Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sunday's Gospel: Faith vs. Works

This week’s gospel lesson has brought about a change in my heart. Usually, I would put Luke at the bottom of my preference list of gospel accounts, but this time he tells a story in a way that totally draws me in.

As I read the account of the centurion’s servant’s healing-from-a-distance, I am immediately drawn to the word “worthy.” It shows up twice in the reading—once on the lips of the Jewish elders who are persuading Jesus to help and once on the lips of the centurion himself. And I think the whole point of Luke’s telling of the story is the contrast between them.

Matthew shares this story here, and, in his account, there is no group of Jewish elders who approach Jesus. They aren’t really necessary to the account, and the story flows quite nicely without them. But Luke sticks them in as a foil—a way of contrasting the Jewish leaders’ sense of worth with that of the Roman centurion. The elders say to Jesus, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” That’s their list of reasons that this officer in the Roman army deserves Jesus’ mercy. Then the centurion sends word to Jesus, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,” as if to say, “No matter what the elders say to you, I don’t deserve this.” Those are two very different takes on what one deserves.

But the centurion still asks for the healing, yet he does so in the absolute most humble way imaginable: “Just speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” That catches Jesus’ attention. Jesus stops everyone and says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Israel? Who is he talking about? To whom is he preaching? It’s the elders themselves who hear that lesson.

Luke shapes this story around questions of value. Who deserves salvation? Perhaps we are tempted to applaud the elders for their willingness to look favorably upon the Roman centurion—a Gentile and natural enemy of their people. Or maybe we’re supposed to applaud the centurion for his surprising love and support of the Jewish people. But Luke wants us to be clear that the only thing worth applauding is the humble faith of the centurion who relies not on his accomplishments but on Jesus’ mercy for help.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Good Parables Have Bad Plots

It’s worth remembering where the parable of the prodigal son is set in the gospel. The third of three parables about lostness in Luke 15, Jesus tells this climactic account as the ultimate correction of the Pharisees and scribes who “were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” This tale wasn’t told in isolation. Although it portrays a powerful story of forgiveness and salvation, Jesus didn’t intend it as a full account of the gospel. He told it as a way of suggesting to the in-crowd that the misfits they’d rather keep out are welcomed to the table by God.

And that’s a hard truth to accept—no matter who you are. I don’t think it’s an accident that Luke’s is the only gospel account to contain this most famous of parables. Matthew and Mark, it seems, were not quite able to make it fit into their story lines. Maybe it was too bold, too radical even for them. If you’re a Pharisee or a scribe—one of the elites who decide what sort of people get in and what sort are kept out—it’s hard to hear that you might not really be in control of that access. If you’re a tax collector or any sort of notorious sinner—one of those who has spent your life on the outside and have long ago given up any hope of getting in—it’s nearly impossible to hear that you might have a seat at the table. No matter who you are, it’s hard to imagine a God who surrounds himself with bad guys and girls.

This parable is too much. Like a bad television show or a low-budget movie, it has a plot that just won’t hang together. There is no such thing as a father who get so thoroughly insulted (spit upon) by his rebellious son and then runs to embrace his lost child. It just doesn’t work that way. There’s always an account to give. There’s that awkward moment when no one—the son, the father, or the audience—knows how it will work out. There’s the shuffling of feet and the staring at the ground. There’s the stammering apology and the offer to do anything to make it up. There’s the long dramatic pause when the father weighs his son’s contrition in his mind before deciding how to respond. And then, maybe, after an agonizing moment of uncertainty, just maybe, the father lets the son come back. And, when anyone else asks how it happened, the father explains it all in terms of his son’s apology: “Well, he came back and looked terrible and showed me how sorry he was, and I just couldn’t turn him away.” But that’s not how Jesus tells it.

