Peace

Peace

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Do We Dare Domesticate?


Well we have come to Easter Day in our Christian Church year and it’s a time of celebration for Christians. Of course those who aren’t still seem to celebrate without knowing why. So, what does it mean to us both church member and nonbeliever? Is it just another holiday or is it time to remember how our God met us and rebuilt a relationship when Jesus was raised. You know, book after book, magazine article after magazine article, movie after movie, all try to tell us just who this Jesus was. Or, more properly, is! When to pin Jesus down as being this or being that is only to place him back into some kind of tomb.

When we pretend that we know just who Jesus is, we simply domesticate him to be the person we need him to be and close him up in another tomb of our own making. We only have to look on Facebook to see much of this happening as people seek to convince others that they know exactly what or who Jesus is and what God intended.

There was much to the death and resurrection of Jesus and the empty tomb. Courage and survival are some of the attributes that were seen and still are seen. Have you ever seen photos of breast cancer survivors who have allowed their mastectomy scars to be acknowledged and celebrated? I heard of a photo spread a few years ago of some beautifully artistic, breathtakingly honest photos of women—survivors—who had allowed the most dark period of their lives, the cellular, chemical, and surgical invasion of their bodies, to be photographed.

The photos were hard to look at at first. We are used to seeing topless women only in a certain contexts, something shameful to be ogled, or for the gratification of the person looking at them. We certainly aren’t used to seeing surgical scars in a magazine spread. But these were badges of courage. In every one of those beautiful photos a woman was saying, “I was broken, I fought, I was scarred; and yet, I live. These are my battle scars.” In the showing of his battle scars, in the declaration that he lives, Christ the unbreakable Saviour declares for us life eternal.

We are flesh and bone as he was. We need and we hurt, we struggle and we overcome, and ultimately we are healed. In Christ the flesh and bone Saviour we are forever intimately connected to God in a way that we could have not have been had God not decided to become flesh and dwell among us. If we take the incarnation seriously, if we truly believe as best we can that we are made in the image of God, then we are free to reveal our wounds, our scars, our disappointments, to God, and to one another. We serve a God who was bruised, scorned, cut, and pierced on our behalf. And yet, in the flesh he declares that he lives again. And in that revelation, we are made whole.

Yet, Easter is the day we rehearse the story of the Resurrected Christ. Joyous bells ring. Choirs sing, and the people of God rejoice! Some gospel accounts feature the spectacular: earthquakes and angels in lightening white clothes. Others portray the empty tomb as conundrum for Mary, Peter, and John. Sermons race to their climax when the Risen Christ appears confirming the resurrection and defeat of death. We, in jubilation, shout “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” And that is the end of the Easter story . . . or is it?

The Gospel’s particularly John’s seems to say, “Wait there’s more.” For some reason, it puts the tomb and Mary centre stage. What can we learn from Mary? While she grieves outside the tomb, Jesus appears and calls her by name. Then he says “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the God my parent.” Do not hold on to me. Jesus had more to do. Maybe for John, Jesus’ glorification has three parts: death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus told Mary to let go and tell his disciples that he was going to ascend. So what are we to take from the scriptures we have used on Easter morning? Well the most important is that the good news of Easter continues beyond the empty tomb and resurrection.

Sometimes we cling only to part of the sacred story. Sentimentality surrounds the Christmas and Easter holidays. At Christmas, we like gifts and we want Jesus to remain a cute infant with chubby cheeks who never grows up to become sovereign Lord. The Easter holiday bears its own sentiment: the hot cross buns (which have been in our stores for months, maybe like in the USA a special outfit, maybe a special dinner with family, and the big worship service with pomp and pageantry. Easter is a time to celebrate the Resurrected Christ while leaning forward to anticipate the good news the Jesus that has been resurrected and who is glorified will bring us. Easter is a time to celebrate this point or event or miracle in God’s sacred story, knowing the best is yet to come.

