Monday, June 18, 2018

God Is With Us

In this coming Sunday's gospel lesson (Mark 4:35-41), there are two statements that to me feel out of place. First, when Jesus and the disciples were going across the sea and a great windstorm arose, threatening to swamp the boat, the disciples went to the stern, found Jesus asleep, and said, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" Then, after Jesus calmed the sea, he said to the disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" Both of these statements seem to have been emotionally connected from the circumstances into which they were uttered, and I think that exactly how it works when we pray to God in a crisis.

Do you not care that we are perishing? Think about those words for a minute. They are the kind of words one might say to a crazy driver allowing a car to drift into oncoming traffic without seeming to care for the consequences. It's what you say to the string quartet still playing on the deck of the Titanic. It's what you say to someone who is going down in flames and taking everyone else with them. But is that what we say to Jesus? Does it make sense to say those words to God?

We say them all the time. Don't you care that we are perishing? Aren't you able to get me out of this? Doesn't it matter to you that my life is falling apart? We say those words to God in the same way that the disciples say them to Jesus--genuinely confused and panicked that the one we thought would keep us out of trouble is watching (or sleeping) while we careen toward the edge of our life's steepest cliff. When we say those words to God, a part of us--maybe most of us--doesn't really know the answer. The disciples really did not know whether Jesus cared that they were all about to die. But, of course, he did care, and so does God.

Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? Think about those words for a moment. They are the kind of words that the madman driver says to us after he snaps the car back into the right lane just as the tractor-trailer blows past, not really convincing us that he was always going to do it. Or they are the words that help us realize that, although reasonable, our response was an overreaction, that our faith had been tested and found lacking. Or they are the consoling words of a parent or shepherd or savior that are designed to help us see that we never really had any reason to fear all along. And that sounds like the words God says to us over and over and over.

I don't think "what ifs" are particularly helpful in life except to make one thankful for how everything worked out, but this story invites our hypothetical imagination. What if the boat had capsized? What if half of the disciples drowned? What if Jesus and all of his disciples were killed in the storm and never heard from again? What if? Most likely, Mark's point is to show us that Jesus has power over the wind and the waves--the kind of power that only God has. Or maybe Mark wants us to see the folly of seeing Jesus casting out demons, healing the sick, confronting the religious authorities, and battling the forces of evil only to worry that we might die in a boat on the sea. Or maybe Mark wants us to know that when our own boat feels like it is going under and we cry out to God, "Don't you care that I am perishing?" God's reply is always, "Have you still no faith?"

Even if the boat goes down and we go down with it, we are not alone. If God is with me--and I believe that God is--then whatever peril comes, even if it leads to my death, it is not something I suffer because God has forgotten me or because God does not care about me. Does God care? Yes, absolutely. Because of that, we are never alone, and our trouble is never a lostness or abandonment. It's silly to think that God would not care that we are struggle. Of course God cares. And, if we listen, we can hear his gentle response: have you still no faith? That's an invitation to those of us in the midst of a storm.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

What Does God's Kingdom Look Like?

June 17, 2018 – The 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6B

© 2018 Evan D. Garner

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

If you were asked to draw a picture of the kingdom of God, what would it look like? The kingdom of God, the reign of God, the rule of God—what would you draw? What colors, what shapes, what images would you use? Or, if you are better with words than pictures, how would you describe God’s reign on the earth? What poem would you write? What story would you tell? When you dream about a world in which God’s will and God’s purposes are in control, what does that world look like?

A few days ago, I sat down with a family to talk about heaven. A couple of people in their family had died recently, and the children (as well as their parents) had some questions about dying and going to heaven. They had questions like, “Is dying scary?” and “Will we recognize each other when we get to heaven?” Of course, I don’t have the answers to questions like those, but they are what make my job a real treasure because they give me the chance to explore the possibilities with people I love in the context of a faith that binds us together. We sat in my office and talked for a while about what heaven might be like. Most of the time, the Bible describes heaven in terms that push the boundaries of human imagination: streets paved with gold, walls built with gemstones, gates made of pearl. That gives us permission to allow our imaginations to run free and to dream about heaven as a place too wonderful for even our most audacious hopes.