Don’t let your familiarity with the story of the prodigal son be the reason you accept it too easily. It’s not supposed to be easy to hear. We’re supposed to hear it and say, “Wait a minute! Are you sure? Does it really work that way?” Yes. Pretend you’re the Pharisee, and ask yourself who in the world is the last person you’d want to let into the kingdom of God. That’s the person who gets in. Pretend you’re the tax collector, and ask yourself what part of your life is most shameful—the part that you wish you could hide even from God. That’s exactly what God has in mind when he opens his arms and embraces you. Too good to be true? With anyone but God, it would be.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Idolatry of Ourselves

One January during the Interim Term, I went to Thailand with a group from Birmingham-Southern College. I had never been to a country whose predominant religion was something other than Christianity, and I was fascinated with the temples, statues, and monks on display. Although I cannot quite remember all of the details, I do remember that one of our classmates found the Buddha statutes offensive. Under his breath and out of earshot of our teacher, he mumbled something about idols and idol worship. Actually, Buddhists do not worship the statues of Buddha any more than Christians worship the cross, but, at the time, that did not seem like helpful information to share with my theologically concerned friend.

The prohibition on idol worship is a fundamental part of the Jewish faith, and it was important enough to be enshrined as the second of the Ten Commandments. In those ancient days, making a graven image to facilitate worship was a common practice in the Near East, but the Israelites were to be different from their neighbors thus they were forbidden to make any carved image of anything at all. It seems that the temptation to associate divine power with a beautiful statue was so great that statues themselves were outlawed, Moses made that clear when he spoke to his people in today's reading from Deuteronomy: “Since you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure” (4:15-16).

We live in a different time. I have never looked at a statue and felt the urge to fall on my knees in worship no matter how grandiose or gorgeous it was. These days, the lifelessness of carved stone and cast metal is a universally accepted premise. Idolatry seems to be one of those things that fell out of fashion long ago, yet I believe the temptation to cast God in an image of our own creation is as powerful today as it has ever been. Nowadays, however, I will suggest to you that the preferred form is what we see in the mirror—the idolatry of ourselves.

W.W.J.D.—what would Jesus do? The answer is usually whatever we think is right. What is God’s will for a particular situation? One hardly needs to bother asking God because so many people here on earth already seem to know. Does it surprise us that God always seems to be on the side we are supporting? I cannot imagine a successful politician exclaiming, “I doubt that God would approve of this initiative, but I still believe that I am right.” Our problem is not that we worship golden calves but that we make God in our own image—the prideful reversal of our own createdness.

In a world of increasing discord, we desperately want to be right, and we will do whatever we can to convince others and ourselves of the rightness of our cause. Human nature, therefore, leads us to claim God for our side, but, as that instinct takes hold in our hearts, we quickly find ourselves worshipping a god of our own creation. Let Moses’ words be a reminder to us: “Since you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely.” God cannot be contained in a statue, nor can his will be encapsulated in a campaign slogan. We are called to worship Almighty God—God of all time and space. To do so, we must leave behind all of the constraints we would impose on God and instead allow God to transform us back into his image.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Who Comes in the Name of the Lord?

I went Michael Goldsmith’s ordination last night. It was a wonderful affair. We were worshipping at St. Mary’s in Jasper, AL—a beautiful church with a recently-painted nave in bright green, yellow, and crimson. As one participant noted, it was relaxed. Everyone was smiling. It was a family affair. Still, I saw something there that I hadn’t seen in a while—a liturgical gesture that, while perfectly appropriate, seems to have fallen out of favor.

During the Eucharistic prayer, as we sang the Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy…”), when we got to the part about “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” several people made the sign of the cross. I used to do that back when I first started attending the Episcopal Church. It’s what other people around me were doing, so I did it, too. But, as I’ve thought more about that text, I read it in a way that suggests self-crossing doesn’t fit there.

Blessed is who? In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “You will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Who is Jesus talking about? And what does it mean to say that? Surely it’s not just a magic sentence—words that when uttered cause Jesus to appear. We’ve tried that every Sunday for 2000 years.

That sentence shows up in Psalm 118—a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance. It seems that the person who needed salvation has recognized that God has sent someone to rescue him, and so the prayer becomes our own hope for salvation: “God, send us the blessed on to save us.” That means I think that Jesus is asking us to recognize that he is the blessed one who comes in God’s name. When we recognize that—when we attribute that Psalmic identity to Jesus—we are able to see him for who he is—our savior.