Our faith is a journey, a growing, a wrestling with how this resurrected Christ relates to the way we live – the way we are inclusive and not exclusive – the way we are in relationship not only to our God but with each other. So, where are you?



Thursday, 18 April 2019

The Challenge of the Day.


There is no doubt that we are surrounded by evil in this world. Injustice. Racism. Greed. Genocide. Human trafficking. Pride. Exploitation. Not only did our God leave heaven to make his home in this evil-filled world . . . not only did he stare evil in the face on a regular basis but on the cross of Calvary Jesus allowed himself to be cursed and afflicted by evil. If we are too familiar with the scene, it may be easy for us to forget that, on the cross, something terrible was happening. A completely innocent man was brutally killed.

The death of Jesus Christ was a beautiful tragedy. It was tragedy, because Jesus did not do anything to deserve such treatment. He was accused unfairly. He was sentenced unjustly. “He was pierced because of our rebellions and crushed because of our crimes” (Isa 53:5). Yet, Jesus’s death was beautiful because of what it accomplished for us. Isaiah 53:5 goes on to say that “he bore the punishment that made us whole; by his wounds we are healed.” Because Jesus was betrayed, we have been treated with kindness that we don’t deserve. Because Jesus was arrested, we have been set free. Because Jesus was denied, we have been accepted.


Because Jesus was condemned, there is no condemnation for us. Because Jesus was mocked, we have been commended. Because Jesus was cursed, we have been blessed. Because Jesus was abused, we have been comforted. Because Jesus was dishonoured, we have been honoured. Because Jesus was beaten, we have been healed. Because Jesus’s body was torn, we have confidence to enter the holy places of God. Because Jesus was forsaken by God, we have been welcomed by God. Because Jesus was killed, our lives have been spared. From Jesus’s anguish comes our peace.

On this sorrowful day, we remember the suffering that results from great love and compassionate concern for the world. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is one who takes on the world’s sorrows out of humility. Although Jewish thought attributes the nation of Israel with this role of “servant” throughout Isaiah’s writings, Christians traditionally attribute these servant songs to Jesus. In either case, a message emerges that is profound and troubling.

Innocent people suffer in our world. One who would be a light to the nations has his life snuffed out due to an unjust and torturous world. This is the sorrow of Good Friday. This has been the sorrow of Jewish communities who have suffered under pogroms throughout history and in recent history in the Holocaust. It has also been the sorrow—and continues to be the sorrow—of oppressed peoples and individuals who strive for justice, advocate for peace, and live radically compassionate love and mercy. Jesus is not the only one who bears our infirmities.

This is a day to remember the suffering people whom Jesus represents in his innocence, his compassion, and his prophetic courage: peacemakers; justice-seekers; and innocent children suffering in poverty, war, or abuse are just a few of the many suffering servants who bear our iniquities. Thinking about the suffering servant in this way challenges the quiet contemplation of this day.

What if the sin that the servant bears for me is the sin of my consumerism borne by a child labouring in a factory? What if my iniquity of prejudice is borne by the political activist imprisoned for her advocacy work? Where am I the darkness that overcomes the light? When have I pierced God’s love with cruelty and even hate? These are the hard questions of Good Friday. Ones we desperately need to reflect upon.



Friday, 12 April 2019

Emotional Swings.


Most of us try and steer clear of violent emotional swings. Elation is wonderful as long as it isn’t shattered by the cold slap in the face of disaster. Driving along a mountain road, taking in the scenery, alive with a sense of joy and wonder is one thing, but to be hit head on by a speeding SUV coming in the other direction is something else. I wonder if that’s how we feel now that the Elections in Australia have started with all sides partaking in falsehoods and nastiness from the get go. Well, in this week’s readings from scripture for Palm Sunday St. Paul writes to the Philippians and the scripture set comes from chapter 2. St Paul can write lyrically about the events that begin with Palm Sunday and end on Easter Day without having experienced, first hand, the highs and lows of the Passion.

