Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ashamed?



There are a few words that I use very carefully around my children. One of those words, which seems to carry immense weight, is ashamed. To describe my feelings toward one of my children as ashamed seems particularly harsh and the kind of damaging description that, if applied to firmly or repeatedly, might require even more therapy than a clergyperson's kid normally endures. So, when I hear Jesus say that he will be ashamed of those who are ashamed of him and his words, it makes me squirm a little bit.

But what does "ashamed" mean in Mark 8, when we hear it on Sunday? The Greek word is a form of the verb "ἐπαισχύνομαι," which is universally translated as "ashamed." I looked in over a dozen other translations of Mark 8:38, and none of them uses any word besides "ashamed." Google says that, in English, the word "ashamed" comes from the Old English "āscamian" which is the intensifier "a" + the verb that means "to shame." But what does the Greek word really mean? What does it come from?

Strong's Greek Concordance indicates that the verb "ἐπαισχύνομαι" or "epaischunomai" comes from "epi," which means "on" as an intensifying prefix that implies "fitting," + the verb "aisxynō," which means to "disgrace" or "dishonor." So it is, in effect, a "fitting disgrace" or a "dishonor that befits someone." The implication, therefore, is that the shame is the natural, appropriate, perhaps even necessary consequence. Strong's goes so far as to say that "epaisxynomai ('dishonor') refers to being disgraced, bringing on 'fitting' shame that matches the error of wrongly identifying (aligning) with something" (emphasis in original). That sounds a little like the context of Mark 8 influencing the definition, but it still hits home.

In the ordinary English sense of shame, a "fitting disgrace" makes sense. I don't decide I want to be ashamed of my children when they screw up. It just happens. They have done something so egregious as to necessitate or invoke within me my shame. Maybe that shifts the way I hear Jesus' words to his disciples and the crowd: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me...Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." If we are scandalized by Jesus' invitation to take up our cross and to lose our life, doesn't that bring upon us a fitting disgrace? Jesus isn't punishing us when he comes in glory with the holy angels. The truth is revealed. Those who attribute disgrace to the Crucified One will discover their own disgrace. That's the reversal that God's reign represents.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Where Are You Following Jesus?


I've got lectionary whiplash. This Sunday is the Second Sunday in Lent, and we're reading Mark 8:31-38. That's the story of Jesus' first passion prediction, Peter's rejection of Jesus' words, and Jesus' famous rebuke: "Get behind me, Satan." As a reminder, last Sunday we were back in Mark 1 with Jesus' baptism and journey into the wilderness where Satan tempted him. On the Sunday before that we were in Mark 9 with the Transfiguration. And, the week before that, we were over in Mark 1 again, hearing about Jesus' healing of Simon's mother-in-law. Mark 1 to 9 to 1 to 8. It's dizzying.

The challenge of reading Mark this way comes to a head this week. We read Jesus' passion prediction and Peter's rejection of it, but we miss Peter's confession immediately before in Mark 8, and we miss how the Transfiguration follows immediately on its heels. This week's gospel lesson is the middle of an important three-part progression, but we've been jumping around so that's hard to see without preaching a 45-minute sermon. The good news, however, is that the connection between Satan's temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and Jesus rebuke of Peter makes it possible for the preacher to bridge the gap.

"Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly." Notice that he began to teach them. They had been following him for a while by that point. They had seen him work amazing miracles. They had heard him preach incredible sermons. And now, after Peter declares that Jesus is indeed the messiah, Jesus begins to teach them what will happen to the Son of Man. The first half of Mark makes the case for Jesus' identity as the anointed one of God, and the second half reveals the consequences. Like Peter and the other disciples, we've discovered who Jesus really is, but only now are we learning what that means for him and for us. And, right here, in Mark 8, we are given the choice of whether we will follow the Son of Man to the cross.

