Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Identity Fulfillment

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode "The Burning," in which, after a brilliant performance, Kramer was repeatedly type-cast as a patient with gonorrhea by the medical school that was paying him to pretend to have an illness so that its patients could diagnose him? It's never been a threat to me, but I can imagine not wanting to be type cast. I remember in the early 2000s when Robin Williams played a series of non-comedic roles in some twisted films like One Hour Photo and Insomnia, and it seemed strange to see how Patch Adams had become the villain. In Sunday's gospel lesson, we get a full dose of type-casting, but, if we get stuck on that, we may miss the significance of it.

Jesus goes with some of his disciples into Simon Peter's house, where Simon's mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. As soon as they walk through the door, the disciples tell Jesus about the ill woman so that he can heal her. He does so. He takes her by the hand and lifts her up--a little like Jairus' daughter in Mark 5 from yesterday's sermon--and at once she is healed. Then, knowing his first-century Palestinian audience, Mark finishes the scene by telling us that the mother-in-law began to serve them.

Today's headline would read: "Pastor heals sick woman so she can make sandwiches for church luncheon." It feels a little creepy that the woman who was in bed is healed so that she can serve these men who have walked into her house. Instead of them cleaning up and making a small meal and bringing her a bowl of soup while she recovers, these inept men, not knowing where to start, do the only thing they know how to do: heal a woman so that she can take care of them. How thoroughly unmodern!

But that's not Mark's point. Sure, there's some latent patriarchy here. Yes, the nameless mother-in-law is portrayed as little more than a helpless recipient of Jesus' healing touch who then springs into action to serve the one who healed her. And maybe there's no way to hear this story without those tinges of fixed gender roles, but that's not Mark's point. Mark isn't trying to show us a Jesus whose goal is to reinforce the "family values" of the 1950s (and those who long for "better times"). Mark is portraying a Jesus who can restore an individual to her complete identity and enable her to be the person whom everyone understand that God has created her to be.

Yes, I know that makes it sound even worse--that God only made this mother-in-law to serve the men, but that's not what I mean. I mean that, in the eyes of those who read this gospel account, this woman went from incomplete to fulfilled, from disabled to fully functioning, from broken to whole in the instant when Jesus laid hands on her. I don't know when you last had the flu, but I'd guess that you wouldn't have wanted to host a dinner party the moment your fever broke. Natural healing takes time. Recovery by any other means takes time. But, with Jesus, it happens right away.

This may be a story about enabling servitude, but it's also a story about restoring a woman to her full self. Perhaps we can liberate this text from its patriarchal past and retell this story as Jesus healing Simon's mother-in-law so that she can get on a flight to Athens for the important fishing convention at which she was giving the keynote address, but, for now, let's not lose sight of Jesus' miracle by getting stuck on the framework in which it occurs. Let's celebrate the full restoration that Jesus offers her and us.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

When Only Faith Will Help

January 30, 2018 - Tuesday in 4 Epiphany

Have you ever been with a parent when she lost her child? Have you ever heard the kind of grief that pierces not only your ears and your mind but also your heart and your soul? That the weekday Eucharistic lectionary pairs these two readings--the death of Absalom and the healing of Jairus' daughter--fascinates me. I often weep quietly when I read the story of David's grief in 2 Samuel, and I am usually encouraged when Jesus says to the crowd of onlookers, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but only sleeping." But, when you put the two readings together, you get a strange confluence of devastating grief and unbelievable relief, and it's hard for me to sit with both of them at the same time.

I think it's a mistake to let them speak too closely to one another just as it is a mistake to compare one parent's loss with another's miracle, but the overpowering grief of David helps me hear the paralyzing anxiety of Jairus a little more clearly: "Jairus came and, when he saw [Jesus], fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, 'My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.'" Even before we read the end of the passage, we know how things will turn out for Jairus and his daughter. We know that he will make sure that everything ends up well, and that makes it hard for us to hear the true fear in his request. "Please, please, I beg you: come and heal my daughter. You are the only hope I have."

On the way to Jairus' house, Jesus is squeezed in by a crowd. Everyone wants to be with Jesus, and, in the midst of the chaos, a woman with a menstrual hemorrhage comes up to him and touches the end of his cloak--an act of pure faith--and at once she is healed. She, too, was desperate. For twelve years, she had suffered from this ostracizing discharge. She had seen many physicians and spent all her money on cures that did not work. Her desperation led her to do the unthinkable: to reach out and touch a man. According to the Jewish law, she would have made anyone she came into contact with ritually unclean, and to infect someone with her impurity was a crime. But there was nothing else she could do. She had to touch him.

In the meantime, Jairus' daughter had succumbed to her illness. She was dead. Messengers brought word to the synagogue leader that it was too late--that there was no reason to trouble the rabbi any further. But Jesus overhead the messengers and said to Jairus, "Do not fear; only believe." As Jairus' worst fears became a reality, Jesus said to him, "Do not fear; only believe." Believe what? Too late means too late. Were anyone but Jesus to say those words, they would be an empty grasp at hope--a "maybe it's not as bad as it seems" even though we know that it is.

It's easy to think that faith is a certain confidence that everything will work out right. We see people whose confidence in God enables them to ride through the worst storms imaginable with a sight only for the good news that waits on the other side. We fool ourselves into thinking that that's what faith is and that anything less--even the slightest doubt--is a failure on our part. Sometimes, predatory preachers and their flocks maintain that a miraculous healing will only happen if we put all doubt aside and believe unwaveringly that our spouse will be healed, that our daughter will come to her senses, that our diagnosis means nothing. But we cannot believe in a God whose salvation is only given to those whose struggles end the way that they want them to. Yes, God has the power to heal the sick. Yes, God sent his Son into the world to bring salvation--true, real bodily healing--to the world. But faith doesn't mean claiming that kind of miracle for yourself. Often faith is a desperate turn to God when there is no where else to turn and hardly any hope left.