That is not to say that Paul isn’t moved. The passage contains some of the most beautiful language the apostle Paul penned, and perhaps fragments from a very early Christian Hymn. Paul proclaims that Jesus is “in the form of God,” is “equal with God.”  That’s a hard subject for a first century Jew to contemplate let alone write about. St Paul believed passionately that there is one God and one God alone. Yet here he is in this passage, through belief and experience, stating that Jesus is God: But what sort of God? And with some of the recent claims by various prominent figures in our society and our politicians or would be politicians this question is extremely valid.

Here’s the scandal. Jesus, who is God, willingly empties himself to become a slave. It’s nearly 150 years since slavery was abolished .in the United States. None of us in Australia or New Zealand have any living memory of that vile institution. However, in Australia our history of treatment of our first peoples and our historical involvement in blackbirding in the Pacific Islands late in the nineteenth century could be classed as forms of not only racism but slavery. A slave was or still can be the lowest form of humanity, with no rights. He or she was owned as if a cow or a horse.

 Imagine God as a slave. Here, God is placed in a position of utter vulnerability, with no defence. The God who is utterly human humbles himself to death. Almost without a pause, in Philippians 2, St. Paul then jumps to the resurrection. Perhaps some of you who are Christian have sung that great hymn, “At the Name of Jesus” recently? Yet St. Paul’s thoughts as we enter Holy Week are so much easier to digest than St. Luke’s story in chapter 19. Now some of us may only hear about the entry to Jerusalem but others will hear Chapter 19 of Luke. Read it and see what brutality Jesus was treated with. There’s been much criticism about the violence portrayed in Mel Gibson’s movie of “The Passion”. But to hear and read the Gospel readings for this coming week, is to find ourselves engulfed in a brutal narrative.

Those crucifixes streaming with blood more accurately portray the Passion than our chastely engraved crosses of gold or silver. Nor is St. Luke’s story in the least bit anti-Semitic although it may be used in such a way by hateful people. The rogues of the story are not Jews, but some people who happen to be Jewish and some people who happen to be Roman and of course the mob. Mobs can appear in any country. One can look around our world and see the violence of a mob.

Yet we can say, how wonderful it was for the disciples to enter Jerusalem with their King. They made such a noise that the religious elite, the Pharisees, asked Jesus to shut them up. The disciples were elated. Most of us have experienced moments of religious elation when heaven and earth seem to come together and nothing possible can ever be wrong again. But then the story takes us swiftly down the steep slope of reality.

In the garden Jesus kneels in anguish and terror as he takes in all that now will happen. He is betrayed by a disciple, arrested and dragged before the cynical and the important who will do anything to keep their jobs, preserve the status quo, and get rid of a trouble maker. Then comes a trial before that bloody-thirsty wretch Pilate, the henchman of a disgusting paranoid Emperor. Then troops beat Jesus half to death and burden him with the cross, made to stumble along to the hill of execution, and there executed brutally.  St. Luke then writes: “But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”


It’s the distance that is the problem for me because I think the action of many of us is to put distance between ourselves and violence when we see it. We are so used to looking at violence from a distance. We see innocent people killed and mutilated almost daily as we watch TV and chew a hamburger. Perhaps during this Holy Week we will be so far apart that we won’t even give time to be in church to keep watch as the drama of our redemption unfolds in the liturgy. We are called by God to get closer, to imagine the mystery of a God whose love is so great that he shares the worst that can happen to us in order to bring us to the best that can be.

Those of us who work hard to avoid suffering, who have no earthly idea how to deal with tragedy, loss, death itself, those of us who may skip Good Friday, preferring the joy of Easter Day, are challenged by these readings to come closer. We are called to stand at the foot of the Cross with Mary the Mother and St. John. We are asked to reach out and touch that Body and that Blood “given for us.” For in a way we cannot explain, the Cross changes everything for us and for the world. Our loving God forgives us, and would make us new.  To return to St. Paul, we are all to bow our knees, at the Name of Jesus, and proclaim in our hearts and lives that Jesus is Lord, to the Glory of God. Maybe it’s something worth doing  right now.



