Friday, 23 October 2020

Truth-Tellers Are...

The story of fake news and the difficulty of knowing what is true is certainly a subject agonising many in our communities. But let me tell you, truth-tellers are uncomfortable people to be around. We proudly show Uncle John and Aunt Pat our church building. We do so with a certain amount of trepidation and particularly because they claim some sort of superior knowledge about church architecture. To make matters worse the Minister bumps into us as we are going into the "worship space" and is very proud of the new Holy Table and rearranged sanctuary. "O dear," groans Uncle John. "Frightful," says Aunt Pat. We pray that the floor will open and swallow us up.

Truth-tellers are uncomfortable people to be around. They comment on our hair, our clothes, our height, our books, our furniture, and delight in making us feel small. There are always a few in every congregation or area of mission and we avoid them like the plague! To them nothing is ever right, except themselves and their opinions.

This week we hear in our lectionary readings from St. Paul in the first letter of Thessalonians. You know St Paul seems to get such bad press nowadays that we are not at all surprised to find him boasting that he just tells the unvarnished truth. In this scripture we find him saying that you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.

We've heard that before. "I just tell it as it is. I don't care what other people think, and after all I am older than you."

But wait a moment. St Paul is full of surprises. He goes on to say to the Christians in Thessalonica (it's a place in much of what we now call Greece): But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. 

St. Paul has remarked that he had a terrible time when he was in Philippi. If he is referring to the incident recorded in Acts, Paul is remembering being beaten and thrown into jail. He might well have allowed his indignation towards his Jewish compatriots and the gentile authorities to harden and embitter him. Yet in all gentleness he brings the Good News to all the believers.

Sometimes it's difficult to think of Paul as gentle as it is for us to think of Jesus being tough. We have become so used to thinking that Jesus went around thinking, "I am God and I am meek and mild," that we can't see Jesus as being as human as we are, or should we say, Jesus as being as human as we ought to be?

The Gospel writer in our reading from Matthew this week has been recording how those with power and authority sought to trick Jesus into saying something that would get him in trouble. Just as in contemporary society, people love to label themselves, or submit to being labelled, so it was during the ministry of Jesus. Today in the church and the nation we have all types and genders with different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Then, when Jesus lived, people identified with this or that and even belonged to groups labelled Pharisee and Sadducee and Herodian, "publican and sinner." The extraordinary thing is that even though they had grave differences, they were united in wanting to get rid of the Truth-Teller, Jesus.

We've all watched news conferences in which reporters seem as keen on tripping someone up as they are to discover truth. So, it was then. Question after question is hurled at Jesus. He avoids each and then a Pharisee, rulebook in hand, asks Jesus which rule is the best. Jesus tells them that the most important rule is not a rule at all, but rather a way of life.

"Love God and love one another," Jesus replies, quoting their own Hebrew Scriptures. And then he counters their claims to authority by stating that it is God's Chosen One, Messiah, Christ, whose authority is established by, with, and in LOVE.

We sometimes sing a song that contains these words: "You will know they are Christians by their love, by their love." Neither Jesus nor St. Paul confuses love with sentimentality-that love that avoids truth-telling. The love of the Gospel is a love that demands that each of us confront the truth about God and the truth about ourselves. And that's the sort of love we avoid.

It's interesting that Jesus avoids all the "nit-picking" questions thrown at him but confronts and silences his accusers by being a truth-teller about God and the purpose for which human beings have been created. The question for us is, how do we treat people who are different?

We find ourselves saying quite dreadful things about those who belong to another " group." There's still a good deal of snobbery among us. We still harbour racial hatred. We dislike foreigners.

Yet the Gospel, the truth to be told, tells us that there is a new kingdom among us, a very earthy kind of God-community, in which there is neither "Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free person." There are no outcasts, no second-class people; and even those who are caught up in evil are to be those whom we are to love gently as we tell the Gospel truth.

This is a very "earthy" message because it is not about our belonging to any particular group. "  It is all about a society whose purpose is to transform the world, most of all by the witness it gives to and in the world. When we divide, use power and authority to subject and push down, think that we are superior, we inevitably dehumanize people, and de-sanctify everything that God made. When we practice sacrificial love, we give back to God that which God has given us in Jesus, and that is the Gospel truth.

Paul and Jesus experienced how risky it is to tell people to live in accepting love, rather than in denouncing authority. When we truth-tell about love, we challenge those who find security in their own righteousness and pretended "control." Yet thousands of years after Jesus and his follower Paul, we meet to celebrate and own a better way, whatever the cost of this discipleship. At worship we Christians will turn and reach out either physically or emotionally to each other and start the "love way." God keep us in that way.