The invitation that Jesus gives to Jairus is the same invitation that he gives to us: "Do not fear; only believe." That doesn't mean that those whose belief is pure and free from worry receiving healing while the rest of us don't. It means that in him, no matter what happens, there is always hope. We believe in a God whose salvation is bigger than our diagnosis, bigger than our cure, bigger than our illness, bigger than our death. The woman had no where else to turn, and, when she grabbed onto Jesus, she was healed. There was no one else who could help Jairus' daughter, and Jesus brought her back to life. David hoped beyond hope that his traitorous son might escape death and somehow be reunited to his father, but death found him first, and then unsurpassed grief followed, yet David still clung to God in faith. Sometimes, when the trouble around us surpasses even our confidence in God, we turn to him in desperation, and God is always faithful, always with us. Faith in God does not mean thinking that everything will turn out just fine but turning to God when we have no where else to go.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Deserted Place

Sometimes God comes and finds us. Sometimes we go and find God. In Sunday's gospel lesson (Mark 1:29-39), Jesus leaves the synagogue with his disciples and goes to the house Simon and Andrew. As soon as they walk in, the disciples tell Jesus about Simon's sick mother-in-law, and Jesus goes into her bedroom, takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. At once, the fever left her. Later, however, as word spreads that Jesus the healer is in the village, the whole city comes to the door, bringing their sick and demon-possessed relatives and friends to him. They seek him out, and he heals many of them.

The next morning, "while it was still very dark," Jesus left the house and went out to a deserted place to pray. When they woke up and could not find their master, Simon and his companions "hunted" for Jesus until they found him. "Everyone is searching for you," they said, but Jesus replied, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And they set out on their journey through the region, going to towns, proclaiming the good news, and healing the sick.

Sometimes God comes and finds us. Sometimes we go and find God. I don't remember that Jesus has ever knocked on my door, but I've been found by God at several important moments in my life. More often, however, if I want to know what it means to be in God's presence, I have to seek God out. I'm not in demand like Jesus, but I, too, have to sneak out early in the morning while it is still dark and catch some time for prayer and study and reflection and exercise. By the time the sun comes up, it is time to wake up my children and help get them ready for school. By the time they go to school, it is time for me to get ready for work. Once I walk through the door at the office, I have no way of knowing all of the demands that will come through the door or ring in on the telephone. And, when the day is done, I need to come home and be present with my family until it is time to go to bed and do it all again.

Sometimes God comes and finds us. Sometimes we go and find God. There are moments, of course, when the distractions all fall away and God shows up in a powerful way. God walks in and crystalizes for me what is important in the moment, and I have a chance to pray with a distraught mother or comfort a struggling husband or celebrate with a rejoicing child of God. But the rest of the time, even though God is always there, I have to make time to notice. I have to go out early in the morning. God is the most important thing in my life, but most often it feels like I'm squeezing in a little bit of time for God. The invitation to seek him might begin early in the morning, but hopefully it grows into the rest of the day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


On Sunday, in Mark 1:21-28, Jesus will enter the synagogue at Capernaum and teach with authority. Mark goes out of his way to tell us that the scribes--the usual religious interpreters--didn't have the sort of authority that Jesus had. And, by the end of the reading, we will see this authority manifest in action, too, as Jesus commands an unclean spirit to come out of a man right there in the synagogue. It seems that authority is important to Mark and Mark's telling of the good news of Jesus, but what does he mean by authority?

The Greek word that is translated for us as "authority" is "ἐξουσίαν." It also means power in the sense of "power to act." When I first read this lesson, thinking about the upcoming Vestry Retreat, it felt like Jesus was letting his internal superhero show, flexing his divine muscles, and acting with the sort of strength that no one else on earth could act. But a study of the word "ἐξουσία" suggests that power in the aggressive, impressive, overpowering sense may not be appropriate here.

The word "ἐξουσία" is a feminine Greek word that comes from the word "ἔξεστιν," which means "to be permitted." In other words, Jesus' words and actions, rather than being supernatural expressions of might, are authentic expressions of that which he has been permitted to do. He has been granted the authority--the permission--to speak and act on God's behalf. The real marvel, therefore, is not merely that he was doing something no one else could do but doing something that the people have long supposed that no one else was allowed to do.

Mark tells us that "[the people in the synagogue] were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." Perhaps at that moment it felt like God had given this young rabbi the gift of authentic preaching--the sort of preaching and teaching that commands our attention. Later on, after Jesus cast the demon out of the man, the crowd wonders, "What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." This act of exorcism was confirmation that his teaching was divinely permitted. (Maybe that's the link with the Deuteronomy passage we have this Sunday.) On Sunday, we begin by observing the authority given to Jesus, but, in order to be faithful to these readings, we must end by asking whether we, the Body of Christ, are exhibiting the same authority in our actions that we claim in our words.

We call ourselves followers of Jesus. We proclaim that we have good news for the world. We describe ourselves as the forgiven, redeemed people of God. We assume a particular moral authority. But are we demonstrating with our actions that we have been given the authority to say those things? There's another school shooting in the news today. Of course, this Sunday's readings are about more than gun violence, but I wonder whether those who decry such horrible acts as "evil" and "ungodly," including me, are acting with the same authority to end them.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Invitation and Promise

January 21, 2018 – Epiphany 3B
© 2018 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
What would you do if you looked up from your desk one day and saw Jesus standing there? What would you do if he said, “Come on; follow me?” If Jesus came to your office or your school or your breakfast room or your back yard or wherever it is that you do what you do and looked you in the eye and said, “Come, follow me,” what would it take for you to say yes?

Given their celebrated status in our tradition, it can be hard to remember that Simon and Andrew and James and John were just ordinary fishermen, people like you and me, when Jesus walked up to them. They had families to take care of and bills to pay. They had chores to accomplish and careers to pursue. But, when Jesus saw them and said, “Come, follow me,” immediately they left their boats and their nets and the livelihoods that those things provided and set off behind Jesus. They didn’t know Jesus at that point. Perhaps they had heard him preach and been impressed by his charismatic convictions, but surely they didn’t know enough about the road ahead of them to leave everything behind. Yet, when the call came, they didn’t hesitate. What was it that Jesus said—what was it about his invitation—that inspired those tradesmen to drop everything and follow him?