For each of us sitting in my office, that meant something different. Now that summer has made it to Alabama, I described heaven as a beautiful home in the mountains where the temperature never gets above 80 degrees. One of the kids described it as a place where she can play on the iPad as much as she wants. When it comes to questions like who will be there and will we recognize each other and how old we will be and will there be any reason to eat, we agreed that we don’t know the answers but we do know that heaven is a place where everything is exactly the way it should be. No one is missing. Nothing is out of place. There is no fear or sadness or pain. The people we love who had gotten to the point that every day was a struggle are no longer battling what life brings but celebrating what God has given them. That’s what the kingdom of God means. We can call it “heaven” or “paradise,” but it isn’t a magical place to which we are transported when we die. The hope that God has given us is a new and everlasting life in a transformed world where everything is the way that God intends it to be. So, when you think about that world, when you allow your imagination to run wild in that place where God has brought everything to its perfection, how would you describe the world of God’s dreams?

Here’s how Jesus described it: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” That’s Jesus vision of the reign of God: a sower scattering seed on the ground and waking up to see that it has sprouted without ever understanding how it happened. That’s not exactly a bold or powerful vision of God’s control. Or how about this? Jesus said, “[The kingdom of God] is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs…so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” That’s a little bit better, I suppose, since the tiny seed eventually becomes large enough to shelter the birds, but, when we try to imagine the kingdom of God coming to earth and God’s will for all things being complete, a seedling or a garden shrub isn’t usually what we have in mind. And I don’t think it’s what Jesus’ contemporaries had in mind either.

These parables of the kingdom are from Mark 4. By this point in the gospel account, Jesus has already cast out demons, healed huge crowds, confronted the religious authorities about their hypocrisy, asserted his authoritative interpretation of God’s law, and preached the kind of sermons that bring the multitudes out to hear him. In last week’s gospel lesson, we heard Jesus declare that his Holy-Spirit-fueled ministry was a direct confrontation with the forces of evil. And now that the crowd is convinced that Jesus has the power and the authority to usher in the day of God’s reign, Jesus describes for them what that kingdom will look like, and he likens it to a tiny little seedling that barely breaks the surface of the dirt with its fragile green leaves. And all of God’s people said…what?

You don’t have to live in the fast-paced world of the twenty-first century to become impatient with the gradual, steady, deliberate in-breaking of God’s kingdom. The people of God have been throwing up their hands and saying, “How long?” for a lot longer than you or I have been alive. Even our oldest spiritual ancestors, whose prayerful poetry became the Book of Psalms, knew the agony of seeing God’s salvation on the horizon and waiting for more than a lifetime for its arrival. It is always near. It is always right there in front of us. It is as familiar and common as a new plant sprouting forth on a late spring day, yet its fruition always comes in God’s perfect time, not ours. Even in the person of Jesus, the Son of God who came to earth to save God’s people by defeating sin and death once and for all, the kingdom of God shines upon us in gentle, tender ways. Sure, he could have called forth a myriad of angels to come and defeat anyone and everyone who stood in the way of God’s dream for the earth and set all things right once and for all, but he didn’t. And why not? Because our hope is not found in a moment of victory or a flash of power but in the constant, never-ending, never-failing renewal that is unfolding in our lives and in the world around us.

We want the fullness of that kingdom here and now. We want the knight in shining armor. We want the superhero who will save the day. That’s what we want, but we need something else. We need a savior to journey with us when times get tough. We need a God who will never forget us even if we tend to forget God. We need a kingdom that exists not someday and somewhere but right here and right now, all around us all the time. We may not think of the seed as an image of power, but is there anything more beautifully persistent and transformative than a tiny, lifeless seed breaking forth from its earthen tomb? That is the nature of God’s power, and that is the source of our real hope.