When I was introduced to Jesus, I was taught that God loved me and that, if I asked Jesus into my heart, God would forgive me of my sins and I would go to heaven. As a child, I desperately wanted to go to heaven. People whom I trusted (parents, preachers, Sunday school teachers) assured me that Jesus could be my savior if I asked him to forgive me and asked him to come into my heart. So I did. Over and over. Maybe it was me--the way I heard their invitation--but no one ever explained to me that, by asking Jesus to come into my heart, I was inviting God to change me into a disciple of Jesus who would follow him down a path that lead to suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.

Where are we following Jesus? Beginning here in Mark 8, Jesus makes it plain, clear, obvious that the path he walks does not lead to joy, success, power, and prosperity. He does not ride into Jerusalem to claim the throne of his ancestor David. Those who follow him will not be treated like friends of a king. The world will treat us like friends of an outlaw, a rebel, a heretic. If we're following Jesus to the cross, then we're on the right path. Our discipleship does not lead to our glory. It leads to God's glory, and God's glory is revealed in the cross. If we're trying to follow Jesus on a path that leads to earthly glory, well, Jesus has a word for us: Get behind me, Satan!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Standing in the Wilderness with Christ


February 18, 2018 – Lent 1B
© 2018 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
 
You may have read back in December that Pope Francis had endorsed a new Italian translation of the Lord’s Prayer. The French had adopted their own new translation, and he was encouraging the Italian dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church to follow suit. At issue is a phrase that is problematic in the English version as well: “Lead us not into temptation.” Of those confusing words, Francis said, “It’s not [God] pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.”[1]

The problem, of course, is that the Bible wasn’t written in English or French or Italian. The New Testament was written in Greek, and sometimes the spirit of the text gets lost when we move from one language to another. In Matthew 6, where Jesus teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, the Greek text of the phrase in question[2] is a petition that means something like “do not bring us into a trial or test.” A change in the translation can shift the meaning considerably. “Lead us not into temptation.” Does that mean, “God, you be the one who leads us so that we don’t come into temptation?” Or does it mean “God, in case you haven’t made up your mind yet about where you’re going to lead us, we’d prefer the not-toward-temptation option?” It’s easy to agree with the Pope: surely God isn’t the one who leads us into the Tempter’s grasp. But, if that’s what we think, how do we make sense of today’s gospel lesson?

Just as Jesus was coming up from the waters of baptism, he saw the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Six weeks ago, when we baptized Teddy Olson, we heard those same words in the gospel lesson, but, on that Sunday, that’s where the lesson stopped. We were in church to celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord and to share that Baptism with the newest member of the Body of Christ, so it made sense to stop there with the portrayal of the Spirit’s dramatic descent and the Father’s joyful declaration. But today is different. Today, we come together to celebrate the struggle that belongs to those whom God calls his own children, so our reading goes on.

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.” Jesus didn’t wander out into the wilderness. He didn’t take a wrong turn and find himself stranded in the desert. The Spirit of God drove him there. That sounds a lot like the Lord is the one doing the leading and that he’s leading Jesus right smack dab into the middle of temptation. It’s almost as if God met Jesus at the River Jordan and said, “You are my beloved. You belong to me. With you I am well pleased. Now, get up and go out into the desert where Satan is going to try his best to tempt you.” And, in a sense, that’s what he says to us as well.

In our church, we don’t really come up from the waters of Baptism. We’re Episcopalians. We don’t dunk; we sprinkle with the best of them. But, when we pour water on someone’s head and declare that he or she is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we are saying those same words. In Baptism, we declare both to the candidate and to the whole world that that person—whether a little bitty baby or a fully grown adult—belongs to God. As soon as the Baptism is complete, we, the congregation, say to the newly baptized, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” In other words, we say to that person, “You now belong with us in God’s house, in God’s family. In this household, we confess the faith of Christ crucified and proclaim the power of his resurrection, and you will, too. That’s what it means to be a part of this family. That’s what it means to belong to God.”