In his invitation, Jesus made them a promise: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” It’s a strange image—the thought of casting a net or putting out a line and dragging in human beings—but in those words Jesus was doing more than inviting these would-be disciples to follow him. He was beckoning them into a ministry that would take all of their knowledge and skills and abilities and experience as men who worked on the sea and translate them into the transformational work that God was doing in the world through God’s Son. Jesus wasn’t inviting them to give up fishing in order to follow him; he was asking them to pursue their life’s truest meaning by becoming fishers for God’s kingdom. And he is inviting us to do the same thing.

What does it mean for us to follow Jesus? What does it mean for us to fish for people? At times, it feels like those who wish to be disciples of Jesus must leave absolutely everything behind in order to follow him. And, for a rare few, that is the call. But the vast majority of us are not asked to leave our whole lives behind but to use them absolutely and completely for the transformational work of God’s kingdom. You don’t have to be a fisherman. You don’t even have to like fishing. But, if you want to answer Jesus’ call and follow him as a disciple, you have to be willing to give up your life as you know it and instead use it to help the world know the good news of the saving love of God in Jesus Christ.

But how are we ever going to do that? How are we—how are you—going to find what it takes to bring others into God’s kingdom? By being the kind of fishermen or teachers or police officers or preachers or doctors or lawyers or bankers or builders who use their craft in the service of God. You don’t have to be a card-carrying evangelist to spread the good news. All you have to do is see and know that God is doing something amazing in your life and in the world around you and then use your life to tell others about it. You don’t have to go to seminary to be a disciple of Jesus. That’s the beauty of his call. It begins right where you are with the simple invitation to consider that there could be more, that the life you know could be a part of something bigger and richer, that your life could find its completeness by becoming a vessel for God’s work in the world.

And where does it all start? It starts when we decide that we’re tired of sitting still. It starts when we realize that with Jesus there could be more. It starts when we get up and take that first step down the road after him. Jesus didn’t walk past Simon and Andrew and John and James and say to them, “Follow me to the synagogue for an hour or two and then you can go back home until we do it all again next week.” Yes, God is here when we come together on Sunday mornings, and our worship together may be the highlight of our week, but we come together not for what happens within these walls but in order to be further equipped for the work of the kingdom out in the world. When we walk back out that door, it’s up to us to use our lives to show others what God is doing in the world.

Jesus is here with us this morning. You have come near enough to hear him whisper to you, “Come, follow me.” When you kneel at the altar rail to receive Holy Communion, listen to what he says to you: “Come, follow me, and I will use you and your gifts to show the world the transformational power of God’s love.” Isn’t that a call that you want to answer? Will you take that first step?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Complete Turnaround

Several times in the Bible, God is said to have changed his mind about a certain calamity or destruction God had planned to bring upon some people. In Sunday's reading from Jonah, we hear one of those moments. God planned to destroy the city of Nineveh for their terrible sins, but, after Jonah brought the message of repentance to them, the whole city--from the king of the Assyrians down to the livestock--fasted, put on sackcloth and ashes, and turned from their evil ways. In response, we hear that "when God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it."

Dangerous though it is to flatly contradict the Bible, I do not believe that God changes God's mind. A God who changes God's mind does not make sense. Sure, it's one thing for God to change his mind about a punishment, but what about a promise of salvation? Could God decide not to love us? Could God decide not to keep the children of Israel for God's own? Could God decide to go ahead and flood the whole earth because God woke up one morning and felt like it? Surely, we depend on the faithfulness of God. We depend on knowing and believing that God will never change. So what do we make of passages like this one, when God is said to have changed God's mind?

The Assyrians were evil. Nineveh was the capital city of an evil empire. For decades, Assyrian raiders had come down from the north and attacked the villages of Israel, the northern kingdom. They would sneak in and terrorize the towns by night, killing men and carrying off women and children as slaves. The would rape the women of Israel and set fire to the crops. No one liked the Assyrians. God didn't like the Assyrians. If anyone on the planet deserved to receive God's judgment, it was surely the Assyrians.

In fact, the people of Israel depended on the knowledge that one day God would pay back the Assyrians for all their evil. Isn't that what it means to be God's beloved people--that God will fight against your enemies and repay them for what they have done? Eventually, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians. Their only hope was that God would come and intervene and save them. When Jonah the prophet received God's word, it wasn't what he was hoping to hear.

Although it's not in the lesson for Sunday, we know about the first time Jonah was called by God to take the message of repentance to the enemies of God and God's people: he ran away. Then there was the whole storm on the sea, belly of a fish, vomited up on shore incident, and we pick up with the second time God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent. God wasn't sending the prophet to bring destruction but to invite repentance. And Jonah knew that God was a merciful God and that, if the Assyrians somehow found it within themselves to turn from their wickedness, God would change his mind and forgive them. And he did.

Human beings can be so completely sure of what God's plan for the world is that when something else happens it feels like God changes his mind. In the Bible, when God changes his mind, it's because he's no longer going to destroy the people conventional wisdom thinks he should destroy. What can we learn from that?

In silent movies, it's easy to tell who the bad guy is. He's the one with the dark clothes and the black mask. In life, it can feel like it's easy to tell who the bad people are. Clearly, they're the ones who disagree with us, who fight against us, whose god isn't like our God. But sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes God surprises us with a gift of mercy and love even to those we are convinced don't deserve it. Guess what! That's us as well.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What Must You Give Up?