Friday, 5 April 2019

Extravagant Love.


Two things stand out as classic teaching points for those who follow or are interested in the Christian Faith in this week’s passage from John 12. First, when Mary washes Jesus’ feet, everyone knows it. It isn’t something that she hides, but rather, it is out in the open, for the fragrance of the perfume fills the room. The amount of perfume is so ridiculous that everyone has to know about it. Just as Noah sacrificed an offering as he went out of the ark and a pleasing aroma went up to God, so too, here, we can sense the sacrifice made. We can picture the pleasing aroma of the perfume bringing great pleasure and meaning to Jesus. It is a sacrifice, and Jesus is getting ready to become God’s sacrifice for the world.

The second teaching point comes with respect to extravagant gifts. Many of us, like Judas Iscariot, try to put a dollar value on extravagant gifts. We think about what that money could have been used for, or we make some judgment call on the need of a certain gift. Jesus implies that we should always be helping the poor as prescribed in Deuteronomy, but there is also a time to do something extravagant because of our faith. We don’t need to offer to God or others something that costs us nothing, but rather, we should be about giving sacrificially and abundantly.

Anointing, with oil or extravagance in another form, can serve more than one function. You can commission a person as a witness, you can convey the Holy Spirit, and you can even pray for healing. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, said, “The Gospel of Christ knows of no Religion, but Social; no Holiness but Social Holiness.” He went on to say, “You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones.”

I would like to take a brief look at the main people in this week’s scripture reading from John 12. The setting is rather simple: Lazarus’s sisters are hosting a dinner for Jesus.

Martha.
The only thing we know about Martha is found in verse 2. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served. Poor Martha. It may speak volumes that when her sister pours the equivalent of a year’s wages onto Jesus’s feet, Martha doesn’t say a word. And Martha not speaking may reveal to us just how far she has grown since their last interaction. For Martha, literally serving Jesus, her family, and their friends is how she lived her life as an offering.

Lazarus.
Lazarus is identified with what Jesus has done for him. Let’s pause here for a moment. What would our lives look like if we, like Lazarus, were identified first with what Jesus has done for us? Lazarus is “one of those at the table with him [Jesus].” We hear in scripture that Lazarus died and Jesus raised him from the dead. Aside from walking out of the tomb, we never hear Lazarus do anything more from scripture.

 In all of scripture, he never says a word, never talks about what death looked like, or what it was like to be raised from the dead. What we do know is that Jesus loved him and that Lazarus welcomed him for dinner when he was in Bethany. We also know that after Jesus had dinner with Lazarus’s family, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Lazarus because his life was a living reminder of the power of Jesus. Lazarus’s greatest service to the gospel message was simply being loved by Jesus and living. He may not have done or said anything profound. . . but God used his life in amazing ways.


In our communities, we have people who battle addictions of all sorts. Some of these people rely upon the support they get from Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and many other like support groups. Many of their lives serve as a living reminder of the grace of God. Choosing life and facing your demons/problems each day can be viewed as a testament to God’s faithfulness and love. And that, for some of us, is an incredible expression of service.

Mary.
Mary served in a most unusual and personal way. While Jesus reclined at the table, as we have indicated she poured costly ointment on his feet, and then wiped them with her hair. Scripture says that the house was filled with the aroma of perfume. When was the last time that you experienced the love and power of God in such a real way that you reeked from it? What would our lives “look like” if we bore the aroma of the Holy Spirit? What if grace and love and compassion poured out of us in an intoxicating way?



Friday, 29 March 2019

Saints and Sinners.


This week’s passage from Luke 15 is considered to be one long teaching moment by Jesus. It’s helpful to remember that in the Greek, there are no punctuation marks. No periods, commas, and exclamation points. In order to translate a passage in Greek, the entirety of the text must be taken into consideration. The prodigal son is one of the more fully developed parables that Jesus told. Many who don’t belong to the Christian faith know and use the teachings of this parable.