In that way, our Baptism is not the end of our faith journey but the beginning. It is the moment when the transformation that God is undertaking in the world takes hold in our heart, and it is likewise the moment when God conscripts us as agents of that transforming work. In Baptism, we become citizens of God’s kingdom, and that means that we must let go of our allegiance to the powers of this world. If we are listening carefully when God says to us, “You belong to me,” we will also hear God say, “That means that you do not belong to this world.” In Baptism, we are filled with the Spirit, which breathes life and energy into our souls, changing us into God’s change agents. And that Spirit, as it leads us closer and closer to God, often leads us into desolate places, far away from the comforts and corridors of this world. Out there in the wilderness, the powers of this world can see that we do not belong to it, that we have severed our ties to it, and that is precisely where the temptation comes, luring us to abandon our Christ-like identity, to give up our heavenly citizenship, and to renounce our allegiance to God.

Have you ever felt the Spirit of God nudge you out in front of your peers? Have you ever felt the Spirit pulling you to take an unpopular stand? That’s your baptismal identity shining through. During Lent, we journey with Christ out into the wilderness, but we do so not to prove that we are strong enough and faithful enough to maintain our Lenten discipline for forty days. We go into the wilderness in order to take our stand with Christ. Following Christ, we take a decisive step away from the powers of this world, and sometimes that costs us dearly. It means exposing ourselves to ridicule and exclusion, but such is the cost of belonging to God. In God’s kingdom, there are no racist jokes. Can we say the same about our conversations? In God’s kingdom, there is no sexual harassment. Is that true in our workplace or in our e-mails? In God’s kingdom, there are no assault rifles. What about our gun cabinets and our political agendas? Those of us who follow Jesus follow him into God’s kingdom here and now—not tomorrow, not someday, but right now. The ways of the world are sin and evil and death. Those things cannot define a child of God. The children of God, therefore, must leave behind the ways of the world and the people who advocate for them.
 
Does God lead us into temptation? No, God doesn’t. But following Jesus and allowing the Spirit to guide us means going to places where we are uncomfortable, where we feel alone, and where the temptation to give up and turn back is the strongest. God declares to each one of us, “You are my beloved son or daughter.” But belonging to God means taking a stand with Jesus Christ. It means standing up against the forces of evil and the weapons that they wield. The world crucified Jesus for taking a stand, and the world may crucify us, too. But we belong to God. When the Spirit leads you off into the wilderness, apart from those who enjoy the comforts of this earthly life, out where the powers of this world have you in their crosshairs, will you stand with Christ or will you turn back? May God’s Spirit give us the courage to stand with Christ and resist the Tempter’s power. Only then will we behold the triumph of the resurrection in our lives and in this world.



[1] http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2017/12/08/pope-francis-calls-for-lords-prayer-translation-to-be-changed/
[2] “μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν” (Matt. 6:13)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Truth Will Set You Free

February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday
© 2018 Evan D. Garner

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

“You look tired,” I said to a classmate of mine in seminary. She was a good friend—the kind of friend you stay up late with, drinking wine and talking about theology and politics and how our class of aspiring priests would solve all of the church’s problems that the generation ahead of us had left behind. When I said that she looked tired, I said those words out of love and concern for my friend, but, before she had a chance to respond, another classmate of ours interrupted and said, “Evan! Don’t ever tell a woman that she looks tired! Ever!” I was taken aback. I hadn’t meant any real criticism by my comment. I wasn’t trying to point out that she looked tired as much as I was trying to let her know that I cared for her and that I sensed that she might be having a tough week. I apologized.

In fact, she did look tired. She even admitted it later on when the other classmate wasn’t around to hear it and I apologized yet again. I understood what the other student was trying to do. It is rude to tell someone—man or woman—that he or she looks tied. It’s rude to say that someone looks like she or he has gained some weight. It’s rude to say that the years are really catching up with someone quickly. It’s rude to say that someone isn’t as sharp as she used to be or as good at something as he once was. It’s rude to tell someone that his jokes aren’t funny or that her breath smells bad. It’s rude to admit that you think that someone’s pot roast is terrible or that you find her constant whining really annoying.

