Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Divine Intervention

Where do ideas come from? Not just the clear, logical, expected progressions of thought. I mean those really far-out-there, who-could-have-thought-of-that ideas. I mean, the Snuggie makes sense. My mother, who likes to read in bed, has been talking about a blanket with sleeves since I was four. But what about those crazy ideas that no one has even come close to thinking of before? Where do they come from? Are they the product of our own intellectual ability? Is there an external force (e.g. Holy Spirit) that reveals something to us?

In Acts 10:1-16 (today’s NT lesson in the Daily Office), Peter is praying on the roof of a house when God shows him something in a trance: “He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners.” You remember the story… On that sheet were a bunch of unclean animals, and a voice told Peter, who was hungry, to rise, kill, and eat. Peter, a faithful and observant Jew, objected, saying, “No, Lord. I have never eaten anything that is unclean.” But God repeated the vision and the command three times until Peter got the message.

Of course, at that time, Cornelius’ servants were knocking on the door to ask Peter to come and tell their Gentile master and his household the good news of Jesus Christ. The same Sprit had instructed the “centurion of the Italian Cohort” to seek out Peter. God, it seems, brought the two men together so that what was previously thought to be incompatible—Jews and Gentiles, Oil and Water—could become one. That idea was so completely foreign to Peter that God had to use a dramatic vision to get the point across. Or perhaps another way to tell the story is that the mixture of Jew and Gentile was so counter-intuitive that the idea could only be explained as to have come as a direct revelation from God.

Some might argue that the bible adds some supernatural details to explain what religious sociologists and anthropologists would call a natural progression. The Jesus-movement didn’t collect enough converts from the Jewish community and, when the synagogues began to split between Jew and Christian, it was natural for the followers of the Way to recruit Gentiles. Well, maybe it happened like that. Maybe there wasn’t a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven. Maybe Saul didn’t see a blinding light on the Damascus Road. Maybe the Spirit didn’t come down from heaven like tongues of fire, enabling the apostles to speak in the languages of the whole known earth. But somewhere, somehow, the Christian faith was built upon principles that run so counter to human expectations that they can only be explained as having come directly from God.

Who looks at a crucified criminal as someone worth worshiping? Who thinks God can be fully united to human flesh and contained in the womb of a virgin? Who thinks that there is power in weakness? Who thinks that the poor, miserable, and oppressed within our society are really the fullest expression of God’s purposes in the world? Who believes in life not only after death but life within and through death itself? What sort of religion is based not on rewarding people with what they deserve but on giving even the most terrible sinner a share of God’s abundant life? These ideas aren’t logical. They don’t come from within us. We don’t reach them on our own.

Jesus had to hide from the authorities while his ministry was just getting started because his message was so counter-intuitive that they were threatened by it. As soon as he appeared on the public stage, his poor-first-rich-last, sinners-in-elites-out message got him killed. The world could not handle his gospel truth. And it still cannot handle it.

If you think the Christian faith makes sense, you’re not getting it. If you think it’s easy to be a follower of Jesus, then you’re not walking down the right path. If you think that free grace isn’t costly, then you haven’t really been forgiven. The world (and those of us in it) don’t know how to deal with the real other-worldly nonsensical message of Jesus. It isn’t like anything we’ve ever thought of on our own. Our faith—our ability to walk the path of Jesus—is itself a gift from above. The only way we’ll ever be able to embrace that which we cannot understand is if the Holy Spirit leads us.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Conversion Anyone?

Around the time I was five (about my daughter’s age), I first learned that if I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my personal Lord and savior I would be saved and that, when I died, I would go to live with him in heaven forever. I spent the next fourteen years trying to do  just that.

Lying in bed, over and over, I would utter variations on a basic prayer: “Dear God, I want Jesus to come into my heart so that I can go to heaven.” On penitential occasions, I would throw in lines about being a “miserable sinner” or “needing forgiveness.” But the basic thrust remained the same. I wanted Jesus to get in my heart so that I could get to heaven. For fourteen years, I prayed that prayer at night only to discover that, when I woke up, it didn’t take.