None of the characters are two-dimensional. All three express strong emotions in such a way that they invite readers to connect with them. From the perspective of the elder son, it’s the story of how he is steadfast and faithful while his feckless, prodigal brother squanders a fortune and is then welcomed home. From the perspective of the younger son, it’s the story of how he foolishly asks for, receives, and then wastes his inheritance on dissolute living. Chastened and nearly starving, he realizes his father’s servants are better off than he is, and so he formulates an apology and returns.

From the perspective of the father, this is a story about losing a son and, in fact, regarding that boy as dead. It was very unusual that a son would ask for his inheritance before his father died, yet even knowing that this was not a wise choice on his son’s part, the father acquiesces. In giving the inheritance to his son, the father shows surprising disregard for his own rights and honour.


The drama of this story takes off when the younger son practices his apology over and over. In it, he confesses his sin and recognises that he has forfeited his position as son. When the father sees his son across a field, he runs to meet him and we get a sense of hurried excitement. Some theologians wonder if the father is running to protect his son from scorn from his village. The father never seems to judge the sincerity of the younger son’s confession and never waits for explanation. Instead, he orders slaves to “put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it.”

Though honour and reputation were valuable commodities, the father again seems to care little for his own honour that was likely damaged through this incident. His joy is palpable. And later, when confronted by the angry, hurt elder son, the father responds with compassion. He calls his elder son teknon, which means child. It is a form of affection that affirms their relationship. The father pleads with the elder son. He reminds him of their bond as parent and child, saying to him, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” He tries to persuade him to accept his younger brother, “this brother of yours.” In the end, we don’t know what the elder son chooses to do. Neither do we know what happened to the younger son. To be forgiven can catch us at our most vulnerable state. We have no ground to stand on; we simply accept.

Through this parable we can see that the church is to be a means of grace and a herald of truth—not either/or.  We Christians often can’t seem to decide whether we are a museum for the saints or a hospital for sinners.” Many Ministers would say that their fears about choosing one of these options should not, perhaps, form competing visions for local church life, but sadly they often do. The kingdom Jesus proclaimed is the same kingdom of God he enacted, and it is the same kingdom to which he summons the church.

The church is to proclaim and practice reconciliation, that being the essence of the kingdom: the reconciliation of all of us to God and the reconciliation of each of us to the other, and neither the proclamation nor the practice of reconciliation can finally exist without the other. Either emphasis, without the counterweight of the other, leads to ruin. The “hospital for sinners” model can leave believers awash in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” namely, “grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system.

It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God . . . the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” The “museum of saints” model, on the other hand, can chill non-believers and even the faithful with a cold and impassive shoulder. An austere, compassionless rendering of the gospel leaves people knowing that they are not righteous but also not necessarily that they are forgiven.

In either view, what might be called true doctrine and true community seem independent of each other. For Saint Paul, however, authentic community and particular doctrinal confessions of the gospel are interdependent. The church is not a group of volunteers who have chosen Christ, but saints chosen by Christ—called and given identity through a particular confession and hope: truth and grace; ministry and message; not one without the other.


Friday, 22 March 2019

Facing Our Own Nature and Suffering.


The agricultural theme continues in the sayings of the psalmist for this week’s readings and the prophets. Both texts open with a longing for water, a basic necessity for all living things to survive. We in New South Wales Australia have seen the suffering caused by the lack of water bought about by the Climate Change we continue to bring on ourselves. Cotton and Rice Growers us up so much water there is little left and we see the massive kill of fish in our rivers which are now but a series of ponds. 


We see it in the contamination of our water table and supply by greedy miners who don't care what happens in the future unless there is quick profit in it. Like the fig tree, the psalmist is feeling dried up and deteriorated, like a “dry and tired land.” Yet, both the prophet and psalmist are able to claim joy because they see in God a chance at new life and grace. Isaiah attests to the higher ways of God that transcend the conventional wisdom of our broken world.