January 17, 2018 - Antony
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

Could you do it? Could you sell everything you own and give it all to the poor in order to follow Jesus? In Mark 10, a young man comes up to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus' response is a rehearsal of the commandments: "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother." But the man already knew all of that. He had been keeping those since his youth. But the man could tell that something else was missing. The man came to Jesus because he was desperate. He had done all that had been asked of him since he was a boy, yet still he knew that he needed more.
There are several different ways to hear this encounter. Sometimes, when I read this lesson, it feels like the man is being boastful: "Teacher, I have kept all of these since my youth!" But today that's not how it sounds to me. I don't think the man was trying to show off. Instead, I hear the man's earnest plea. Like the rest of us, he needed salvation and was having a hard time finding it. And what about Jesus' response? Was he trying to intimidate the man by naming something so difficult that he could never do it? Was he making an example out of him for his disciples and everyone else? This time, perhaps because I feel a bit of the man's desperation, too, I don't hear Jesus trying to show the man up or scare him off. Jesus wasn't trying to lose would-be disciples but to attract real ones--the kind that would give up everything to follow him. I think this story is about one man and his search for heaven, and I think Jesus saw the one thing that stood between this man and his salvation. When Jesus looks at you, what does he see? What's the one thing that stands in between you and heaven? What is it that keeps you from following Jesus with your whole heart?
Preachers sometimes get accused of asking for money all the time. We do talk about money often, and I'm sure that many preachers are in it for themselves. But most of us talk about money because money is usually the thing that stands in the way of our getting to heaven. Money is power, and salvation means yielding all power. Money is control, and following Jesus means giving up that control. Money is self-reliance, and getting to heaven means depending on God and not yourself. So that's why I talk about money all the time. Most of us, by finding the right balance between what we have and what we give away, can serve Jesus without too much distraction. Some of us, however, cannot. Some of us have to go the extra step. When Jesus looks at some of us, he sees that we are so attached to material goods that if we hold on to any possessions at all we cannot also hold on to him. And so he says to the man and to a few other would-be disciples, "Sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and then follow me."
Antony was that kind of disciple. One day, six months after his parents died, he was in church, and he heard this reading from Mark. When he heard it, he heard Jesus searching the depths of his soul and speaking directly to him, "Sell all that you have and give it to the poor." So he renounced his family's estate and sold most of what he owned and gave it away. But still that was not enough. Something was missing. So he sold the rest, put his sister in a convent, and moved out into the desert, where he did battle with demons and was ministered to by the angels.
Have you ever felt like you've done all the things you were supposed to do but still feel that something is missing? I remember meeting and caring for a woman who was in her eighties and approaching the end of her life. As she looked back on her decades, she remarked that, when she was around twenty, she heard God calling her to be a missionary in Africa but ignored that call. When I asked her about it, she was not overly sad or despondent. She had come to accept that she had missed her calling. She didn't regret her life but could also see how her lack of courage (her way of describing it) had left a hole that she was never able to fill. Maybe the discovery of that hole is the path that leads to salvation.
What happened to the young man? On St. Antony's day, we don't hear how the encounter ends, but we remember that the man went away grieved. But what happened after that? Did he sell what he had? Did he wrestle with that dissatisfaction for the rest of his life? Had Jesus exposed the hole in his soul that only God could fill? By hearing Jesus name what was missing, did he discover a new way to pursue the transformed life that Jesus was offering? Over time, did his relationship to possessions change until they no longer had control over him?
We don't know what happened to the man, but we do know what has brought us to this point, and we can probably guess what lies ahead of us. Come to Jesus. Let him see what is missing. Let him see the thing that has you trusting in yourself instead of him. Will you be able to give it up? Almost certainly, the answer is no. None of us is able to give up that one thing we cling to most tightly--be it money or family or career or affirmation or celebrity--at least not without God's help. Let God expose the hole in your relationship with him. Stare into that void. Come to Jesus on your knees and ask him to help you find what is missing. And, through your prayers and by God's grace, find what only he can give you.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Individual Faith, Divine Gift

January 16, 2018 - The Confession of St. Peter, transferred

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

Human beings have been attributing spiritual significance to life for at least 40,000 years. Throughout human development, we have learned new ways to describe the sacred and have gained new insights into the divine will for humanity. We have found names for God, even if they are sometimes unnamable. We have produced images of God, even if they are sometimes forbidden. We have adapted the stories of God and God's people to fit our modern understanding, even if they are supposedly unchangeable. But, throughout it all, through each of our intellectual developments, despite all of our advancements in the psychology of religion, God is not what we make him but who God reveals God's self to be.

Although it's on the calendar for Thursday, in our parish, we are celebrate the feast of the Confession of St. Peter. Not the feast of St. Peter, which is observed in conjunction with St. Paul on June 29. It's the feast of Peter's confession--the moment when Peter said to Jesus, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!" There are other occasions in the life of the church when we celebrate not an individual but an event, and the feast of Peter's confession gives us the opportunity to think about the nature and content of our faith.

In Matthew 16, during a period of intense conflict with the religious elites of his day, Jesus steps aside with his disciples and asks them, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they reply, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Then, Jesus changes the question, sharpening it, and asks, "But who do you say that I am?" to which Peter replies, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." To us that might seem obvious. By this point, we've made it through 15 and a half chapters of Matthew's gospel account. We've watched the disciples watch their master do the sorts of things that no ordinary human being could do. But Peter's insight--this confession of faith--is more than just a connecting of the dots. This is God reaching down and speaking to and through Peter so that humanity might finally see what God is doing through God's Son.

Jesus' response to Peter makes that clear: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." God is the one who showed Peter the truth. Sure, the epiphany involved Peter's intellect and experience. But the inclination to trust God--to believe that God was doing something particular in the life and ministry of Jesus--came from above. God pulled the veil back. God spoke to Peter's heart. God showed him who Jesus was, and God does the same for us.

God is not what we make God to be. God is who God is, and we see that which God has revealed to us. "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Jesus asked his disciples. Well, who do people say that he is? Some consider him a wise teacher. Some lean on him as friend. Some think of him as a spiritual guide. Some make him out to be their personal champion. Some use him as the poster child for their own cause--their moralism, their charity, their crusade against other-minded people. And you might find some sympathetic connection between what matters to you and the gospel of Jesus, but the Son of Man is not the prophet you want him to be. He is the Lord. And to follow him means to confess him as Lord of your life. He's in charge, not you. He isn't what you make him out to be. You are the one who was made through him.