Most of the time, it is impolite to tell the truth. Even when our words are spoken out of friendship, love, and genuine concern, they are not welcome. We’d rather pretend that it’s not as bad as it is—that our hair isn’t that gray, that our pants aren’t that tight, that our jokes aren’t that bad—than hear someone tell us the truth. We only want to see the very best in ourselves, and we expect others to enable us to live under that delusion. But God knows that something is wrong, and so do we.

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!” That was God’s way of getting everyone’s attention. Like us, people back then had been ignoring the truth for generations, and the day of judgement was coming. Those in positions of authority had abused their power. The priests cared more about taking bribes than offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. No one wanted to hear the truth, but the integrity of the nation was crumbling. The armies of their enemies were amassing at their borders like a swarm of locusts preparing to devour a field. No one wanted to admit it, and no one wanted to listen to a prophet point it out.

We don’t need a prophet to tell us that the world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Look around. Children are hungry. Addiction is rampant. Violence spills out in our streets, in our schools. Suffering has no end. People die before their time. And, for the most part, people like us are insulated from it. That sounds a lot like life back in the time of the prophet Joel. Those things may not feel like they are our fault, but they are symptoms of the sin that infects us all. The question is whether we are willing to confront it and, if so, what good it might do.

A month ago, at 8:07 on a Saturday morning, cell phones and televisions and radios in Hawaii alerted people that a ballistic missile was on its way and that people should immediately seek shelter. To everyone’s horror, the alert made it clear that it was not a drill. Of course, we now know that it was a mistake—that a state employee involved in the warning system mistook a test for the real thing. In hindsight, however, the false alarm has raised some important existential questions like whether people should be warned ahead of a devastating attack if there is nothing that they can do about it. Would you rather spend the last ten minutes of your life blissfully ignorant of the inevitable destruction that is on its way or fighting through an inescapable panic? Those Christians who put up billboards on the side of the highway that make us feel like waiting for Jesus’ return is like waiting for a ballistic missile attack might ask themselves such questions about the day of the Lord, but Joel makes it clear that that’s not the issue we face.

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart…Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” Our God is a forgiving God. Our God wants to welcome us back with open arms. Our God waits to take our brokenness upon himself and make us whole. But how will we ever know the limitless love of God if no one ever tells us the truth about our need for forgiveness and if we refuse to admit the truth of our sin to ourselves?

Today is a day when we not only acknowledge the truth of our brokenness but actually wear it on our foreheads. Usually, we sit in church pretending that we’re humble while also pretending that we’re not completely desperate. But today is the day when it’s ok to strip away all the pretense and admit how much we need God. Today, we all come together—old and young, even infants at the breast—to say to one another and to God that our lives aren’t the way that they could be and that our only hope is in God. Today, we tell ourselves that truth not because we want to convince God to accept our repentance but because we are convinced that God will. We are not here to pretend that we are miserable in order to make God happy. Instead, we are here to confront the magnitude of our brokenness—our need for God’s help—in order that we might find the help we need.

Baptismal Identity Crisis


I love Mark. I write that pretty often during Year B, but this Sunday's gospel lesson is the perfect example of why I love Mark's gospel account so much. Instead of a showdown between Satan and Jesus in the wilderness, Mark shows us that Jesus comes up from the waters of baptism, sees the heavens torn apart and the Holy Spirit descending upon him, hears the voice of his Father, and then immediately is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Matthew and Luke also mention the Spirit's role in pushing Jesus out, but, because the narrative exchange between Jesus and Satan over turning rocks into loaves of bread and throwing one's self down off the pinnacle of the temple is so long, Year A and Year C do not make the clear baptismal link. Shame!

This Sunday, therefore, is our principal opportunity to make the statement that baptism is what sends Jesus (and us) out into the wilderness, where the Tempter awaits. Isn't that true in the daily grind of discipleship? Isn't Jesus' temptation, when so closely connected with his baptism, a reminder that our identity as the redeemed children of God is what opens us up to the assaults of the devil?