We might question the nature of suffering and be challenged by other deep questions for which there are no easy answers. But God’s ways and plans are higher than ours, and that promise can give us hope. Likewise, the psalmist expresses confidence in God’s strength, which enables the psalmist to speak praise with joy, and to cling to God with his whole being. The question for us is where we can make personal connections to both texts here. 

Consider how at times you feel like a dry and tired land, or how you feel thirsty and hungry, or how your behaviour might be that of the one whom God is calling to abandon such ways, lifestyle and schemes. Reflect on what you do individually to the land you have care for and stewardship over. Think about how you use this worlds limited resources to the detriment of us all.


Christians are called to see Lent as a time for us to consider a sober assessment of our spiritual state and how we choose to live our lives. Both these texts prompt such introspection. But they both also offer redemption in God’s grace. There is an invitation here to consider how we might like to assess our lives, assess our actions and see where we have experienced God’s love as “the richest of feasts” or a “rich dinner.” However, we also need to asses where we in our greed have pillaged God's creation and given wise stewardship.  The celebration of the Holy Communion is a natural connection to this imagery, inviting people to join together in the heavenly banquet that God has prepared for us in Christ.

Further I think as human beings we can admit that we are uneasy with the connection that both Jesus and St Paul appear to be making in this week’s Lectionary Readings, between sin (wrong behaviour or the turning away from God) and suffering. In the Luke 13 reading, people asked Jesus to theologically explain why people had to suffer. They used as case studies two groups: the murder victims of Pilate and the victims of the destruction of a tower.

In both instances, the questioners pondered a connection between their sin and their fate: “Did their sin cause their suffering?” It is a conclusion that we would rather not consider, for obvious pastoral reasons. That’s why Jesus’s answer to the question is so disturbing. “Unless you change your hearts and lives,” Jesus told them, “you will die just as they did.” Does Jesus really believe that such suffering is caused by our sinfulness, our bad behaviour? Fortunately, there is an answer to our uneasiness, in the parable of the fig tree. When the owner of the fig tree sees that the tree is bearing no fruit, he proceeds to do what any rational vineyard owner would do: cut it down and start over. That would be a reasonable cause and effect to assume.


Sinfulness beckons consequences which can be viewed as punishment, just as fruitlessness beckons pruning. But the gardener intercedes. The Gardener pleads with the owner to give the tree one more chance, appealing to the owner’s heart of compassion to give the tree another opportunity for fruitfulness. He offers to provide extra care and nurture: digging around it to remove competing plant life and preserve water, and giving it nourishing fertiliser to give it the nutrition that it needs. Jesus is the gardener in this story who steps into that gap between sinfulness and suffering in order to offer an irrational, unlikely second chance at life.

If the stories of Pilate and the tower reinforce the natural consequences of our negative behaviour patterns, then the story of the fig tree reinforces the certainty of God’s grace. And in the end, it is God’s grace and love, not the causality of sin that rules the day.




Friday, 15 March 2019

Living into Love.


I have found it very hard to focus on my chosen title for my blog today, since I heard the news this afternoon of the murder of our brothers and sisters in Mosques in Christchurch, Aotearoa (NZ). It bought me a number of issues to wrestle with. One was as to why someone would want to, with extreme brutality, take life just because they thought differently, prayed differently or had a different way of engaging with God. The Second was that this was not the country I had been bought up in or the way I had been nurtured to view all people as equal before God and each person being a beloved of God.

I support the response of the Prime Minister of Aotearoa, Jacinta Arden who made it clear that inclusiveness and compassion were the ethos for the country and that as a country Aotearoa rejected the violence of terrorism, no matter who perpetrated such behaviour. In my life time I had never seen police armed on the streets even though I lived through Springbok Tours and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. I pray I may never see it again. However let me get back to Living into love.