I had been told by reliable sources (Sunday school teachers, parents, other elders) that when you’re “saved” you know it. And I didn’t know it. More than once, I heard a preacher ask a congregation whether we knew where we would go if we died that day, and I knew I couldn’t answer the way I wanted to. So I kept praying that prayer. I needed a conversion moment. I needed a blinding light and a thunderous voice. I needed a Damascene moment like the one Saul had. But every time I asked I got nothing.

What is conversion anyway? The first place to look is the story of Saul-becomes-Paul. In today’s Daily Office lesson from the NT (Acts9:19b-31), we read that Saul had a hard time convincing the Christians in Damascus that he was one of them. “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” they asked of the former arch-persecutor of the church. How could it be that this man who spent his life trying to destroy the Jesus-movement now proclaims that he is a part of it? The same thing happened when Saul got to Jerusalem, and Barnabas had to come and describe for the Christian leaders how Saul had been blinded on the road to Damascus and had heard Jesus’ voice. Saul’s conversion—as dramatic as any in human history—became the archetype.

That’s the sort of conversion I wanted. But I wasn’t a persecutor of the church. I was the kid who did more in church than anyone else. I was “Mr. Sunday School.” I preached several youth sermons. I volunteered every time the doors were open. I always won bible trivia. From what was I supposed to be converted? I didn’t need a blinding light to shake me from my anti-Christian ways. But I still needed conversion—just not the sort of conversion I was looking for.

I believe that all of us need conversion. The call of discipleship is too countercultural for us to accidently stumble into it. Jesus proclaims life through death, power in weakness, wealth in poverty, and love for the enemy. That doesn’t just happen. Even those of us who grew up hearing the story of salvation need to discover it for themselves. But conversions come in all shapes and sizes. Some are as dramatic as Saul’s. Some are so powerful that they need to be expressed as a name-change. But others are gradual and subtle—like mine.

For me, the moment finally came not when I was saved but when I discovered that I was already saved. What I lacked was the confidence that God does the saving and that no formulaic prayer uttered by me could make it happen. So I was converted from my self-guided approach to a dependence-on-God-alone mindset. That conversion was quiet and subtle. It was only a slight though distinct shifting of my heart. I never said that prayer again. I didn’t need to. We all need conversion—from something and to something. God offers it to us. What change of heart is he leading each of us to?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Gospel Truth Sometimes Hurts

Sometimes the truth hurts. And sometimes the gospel truth hurts. And often it is the preacher’s job to preach the word in its full power and accept the consequences. We can’t become slaves to the numbers. We must preach the gospel and let people come or go as they will. That’s exactly what Jesus did in this Sunday’s reading.

Our practice for staff meeting at St. John’s is to read the gospel lesson for the upcoming Sunday and spend some time together reflecting on it. Yesterday, as we did just that, I saw something I hadn’t noticed before. For all of these weeks that we’ve had the same topic (Bread of Life) week in and week out, we haven’t been able to see the real point behind the message. But it finally comes together in this week’s passage.

After spending paragraph after paragraph on this complicated Bread-of-Life image, we see Jesus lay it all on the line: “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” Earlier in the week, when I read that line, I heard Jesus saying, “Does this offend you? [Would it help matters] if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” That’s a pastoral response. That’s Jesus trying to find a new way of getting his point across. But yesterday I read something very different: “Does this offend you? [If you think that’s tough,] what if you were to see the Son of Man…” I don’t think Jesus is being pastorally sensitive. I think he’s pushing the truth of his message to its nth degree and allowing the full, radical, challenging nature of the gospel to hit his audience.

And what happens? People leave. And not just any people, but his disciples. Not the twelve whom we usually think of as “disciples,” but John makes it very clear to us that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went with him.” The gospel was too much for them to handle. They preferred a nice, sweet, comforting message—not the hard-to-grasp, life-transforming message of death-to-self and life-from-above that Jesus came to preach.

