is grateful--for the nurses, for her family, for her doctors, for every be labored breath that she is able to take. Nancy sees the big picture. Sure, she waits in line to find a cure, but she also sees that Jesus is right next to her along the way.

            Jesus didn't come to heal your body. That was not his primary purpose. That would have been too shallow, too short-term for the Son of God. No, he came to heal your soul. He came that you might know and love him so that, no matter what happens to that precious and beautiful body that he gave you, you will never be alone. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Get It OUT: Understanding the Unclean Spirits

Scholars believe that Mark wrote his gospel first. It is the shortest gospel, the most succinct, as if Mark is just trying to get it all down, all those memories of what Jesus did and said.

Mark does not begin with the story of Jesus' birth, it begins with Jesus' baptism and his journey into the desert where he is tempted by the devil. When Jesus emerges from the desert, he calls his disciples to follow him and then he begins his ministry.

The first miracle in the gospel of Mark is an exorcism. Ex, to cast out. Jesus casts out a demon, or in the Greek, an unclean spirit.

Unclean spirit. Demon. Sounds medieval, doesn't it? We don't have those anymore. We don't believe in that kind of stuff today. Try going out and talking about unclean spirits or demons on the streets. The only people who talk about that stuff are the homeless, mentally ill and religious fanantics, right? If you go into work and start talking about unclean spirits, they may suggest you take a nice long leave of absence.

Instead we talk of things like: anger issues, addiction, anxiety, agoraphobia, alcoholism and depression. We hospitalize and we medicate and both of these things are good- hey, medicine and science are not our enemies.  But if we neglect the spiritual aspect of our lives, if we neglect the role of God and of the darkness, then we will never master our own minds. It is one thing to get a doctors help. It is another to sanitize and diagnose while ignoring the life of the soul and the role of God in our lives.

If we want to be truly well, we must open our minds to the life of the spirit, to things that we cannot see but nevertheless influence us profoundly. We must return to Scripture and look carefully at what Jesus did when battling temptation and darkness. We must listen and we must learn. We may know a great deal about the human mind and body in this the 21st century, but Jesus knew more.

Jesus enters a synagogue to worship God on the Sabbath, as all devout Jews would. And an unclean spirit confronts Jesus. Notice that this spirit is not called evil, just unclean. And notice that this spirit confronts Jesus when Jesus is trying to worship! Often our darkness, our unclean influences rise faster when we are growing closer to God. When my husband and I were about to walk into the Church of the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem, the most holy site in the world and a place that I had longed to go, a man came out of the shadows and began to scream at us. I can't even remember what he wanted, money or something. I only remember the look on his face and how much he disturbed me. We decided not to go into the church that day because he upset me so much. Instead, we went early the next morning. But I later wondered who he was and how he prevented us from entering.

Notice that this unclean spirit speaks in the plural. It has many voices. And I would suggest that all of us, ALL OF US, have experienced unclean spirits at some points in our lives. Their voices differ. They find strongholds of hurt or pain in your childhood and play on them. A child whose father drank every night will grow into a man with an inner voice that tells him that alcohol will make him feel better and that he deserves a drink, that, in fact, he cannot live without that drink, and another and another, even when his body is being poisoned he looses his job, he may not be able to cast out the unclean spirit.

Sally has been married for four years. She has an unclean spirit that tells her she cannot tell her husband if she wants something or she is upset because that is unattractive and she will be bothering him. So when he says something that hurts her feelings at a party, she buries it and scolds herself. "You are just too sensitive," the voice says in her mind. "You are too needy and insecure. If you tell him how you feel, he will get angry and he will leave you." So she buries her needs and wants and gets more and more distant from her husband and miserable. And one of two things can happen, either she blows up or she poisons her love for him by becoming so unhappy and passive agressive. And their marriage has no honesty and they are not talking to each other and that is just what the devil would want.

Or take a young man who was made fun of in childhood. Kids called him fat. So he believes that he is fat, even when he grew up tall and grew into himself. But he hates his body and irrationally hides from all kinds of exercise. He will come up with all kinds of excuses why he cannot take the time to move his body. And his unclean spirit tells him how ugly he is, how he could never be good at sports, and not to make a fool of himself in front of other people.