When you dream of a world in which God’s reign is completely manifest, don’t forget to look for signs that it has already broken through here and now. In small, simple, and sometimes quiet ways, God’s dream is becoming a reality all around us. If the only hope we had was that great and glorious day when all things finally will be made perfect, where would we be? If God’s power and purposes were not already real in this world, God’s people would have given up a hundred generations ago. The kingdom of God is here. That dream of yours is already becoming a reality. We don’t have to wait. It’s as close as a ripening tomato. It’s as familiar as a stalk of corn. One day the harvest will be ripe, but, until then, God’s kingdom still grows.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Not An Earthly Kingdom

I think it's a mistake to over-think parables. Yes, in addition to the surface message, they often contain nuances that cannot be fully understood without some knowledge of the original context and culture, but Jesus did not intend his parables to be confusing messages that must be picked apart like an episode of Westworld. They are simple speak for simple people. I really enjoyed Steve Pankey's post on this topic yesterday, and I hope you'll read it by clicking here. If Jesus saw the volumes that have been written about his parables, he might be flattered, but he'd also probably be perplexed. "It's not supposed to be hard," I can hear him saying in disbelief.

Sunday's gospel lesson (Mark 4:26-34) contains two little parables about the kingdom of God that are easy to over-interpret. First is the parable of the sower who scatters seed on the ground and, despite not understanding how, observes the seed sprouting and growing until it is time for the harvest. Second is the parable of the mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds yet grows into a shrub big enough to give birds shade in its branches. What did Jesus have in mind? What portrait of God's reign was Jesus seeking to display?

Don't overthink it. Both parables are about growth that defies understanding and expectation. Both are about something small becoming large. But both are familiar. His hearers may not have known that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds, but they would have understood that sometimes tiny seeds become big plants. They might not have ever thought about the process by which a seed sprouts and becomes a plant, but that's the point. Even if you never planted a bean in a cup in kindergarten, you are aware of these things called seeds and you are aware that those seeds become plants.

So what did Jesus mean? Simply that the kingdom of God starts small and grows big? That it pops up in ways that defy our understanding? Maybe. But we can dig a little deeper than that without overthinking things. This morning, I read an article about Vice President Pence's speech to the Southern Baptist Convention. The article suggests that members of the convention are experiencing a culture shift away from a narrow conservative political identity to a broader, more moderate identity. Pence's remarks, which were not surprisingly political, were not universally well received. That's not my point, but the article included a quotation from the newly elected president's speech to the convention about the relationship between politics and faith:
We believe that Jesus is the lord of the whole earth. He is the king of kings and he is the lord of lords. We believe that he, not any version of Caesar, is the Messiah. He is the Christ, the son of the living God, that salvation is found in him, not in the Republican platform or the Democratic platform, and that salvation did not come riding in on the wings of Air Force One. It came cradled in a manger
That was in my mind this morning as I read these parables about the reign of God, and I began to wonder how different Jesus' description of God's reign was from his contemporaries' experience of Caesar's reign. God's reign isn't announced at all. It pops up overnight in ways that no one really saw coming. When even the emperor's designated governor comes to town, there is a military parade. God's kingdom is best known as a mustard seed, but the Empire manifests itself in gold and silver, in marble and granite, in chariots and soldiers. The power of God doesn't surprise the sower, but it sneaks in at night when no one is looking. When Rome shows up, everyone knows it. What a remarkable difference!

I wonder what Jesus had in mind when he described the kingdom of God as some seeds scattered on the ground. I wonder whether his hearers were taken aback not at the theological complexity of the message but at its simplicity--a simplicity in message that mirrors the simplicity of the kingdom itself. If you want to see the reign of God, don't look at the big fancy church or in the words of the powerful preacher but in the homeless shelter or the generous neighbor or the committed volunteer. If you want to see the reign of God, you might have an easier time finding it in a children's book than in a preacher's sermon. Don't judge your preacher too harshly if she or he makes Sunday's sermon a simple little story. Instead, let that judgment be reserved for the preacher who says too much.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Gift and Challenge of Track 1

A year ago, our parish switched from Track 2 to Track 1. In both tracks, the Gospel and Epistle lessons are the same, but Track 2 provides an Old Testament lesson that pairs thematically with the Gospel lesson, but Track 1 moves semi-continuously through books of the Old Testament. When the Episcopal Church switched to the Revised Common Lectionary several years ago, Track 2 was closer to the BCP lectionary to which we were accustomed, so we started there, but, after a few three-year cycles of that, we decided to give the other a try. And, on Sundays like this one, we get to see the benefit and struggle that Track 1 provides.