So what are we preaching? Are we hiding behind some pastorally sensitive images? Are we watering down the truth of the gospel because we’re afraid of losing disciples? The gospel has to stand for itself. We are called to preach it in its full, prophetic power. What is the “third rail” of the Christian message that no one wants to touch? Because that’s exactly where we’re supposed to be.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Today's Stumbling Block

It’s dangerous to lock biblical interpretation in stone. Like the Constitution or fine art, the bible speaks differently to different contexts and generations. “Honor thy father and mother,” looks a lot different in the age of Medicare and long-term care insurance than it did in the Ancient near-east. Likewise, over the years we have trusted the Spirit to lead us to radically different interpretations of many passages. But what happens when the bible offers its own interpretation?

In this Sunday’s reading from John, the author adds a few editorial notes. John is known for this. I suppose his more abstract and well-developed theological approach needed more internal commentary, but sometimes I wonder whether it gets in the way. In this passage, Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” But then John adds, “For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’” That might be true…perhaps Jesus was talking explicitly about the faithless among him and about Judas. But is that all he meant?

What about those among us now who don’t believe? Perhaps our greatest struggle is to let go of the material (“the flesh is useless”) and embrace the spiritual (“the spirit gives life”). If we freeze a passage only into its original context, it becomes a relic of history. Yes, it’s true that Jesus had some followers who deserted him. The end of this passage notes that some who had been with him turned aside because of this difficult teaching on the bread of life. But it’s more than that.

We also struggle with those same issues. Jesus is still speaking to us. As if he were still on the earth, he knows that there are some among us who can’t get past this spirit-flesh, bread-of-life thing. In one way or another, it’ still a stumbling block for those who wish to follow him. For us, that might not be the literal bread and wine of Communion. Instead, it might be the call of discipleship that requires us to relinquish our emphasis on the material. Or maybe it’s the reality of the bodily resurrection. Or perhaps is the belief in the scientifically inexplicable miraculous. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s something.

As I think about the gospel this Sunday, I’m looking for ways to free this passage from the past—from what it might have meant to its original audience—and translate it into the present.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Becoming the Bride of God

What does it mean to be God’s bride? Despite being a long-held image of Israel’s ideal existence, I doubt that was a commonly used pedagogical approach. Teacher: “If we are to be God’s bride, how are we supposed to live?” Class: “Faithfully, patiently, and devotedly.” Yeah, that doesn’t really roll of the tongue. But the point remains—God’s people were often depicted in scripture as the beloved spouse of almighty God. And that leads me to wonder…what does it mean for me—for us—to truly be God’s bride?

Although an expression of a hopeful ideal, usually that image was used to show how unfaithful Israel was despite God’s never-failing love. God is faithful; we are not. Yet God pursues his wayward bride despite her sinfulness and calls us back to himself. And someday God will make us the faithful partner he yearns for us to be. That’s captured in today’s reading from Isaiah61: “he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Israel’s righteousness, given by God, is like a renewed betrothal and a reason to celebrate.

So what does it mean for Mary, the mother of the Lord, to be chosen and called by God to be his handmaid—his bride? What does it mean for her to take on all of the hopes and dreams of her people in order for God’s marriage to his people to finally be consummated? What does it mean for Mary—Theotokos—to give birth to God? It means that through the Incarnation everything we have been waiting for has come to pass. It means that God finally has clothed us in righteousness and made us his faithful people. It means that we can claim for ourselves the title that God has given us—his bride.

But how do we get there? How does God use a teenage virgin to redeem the faithlessness of his people? Through Mary’s submission—by her saying “yes” to God’s intergenerational invitation to faithfulness—we are able to say yes to that which, on our own, we could not have given our assent. Mary’s yes leads to our yes. She says it on our behalf so that, through Jesus Christ, we might also say yes.

Sometimes those of us in the Protestant tradition get lost in Marian devotion. And while it is true that Mary did not redeem us—God did—it remains true that she shows us what it means to be the faithful bride that God is calling us to be. And, by her faithfulness, it becomes possible for us to be clothed in righteousness, too. Humanity has been waiting for the opportunity to live up to its calling, and through Mary it finally becomes possible.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bread of What Sort of Life?