The unclean spirit that confronts Jesus knows who Jesus is immediately, when everyone else is pretty clueless. And the unclean spirit is paranoid, scared stiff. Irrational fear is a sign of an unclean spirit. And what does Jesus do? Jesus does not answer the spirit or try to argue with it. Let me say that again, Jesus does not answer the spirit or try to argue with it. He speaks directly and simply with two commands...

Be silent!

Come out of him!

Be silent and come out. 

But how can we, when we have unclean spirits or thoughts, how can we silence them?

Hear me on this... You cannot silence them. Only God can do that. But you can bring them out. You can get them out of yourself by writing them down or speaking them to someone that you trust. I can tell that I have an unclean spirit when I am embarrassed to tell my husband what I am thinking. Even thinking about telling him my stupid thought about how fat I am or how I messed something up makes me realize that the thought is unclean. If you are embarrassed to share it, do it anyway. 

If Sally had simply spoken immediately about her hurt feelings with her husband, they might have grown closer. But she would have to be careful to speak as if it is an unclean spirit and not as if it is her, for example, "I felt angry..." Is much better than "you made me angry....or you are a jerk..." If you express your experience as just that, something that you thought or felt then it does not have to become your whole identity and it is easier to get it out. It is also easier for others to hear. These thoughts and feelings that we all have are just that, thoughts and feelings. You are a holy child of God and thoughts and feelings don't define you.

We live in a world of unclean spirits. All you have to do is sit down to pray and you will hear them. They can be as simple, as "you don't have time to pray, get up and do the laundry!" Or as dark as, "you don't deserve to be alive, go and kill yourself." 

When you hear the voices of temptation and darkness, hear them, speak them or write them and get them outside of yourself, and then pray. Only Jesus can make them go away. He doesn't even destroy them, he just sends them away and the implication is that they can and sometimes do come back. But this was his first miracle. This  is what Jesus does. He saves us from ourselves.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rubber Shoes

We don't know much about this disciple named Nathanael. He was a friend of Philip who was from Bethsaida. He probably lived on or near the Sea of Galilee. And Nathanael seemed to have strong opinions. He knew his own mind, that's for sure. 

In fact, Nathanael was skeptical and even prejudiced. When Philip comes to him claiming to have found the Messiah, Nathanael does not believe that Jesus can be anyone special because he came from Nazareth. 

Nazareth was a rural backwards area in Jesus' day. It had a population of no more than 500 and could not be compared with the civilization of Jerusalem. About 16 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee, it was not near the Mediterranean Sea and was not on normal trade routes. In the eyes of an educated Jew, it would have been seen as a place full of ignorance and simple-mindedness.

Nathanael was prejudiced and he was blunt. He did not believe that the Messiah could possibly come out of a backwater place like Nazareth. So he asked, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Nathanael was blunt but he was also honest. And when Jesus sees him, Jesus does the exact opposite thing to Nathanael than Nathanael did to him. Instead of being critical of Nathanael, Jesus points out the best in Nathanael. Jesus says, "Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" In other words, "Here is an honest man!" And Nathanael knew enough about himself to realize that Jesus had just nailed it. Jesus knew him. Nathanael is converted to believing in Jesus because Jesus knows him and edifies him. He points out Nathanael's best quality.

Have you ever had someone give you an honest word about one of your best qualities? Have you experienced that feeling that someone really sees you and values who you are? I think that is the way that Nathanael felt. Someone really saw him. And he could be a better man because someone knew him.

In his Letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote to some of his fellow clergymen.  They had openly criticized him for demonstrating in a city that was not his own, for demonstrating in a way that was "unwise and untimely." He said that if he were to respond to all the criticism that crossed his desk, he and his staff would have no time for constructive work, for the work of God. So most of the mail or communications that he got that were critical, he simply chose not to respond. But these were his fellow clergy, and he believed that they were faithful people, so he wrote them a letter.

In the letter, Dr King honors and even compliments his critics. He calls them men of "genuine good will." He holds them to their best selves and argues with them about their interpretations of his actions. He turns the tables on them, reminding them of their best qualities, and calling them to be better people. He uses all his gifts as an orator and writer to convince others of his perspective. 