So why do we cross ourselves? Who is coming in the name of the Lord? Is it us? Is it Jesus? Is it the person saying the Eucharistic prayer who does so in the place of Jesus himself? Well, maybe if that’s your approach to the Eucharist, but it’s not mine. Sometimes we render that line as “blessed is the one who comes” as if to gender-neutralize the statement. And, if we believe that it is all of us who come in God’s name, then it’s right to cross ourselves at that point, and I think we should use a genderless pronoun in that place. But I still don’t think we’re talking about us. It’s Jesus who comes in the name of the Lord.

We recognize that each time we say or sing the Sanctus together. God is holy, holy, holy, and his Son Jesus, the blessed-one, has come in his name. We are looking for him, straining to see him through the centuries, making him visible in bread and wine become body and blood. How is that possible? By seeing him for who he really is and naming him as savior.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Occasional Advice

I write in a journal almost every day. It’s a file on my computer that has the current quarter’s entries, which I then add to another file for each year’s journal. I rarely look back at things I’ve written in the past—maybe when a specific anniversary comes up. Mainly the purpose of the journal is to provide me space to do some theological reflection—to try to express my gratitude for my blessings, articulate my personal concerns, and make sense of how God is working in my life.

Like almost every journal, it is intended for an audience of one. There are no big secrets in my journal, nor do I break any confidences in it, but still I would be horrified to think that someone else would read it. Those words are not intended for them. I wouldn’t have written those things in that way if I had known someone would read it. That’s why those files are password protected.

In today’s reading from 1 Timothy, I get the sense that we are reading a private letter—one intended for an audience of one. To me, it’s funny to think of how a letter Paul wrote to his dear friend Timothy ended up in the bible, where millions of people have read it and studied it—not only as an interesting read but as God’s word. Sometimes, when I read other letters of Paul like Romans or 1 Corinthians, I get the impression that he intended those writings to be widely circulated, but these lines from 1 Timothy seem to be a private instruction. They aren’t scandalous or controversial, but I think they were intended as an insider’s guide for how to run a church, and they give practical advice on what it takes to be a bishop or deacon.

Paul spent his later years spreading the gospel and growing the church. He travelled from town to town, exhorting the Christian communities, advising on issues of doctrine, and settling community disputes. We know some of what he did through the letters he wrote to those communities—letters in which he addresses the issues that threatened to split those churches apart. But we don’t have his journal. And we don’t really have any second-hand accounts of his visits from the residents of those cities. But we do have 1 Timothy, and I think we see in it some of the on-the-ground ways he did his job.

If you’re going to choose a bishop, make sure it’s someone who isn’t going to cause controversy. It should be someone who can keep his family in order, who is well respected both inside and outside the Christian church. He should be gentle and temperate. When you look for an overseer, keep those things in mind. Likewise, when you look for a deacon, choose someone serious as their work itself is serious. Many of the same qualities of a good bishop make for a good deacon—not greedy, not a drunkard, married only once, and faithful. If you want the church to succeed and grow, start by appointing good leaders.

Those words make sense, and I doubt they surprise any of us, but I wonder what they are supposed to teach us today. Our own bishop has been divorced and remarried—clearly not an exclusion for episcopal ministry. Today is the seventh anniversary of my ordination as a deacon, and on occasion I have sat around a table with other deacons, indulging in too much wine. I’m still ordained, or, as a friend said in a text message this morning, “And they said it wouldn’t last.” Sure, if you’re electing a bishop or ordaining a deacon, Paul’s words to Timothy are good guidelines (if not rules) to go by. But what do they really mean for us?

Near the end of today’s lesson, Paul writes, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.” That’s the sentence that caught my eye this morning. What does it mean to be a part of the “household of God,” and how are its members supposed to behave? Paul knew. He had seen it. God didn’t sit him down and say, “Paul, make sure all bishops are temperate and sensible.” Instead, Paul had spent enough time in the church to figure out what works, and he was sharing that advice with his friend and colleague—not as gospel truth but as sage advice.