We might like to believe what we want. We might decide to leave aside those dogma that we find unattractive. We might want add those twists of our own creation. Our understanding of who God is and our articulation of what God wants may be grounded in our own context, but the truth of the gospel is not relative. It's more than doctrine or dogma. It's more than right or wrong. It is God who is God. And the faith that we confess is not the application of our minds to a specific set of beliefs but the yielding of our lives--our hearts and souls and minds and bodies--to the Lord. May we, like Peter, find the gift of faith. May God give us the ability to set aside our own constructions and cling to God alone.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Speaking the Truth of Love

January 14, 2018 – Epiphany 2B
© 2018 Evan D. Garner

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? It’s not the kind of question that most of us would ask in mixed company, but Nathaniel was only speaking to his good friend Philip, so that kind of prejudice could be overlooked. Nazareth was a Galilean town about forty miles southwest of Bethsaida, where Nathaniel and Philip were from. Those boys had grown up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and, although we do not know exactly what they had against the people of Nazareth, we can imagine that it was the sort of resentment and rivalry that grows between small towns in a rural community. Maybe those who made their living on the sea looked down on those who lived their whole lives on dry land. Or maybe they didn’t like the fact that Nazareth was so close to the border with Samaria, close enough for the despised half-breed Samaritans to sneak across. Whatever it was, Nathaniel didn’t like Nazarenes, and he wasn’t afraid to say it.

Perhaps we shouldn’t fault Nathaniel for his out-of-hand dismissal of Jesus. When Philip came and announced to his friend that they had found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, the added detail that he had come from Nazareth clashed violently with all of Nathaniel’s expectations. The anointed one wasn’t supposed to come from Nazareth. The prophets made it clear that the leader of God’s people was to come from Bethlehem, the city that had produced David, Israel’s greatest king. Nathaniel didn’t need to hear any more than that. He knew enough about that filthy place to make up his mind. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asked with an incredulous sneer on his face. Those were tough words, the kind of words that cut off communication, but Philip wasn’t willing to give up. “Come and see,” he said to Nathaniel, so they set out to find this notorious Nazarene.

We can imagine what sort of expectations Nathaniel had about this forced encounter, and Jesus seems to have taken advantage of them. “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Jesus said to the reluctant Bethsaidan as he approached. The words shocked Nathaniel. They were the spear of truth thrust right into his heart. Older English translations like the King James Version help us understand what Jesus really meant. In them, Jesus identifies Nathaniel as “an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” Guile is a word which means “deceitful cunning.” In other words, before Nathaniel could get out a single dismissive epithet, Jesus said to him, “You’re the kind of Israelite who says exactly what you think and hides your true feelings from no one.” Jesus wasn’t interested in pretending for the sake of polite company either. He called him out, taking a jab at Nathaniel’s prejudice, forcing him to bring it out into the open.

“Where did you get to know me?” the astonished brother said. “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you,” Jesus replied. Was this some sort of supernatural insight—an instantaneous sizing-up-from-a-distance that only the Son of God could make? Or had Jesus simply walked past Nathaniel when he wasn’t looking and heard him utter the kind of short-sighted rhetoric that the Bethsaidan often used? Either way, it doesn’t really matter. Jesus had spoken the kind of veneer-shattering truth that opens the door for real transformation: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathaniel declared.

Something powerful happens inside of us when the depths of our soul become fully known and we discover that we are loved anyway. This is the profound truth of the gospel, and it is transformational precisely because it is the perfect antidote to our human nature. But it cannot work its power within us if we refuse to listen to the truth. We don’t like truth-telling. We don’t like it when the cracks and faults in our personality are brought into the light. We would rather hide from that truth than encounter it face to face. It is hard enough to have the mistakes that we have made pointed out to us, but it is paralyzing to have our intrinsic flaws put on display.

Whenever someone speaks of our prejudice and privilege and racism, we shut down. We clam up. We lash out. “Not me,” we protest. And our fear of finding ourselves in the crosshairs of righteousness makes us reluctant to speak the truth to those we love. That’s what happened to Eli the priest, who knew that his sons were defrauding the people of Israel when they brought their sacrifices to God but who did nothing about it. Ours, too, is a culture of polite silence. We laugh at friends’ off-color jokes and quietly delete their e-mails because we worry that speaking out might cost us our friendship. But doesn’t that mean that we value their affection more than we value the truth?

Samuel reminds us that God’s judgment is coming upon those who refuse to speak the truth and that God’s harshest judgment is reserved for those in positions of religious authority who choose silence over the disquieting, unsettling, relationship-threatening words of truth. As the custodian of the Holy Spirit, the church is God’s agent of transformation in the world. If the leaders of the church will not speak the truth, then we are guilty of a grave sin. We are guilty of robbing the gospel of its transformative power because the only way that we can be changed into true citizens of God’s kingdom is if we allow God’s truth to confront the depths of our brokenness, our sinfulness, our prejudice, and our racism. Only then can we know what it means to be loved despite our sin. Nathaniel’s example gives us hope because the radical transformation that he underwent shows us what happens when we encounter the Son of God and allow his truth to penetrate our heart. Only then can we leave our prejudice behind and say to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Haiti? Do you know what is the largest diocese in The Episcopal Church? It’s not Texas or Virginia or New York. It’s Haiti with its 84,000 members. I’m not talking about the Anglican Communion; I mean right here in our very own Episcopal Church. That’s what comes out of Haiti—our brother and sister Episcopalians who seek to love God with their whole hearts, strengths, souls, and minds and to love their neighbors as themselves. Because racism denies the God-given equal value of every human being, it is antithetical to the Christian faith, and you don’t have to watch the evening news to find it. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can anything good come out of West Town? Can anything good come out of East Acres? Jesus sees the truth inside of all of us, and he loves us just the same. He knows our prejudices, yet he loves us despite them. And a true encounter with that love takes those prejudices away because love like that has no limits. If God knows the depths of our sinfulness and loves us anyway, who is it that God doesn’t love?
As followers of Jesus, we are people of that indiscriminate love. God’s love knows no race or color or nationality. It leaves no room for prejudice or racism. If we are going to be the people of God, we must hear the truth about that unconditional love and speak that truth to those in positions of power and to those whom we call family and friend. Now is the time for God’s love to transform our lives. Now is the time for God’s love to transform this world. Will we stand up and speak out in the name of love, or will we be silent and allow evil and hatred to persist where love yearns to take root?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Eli, His Sons, and Organized Religion

