Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, March 19, 2023

YEAR A 2023 lent 4

Lent 4, 2023
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In the three-year cycle of the church year, this was the Sunday in 2020 when everything changed.  It was the first Sunday when we somehow became a parish that only livestreamed services, though we had never streamed any services before.  We had these exact same readings, and my wife read them to you offscreen, as I sat in the chapel leading Morning Prayer for the first Sunday ever.  Levi played the organ, and Andrew chanted the Psalm in an empty room.  And we all wondered if people could ever return to this little postage stamp of Christianity.  Would people ever get back inside the building we so loved?

And, of course, some people have not come back.  Some people have decided, because the priest was too political, or someone else was too liberal, or because the church didn’t have activities soon enough . . . some people decided this was no longer the place for them.  They would go to another church, or they would take a breather, or they would just flat out never go to church at all.

Three years ago, this was the moment when I started to call everything prior “The Before.”  Nothing has returned to what it was.  Nothing has been as it was.  And, NO ONE is as they were before.  Every single one of us is walking through life with an undiagnosed case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

And anyone who tries to tell you that COVID is—or was—just a bump in the road is not paying attention.  No matter what you think about the origins, therapies, cures, vaccinations, or anything else about COVID, it was—and still is—a global catastrophic event.  Wishing it were over, or never really happened doesn’t make it so.  There are some people who should be in this room right now who are not.  And I will never not grieve that loss. 

And it makes all of us want to ask God, “Who caused this?”  What brought this tragedy upon us?  Whose political views made this happen?  What government agency failed us?  How did we possibly lose over a million Americans while still having some of our neighbors claim it was a false-flag operation, designed for a government takeover of our guns?

And now I will tell you what I have told you dozens of times before.  We are the body of Christ.  And the power of evil would like nothing more than to dismember the body of Christ.  As the body of Christ, satan never stops working to divide us from one another.  When we are divided, the power of evil wins.  I beg of you, never forget that.  We must stick together, no matter what comes.

There are powerful lessons for us today in this gospel reading, lessons we might miss because we get so caught up in the narrative itself.  Ever since Isaac Newton, we’re certain that everything operates by cause and effect.  We do one thing, and another thing happens.  We want that connection.  So we naturally want a reason.  Things, like COVID, don’t just happen, right?

Human beings have always thought this way, even before the Enlightenment.  Today’s story is a great example.  In Jesus’ time, a person wasn’t just born blind.  There had to be a reason for that blindness; and there would be two ways a person might end up blind at birth.  Either, their parents sinned before the child was born, and thus the blindness is a result.  Or, the child somehow sinned while still in the womb, and thus was born blind.

It was the way everyone saw the world, (or at least the religious people), and so it’s completely appropriate that the disciples would ask Jesus that opening question today:  Who sinned, that this man was born blind, the man or his parents?  Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned.”  The disciples, and anyone within earshot would have thought this answer was ludicrous!  Everyone knows that a man isn’t just born blind!  Then Jesus adds, “he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.”  He was born blind so that God’s glory might be revealed?  

Wait, so God may just strike you blind in order to show God’s glory?  I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.  I think it’s more like this: Jesus says, neither the man nor his parents sinned, and I imagine the shocked look on the disciples’ faces makes him figure he’s got to offer some explanation.  So, he says, okay, this is not because of anyone’s sin, but since you need a reason for blindness, try this one on for size: this is so that God’s glory might be revealed.

I picture the disciples muttering, “Well, that’s a new teaching, but at least it makes sense.  The world hasn’t gone completely crazy!”  Again, Jesus’ answer is sort of a stop-gap measure; God is not going to strike you blind in order to reveal the glory of God.  This “glory to God” explanation is a stepping stone; still a plausible reason for the blindness for the disciples, but at least getting them out of the realm of pinning it on someone’s sin.

BUT, to everyone else in the story, the man’s blindness comes from sin.  Either his sin, or his parents’ sin.  Not unlike how COVID has to be someone’s fault.  This man would be a person “born entirely in sins,” as the angry religious leaders tell him.  