In my family, there is an evening ritual which has to occur. We have no choice about it. Someone has to walk Ella the dog. This chore rotates around but we often go in pairs or threesomes because it is a great time to visit. When Max was about five, he was walking Ella in the rain with my oldest son Luke and my goddaughter Ashley. Both Luke and Ashley are a lot older than Max and a whole lot taller, but he was walking in between them when a thunderstorm erupted. Max immediately grabbed both their hands and said, in a very clear voice and without any fear, "Don't be afraid! I have rubber shoes!"

Max was not afraid of being struck by lightening because he had rubber shoes and those rubber shoes, in his five-year-old mind, would keep him safe. God would protect him because of his rubber shoes and if he grasped the hands of his loved ones, God would protect them too. In Max's mind, his rubber shoes were his saving quality.

The writer of the Psalms says, "You (God) knit me together in my mothers womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made." 

God has carefully made you and deep down inside each one of you has tremendous gifts, rubber shoes that can get you through anything. There is something that reflects God in each one of you, your greatest gift. It is important that you come to identify that gift, for if you use that gift and join hands with others, you can change the world.  But we become so consumed with criticising ourselves and others that we forget our gifts. We forget our best selves.

If Jesus were to see you under the fig tree and call out to you and name your best quality, your rubber shoes, what would he say? Would he say that you, like Dr. King, can speak out against injustice and evil? In our world gone crazy with violence crossing the globe, if you have this gift, then we need you. 

Are you a quiet person who can cook and clean and help others with practical aspects of their lives? Can you make a quiet difference by mentoring a child? Are you an artist who can give a glimpse of something infinite to the rest of us through music or dance? Do you have an inner strength and tenacity that can get you through the worst ordeal or are you, like Nathanael, incredibly honest? God knows what your rubber shoes look like but God doesn't often call them out to you as Jesus did with Nathanael. Often God waits for you to discover them.

God also asks each and every one of us to be like Jesus and to take the time to notice and point out the best qualities in others. Where are their rubber shoes? Did you see someone do something incredible, and not point it out? Be sure to edify and see each other. Speak about the gifts of others, for often they cannot see them clearly for themselves.

Dr. King had a moment of revelation late one night as he was sitting at his kitchen table. He had just received another threat to his life, a telephone call that came late at night. He went to the kitchen to heat up some coffee and he pleaded with God. What should he do? He was putting his wife and baby at risk. But the answer came to him over his coffee. He was told to use his gifts, the gift of speaking and writing. And not to worry. Those were his rubber shoes. God would do the rest.

A storm is coming. It is already in Europe. Human beings are being slaughtered across the globe. Even Europe no longer seems safe. It is time for us all to join hands and to find our voice, all of us who believe in the sanctity of human life. It is time for us to speak about the great gifts of every human being and the evil acts that would destroy human life. Why are we afraid to speak? Some Americans are afraid to speak because we want to be compassionate and understand the poverty and suffering of the people that commit these acts. But there is never a reason to slaughter innocent people in the so called name of God. Why do some of us have a problem calling this evil? Jesus told us to pray, "Deliver us from evil." Is this not the time for such a prayer?

We are a people of faith. Jesus knows and loves us. No amount of violence or hatred could ever hurt our souls now that we have found our Lord. So let's find a way to speak out together. Find a way to use whatever gifts God has given you. You are part of an incredible faith tradition that honors the intellect and reason while still holding to belief in God, Jesus and heaven. We believe that every human being is wonderful and marvelously made. Let us not stop until we convince the world that this is true.

King wrote, in this Letter from a Birmingham jail, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." God has given each of you immense gifts to serve justice and truth. How will you use them?

Grace Upon Grace

John, author of the Fourth Gospel, begins with a beautiful hymn about the Word of God. Towards the end of the hymn, there is a tiny phrase tucked in there. But this tiny phrase possesses immense wisdom and I would like to focus on it with you today. John wrote, "From his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace."

Grace upon grace.

It is hard for me to admit this but I think that, after almost twenty years as a priest, I am only just beginning to understand what the word grace means. I remember speaking to a Methodist Sunday school at my father-in-laws church right after I was ordained. An elderly gentleman raised his hand after my talk. "Yes?" I asked him. "Thank you for your talk," he said, " but what I really want to know is this, 'How do you feel about grace?'" 