We are citizens of God's kingdom. We may not be able to see it all of the time. It's king may be invisible to us. The earthly powers that stand in opposition to God's kingdom may be a lot easier to perceive that the quiet, persistent reign of God, but we are baptized into the Body of Christ. That is our initiation into God's kingdom. As we proclaim in the proper preface for baptism, "...in Jesus Christ our Lord you have received us as your sons and daughters, made us citizens of your kingdom, and given us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth." It is confirmation of Jesus' identity as the beloved child of God that propels him out into the wilderness where Satan tries his best to undermine that identity, and it is those moments when our baptismal identity is most profoundly internalized that we are most vulnerable to the devil's work.

This Sunday, once I put aside an Ash Wednesday sermon, I'll preach on that particular crisis of identity: it is hard to live as a baptized citizen of God's kingdom because the ways of the world and the ways of its prince stand in opposition to it. Like a clerical collar or cross necklace around one's neck, the Jesus fish or Episcopal shield on the back of the car makes it simultaneously easier and harder for us to display our true identity as Christians. But that is who we are. And we should expect temptation. We should prepare ourselves to be assaulted by the devil and all his powers. And we should cling to Christ and the promise he has made to be with us always.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Giving Something Up or Getting Ourselves Ready?


This post is also in today's newsletter from St. John's, Decatur. If you want to read the rest of the newsletter, click here.


At diocesan convention this weekend, the keynote speaker, the Rt. Rev. Robert Wright, Bishop of Atlanta, encouraged us to follow Jesus as his disciples by living as those who “walk in love.” In part of his address, he encouraged us to examine the meaning behind our Lenten disciplines:

If the best we can think of is to give up chocolate and sherry for Jesus, then we ought to think again. I mean, if you have a bona fide spiritual problem with chocolate and sherry, I give you…a pass. I don’t; bring it to me. But, beloved, Lent is for serious and careful examination of the darker corners of our hearts so that, at Easter’s “Alleluia!” you and I have something to shout about: that the tectonic plates of our hearts are moving, that our hearts are unfolding, that we find the courage to look into ourselves, understanding that in Christ Jesus, therefore, now there is no condemnation.
 
Bishop Wright's address starts at 1:02:35. The remarks about Lent begin at 1:25:15.
 
Lent begins tomorrow. Perhaps you have already decided what you will give up. Maybe you give up the same thing every year. Or maybe, like me, you are scrambling to think of something that will teach you a little bit about the faithfulness of self-discipline without giving up something that will cost you too much. Bishop Wright has made me rethink that approach. His words remind us what Lent is all about and why giving something up is meaningless unless it prepares us to walk into the light of Easter with renewed confidence that we are the forgiven, redeemed, transformed children of God.

Even before we get to tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday service, take a look at your life. What has been hiding in the darkest corner of your heart, a quiet reminder that the work that God has begun in you is not yet complete? Perhaps you would benefit from forty days of letting the light of Christ bathe that secret spot. Might you give up cynicism? Might you give up lust? Could you practice beholding each person you meet as a beloved child of God instead of looking at them through the stereotype you instinctively bring with you? Could you let go of some of that defiant self-reliance by which you have fooled yourself into thinking that you will be alright all on your own?

The truth is that we cannot get to that place of spiritual perfection by ourselves—not with forty days of heightened spiritual discipline, not with forty years of unwavering ascetic practice. In order to be complete, in order to be made perfect, we need God’s help, the saving help he gives us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the miracle of Easter cannot shine completely in our lives if we pretend that there is a part of us that God cannot redeem, if we deny God access to the sin-infected recesses of our soul, if we refuse to examine the deepest shortcomings of our lives, if we will not give those shortcomings to Christ, begging him to give us the strength to amend our lives.

The true Lenten journey from the wilderness of our temptation to the salvation of the cross and into the light of the resurrection is far more difficult than giving up candy or cursing or Coors Light for forty days, but, by giving up whatever it is that takes us away from the love of God, we invite God to come into our lives in places we have not noticed him for a long time. That is what it means to undertake the observance of a holy Lent. That is what it means to prepare for Easter.