Now along comes Jesus, and he heals the man.  On the Sabbath.  And just to drive home the point, he takes some mud, and mixes it with saliva to put on the man’s eyes.  Jesus didn’t have to do that to heal the man.  In other places in John’s gospel, Jesus says “get up” to heal someone, or even “go home, your son is healed.”  Jesus doesn’t need some kind of magic mud to heal this man’s eyes.  So why does he mix up the mud like that?  

Well, technically, this mixing action would be kneading, or making clay.  Kneading like you do with dough.  Which is one of 39 specific tasks prohibited on the Sabbath.  To every good Jew who was watching, Jesus is intentionally sinning when he mixes this mud.  Clearly sinning.  Nobody had to get a rabbi’s ruling on this one.  Jesus is working on the Sabbath, plain and simple, making him a sinner . . . a sinner like the man born blind.

Everyone in the story thinks Jesus is a sinner.  You and I know, obviously, Jesus is NOT a sinner.  And . . . everyone in the story thinks the blind man is a sinner.  Sooo . . . What might that tell us?  Maybe one of the huge lessons here is the point I’ve already mentioned:  Physical challenges and personal setbacks and tragedies . . . maybe they’re not caused by sin.  Maybe people just are the way they are.  

God creates all people, gives breath to all people, and God loves all people.  Your circumstances and your challenges are not punishments for sin.  I can’t say that strongly enough.  When you suffer or are pressed down, it is not because you are a sinner.  Because we are ALL sinners.  If you hear nothing else this morning, please hear this: Suffering is not God’s punishment for sin.  Not your sin, and not your parents’ sin.  Jesus says so.

We’ve been through a lot together these past three years, both inside the church and out.  And maybe you’ve stayed connected to church through it all.  Or, maybe you’re just reconnecting now.  Or, maybe you just wandered in off the street today.  To be honest, it doesn’t really matter why you’re here.  Because being here means you are seeking to be in the presence of Jesus.  And you have come to a place where he promises to be . . . in the sacrament, and in this gathered community.  I can assure you, we are in the right place!

The man born blind does not understand what has happened to him, but as he tells his story, he comes to know the one who has set him free.  And when you and I tell our own stories—whatever they may be—our faith increases, and others will come to know the one who opens our eyes, and leads us into the light.  May God help us to see and know this same Jesus Christ, and may God keep us together as the body of Christ in this world.


Sunday, March 12, 2023

YEAR A 2023 lent 3

Lent 3, 2023
Exodus 17:1-7
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42
Psalm 95

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, let’s start with how I have always interpreted this gospel text.  How, in fact, I’ve always heard this text interpreted.  Jesus find himself alone with a Samaritan woman who has had five husbands, and she is surprised that he is talking to her.  Everyone agrees on that part.  But then where I’ve always gone after that is to focus on her being an outcast, by virtue of being a Samaritan.  Adding the assumption that she would be an outcast among her own outcast people because she has had five husbands.  (And lots, and lots of people imply that she is somehow a loose woman because of that.)

Then, we typically make the jump to explain why she’s at the well at noon, the heat of day.  Because, nobody likes her, see?  She comes to the well when no one else would be there.  Like she’s hiding by coming at noon.  Then I personally usually pivot to point out how awesome Jesus is, because he doesn’t see her the way everyone else does.  Isn’t Jesus wonderful for daring to embrace someone who is so rejected by her own rejected people because she has had many husbands?  

And that’s what I usually do with this text, because that’s what I’ve heard most theologians do with this text.  Until this past Tuesday, when we talked about this story in my online text study group.  As I’ve said before, that’s basically a bunch of Lutheran clergy from the upper midwest, plus me and Mother Mo—whom I dragged into the group.  It’s always a spirited discussion, and not for the faint of heart.  Like watching how the sausage gets made, most weeks.

So anyway, as we were talking about this story, I started to see that my starting point was completely wrong.  Because the text does not tell us why she goes to the well at noon.  And all these years I have been patting myself on the back for making plausible excuses for why she’s had so many husbands, but the text doesn’t tell us that either.  My starting point with this woman was always that she was an outcast, a nameless woman, and Jesus is extra great for hanging out with her.  But I have been projecting all that onto her.  Because it’s not in the text.