I am planning to preach on 1 Samuel 3 this Sunday, and I've heard from several of my colleagues that they plan to do the same. The calling of Samuel is a rich story. This boy had been dedicated to the Lord's service by his mother Hannah, who brought him to Eli when he was barely weaned. One night years later, the Lord stood in the temple while Samuel lay in his bed and called to him. After missing the significance of the Lord's voice three times, Eli suggested that his young assistant invite the Lord to speak. As I wrote about on Tuesday, the lectionary gives us the option of stopping there with Samuel's invitation to the Lord to speak, but to me it seems that the church needs to hear the rest of the story.

But, before we can hear the part about the prophecy against Eli and his sons being fulfilled, we need to know what they did to deserve the Lord's judgment. I spent some time this morning rereading 1 Samuel 1-4, and I was reminded of the tension that the author presents between the leadership of Eli and Samuel. We read in 1 Samuel 2 that Eli's sons were stealing from the Lord. People would bring their sacrifices to the tent of meeting (no temple yet), but they would remove some of the meat from the boiling pot for themselves and take some of the burnt offering before it was burnt, insisting that it be given to them raw or else they would respond with violence. Later on, we read that they were having sex with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting, which, given the power differential between the sons and the women, is not unlike a boss pressuring an administrative assistant to have sex with him. And, throughout it all, Eli knew what was going on and he did almost nothing.

Like our contemporary experience of sexual harassment and clergy sex scandals, the narrative here is complicated. The Bible tells us that Eli spoke to his sons about their misdeed, saying, "Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad." In other words, everyone knew what was going on. But, when Eli spoke to his sons, they refused to listen to him. As the reason for their refusal, the narrator adds the complicating detail that "it was the will of the Lord to kill them," which opens up the need for another post that attempts to make sense of the post hoc perspective that allows a theology of causality, but, again, that's for another day. Another complicating detail comes at the beginning of Eli's response, when the narrator introduces Eli's culpability by letting us know that he "was very old." Later on, the narrator will let us know that Solomon's advanced age becomes a mitigating factor for his decision to turn away from the Lord and serve the gods of his many wives, and this detail seems to be placed here to let the reader know that Eli wasn't as sharp as he once was, suggesting that his ability to curtail his sons' wickedness may have been diminished. These factors may increase our sympathy for Eli, but they do not excuse his guilt.

At the end of 1 Samuel 2, an unnamed "man of God" comes to Eli and delivers the prophecy of his family's upcoming destruction. We don't hear Eli's response until the end of this Sunday's reading, when Samuel confirms the prophecy and Eli says, "It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him." This faithful response, a further complicating factor, offers a fruitful direction for a sermon this Sunday.

Eli, as far as we can tell, was faithful in his service to the Lord, but, in his management of his sons, he was negligent. He knew the problem, and he was the only person in a position to correct it, but he was weak--in body, in mind, and in spiritual constitution. He spoke the truth to his sons, but he did not go further than that. Even his words to them--"it is not a good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad"--suggests that Eli was more concerned with public relations than rooting out the source of the evil. In his address to his sons, he names for the reader the reason this is such a problem: "If one person sins against another, someone can intercede for the sinner with the Lord; but if someone sins against the Lord, who can make intercession." These sons were priests. They were responsible for helping God's people set things right, but they themselves were the problem. How can those whose job it is to fix the problem fix the problem when they are the problem?

What happens when the police officer become the criminal? What happens when the firefighter becomes the arsonist? What happens when the general becomes the traitor? What happens when the clergyperson becomes the apostate? What happens when the church becomes the golden calf?

We need a Samuel. When those whose job it is to bring God's people back to God through the proclamation of the gospel and its invitation to repentance and new birth through Jesus Christ stand up for themselves instead of God, exist for their own sake instead of the salvation of the world, and confuse the unadulterated theology of grace for a system that edifies itself instead of the lives of those it serves, we need a prophet to speak the hard truth to us. I'm not sure that Sunday's sermon is the time for that. I've never been confident in my ability to speak the truth as Samuel does. But I'm listening to God's word, asking God to speak to me the way that God spoke to Samuel and Samuel spoke to Eli.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tough News

Doctors have to give heartbreaking news to patients and their families all the time. Advisors to business and political leaders have to disappoint their bosses on a regular basis. Sometimes attorneys have to tell their clients that they need to prepare for the worst. Clergy, on the other hand, are rarely bearers of bad news.

I have a colleague who has had to tell children that their parents have died. Sometimes rectors have to tell their vestries that there isn't enough money in the bank to pay the utility bills. As a boss, I have had to fire people before. For the most part, however, clergy are in the business of sharing good news. God has given us good news to share: the truth of God's unconditional love and the promise of salvation through God's Son, Jesus Christ. Still, that good news requires truth-telling, and truth-telling can be tough.

In 1 Samuel 3, we hear the dramatic story of the Lord speaking to young Samuel as he lay awake one night. "Samuel, Samuel," the Lord called. Not knowing what it meant to hear the Lord's voice, Samuel thought it was Eli, his master. After mistaking the Lord's voice for Eli's three times, finally, at the invitation of his master, Samuel responds the fourth time by inviting the Lord to speak.