Friday, 16 October 2020

Render Unto Caesar.

“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” These words of Jesus from this week’s lectionary readings in Matthew 25:15-23, have become a sort of proverb both in the secular and religious worlds, and those who know little of scripture may still have heard “Render unto Caesar.” Yet, digging beneath the surface of this short encounter helps uncover some of the deeper currents in the exchange.

For me it’s an interesting combination of people that approach Jesus and Matthew tells us that the Pharisees come together with the Herodians. The Pharisees did not want to give money to their pagan oppressors and so were opposed to paying taxes to Rome. On the other hand, King Herod’s position of power came courtesy of the Romans, so even though the taxes were widely considered to be oppressive, the Herodians had a vested interest in keeping the Roman taxes paid. Therefore, the Pharisees and the Herodians each reflected one of the horns of the dilemma in the trap which the question to Jesus set out enmesh him in.

So, we have then the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?” The reference is to Jewish Law, which is also called the Law of Moses. Clearly, it was lawful to pay the tax by Rome’s standards; the question was whether it was proper for the Hebrew people to do so.

On the surface it would seem that Jesus has been presented with a question with no way out. He can’t speak against the tax, for that would anger the Herodians and lead to a charge of treason against Rome. He could not speak in favour of the tax without alienating most of the crowds that followed him. So, what did he do? Well, Jesus asks for one of the coins used in paying the tax. And as he does this, he begins to set up his own trap that will prove at least one of the questioners to be a hypocrite. The coin used for the tax was a silver Denarius with the image of Caesar on one side, and the image of a woman named Pax or personified peace on the other. Now such coins were against Jewish Law, which prohibited graven images being used or touched.

When Jesus asks for a Denarius, one is quickly located and handed to him. Jesus then asks the question that everyone in Israel could have answered without a coin in hand. In our reading for this week the New Revised Standard Version, translation states, “Whose head is this and whose title?” However, it is probably better to use the translation “likeness,” instead of title. When they answer Jesus’ question, saying that the image and likeness are “Caesar’s,” Jesus replies that they are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Give Caesar back those things that are Caesar’s. It is his coin anyway, who cares if you give Caesar back his coin for the tax?

Then Jesus gives the most amazing line of this short encounter when he continues by saying that we are to “give back to God the things that are God’s.” It leaves everyone calculating what exactly is God’s that we are supposed to give back. And in case you were wondering, the clue was the word “icon” or “image” and the word “likeness.”

The principle really is this: Just as the coin has Caesar’s icon on it, so it is Caesar’s, we who believe in  the one God believe we are made in the image and likeness of God, so we are God’s. Jesus affirmed the tax while making it all but irrelevant. He then implies that, though we do owe the state, there are limits to what we owe. Yet, Jesus places no limits regarding what we owe to God. Jesus is very clear that everything you have and everything you are is God’s already.

While this would certainly apply to the money you make, the formula is not that you give 100 percent of your income to God, for God knows you need the money for the necessities of life. The teaching is that once you have given God some of the money you earn, don’t feel that you have bought off an obligation. God wants to share in some of your time and energy, so the 100 percent formula relates to your calendar as well as your wallet.

The point is that you have been made in the image and likeness of God. God loves you. God keeps your picture in the divine wallet and on the heavenly refrigerator. Jesus did not care about the tax, for his real concern was that you live into the image and likeness of the God who lovingly created you.

You begin to live into the image and likeness of God by conforming your life to be more like Jesus’ life.

To live more fully into that image and likeness of God that is in you, give back your heart to God – for it is God’s anyway. In answer to the question, “What are the things that are God’s which we are to give back to God?” the answer is, “You.”


Friday, 9 October 2020

Expect the Unexpected.

The readings set in the Churches Lectionary this week are from Exodus 32 and Matthew 22 and are about the unexpected.  We live in a world of the unexpected. Just look at events over the last year or so with fire, flood, political incompetence and a Pandemic. Moses has been up on the mountain for a long time and the people are getting worried, even scared.  They don’t really know where Moses has gone, or why—they don’t understand.  Like so many times during their journey, they are confused and scared, and they lose faith which is not surprising.  They ask Aaron to make gods for them and he makes a golden calf which of course God sees. 

God tells Moses to go back down to the people, whom God threatens to destroy.  God’s anger is not so surprising, but Moses begs God to reconsider, and reminds God of the promises made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Then comes the surprise, the unexpected:  God changes his mind and relents. 