This week, we will hear the story of the anointing of David as King of Israel in 1 Samuel 16. BUT, before we get there, we will hear two little verses from the end of 1 Samuel 15 that provide continuity with the Samuel story that we have been reading: "Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel." Last Sunday, we heard the people of God demand a king. Samuel didn't like it, and neither did God, but God was happy to give them what they asked for. Samuel let them know exactly what they were getting--a king who would take their property and income for himself and his courtiers--but they wanted a king anyway. So God gave them Saul. All of that happened in 1 Samuel 8 and 11.

This week, we pick up near the end of Saul's reign. Of course, a lot has happened in the meantime, but, to keep the story moving, we pick up at the point when things have gotten bad. We hear that "the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel," but we don't hear why. I wish we had time to go back and read all of 1 Samuel 15 and hear how God had ordered Saul to wipe the Amelikites off the face of the earth and how Saul had decided to spare their king and save the best of their flocks and herds as the spoils of war. There's a fascinating theological reflection to be made on God's demand for total destruction and Saul's decision to hold some back and God's subsequent rejection of Saul, but we only get the slightest hint of it.

Still, that hint is enough to change the way we hear the encounter between Samuel and Jesse's family. Usually, we hear the story of David's anointing isolated from the story of Saul's rejection, but, of course, they are inextricably linked. Even if the preacher doesn't stop to mention it, the congregation gets to hear that the Lord rejected Saul and then sends Samuel to pick a new king. That tidbit adds weight and depth to the dramatic selection process, during which Samuel thinks he has found the right king only to hear God tell him not to judge by outward appearance. That famous line, "the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart," sounds different when we've already heard that God was sorry he had chosen Saul as king. It makes us scratch our heads and wonder how much God has to do with it and how much human beings look back and make the connections between human events and divine causation.

Regardless, this Sunday, we face a blessing and a challenge. We get the benefit of continuity and, thus, hear the story of David's anointing in a larger context. But we also have to leave behind the full story of that rejection. The preacher probably doesn't have time to explain why Saul had been rejected and why that makes a difference when it comes to the selection of David. But there's enough there for the congregation to wonder about it, and maybe there's enough there to encourage one or two to open their Bibles and read the story for themselves.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Recognizing God At Work

Mark loves to sandwich two stories together to make a single point, and Sunday's gospel lesson (Mark 3:20-35) has some elements of that. In the beginning of the passage, Jesus' family hears that Jesus and his disciples have been so busy attending to the needs of the crowd that they haven't even had time to eat, and they went out to retrain him because people were saying that he had gone out of his mind. At the end of the passage, the family shows up to come and get him, presumably to take him away to a quiet place so that he can calm down and recover, but, when someone informs Jesus about it, Jesus responds, "Who are my mother and my brothers?...Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

On its own, that's the kind of passage on which I'd want to preach. Jesus' earthly family cannot believe that anyone--even their own, special son--could work that hard, do that much, perform that many miracles. But Jesus, rather than rebuking them harshly, uses the opportunity to teach the crowd that submitting fully to God's work and God's will is how we find our true identity. Those who follow Jesus as "crazy Christians" can call themselves Jesus' mother, sister, and brother.

But then we get to the stuff in the middle, and I find myself glad I'm not preaching this Sunday.

The scribes come down from Jerusalem and say that Jesus is performing these miracles by the power of Beelzebul. The scribes were the keepers of the religious law. They were the interpreters of how God's law, God's rules, applied to various circumstances. This was, it seems, a semi-official pronouncement. People had been wondering--either aloud or at least in their hearts--where Jesus, who was not an officially sanctioned religious figure (whatever that meant in 1st century Palestine), was getting this power. He's either of God or against God, but he's clearly got some power. The scribes were the ones who would have made that sort of determination, and they come down on the side of Satan--that Jesus was of Satan and not of God.