On Sunday, we have the option of stopping there: "Speak, for your servant is listening." But the richness of the call that shapes Samuel's life into that of a great prophet isn't disclosed until the verses that follow--optional verses for this Sunday. What does the Lord say to young Samuel? "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end...I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever."

That made for an interesting breakfast conversation the next day. When Eli asked Samuel to tell him what the Lord had spoken to him, Samuel didn't want to say. He was afraid to disclose the vision he had been given. No one likes to bring bad news--especially to someone who has cared for us the way that Eli had cared for Samuel. But, at Eli's insisting, Samuel told him everything, and Eli accepted it.

God loves each one of us without condition or reservation. That's true for the holiest saint and the wickedest sinner. That love has the power to transform us from broken, self-serving people into shining servants of God. But we cannot know that love or its transformation without hearing the truth: we are sinners. Although made in God's image, the evil within us has corrupted our nature. We may not sin as dramatically as Eli and his sons did, but we cannot please God without God's help--without that love that God is already bestowing upon us, the love that has the power to shape us into the children God has created us to be. We may be good, but we are not good enough. The good news of God's unconditional love evaporates if we pretend that we are good enough to deserve it. We aren't. And God's love is even more amazing because of it.

No one likes hearing the preacher deliver a sermon about sin and wickedness, but we can't hear the message of forgiveness and love until we've confronted the truth. Now the preacher has to figure out how to deliver the bad news in a way that opens our ears to hear the good news that always follows it.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Illumined not Enlightened

On Monday mornings, I take my first look at the readings for the upcoming Sunday, and, if I'm preaching, I can usually tell what direction the sermon will go. This morning, however, when I turned to the propers for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, I didn't make it past the first half of the collect before I started scratching my head: "Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory..."

The website I use to read the lessons is, and they always post the contemporary form of the collect. Sometimes, when I get to the early service having not practiced the traditional form, I stumble on a word like inestimable, which has been replaced in the contemporary version with something like immeasurable. So, this morning, when I saw the word "illumined," I did a double-take. That seems like the sort of antiquated word that Thomas Cranmer would have used but that the editors of the 1979 BCP would have changed. I so rarely use illumined in a sentence. Isn't a word like enlightened more familiar? Doesn't it mean the same thing? Well, sort of but not really.

Before looking the words up, my sense was that enlightened, though based on a luminous referent (i.e. "light"), has a stronger tie to the spiritual, mental, or metaphorical sense of shedding light on something. In other words, enlightened has more to do with the immaterial than the physical. I supposed that illumined, although certainly applicable to mental or immaterial subjects, connoted a more literal, physical sense of light shining upon something. For example, one would normally not say, "I wish this dark path through the woods were more effectively enlightened," while a peculiar sort of person might say, "I wish this dark path through the woods were more effectively illumined." Sound right?

Then I went and looked the words up. It turns out that the oldest recorded English use of the word illumine, which came around 1340, meant "to enlighten spiritually; to convert; to inspire" (see the Oxford English Dictionary). The more common definitions in contemporary English, however, are as I expected: "to light up, shed light upon; to shine upon or into" or "to give light or sight to (the eyes)." As we would expect, the most common definition for the verb enlighten is "to give spiritual knowledge or insight to" and the OED notes that, when the word means "to remove dimness or blindness" it is chiefly figurative.

In this season after the Epiphany, we celebrate the light that has come into the world and pray that God would make us instruments of light. The rest of the collect for Sunday asks that we "may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth." But, in that same prayer, we acknowledge that the light comes to us (at least in part) from God's Word and Sacraments, which illumine--not enlighten--us. Why the difference? And here's my point.

The faithful disciple of Jesus Christ need not been fully enlightened in order to reflect the light of life to the world. All she needs is to have her life illumined by God's gifts of Word and Sacrament. That's where I am. As a student of the Bible, as an individual who has been baptized into the body of Christ, and as a regular recipient of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, I am having the truth of my life illumined bit by bit. There's still a long, long way to go. Were we to pray "...enlightened by your Word and Sacraments," we might give ourselves the impression that only when we have reached full understanding are we ready to shine the light of Christ to the world, and that's not true. To the extent that God's Word and Sacraments are shining light into our life, we have begun to glow. This is about the light of God peering unto the depths of our souls in a process of deep self-examination. We don't have to reach the mountain top in order to show others the light that has reached us. Today, I'm thankful for a peculiar word choice, and I pray that God would continue to shine God's light into my heart every day, bringing more and more from darkness into light.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Children of God