Eliminating Limits on Love


Absalom Jones was born into slavery. Along with his mother and six siblings, Absalom was the property of a wealthy plantation owner in Delaware. While doing field work, Absalom's master noticed that he was an unusually intelligent child, so he ordered that Absalom be trained to work in the plantation house. While there, he learned how to read and write and saved what little money he had to buy books, including a Bible. When Absalom was around 10 years old, his owner died, and he became the property of the owner's son, who, a few years later, sold the plantation, including Absalom's mother and siblings, and took Absalom with him to Philadelphia as his slave. Absalom's owner opened a store, where Absalom was forced to work. On Sundays, they attended St. Peter's Episcopal Church. At night, Absalom was permitted by his master to go to a night school operated by Quakers, who furthered his education.

With the permission of their owners, Absalom married Mary Thomas, the slave of another parishioner at St. Peter's. After saving up what money he could and imploring his Quaker mentors to lend him additional money, Jones bought the freedom of his wife, but, after repaying his debtors and saving up additional money for his own freedom, Jones' master refused. Several times, Absalom pleaded with his master to let him purchase his freedom, but that man would not give in to the request. Finally in 1784, after 38 years of enslavement, Jones' master granted him a manumission.

Absalom Jones and his wife left St. Peter's and joined St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church, where he became a prominent lay leader to the black congregation. Alongside friend and colleague Richard Allen, Jones worked to bring new black worshippers to St. George's. So successful were their efforts, that they raised money to build a gallery in the church where members of the growing congregation could sit. Without informing Jones or Allen, the congregation decided to enforce segregated seating, requiring all those of African descent to sit upstairs in the gallery. Jones and his fellow worshippers walked out in protest. They again pooled their resources and built a new church specifically for blacks in Philadelphia. The congregation voted to affiliate with the Episcopal Church, and they applied for membership in the Diocese of Pennsylvania under three conditions: 1) that they be received as their own organized body, 2) that they have local control over their own affairs, and 3) that Absalom Jones be licensed as a lay reader and, if qualified, ordained. Eventually, Jones was ordained a deacon and then a priest, the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church (see https://www.hsec.us/releases/we-need-a-new-biographical-sketch-of-absalom-jones).

I wonder what Jones' sermons sounded like. I wonder what sort of spirit filled the church when he preached on a passage like Isaiah 61: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners." I wonder what it felt like to have Absalom Jones look you in the eye and read Jesus' words from John 15: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." Do you think Jones knew what it meant for all of Jesus' followers to love one another with Christ-like love in a way that we fail to grasp at least most of the time?

Jesus said to his disciples, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." When their master--when our master--summed up his teaching in one simple commandment, that was it. You must love one another. You must imitate my love. If you are to be my followers, you must lay down your life for one another in love. You must give up your life as you know it for the sake of love.

It's pretty easy to love our families like that. Wife and husband, mother and father, son and daughter, sister and brother--it isn't hard to love them selflessly, the way that Jesus loved the world. Our friends, too, draw that love from us...on a good day, when all is right between us. And those very best friends are those for whom we really would lay down our life. But what about an acquaintance or a stranger? Would we love them the way Jesus loved us? Could we look at them with the same sort of selfless love? Does it matter what sort of acquaintance or stranger they are? If they were young and attractive and well-dressed and articulate? Would it make a difference if they were white or Latino or black or Arab? Would it make a difference if they were homeless or unkempt or drunk or high?

Absalom Jones was born into slavery. He lived most of his life as someone else's property. And the Holy Spirit helped him know that God's words of hope and promise and liberation were intended for him and other slaves like him. We grew up in the opposite culture with access and power. What is the Holy Spirit saying to us? I wonder what is harder: to be a slave and know that you have a full and equal claim on God's love or to be a descendent of slave owners and know that the poor among us have as much a claim on God's love as we do. Jesus said, "This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you." Do we?