In case you’ve been on vacation for the last, um, bunch of Sundays, we’re in the stretch of John’s gospel in which Jesus talks about himself as the “Bread of Life.” At this point, I’m glad I preached the last two Sundays on other topics/lessons because I don’t know if I can squeeze a sermon out of Proverbs (“Wisdom has built herself a house”), and even I might fall asleep in the middle of a third “bread of life” sermon. But Jesus thought it was important enough to dwell on for a while, and John seems to have agreed, so perhaps it’s time for me to tackle bread of life.

In this week’s lesson, my focus falls onto the quality of life to which Jesus is inviting us. The line that usually rings in my ears is the last sentence—“the one who eats this bread will live forever.” That makes it pretty simple: eat me = eternal life. But, as Steve Pankey wrote about last week’s gospel lesson, that eternal life starts now. It’s not just a ticket to heaven. The kingdom life begins as soon as we belong/abide in Jesus.

I want to spend some time wrestling with this part of the lesson: Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” We eat in order to abide. Just as Jesus lives because of the Father so whoever eats his flesh lives because of him. Communion is that practice of abiding. It is the means by which we are fed and nourished for our life that is lived in Christ. And that sort of life is the life that is abundant and everlasting. In other words, Jesus isn’t giving us magical bread that makes one live forever (like the fountain of youth that makes one young). Jesus is feeding us so that we can live a new life—the kind of life that lasts forever.

In the Eucharist, we discover an entirely new way of living—not just more of the same stretched on forever. It’s the quality of life that changes. Those who ate manna in the wilderness died. That’s not a criticism of the bread that came down from heaven back then. It was good bread, and it sustained them—in this life. But Jesus is offering new life—life in him. The same sort of life that he lives in the Father. Eucharistic bread accomplishes something different than regular bread, and what it does for us is open up a new way of living.

This has me wondering… how many of us notice that on a Sunday morning? I’m a strong proponent of the baptism-before-Eucharist polity of our church because I believe sitting at the Eucharistic table requires transformation. Simply eating the bread and drinking the wine without acknowledging the life-changing (repentance & new birth) nature of the event is to do it injustice. But how many of the baptized come to the table seeking new life? How many of the ordained (that’s me) really look for new life at the altar? 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

St. Dominic and the Power of God's Word

One year in Cambridge, after a particularly grueling term, a friend and I went to Carcassonne because we got a cheap flight. It sounded like a fun trip—a few days of holiday after a difficult semester. When we arrived, Ben, who is fluent in French, asked the owner of our small hotel, “What is there to do in Carcassonne?” She replied that the tourist season had just ended the week before and that there wasn’t much to do. “You can acheter une voiture, ratisser les feuilles, ou d'un tricot.” (At least that’s what Google Translate thinks is French for “buy a car, rake leaves, or knit.” I still have no idea.) My friend chuckled and gave a puzzled look, but I, of course, had no idea what was being said. After he translated for me, we debated our options. Although raking leaves sounded mildly cathartic, we decided to tour the local castle instead.

Carcassonne was a center of the Cathar movement and is perhaps most famous for its role as a stronghold against the Albigensian Crusade, during which the Catholic Church sought to rid the world of Catharism. The castle was a military fort in which the heretics fought the orthodox to the death. Looking back, it’s Kind of funny, really. We don’t do that much in our church anymore.

I didn’t know it at the time, but St. Dominic, who founded the Dominican Order, was one of the theologians and preachers who tried to persuade those who in the Cathar sect to return to the faith. Dominic didn’t take up arms, but he did use logic and bare preaching to attack his enemies, and he was successful. His legacy, though, has less to do with Catharism and more to do with the power of preaching. His order became known as the Order of Preachers (O.P.) because he believed and demonstrated that the Word of God was the source of true power.

In the gospel lesson appointed for his feast day (John7:16-18), Jesus said to his adversaries, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.” (Actually, that’s the whole gospel lesson. It’s really short.) Jesus knew that God’s Word is Truth (capital “T”). And he knew that who he was and what he said was Truth and would stand up to any scrutiny. Dominic knew that, too, and he let God’s Word speak for itself.