What have we learned since then? Some things have changed, and others have not. If we want the church to grow, we need to learn from those who have worked in it for a while, and we need to allow our age-old guidelines to change with continued experience. Some models for ministry have run their course. Others are just springing up. The nature of 1 Timothy as a private letter reminds me that we make a mistake when we elevate a particular way of doing things to eternal, unchangeable truth. What are some of the things we do that seem inviolate? Paul teaches us that you need to be sensitive to experience and do what works. When was the last time we thought that way in the church—especially in the Episcopal Church?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Stuck in the Middle

As I read the gospel lesson for Trinity Sunday, I am struck by how unfinished things are when Jesus bids his disciples farewell. In the middle of his goodbye speech, he says to them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” I bet the disciples reaction is a little like my wife’s when I call her on the phone and say, “I have a surprise for you, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.” Seven years of marriage have taught me not to do that.

It’s hard to leave things unfinished. It’s hard for Jesus to say goodbye before he’s done saying what he needs to say, and it’s hard for the disciples to say goodbye before they’ve heard everything they need to hear. Yet right at the heart of the Jesus-disciple, divine-human relationship that is the Incarnation is the fact that things aren’t complete yet. And that’s where we are, too. And it’s a hard place to be.

I once heard a speaker talk to a congregation about liminality—that concept that conveys being on the threshold. In liminal places, we are neither here nor there. We’re in the middle. We’re in transition. And that speaker drove the point home that liminal places are hard to be—so hard that they can tear us apart. The human reaction to those transitions is to race as quickly as possible to one side of the threshold or the other—even if it means moving backwards. We aren’t made to stay in between.

That concept reminds me of music. I grew up listening to classical music. I went to a good number of concerts, and it didn’t take me long to learn that I prefer baroque and classical music over romantic and modern pieces. I like order. I like symmetry. I like the quickly resolved pattern of dissonance and harmony that are indicative of composers like Bach and Mozart. Well, I used to. I still like that music, but I’m learning to love the gut-wrenching unresolved angst that fills modern music by composers like Arvo Pärt. 

Instead of holding that musical tension for three or four beats, modern musicians sustain that dissonance for measure after measure—sometimes ending a piece without any real resolution. That’s more like the life I know. It’s painful, and takes a little more effort to enjoy, but it’s real.

Our religion isn’t neat and tidy. There isn’t some magic formula to enlightenment. We aren’t whisked away from this confusing world to a place of perfection without dwelling in that place of uncertainty for a while. Jesus tells his disciples that there’s more to learn, but he can’t tell them everything now. They have to wait. They have to let the Spirit guide them into all truth. It’s a process. It takes time. It takes experience. That a religion that reflects the truth of human experience. It’s a faith that offers real hope—not just a panacea. We don’t get to the end of the journey in a flash. We have to make our way there—sometimes trudgingly—or else the destination would seem false.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The To Do List of Love

Being a Christian is like being a pledge in a fraternity: just when you think you’ve done everything right, you discover you’re not even close.

Have you ever played a game you cannot win? Have you ever had a boss you could not please? Have you ever started a maze that could not be finished? There are two ways to go about it. If you’re trying to equate success with perfection, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re searching for a way to give it your best, there’s hope.

In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus is approached by a lawyer, who asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. The exchange that follows is pretty standard stuff. What does the law say? Love God and love your neighbor? Good start. But then Luke tells us that the lawyer went one step too far. “Wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Luke’s is the only gospel account that gives us the parable of the good Samaritan. His is the only account that has this man trying to justify himself. Luke’s Jesus, therefore, cuts right to the heart and exposes what’s broken in all of us.

I like to do lists—not so much because I need them to keep me on track but because I get great delight in crossing off every single item. When I go grocery shopping, I carry a list AND a pen so that I can scratch through each item as it is thrown into the buggy. When I come to Jesus and ask what I must do to inherit eternal life, I want a detailed list of “to-dos” that I can cross off. But that isn’t how heaven works. It isn’t how the gospel works.