January 3, 2017
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

One day during high school, a friend walked up to me and said, "Hey, your dad is here looking for you." "Thanks," I said and started to walk away before turning around and saying, "Wait, how do you know my dad?" My friend paused and smiled and said, "I don't, but there's this man standing outside the office who looks just like you, and I knew he must be your father." Actually, we don't look that much alike. I'm a pretty good mix of both of my parents, but the resemblance between me and my father is pretty clear.
People seem to enjoy telling me whom each of my children looks like. Everyone gets into the game when a child is little. When a baby comes into the world, even before her body has taken its post-partum shape, parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles delight in saying that she has her mother's eyes or her cheeks are just like her great-grandfather's. I read somewhere that, as a biological remnant of our genetic ancestors, all newborns look like their father so that the father won't eat them when they're born. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that sinful pride that comes from seeing how children have inherited qualities from me and my family.
I bet the author of 1 John had a big family because he seems to understand at a deep level that children look and act like their parents. Like a receding hairline or a pronounced paunch, he takes for granted the fact that children will turn out just like their parents in almost unavoidable ways. His epistle is mostly about love, and, in the third chapter, he exhorts his readers to be loving children of their loving, heavenly father. In a way that is so simple as to escape our understanding, John reminds us that, as children of God, we are children of love.
At Christmas time, we celebrate God's adoption of the human race through the incarnation. Yesterday, Steve Pankey reminded us of what Athanasius wrote: "God became man so that man might become God." John believes this deeply. His faith is built on it. John writes, "Beloved, we are God's children now...Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning...Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God." Don't overthink it, John seems to say: "Let no one deceive you." It really is that simple: "The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters." The implication, of course, is that those who do what is right and who love their brothers and sisters are children of God.
Can it be that simple? Those who have been born of God do not sin? News flash: we're all sinners. Does John really mean that anyone who sins isn't born of God and is a child of the Devil? Not quite. I think John has an understanding of sin and what it means to belong to God that twenty-first-century Christianity could really use. Instead of reversing his words and applying after-the-fact logic to John's description of life in Christ, let's use his approach--his belonging-first, behavior-second model--for describing the life of God's children.
"Beloved, we are children of God." John knows this is true. It's a part of who he is. In the same way that I know that I am my parents' child, John knows that he and the Christians to whom he writes belong to God as God's children. Sure, this community has its ups and downs. John hints at some false teachers and conflict within the community. He wouldn't stress the importance of loving one another if he wasn't concerned that they might have forgotten what love like that looks like. But John doesn't say, "If you want to be children of God, then you'd better love one another," the way that so many contemporary law-peddling, false-gospel preachers say. John starts with the most important premise: you are a child of God. Because of that, you are a child of righteousness and love--not the other way around.
Even in my worst, most frustrated moments, I never say to my children, "If you want to be my child and belong to this family, you must..." Instead, I say things like, "Because you are my child and because you are a part of this family, you must..." To an exasperated six-year-old that may not sound like a big difference, but, theologically speaking, I believe that they are worlds apart. Why do my children do chores? Why are they respectful to adults? Why are they nice to others? Why do they share with those who do not have anything? For the same reason that they will someday have the same mannerisms and characteristic quirks that their parents do: because they are our children. That's how we behave because it's who we are--not the other way around.
We are children of God. That means we look like our heavenly father and act like our heavenly father. We haven't always been this way. The seed of divinity has been planted within our nature through the incarnation of the Son of God. We still have some growing up to do. But we shouldn't undermine the power of God's redemption by making it conditional on our behavior. Instead, as John writes, our behavior is conditional on our identity as God's children. You are God's beloved child. Because God has claimed you, called you, and adopted you as God's own, you are shaped by that divine parenthood. The invitation is to know your identity as a child of God so fully that you and everyone around you knows it. May the world take one look at us and know who our father is.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Fame That Does Not Compute

January 2, 2018

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

Since New Year's Eve was on a Sunday, by the time 8:30pm rolled around, I was ready to call it a night. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I was with friends who wouldn't let me retire early. I wasn't the only one flagging before nine, so, to keep the energy up, we decided to play Balderdash. Do you know the game Balderdash? One player reads a clue from a card, and everyone else makes up an answer to the clue. If it's a word, we all make up a definition. If it's an acronym, we all make up what it stands for. If it's a movie title, we all make up a plot description. My favorite category was the names of not-so-famous people.

Was Ted Anderson the first person to play table tennis for twenty-four consecutive hours? Was Ted Anderson the inventor of the cathode ray tube? Was Ted Anderson a dishonest senator from Idaho? Was Ted Anderson the husband of the first female firefighter in New York City? Was Ted Anderson a back-up singer for James Taylor? In Balderdash, there are hundreds of game cards, and on each of them is a different person who has accomplished something notable almost without being noticed. The game wouldn't work if anyone at the table actually knew who any of those people are. Imagine trying to create the game by sorting through a long, long list of accomplishments to pick out the distinctive ones that everyone would recognize as significant even though no one would know who the people actually are.

John the Baptist was wildly famous but almost disappeared into obscurity. Hundreds--perhaps thousands--of people were leaving their homes in the city to travel out to the countryside to hear him preach. He had disciples of his own, people who had given up their career to be with him every day. His message of repentance and renewal was so invigorating that unnumbered multitudes left their familiar religious contexts to seek his strange but captivating method down on the banks of the Jordan River. And, when the religious authorities came to pay him a visit and verify the phenomenon that he had become, he side-stepped stardom as quickly as he had found it.

"Who are you?" they asked. "Are you the Messiah? Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet we've been waiting for? And, at every turn, he denied it. "I'm not like that," he said. "I'm not a great figure that follows that kind of pattern. I'm just out here preaching, crying out that it's time to get ready for something new."

"But baptism is about conversion," they replied. "Why are you trying to convert these people through the waters of baptism if you're not the Messiah or Elijah or the prophet?" And John answered them, "Because this isn't about me. It was never about me. There is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I would not even presume to be his slave. All I am and all I do is about preparing for the one who is to come."

A move like that just doesn't make sense. Human nature is too strong. John had a good thing going. He had a successful ministry. Huge crowds were coming to hear him preach. They would happily have given over their wealth to receive the hope that he offered. He had a steady income stream. He could milk this for long, long time. The local paper would be happy to have him write a weekly column. Maybe he could write a book or two. After a while, he could travel to other parts of the Empire and charge a speaker's fee wherever he went. All he had to do was give these authorities a convincing answer. As Winston famously said to Ray when the Ghostbusters were confronted by Gozer the Gozarian, "When someone asks if you're a god, you say yes!"

But that wasn't John. John was in the real repentance business. John was all about letting go of those things that lead us away from God, dependence on God, knowledge of God, fellowship with God, and that means letting go of ego. John was in it for Jesus even though Jesus hadn't shown up yet. Ironically, that's what he became famous for--for not wanting to be the center of attention. John the Baptist is the perfect setup man, the one whose spotlight is always promised to someone else. Without the one to whom he pointed the crowds, it didn't matter how good his preaching was.

What about us? What will the obscure accomplishment of our ultimately obscure life be? Will we yield center stage as consistently as John did? Whether as lawyer, doctor, athlete, stay-at-home dad, scientist, teacher, or preacher, will we use the attention we receive to show the world ourselves or the one whom we are still getting ready for?