And treating her the way I always have, essentially just makes her into a pawn so Jesus can look cool.  I mean, she doesn’t even get a name.  How important can she be?  And my friends in the clergy text study were saying how much they wish she had a name.  And that’s when I remembered something that Sarah Emmert had told me that very morning.  Because in the Orthodox tradition, this woman does have a name.  And in the Episcopal Church, her feast day is February 26th, and she does have a name.  And it’s not just any name.  She is called Photini.  Which sounds like some kind of fancy drink.  But hear me out.

You can maybe hear in the name Photini that it is connected to the Greek word for light.  Think of photosynthesis, photons, even photographs (literally translated to “light drawings”).  The name Photini means, “the enlightened one.”  And this is where it all gets interesting!

Think back to last week’s gospel text, from the chapter before this in John’s gospel.  We heard the story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus in darkness.  Remember that?  Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, and in darkness—both literally and metaphorically.  And Nicodemus also leaves Jesus in darkness—both literally and metaphorically.

Nicodemus comes up two more times in the scriptures.  When his fellow Pharisees send guards to arrest Jesus, he says that they shouldn’t do that without giving Jesus a chance to testify before them in person.  And then he shows up with the spices to help Joseph of Aramathea bury the body of Jesus, where he is referred to as a “secret disciple of Jesus.”  That’s it.  Comes in darkness, argues for direct testimony from the accused, and brings the spices to bury the body.  In darkness.

But Photini meets Jesus at noon.  Not the heat of the day, but rather when the light is at its brightest!  She is not cowering by hiding at noon.  She comes openly in the full light, which nobody else seems able to tolerate.  Last week a religious leader came to Jesus in darkness and we felt no need to explain his secrecy.  Today, a woman shows up in broad daylight and I reflexively revert to explaining why that’s a problem!  

My starting point has always been to assume she is an outcast.  Well shame on me—and 2,000 years of western patriarchy—for trying to read something into this story that simply isn’t there.  Jesus meets a beloved child of God at the well, and the standard reaction is to try to explain away her beloved-ness.  She is not hiding at noon.  She comes in full light and becomes a powerful evangelist who converts an entire town with her testimony.  

The given name Photini gives us the roadmap here.  She comes in honesty and light, and is exactly who she is, hiding nothing.  This conversation between her and Jesus is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in all the scriptures.  And it’s not a lecture.  It’s an actual conversation, with give and take.  She asks sassy questions, and won’t take lofty-sounding metaphors at face value.  She wants to know the truth; she’s a theological thinker; she trusts that she does not have to grovel in front of Jesus, or anyone else!

And what does she do after this encounter with God incarnate?  What does she do after she asks hard questions in broad daylight when no one else would dare to be there?  She leaves her safe-investment water jar there, and goes to tell other people!  She doesn’t prepare a big lofty presentation.  She just tells people her story: “He told me everything I have ever done.”

He told me everything I have ever done.  That sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it?  Think about that.  Don’t you hear that statement with fear and trembling?  Like, you have a conversation with Jesus and your takeaway is, He told me everything I have ever done.  Uh-oh.  That doesn’t sound like good news to me, to be honest.  Like the last thing I want Jesus to bring up is . . . everything I’ve ever done.

But maybe that’s because, like Nicodemus, my typical way to approach Jesus is in darkness.  Assuming that Jesus is just too precious and fragile to know about my own darkness.  The last place I want to talk to Jesus is in the white-hot light of the noonday sun, where everything I’ve ever done is exposed.  But that’s how Photini meets him.  At a place where there is nothing to hide and nowhere to hide.  What you see is what you get.  And Jesus sees all of it . . . what she calls, “Everything I have ever done.”
And.  He.  Does not.  Reject.  Her.

And can you see what that means for you and me?  We too can approach God in true openness, in the true white-hot light of the blazing noonday sun, without fear of rejection.  Asking hard questions of God, laying bare everything we have ever done, demanding real answers to things that don’t make sense, none of that can separate us from the love of God.  We do not need to hide from the one who truly loves us.