Jesus responds to them in parables. Satan cannot cast out Satan. A house divided against itself will not stand. If you want to plunder a house, first you must bind the strong man. Jesus applies a rational response. It makes no sense that the work he does is by Satan. He, who was casting out demons, cannot be on the side of demons. Not only are the scribes incorrect in their spiritual assessment of where Jesus' power comes from, but they are also failing to make any sense.

Jesus offers a profound, rational pronouncement: Anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will be guilty of an unforgivable sin. We seem to get sucked into that sentence. "Unforgivable sin" has a certain scary ring to it. But Jesus is just trying to make sense of the mess unfolding all around him. If you need the Holy Spirit to receive forgiveness and you deny the Holy Spirit's work, how can you ever have forgiveness? If God is at work in your life to show you God's presence yet you deny that God is at work, how can you ever recognize God?

When you sandwich the two pieces together, it softens the concept of the unforgivable sin yet heightens the requirement that we submit to God's will. Even Jesus' own family comes dangerously close to rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, Jesus is channeling an other-worldly power. He's working so feverishly that he isn't even stopping to eat. His family comes to get him because they've heard that he is out of his mind. But he's not out of his mind. He's full of the Holy Spirit. And those who are likewise willing to submit fully to God's work get to claim a share in that family. Those who find it easier to label the Spirit's work as madness find themselves not only out of the family but guilty of an unpardonable sin.

How do we recognize God at work? God shows us God's own presence. Is it always gentle, comforting, and easy? Not hardly. It's rarely serene and sweet. Think of all the ways God is at work around us. Think of all the people who have gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those of us who prefer buttoned-up religion may have a hard time recognizing God at work in strange ways, but that's how God works. If we want to be part of God's family, we must ask God to help us let go of our preconceived notions of how God works and accept that sometimes even those who think they know God the best may have it wrong.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I Need Help

I need help. Lots of help. All the time. Every day. And I bet you do, too.

I'm a high-functioning (i.e. over-functioning) detail-oriented (i.e. control-freak) person who prefers to get on with it (i.e. impatient) and not stop to ask for help (i.e. defiantly independent). And all of that means I need God in my life in powerful, hit-me-over-the-head, bring-me-to-my-knees ways every single day. What about you?

The collect for this Sunday is the prayer I need: "O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." There are three elements of this prayer that grab my attention this morning: one obvious, one familiar, and one knee-buckling.

First, the obvious: "O God, from whom all good proceeds." For some reason, the etymological link between "God" and "good" has been on my mind a lot lately. A few days ago, I haphazardly wished someone a "good day" and thought, "Yes, that's my job--to wish someone a good, which is to say a godly, day." God is good. God has revealed God's self to humanity as good. Even apart from revealed religion, philosophers of religion can identify the source of humanity's definition of God (or god) as good. Sometimes that good is above our perception, but, even when it challenges our understanding of what is good for us, we trust--we believe, we declare--that what God does is good and that what is good is of God.

Second, the familiar: "grant your merciful guiding [we] may do [those things that are right]." It isn't uncommon to ask God to help us do the right thing. When facing a difficult decision, when struggling with temptation, when writing or delivering a sermon, when taking a test for which we have not fully prepared, we ask God to help us do or say the right thing. Implicit in our humanity is an experience of failure. Paul says it well: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Rom. 7:15). We need help when it comes to doing the right thing. After a long day, in a season of stress, under a pall of grief, encompassed by physical pain, it is too easy to do the very thing we do not want to do--offer a curt word to one we love, pour that extra drink, cross that forbidden boundary. In those moments we need God's help, and we often ask for that help in our prayers.

Finally, the knee-buckling: "Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right." The hardest truth of all is that, before we can even ask for God's help in doing the right thing, we need God's help to see what the right thing is. Or, to put it another way, I can't even know what is right and good until God shows it to me. I am blinded by my own sin. That I need help in the first place--that I am a stubborn, prideful, conceited person--isn't clear until God reveals it to me. That's the powerful first step in a twelve-step program: "We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable." Step one is not a given. It is itself a revelation. And, as Christians, we recognize that God himself, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, has revealed to us our powerlessness over our addiction to our own distorted sense of self-worth. The truth that this collect conveys, therefore, is that God is good, that God has the power to help us, and that God has the power to help us see that we need help doing what is good.