There was an ad on TV the other night, another get-rich-quick scheme—something about how to make millions through real estate deals without having to work very hard.  Doing things the easy way is almost always more attractive to us than we’d like to admit, more attractive than working hard at something, more appealing than delayed gratification.  Working hard has its own rewards, as we usually learn, but it’s no guarantee of success.  So, a promise of an easier way and supposedly sure results catches our attention. A promise that it is someone else’s fault rather than our own that a new arrival is getting what we see as ahead.

St Paul in the reading from Philippians 3 set for this week is talking to the church at Philippi about a similar thing:  he cautions them not to be seduced by promises of an easier way to live the Christian life.  Paul is always very protective of his own understanding of how to live as a Christian—he often warns his followers about those who are false prophets, those who would lead them astray.  Here, he warns them again about taking the easy way out, and he uses as his example those he calls “enemies of the cross of Christ,” who allow their minds to be “on earthly things.” 

All this week’s readings have to do with covenant and faithfulness and trust.  They acknowledge the difficulty and challenge of holding true, of staying faithful.  We all want the security of connection, of relationship, of covenant.  But such connections require something of us, as well. Relationships are not one-sided, not even with God—relationship implies that both parties are involved.  But sometimes we get distracted and overwhelmed, or have what we think are higher priorities.  Sometimes we’re just tired, or we think that the other party doesn’t care about us—or a dozen other things that draw our attention away from where it needs to be. 

Sometimes it is easier to just let ourselves be distracted than to do the things that keep us in relationship, even though ultimately they nurture us. Making an effort, being disciplined, trusting, being faithful and attentive and intentional—those things take time.  They are taking the narrow way.  They are difficult, especially in a culture that does its best to keep us distracted and off-balance and wanting.  And yet in such a culture, there is nothing we need more than the depth and richness of our relationships with each other—with families, friends, loved ones, communities—and with God.

When we cheat ourselves out of these essential, life-giving relationships, those who love us suffer, of course.  But, we are the ones who suffer most of all.  We are the ones who lose the most.  We cheat ourselves when we take the easy way, when we avoid the narrow way of truth and integrity and love.  Those are the only things that matter, and when we try to live without them, it is no life at all, really.  And then it is us that Paul calls to task, it is us that Jesus weeps over.

The narrow way, is about, loving unconditionally, giving unconditionally.  It is about opening our hearts completely, and stepping to the very edge of the precipice of love and trust.  We are afraid to do these things, and rightfully so—the world does not encourage such behaviour.  After all, our hearts get stepped on and may even get broken when we make ourselves so vulnerable. 

If we’re lucky, we experienced unconditional love as children, but many of our parents were unable to provide such love.  Many of us don’t know what unconditional love looks like—we have never experienced it.  And our children, who may be the only ones we can even come close to loving unconditionally—even they can break our hearts. 

Even though we know, at some level, that God’s love is unconditional, we still all too often believe that being loved really depends on our worthiness.  So, we want some proof, because, of course, we usually believe we are not worthy.  So, we try to bargain for love, even with God, because we can’t understand any other way.  It’s how we are taught.  And after all, even Abraham when called by God asks what he will get out of the deal.

It is us that Jesus weeps over because we do not live into the fullness of the promise.  Jesus wept and I believe weeps over such things as recent events where one group of human beings are unable to include in compassion and love and instead desire hatred and violence. It means we are not living into the covenant.  We are afraid.  We believe and take on a view of scarcity rather than of God’s abundance, and we’re afraid that there won’t be enough for us. We’d rather have a get-rich-quick scheme because it demands less of us. We would rather terrorise and brutalise others because we envy them and want to be exclusive. 

But we are called to abandon our fear and mistrust; we are called to walk wide-eyed into God’s love.  It’s what Paul is talking about when he reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.”  It is what Jesus weeps for, tears meant to soften our hardened hearts, to wash away our fear, making room for love to grow.