And my new favorite part of this story is the part about the husbands.  Because Jesus says, “Hey go home and get your husband and come back.”  Now she could have said, “Yeah, good idea.”  And then slink away and never come back.  There is no reason to expect that Jesus knows she’s not married.  But instead of getting the heck out of there, she says, “I don’t have a husband.”  And Jesus says, “I know; you’ve had five husbands.”  

And you know what?  I picture them both laughing at that moment.  Because it’s funny!  Like Jesus is kind of teasing her.  I love to think of it that way.  Why don’t you go get your husband?  Because I don’t have one.  I know, LOL!  There is a levity to this part of the conversation, if you look for it.  Just two former strangers talking in the brightest moment of the day, and that brightness is reflected in Photini.  Jesus shines his light on her, and she spreads that light to others.  This is a glorious and powerful story of a person who meets Jesus with nothing to hide, and in reflecting the light, she brings everyone she knows to Jesus, who knows everything she has ever done.

May Photini remind us that we can bring everything to God, that we will not be turned away or rejected, and that the most powerful testimony of grace is to say to others, “He told me everything I have ever done.”


Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Ecumenical Lenten Service, 2023

MACCA Lenten Service
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
March 8, 2023
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our theme for these Lenten services is, God's Call, Our Response.  God calls, and sometimes the faithful response is simply not to say “no.” Now, some people who end up being pastors have an intense internal call. "God told me to be pastor, and so I will be."  And then they pastor a church in town, and that’s that.  For most of us though, there’s a requirement for an external call as well, where the larger church body affirms that call.  Like, sure God might be calling you, but let’s see if church is also calling you.  Then, usually, there’s seminary, and exams, and boards and committees, and MAYBE the church agrees.  My own bishop calls the path to ordination “the world’s longest low-hurdle race.”

But then some people only feel the external call, like medieval monks who had to run away into the woods. Ambrose hid out in 374, trying desperately not to become a bishop.  Athanasius—of the Athanasian Creed fame—fled town to avoid being ordained.  St. Ammonius cut off his ears and nose because the people insisted on his ordination, and he threatened to cut out his own tongue, if they didn’t stop trying to make him a priest.

My own story is less dramatic, but has a similar ring to it.  At some point, I thought I’d like to write a book, and figured I should take a theology class or two before jumping into that.  So, I went to my priest and said, “I’d like to take some seminary classes.  Can you suggest a place I might go?”  And he said, “Well, that depends on whether or not you want to be ordained.”  And I said, “Pffft.  I don’t want to be ordained!”

And then I just kind of submitted myself to the process.  And all along, I knew that the Church would catch up to where I was.  God was certainly not calling me to be ordained, and the Church would figure that out, eventually.  I trusted myself to the process, completely confident that a door would one day close, and I could walk away assured that I had submitted myself fully to this insane idea that I should become a priest.

Then the Bishop sent me to seminary, and I met with various discernment groups, and took Ordination exams, figuring that if God wanted me to be a priest, God was going to have to work really hard on that external call thing.  Halfway through my final year of seminary, it dawned on me that the doors never closed.  And I had walked right into the trap!  I was going to be ordained, without regard for my own internal feelings about this.  And it was far too late to cut off my ear and nose to prevent it from happening.  There is an internal call, and an external call, and that’s when I finally came around to the internal call.  Like, if everyone else sees it, it must be true.  Mere months before I was about to be ordained.  God’s Call, Our Response.  Sometimes the faithful response is simply not to say no.

In the reading we just heard from the book of Acts, the disciples have two options in front of them to replace Judas.  Matthias, and Justus.  A slate of candidates as it were. How did they get them?  Who knows?  But rather than have a church convention, they cast lots.  Now, casting lots was an ancient and traditional way of discerning God’s will in those days.  We don’t know the specific way they did this, but however it was done, the point was to discern whom God had chosen.  The most extreme form of an external call.

Neither candidate has any say in this. And no matter how you view games of chance, and whether God helps you win the lottery, or find a parking space, the lot falls on Matthias—whose name means “gift of God,” interestingly enough.  There they are, looking to choose someone to replace Judas after his death, and they get someone named “gift of God.”