Sometimes we forget about the power of God’s word—the bible. Sometimes I forget that the reason we call the biblical text “the Word of God” is the same reason we call the second person of the Trinity “the Word of God.” Both are alive. Both have the power to transform lives. They are, essentially, the same—not the book itself and the Son of God but that which is spoken. God speaks and... That’s where the story begins. That’s where the story ends. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that I need to reimmerse myself in God’s word and let it speak to me afresh.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Living on the Margins

Sometimes the lectionary leaves out the plot of a story because it wants to make connections that lie in the details. This week, we read of Elijah sitting under a broom tree wanting to die. God intervenes and gives him some cakes and water to sustain him for the journey (cf. bread of life in the Gospel lesson). But I’m more interested in what got Elijah under that broom tree in the first place.

Elijah had killed the priests and prophets of Baal in a God-inspired mass-execution. After proving the inferiority of their god by successfully calling Yahweh to send down fire and consume an entire water-soaked offering  and altar, God told him to chase down his enemies and slaughter them. When his enemies heard of the bloodshed, Jezebel, their leader, sent word to Elijah that the prophet would suffer the same fate as those he killed. So Elijah ran in fear. I think it’s remarkable that even after his resounding victory Elijah still faced a challenge he wasn’t prepared for.

Elijah slept under the broom tree, prepared to die. But God had other plans. He awakened him twice to encourage the prophet to eat cakes of grain and drink water so that he might be prepared for a forty-day journey without any more food or water. God gave him enough to make it through to Horeb, where God revealed himself to the prophet through an encouraging whisper.

As I read the story, I am reminded of the theology of stewardship, which is based on the premise that faith and fear are opposite forces—one of God and the other ungodly. Elijah ran out of fear and was ready to die, but God gave him what he needed and his fear was turned to faith. When we reach the end of our rope and are prepared to surrender only to discover that God has something else in store from us, our own fear is transformed into faith. That’s because faith is an external reality. It is a belief and trust in something else—something beyond us. If we were only dependent on ourselves, the end of our rope would be just that—the end. But discovering that God is the source of all that we have shows us that our despair is not the end of the story.

The exercise of tithing or percentage giving—setting aside the first certain percentage (10% = tithe)—forces us to accept the reality that we are not the source of our own provision. There is a little risk in stepping out as a free giver. But what we discover is the same thing that Elijah found. By living a little closer to the margin of life, we discover that God sustains us beyond what we are able to do on our own. And, when we encounter God’s gracious provision in our daily life, we are left with nothing to fear. Only faith remains.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Who's Departing?

In today’s gospel for the Feast of the Transfiguration (Luke9:28-36), I think it’s interesting that the word used for Jesus’ “departure” is the same word in the Greek for “exodus.” The footnotes in the bible I was using this morning made that point. The Old Testament lesson (Exodus 34:29-35) is the story of Moses coming down the mountain with his face shining after speaking with God. The main connection, of course, is the shining that was shared by Moses and Jesus, but I wonder whether the sense of exodus/departure is another tie.

Jesus is getting ready for the journey to Jerusalem and the death that awaits him there. A few verses later, Luke describes that ominous destination by writing, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” In my mind’s eye, that looks like a dramatic and determined stare, as if Jesus were slightly squinting with jaw clenched as he set off toward the holy city. Perhaps that profound determination stems from the fact that, as he starts that journey, he was leaving something behind.

The first half of the gospel story is Jesus’ attempt to show his people who he was and why he came. In some ways, of course, that mission failed. Ultimately, he is rejected and crucified. But maybe at the half-way point, which is where the Transfiguration happens, there is a moment where Jesus acknowledges that the bright and shining glory that might have been is not to be. Instead, the triumphant victory slips away, and Jesus leaves it behind him as he sets his face toward Jerusalem.

The Israelites, too, were leaving something behind, but there we set free from slavery in Egypt. And, perhaps even more significant than that, it was during their exodus wanderings that God gave his people the law. He gave the sacred texts to Moses in conversation, and the shining of Moses’ face is evidence of that.