Well, the truth was that I felt nothing about grace. Grace hadn't really occurred to me at all. For me, leading a church was all about bringing in new people and making sure that the parishioners were growing in their spiritual lives, if that is at all possible. I had no concept of grace at all. I was approaching my ministry as a good workaholic New Englander. Work your tail off and make sure attendance is always increasing. If you struggle, pray harder, give more. Earn your way to pleasing God. So when this Methodist man asked me about grace, I thought, "Those darned Methodists! They are always talking about these sweet Christian words that don't really mean anything at all."

But his question bothered me and my lack of ability to answer it bothered me. I began to notice how much the Bible talks about grace. Paul talks about it today in his letter to the Galatians. In fact, Paul began almost all of his letters with the words, "Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and The Lord Jesus Christ." And St John writes, "We have seen his glory, the glory of a fathers only son, full of grace and truth." Full of Grace. I had to admit, there might be something essential to this word, grace. So I began to pray about it, think about it, read about it. And here is what I learned.

There are two ways to look at your life. You can see yourself as a sinner trying to earn your way to God-that is the first perspective. If you see yourself this way, then you work hard to try to please God. You are constantly trying to do better, be a better friend, spouse, parent, to do the very best job you can at work and at home. You try hard to say your prayers and come to church and manage your life. And you probably suffer from anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. When something goes wrong in your life and there is a mess, you blame yourself and try harder.

There is another way to live, though, another way to see your life. You can try to absorb the fact that you are a new creation, made anew by God at your baptism. You are beloved and good and you are even made perfect through God's grace. There is nothing that you can do to earn God's love. It has already been given to you. This is the grace perspective and it is hard to absorb but it is the true identity of every Christian and a path to joy and peace. It is not your job to earn God's love, rather you are to surrender to God's love and let Christ live in and through you.

When I was in college, a hypnotist came to do a performance on a Friday night. He hypnotized four of my classmates. When they were under, he told them that each one of them would wake up convinced that he or she was an animal. Then he woken them up. I'll never forget that my friend Matthew was among them. He woke up convinced that he was a rooster. He ran all around the auditorium crowing at the top of his lungs! Another girl was a cat and kept trying to crawl on people's laps. I laughed so hard that my side was sore the next day. When the hypnotist broke the spell and my friends truly woke up, they went to their seats puzzled and shy. And later, when we told them how they acted, they were really embarrassed. Matthew's face turned bright red, like the rooster's comb that sticks out from the top of its head.

My friends acted like animals because they were hypnotized into believing a lie about their identities. When they were taken out of the trance and experienced reality, they began to act like the people that they really were. 

You are holy. God made you holy by grace. But the world will hypnotize you into thinking that not only are you inadequate but that you must try to make up for your inadequacy by trying to prove your worth. Christians fall into this trap when we try to succeed at our faith and try to please God. You must earn grace, that's what so many believe. But grace cannot be earned. It has already been given. It pours down upon us like that beautiful piece of art that hangs in Talliaferro. Someone who feels inadequate and is constantly trying to earn God's favor will be always on the defensive. But someone who understands what grace really is will understand the depth of God's love and will then be able to go on the offensive, to be creative, to be truly alive.

Imagine that a King decided that he was doing to pardon and free all prostitutes. If you were a prostitute, this would come as great news! It would liberate you. But would you change your behavior? Maybe, maybe not.

But what if they King then took you as his wife? Would you change your behavior then? Absolutely, for your were given a better identity, something to become. When you were baptized, your sins were forgiven, but you were also made the bride of Christ. Your whole identity was altered. There is no longer a need to earn salvation. God has married you. You went from being a caterpillar to a butterfly. Now all that you have to do is spread your wings.

The grace perspective begins when you realize that you have nothing to prove and instead you allow God's love to live in and through you. We do not do good words to earn God's kudos. We do good works because they flow from us naturally, because it is who we are. It is the truth about you and me. We are full of grace and truth.

I wish I could go back to that Methodist Church. I would tell the old man that it took me twenty years to begin to understand what his question meant. And I would thank him for asking.