This is Matthias’ introduction into the scriptures. It’s his big day. Maybe he is surprised. Or maybe, like in Jesus Christ Superstar, he “always knew that I’d be an apostle.”  But there he is: Matthias. Ecce homo.  And after this big moment, after he becomes the 12th Apostle of the Savior of the World . . . we never hear his name again.  He’s the first Apostle not directly chosen by Jesus.  Essentially, the Church itself chose him.  It’s a huge deal! He’s the first of a new generation.  But he never comes up again.

Strange right?  Never comes up again. He obviously did stuff. Probably led a church somewhere. Laid his hands on people to ordain them. There are certainly bishops walking around today who can trace their authority back to Matthias, whether they know it or not.  He must have done what apostles did back then. But we have no biblical record of it. Nothing.

Which got me to wondering . . . Did Matthias sense an internal call?  Did God lay it on his heart?  Hard to say, since we know nothing about him. But we have a record of the external call. Of the Church calling him. And using a game of chance to do it!  Sometimes the faithful response is simply not to say “no.”

God’s call is seen in the people assenting to his “election.”  Did Matthias feel called?  We don’t know.  How did he respond?  We have no idea!  Sometimes the faithful response is simply not to say no. And that’s why I love this story. Because we can read into it whatever we want to. Just like our own lives. 

God is calling each and every one of us to some ministry. A couple such calls are proclaimed in newspapers and church publications.  But most are not. Most of us feel called to a thing, and if there’s a need for it, we end up doing it.  Or sometimes, you need the 2x4 upside the head, like me, and it takes a village to point out what God is obviously doing in our lives.  Whether we get there through a bishop laying hands on us, or through a game of chance on a hill in Palestine, or because the church council didn’t say no, we are each called to some very specific thing that only we can do.  Where our skills and the world’s needs meet. 

Impact Massillon is a great example of this.  The churches, and the local civic organizations, and companies with supplies, we all come together, with the gifts and skills we have.  Every year, on the first Saturday in June, we bring all those gifts and skills and resources together and point them at a couple of blocks on some street in Massillon.  God calls, and good things happen because some people say yes, and because some people didn’t say no.

However God calls you, internally, externally, or both, I hope you respond with a yes, or that you don’t say no. Whether or not that’s the last time you get mentioned in the Bible, or you go on to become the Bishop of Rome. God is calling you to something only you can do. And sometimes, with a little luck, the church catches up to what God is already doing in this world.


Sunday, March 5, 2023

YEAR A 2023 lent 2

Lent 2, 2023
Genesis 12:1-4a
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17
Psalm 121

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There are SO many things to talk about in today’s gospel reading!  There are at least four different sermons I wanted to write.  But you’ll be happy to know I am going to spare you all that, and focus mainly on just two verses.  And they’re the last two verses.  But, as you can see, there’s a lot going on in this reading.  Nicodemus comes to Jesus in darkness—literally and metaphorically.  They have a pretty intense conversation.  And Jesus keeps trying to get him to understand, by using metaphors and analogies, but Nicodemus just doesn’t get it.  He remains in darkness, you could say.

And at the end of this gospel reading, we get the two verses I want to talk about.  The first is often called, “The Gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16.  You’ve probably seen the sign at football games.  But the words of that verse are, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Sounds great, right?  Gospel in a nutshell.

Problem is, many church people use this very verse as a way to keep people out of the church, by making the claim that it means God did not give God’s only Son for those who don’t believe in him, or something like that.  Like there’s this extra step in order to be included, and it means you have to believe in him, whatever that might mean.  And if you’ve never heard anyone use this verse in that awful way . . . well, good for you!  But if that limiting focus on belief is true, it means that anyone who does not believe in Jesus is not part of the world.  Which is ridiculous, when you say it aloud.

Two things about this . . .
First: The Greek word for “the world” is cosmos.  And when John uses the word cosmos in his gospel, it has a certain hostile flavor to it.  Like—for John at least—the cosmos is a place that does not naturally welcome God.  The light shines in the darkness, right?  When Jesus is born into the cosmos, the world was not on God’s side, would be one way to think of it.  Jesus comes into a hostile place in order to save this hostile cosmos.