It’s as if the Israelites departed slavery so they could encounter God’s shining, and Jesus’ shining comes and goes as a sign that it was left behind. Perhaps the Moses and Elijah companions on the mountain top remind us that God’s plan, while complete in a brief moment, has yet to truly take root on earth (insert Peter’s silly request to build booths here). That which could have been was not to be, and Jesus’ journey to the cross is recognition that God will need to intervene through the death of his son before anything gets set straight.

Where are we in the journey? Is God’s shining in our rear-view mirror, or is it still ahead of us? Will we ever get back to that place where the divinity shines through? Will it always be stuck behind a veil? No, we hope for that day when God’s presence is manifest fully on earth, but it’s easy to forget that.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cause and Effect

I’ve spent the last thirty-two years trying to figure out the consequences of my actions. And, now that I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, I’m trying to help them learn to appreciate the consequences of their own behavior. Action and reaction. Newtonian physics. Even before we are old enough to appreciate equations that describe motion and collision and reaction, we understand that when you throw a tennis ball against the wall it will bounce back at you. That’s just the way the world works.

But throwing a ball against a wall and throwing a fist against someone’s face are two different things. The wall-ball reaction is supremely predictable. If I hit someone, he might fall down, or he might not. And there’s a pretty good chance that I’m going to get my tail whipped. But, beyond that, there are other consequences that are harder to anticipate. I might get arrested. I may have to pay some medical bills. I might get labeled by my peers as an aggressor. And I could lose some friends. Those are the sorts of consequences we try to anticipate beforehand and sort through after the fact.

It is no wonder, therefore, that humanity has tried to do the same thing with God. “What will he want? What will appease the angry deity? How many virgins or children must we sacrifice to convince God to bring rains upon our crops?” Those ancient, primitive expressions of religion as based on a wrongly assumed billiard-balls approach to the divine-human relationship. Action and reaction. The ancient Israelites learned that God doesn’t work that way, so they gave up things like child sacrifice. But they, like us, still wanted to understand the way God works as a Newtonian system.

In today’s Old Testament reading (Judges 3:12-30), we read the story of Ehud, the left-handed Benjaminite, who thrust is cubit-length sword into the fat belly of Eglon, the king of the Moabites. It’s a fascinating story—all the treachery and gore of a modern thriller—but the part that interests me most is the introductory sentence: “The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord strengthened King Eglon of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” Action and reaction. Israel did what was evil, so God strengthened their enemy and cause him to overrun them.

But that’s not the way God works, is it? We don’t believe that God punishes our evil deeds by bolstering those who hate us and delivering us into their hands. There may be consequences for our actions—punching an innocent person can cause us a world of trouble—but God isn’t behind that. We reap what we sow in an earthly sense, but there are no divine consequences for our misdeeds. Think about that. It’s true, but it’s hard for us to accept. We expect God to work the same way that the world works. As primitive as it sounds, we expect God to give cancer to “bad people” and heal all the “good people.” But all of those who have watched wonderful, loving, godly people suffer amazing tragedies know that isn’t how God works.

If we need to look anywhere to see that truth at work, we should look to the cross. On it God’s innocent, perfect, son was killed as a consequence of humanity’s sinfulness. Our evil is what nailed him to the cross, but God demonstrates that there is no divine reaction to our sinfulness. Instead, our sin is expiated—it vanishes. The tomb stands empty to show us that God does not work the way the world works. Our evil is met with God’s love. No one saw that coming.

I think that’s a little of what we see in the centurion’s reaction to the death of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel account. After seeing the humble death and feeling the earth shake beneath him, he exclaims, “Truly, this was God’s son.” In other words, the event that happens on the crucifixion mount is totally unexpected. It is the ultimate testament to God’s counter-intuitive way. Love meets hate and wins. Life overcomes death. Mercy trumps vengeance. Our relationship with God is not defined by Newtonian physics, where each action is followed by an equal and opposite reaction. God works through unchanging, unwavering love.