When I was a pledge in a fraternity, I tried so, so, so very hard to get things right. Every little detail was taken care of. Every request fulfilled. Every “I” dotted and “T” crossed. But it was never good enough. When you’re a pledge, you can’t make the older fraternity members happy. It just doesn’t work that way. The whole point is for me to learn that I haven’t earned a spot but that I’ve been chosen for one.

Now, there are lots of critical ways in which that analogy breaks down. For one, God isn’t mean-spirited and hypercritical like a pledge-trainer is. He’s gracious and loving. But, if you’re looking to cross everything off your list in order to make God love you, you’ll be disappointed. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, as Jesus suggests in his gut-wrenching parable, what matters is where your heart is. Does your heart belong to God? Does it belong to others? Are you giving yourself over to the kingdom as completely as possible? If so, what’s on the checklist doesn’t matter anymore. Asking Jesus, “What must I do…” is like asking, “How much should I love?” There is no end to that question. But love isn’t task-based. It doesn’t get a grade. You can’t cross it off your list of things to do. Love just is. And that’s what we are called to be.

Ticket Home

I’ve been travelling recently. I wasn’t away long enough to get homesick, but I was gone long enough and far enough away to miss home. When people ask me how my trip was, I usually say something like, “It was nice, but it’s good to be home.” Partly, that’s a polite way of saying that I value my relationships here more than my time away, but it’s also true. It is good to be home.

Ezekiel is a book of the bible I do not know a lot about. I spent a year in seminary studying “exilic theology,” and I remember writing an essay that was based in Ezekiel, but it’s such a long and vivid book that I don’t feel like I have a full grasp of it. Still, though, today’s reading awakens in me a sentiment that helps me appreciate a bit of the prophet’s perspective even if I can’t fully understand it.

God tells the prophet to go to his people in exile and say to them, “I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.” One of the great overarching themes of scripture is the return of the lost, so these words don’t really surprise me, but the way in which they are set in this particular passage really touches a sensitive and receptive place in my heart. The promise is not abstract. It isn’t a far-away dream. It is a clear and potent promise of salvation.

Maybe that’s because God invites the prophet (and the reader) to consider how he has sustained his people during their exile: “Though I removed them far away among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a little while in the countries where they have gone.” Yes, they went astray. Yes, God scattered them across the known world. Yes, their time in exile was brutal. But God did not completely abandon his people. He was their protector even in the midst of their trouble. And why? So that he could one day bring them back home.

Something changes when you have a return ticket. Something happens to your spirit and psyche when you know that you’re coming home. Back when I lived overseas, the sense of separation and the anxiety that it brought always diminished when I bought my plane ticket to come home. Even if that trip was still three months away, just knowing a date on the calendar when I would be coming back home lifted my spirits and gave me hope.

God always brings his people back home. His promise is to shelter them until they make the return voyage. If you’re stuck in a place that seems isolated and far off, look for signs that one day God will bring you back. The hope for Ezekiel’s people wasn’t real until God reached out to them and showed them how their return was always a part of his plan. Even if you haven’t figured out how you’ll make it back, see if you can hear in God’s promises to his people an invitation to hope that one day that promise will be for you. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Dream of Undoing Babel

This Sunday is Pentecost, and I suspect that most churches will read the Romans lesson instead of the Genesis account, but I love the story of the Tower of Babel, and I can’t resist the urge to write about it. It’s confusing. It’s disturbing. It leaves me with huge questions about the nature of scripture, the nature of God, and the nature of humanity’s relationship with God. It’s perfect!

The story is pretty simple. A long, long, long time ago, all of humanity was united in language and purpose, and they set out to build a city with a tall tower in it. The Lord recognized that “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them,” so the Lord confused their speech and scattered them in an attempt to thwart their efforts. He succeeded. The end.

The story is simple, but its implications are haunting. Really? God reached down and messed everything up because he was threatened by humanity’s ability? What sort of playground bully is that? And that leads us to the central question behind this passage: why would God do such a thing? Why did God make everything so difficult? What was God thinking? What does that mean about our relationship with a kick-down-your-sandcastle God?