And the second thing is, this John 3:16 is followed by a much better, more important, and gospel-focused verse—John 3:17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  If you ask me, that’s the verse that should be called the gospel in a nutshell.  Nothing to see but grace here, folks.  Though the world is hostile to God, Jesus comes to save the world, not to condemn the world.

Some people would use John 3:16 to claim that only those who currently believe in Jesus Christ will be saved.  Well, here’s a little secret for you.  Maybe more like a confession for you.  There are times in my own life when I honestly cannot believe it.  Any of it.  There are times in your priest’s life where he just cannot muster up the strength to really believe that it’s all true, because it all seems too good to be true!  There are times in the middle of the night where I wake up in a panic thinking, “What if it’s not true?!?”

I look around and see the failure of our institutions, the vitriol of our public discourse, the suffering of the people who live next door, our wanton disregard for the planet . . . I sometimes have a hard time believing it’s all even redeemable.  And if the critical thing is that I believe in Jesus, that I believe Jesus can save us, then I am often failing the crucial test.  Plus, if Jesus only saves those who believe, then it puts all the responsibility in our hands, which is definitely not a safe place to put anything this important.

That “belief clause” in John 3:16 actually serves as a barrier between me and God.  If that’s the gospel in a nutshell, then I am a squirrel who is not eating on some days.  I am a part of this cosmos that rejects Jesus Christ, to put it bluntly.  John 3:16 might be the gospel in a nutshell, but in the wrong hands it is the worst possible news . . . in a nutshell.

We don’t need more John 3:16.  What we need is more John 3:17.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  That’s the good news in a nutshell.  Jesus does not come to condemn; Jesus comes to save.  No matter what you might hear from others, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.  And that means, Jesus Christ came into the world to save you, and to save me.

But you might still be wondering, what’s this stuff about Moses and the snakes?  Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”  What does that mean?  Well, in the book of Numbers—in what we Christians call the Old Testament—the people are being bitten by snakes, and they come to Moses and say, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he might take away the serpents from us.”  So Moses prays for the people. And the LORD says to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”  Moses makes a bronze serpent and sets it on a pole. And if a serpent bites anyone, they would look at the bronze serpent and live.

That’s the story Jesus is referencing when he talks about being lifted up to save the people.  Nicodemus would know that story well.  And Jesus says to him, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Jesus is lifted up on the cross in the same way, and for the same reason that Moses lifted up the serpent on the pole.  The one who is lifted up saves the people.

Think about that serpent story for a moment.  Think about when you’ve been “bitten by snakes” in your own life.  Think about times you have needed healing and didn’t know where to turn.  Have you ever found healing comfort in looking to Jesus?  The One who came down and was lifted up?  The fact that you’re here this morning suggests that has happened in some way, at some time in your life.  Maybe you can explain it with a strong and powerful testimony, an actual conversion event in your life.  Or maybe, like so many of us, you find yourself using metaphors, and similes, and stories about something else, that point to the same truth that you have experienced firsthand.

Or maybe you’re coming to Jesus at night, in darkness, not knowing what you expect from him, but like Nicodemus you have made the connection that only someone sent from God can do the miraculous things you have heard about.  And maybe, for you right now, you’re needing a whole lot of miraculous in your life these days.  This world can be a messy, scary hostile place, but we live our days here, and we are part of it.  And that takes us right back to where we started.  Jesus Christ came into this world to save it, not to condemn it.

That world out there, that messy beautiful cosmos that God created, we’re in it—right now.  It’s not “out there”; it’s everywhere.  There is no actual separation between the Church and the world, because the Church is part of the world.  The needs of the world are the needs of the Church.  The needs of the people outside those doors are the same as the people in this room.

As some people are fond of saying, there is no such thing as “secular.”  Nothing is secular, because God created it all.  And Jesus came to redeem it all.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  You are among the redeemed, because you are in this world.  And God loves the world.  And God loves you, and has redeemed you.

May we always look to the one who was lifted up, the one who draws the whole, hostile world to himself.  And, may God give us the faith to trust that Jesus came not to condemn, but to save—this wondrous, rebellious cosmos, which God has lovingly created, and yet more lovingly restored in Jesus Christ.  Look to the one who is lifted up, for he has redeemed all creation.