I don't pray this prayer every morning, but I could. In other ways--in other words--I look for ways to submit myself to God and to ask for God's help. That help starts when I recognize that I can't even tell up from down. Like a swimmer bounced around by a powerful wave, I cannot even tell which way is up. But God can because God always is good. And a life spent pursuing God's presence each day helps me see that truth and the good thing that comes next.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Loving And Letting Go


Taking that first step. Going to the first day of school. Spending the night at a friend's house. Getting behind the wheel of a car. Going out on a date. Heading off to college. Falling in love. Walking down the aisle. Starting a new job. Having a child.

The cycle of life is full of moments of love and letting go that repeat themselves over and over. We love our child with every ounce of life and love that we possess. And then we say goodbye and say it again and again. Sometimes in little ways, and sometimes in ways that are huge and terrifying. And through it all, the love never stops, even when we have pulled away completely.

Being excluded from a friend group. Forgetting your homework. Taking a final exam. Writing a college essay. Undergoing surgery. Struggling with addiction. Losing a job. Losing a parent. Losing a child.

Life is full of challenges that we cannot fix on someone else's behalf. We can try, but trying is usually a mistake. Instead, we can journey with someone, loving them deeply and fervently but, at the same time, letting them go, letting them hurt, letting them heal. The instinct is to rush in a protect the one we love, solve her problems, dump our wisdom and our effort and our love onto the situation. That makes us feel better. We convince ourselves that love makes it our duty to save the one we love. But that only hurts things. Sometimes love means letting go when letting go is hardest.

Today, as we commemorate the life and Christian witness of Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz, missionary to Germany, and martyr, we hear two New Testament stories of loving and letting go. First, Jesus. This is his final farewell--at least until he is reunited with his followers in God's kingdom. He reminds the eleven and their companions how his life and death and resurrection were the fulfillment of God's plan for him and for the world. Then he leads them out of the city, taking them as far as Bethany, and, while he was lifting up his hands to bless them, he was taken out of their sight. 

But why did he go? Why did Jesus need to go? Imagine how fruitful his ministry could have been if he had hung around, performing transformational feats of power, reversing the course of human history, overthrowing the oppressors, bringing the full status of love and acceptance to the ends of the earth. But, of course, that could not be. That work was Jesus', but it wasn't his to do. It belonged to his disciples. The transformation of the world cannot succeed if it takes place in and through only one person. As long as Jesus was here, the disciples would only be followers and not the apostles who are sent out to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. In John 16:7, Jesus tells his disciples that they should rejoice because he is going to be taken from them. Only then, he explains, can the Holy Spirit come. In a very real sense, the sending of the Holy Spirit is an expression of a love that requires a letting go.

Then, Paul. He calls together the elders of Ephesus because he knows that he will soon be taken from them. "You yourselves know how I lived among you...serving the Lord with all humility and with tears." Paul reflects on his life and ministry and counts them of zero value except that he, with God's help, might be faithful the Lord in completing the work that God had given him to do. Having given up almost completely the noble identity of a Roman citizen, Paul prefers chains worn for Christ's sake and for the sake of those he serves than the freedom he could find on his own. His love for the Ephesians is real and clear, but now it is time for him to step back: "And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." It seems almost harsh that someone who loves them that fully would step back so dramatically. "I am not responsible for the blood of any of you," he says. You're on your own. And you have to be. Even though I am willing to die for you, I cannot hold your hand anymore.

God's great love for us is one big and beautiful letting go. As any parent on the first day of school or spouse waiting outside the surgery suite or child sitting in the first pew at a parent's funeral can attest, letting go does not mean an end to love. The love is as strong, as present, as complete as it has ever been, but it is a love that values and honors the other so fully as to let that one go. It is trust. It is faith. God shows us this love every day, and God invites us to participate in it. How might we be loved so fully by God that we find the freedom to love others in the same way--to love them and let them go?