But that’s the wrong question. Well, at least it’s not the question I think we should ask. There’s a different and equally important question that has helped me grapple with this story and also fit it in with the theme of Pentecost. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Instead of starting from heaven and looking at this story as a tale about God’s motives, begin from earth and look up at this story and wonder what it says about the humans who wrote it. By the time this tale was circulating among the ancestors of Abraham, the reality of multiple, rival cultures and languages was commonplace. Tribalism is as ancient as humanity. Essentially, there was never a time when we weren’t different from other people. This story is a reflection on that fact. The people looked around at the world, noticed that everyone was different, and they told this story as a mythological explanation of how it all happened. So what does this story say about those people? What does it say about their impression of who God was? What does it say about the brokenness of their relationship with God and their need for God’s forgiveness?

And that leads me to the other big question behind this story: what might the world be like if we were all united in language, culture, and purpose? The passage answers that for us: “nothing…[would then] be impossible for them.” That’s the point. This isn’t a story about confusion. This is a story about what if it weren’t confused? It’s a story that invites us to think about a time when all people might come together. It’s a dream of what humanity could accomplish if we were no longer separated by linguistic, cultural, religious, and social barriers. And that world is Pentecost.

Nothing is impossible. And with the Spirit’s guidance—as God’s deeds are proclaimed in every tongue—the opportunity for humanity to be united in the establishment of God’s kingdom is a reality. Acts is about that ancient dream becoming a reality. The Church is where that happens…or at least where it’s supposed to happen. We are the fulfillment of the hopes of those ancient people who saw a distant possibility that was limited only by our cultural differences. The Spirit’s work is to overcome those differences so that we might be united in mission—so that nothing will be impossible.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Don't You Know Me?

With all apologies to Philip the Apostle, do you remember that scene from The Return of the King in which Princess Eowyn kills the Lord of the Nazgûl? Eowyn, a brave shieldmaiden from Rohan, has disguised herself as a man in order to fight in the battle of the Pelennor Fields. The long-held prophecy that no living man could kill the Witch-King is clearer in the novel than it is in the film, but Stephen Jackson’s portrayal of the scene heightens the moment of surprise when she pulls off her helmet and says, “I am no man,” before thrusting her sword into the shadowy face of the Nazgûl. It’s an a-ha! moment of irony and pride, which is worth watching again.

That tone in her voice—“I am no man”—is the tone I have in mind when I read Jesus’ response to Philip’s question in today’s gospel lesson. Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” to which Jesus replies exasperatedly, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” There is something about the use of his name—an unnecessary word that implies chastisement—that really gets me. Literally, Jesus is calling him out. Why?

Often I am so eager to find something that I cannot see it right in front of me. That’s true in both literal and figurative ways. Jesus had taught his disciples to look for the Father. Their discipleship had focused on searching for God through a life of following Jesus. All this time, they had seen his feats of wonder and heard his enigmatic teachings. With each day, they found new ways of thinking and talking about God. They were increasingly convinced that Jesus was God’s anointed—a prophet, teacher, and mentor who could bring them back to the Father. But Jesus was more than that.

The disciples, like Philip, give us a chance to ask Jesus the same question without risking being called out. How many of us life-long Christians are still trying to figure out who God is? How many of us share the same sentiment as Philip? Just give us a glimpse of God, and we will be satisfied! But, if you want to know God, he’s right in front of you. He’s been with you all this time. You’ve seen him and heard him and walked with him. Want to know who God is? Want to know what God is like? Pay closer attention to Jesus. He came not just to bring us closer to the Father but to show us God’s very self.

I don’t know this from particular experience, but I get the sense that Jesus is a lot easier for people to believe in than God. Jesus says things like, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Turn the other cheek,” and “Remember the poor.” When we think about God, we usually start with things like, “All powerful,” and “Creator of heaven and earth,” and “Judge of the living and the dead.” And all of those things are true, but we’re not asked to make a choice between one or the other. They are the same. Jesus shows us who God is. God the all-powerful is God the all-gracious. God the creator is God the defender. God the great judge is God the forgiver. If you want to know what God is really like, start with what you’ve been given. Start with Jesus