In Matthew we have the strange story of the king who held a wedding banquet for his son.  The invited guests would not come, so the king sent his slaves out to bring people in from the street. He seems surprised to find a guest who is not dressed “appropriately,” and orders the slaves to bind the man and toss him “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We might think that this is just a strange, rude, unkind man, full of himself and his power as king.  We might think this is just an odd story, if it weren’t for the opening sentence of this passage: 

“Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: ‘the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.’” “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to….”  We get the part about the kingdom of heaven being like a wedding banquet.  The story starts out in a seemingly normal way, but quickly takes a strange turn when the guests refuse to attend the party.  This is unexpected behaviour.  We can understand the connection between the kingdom of heaven and people being invited in from the streets—this makes sense to us. 

But then there is the unexpected behaviour of the king toward one of the guests who was probably poor and from the streets but isn’t dressed in appropriate wedding clothes. The king has him bound and thrown out into the darkness.  What does this say about the kingdom of heaven? We are shocked and surprised, as were those listening to Jesus because in many cultures, hospitality was very important to people.  It would have been unforgivable for guests or hosts to behave in such a manner.  The listeners would have been shocked and offended, especially when Jesus compared this story to the kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps that was the point as Jesus often made unusual, surprising or uncomfortable comparisons in his parables.  Once again, he challenges the assumptions of those listening, shocking them with a surprising or unexpected story. But why would he tell such a story about the kingdom of heaven?  It was not just for shock value as Jesus wants to expand people’s perceptions.  He was not saying that the kingdom of heaven is like the king or the banquet or the guests.  He is saying that the kingdom of heaven is beyond our expectations, beyond our assumptions, beyond what we can analyse and think through and get our heads around. 

It is saying to us that there is always more than what we can see. God will always surprise us; will always confront us with the unexpected.  We are called to be open to more and not just to rest in the comfortable assumption that we know all about God. The Parables of Jesus make us uncomfortable.  We don’t know what to do with them, these strange, confusing parables. We usually ignore them or try to find some way to explain them away— “well, this is what this really means.”

But there is a way of understanding them, without taking them literally.  Jesus is deliberately provocative and challenges our preconceived ideas about what God and the kingdom of heaven are like.  We all have our favourite ideas of what the kingdom of heaven might be like.  Jesus is telling us that it will be like nothing we can imagine.  In that over-used phrase, Jesus is inviting us to “think outside the box.” Because the truth is that we cannot know for certain. 

This does not mean we are stupid, but we are human, and our knowledge and our understanding are limited.  Even though we contain a spark of the divine, even though we are made in God’s image, we are not God. The most we can hope for in this lifetime are glimpses—through story and scripture, through prayer and meditation, through music and through our experiences.  If we are open to the Spirit, if we listen, if we pay attention, we can catch a glimpse here and there of the kingdom.

These are the glimpses when Paul the writer of Philippians speaks in the Letter to the Philippians. He says,

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and
if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

These are all things of the kingdom.  The only things Paul left out of his list might be “whatever is surprising, whatever is unexpected.”  It is often through those things that God speaks to us.


Friday, 2 October 2020

What Would We Do?

Any halfway decent real-estate agent or commercial property manager could probably explain this week’s lectionary reading, the gospel parable from Matthew 21, in two seconds flat. It is all about landlords and tenants after all. And there is an entire body of business law devoted to them and their all-too-numerous disputes.

In Jesus’ telling, a vineyard owner contracts with tenants for the use of his land – and then promptly leaves town for another country. At harvest time, the same landowner sends his slaves or agents back to the vineyard to collect the rent – his share of the harvest in this case – from the tenants. But the tenants decide to take matters into their own hands. Apparently hoping to secure the property for themselves, they beat the first slave, kill a second and stone the third. Then they do it all over again, finally even killing off the landowner’s son in the hope of somehow gaining his inheritance.

What are we to make of this graphic tale of greed and mayhem, violence and murder? At the very least, the landowner in question, we might be tempted to think, ought to have done a more thorough background check before renting out his vineyard – the very source of his livelihood – to those scoundrels who end up murdering his slaves and son. Surely even in the ancient world people knew who was trustworthy or not. Word got around, after all, even before the Internet.

And then the obvious question arises. Why did they do it? The tenants had to have been fairly bright guys. Or they would not have gone into agribusiness in the first place – then as now not an easy way to make a living. Did they really think they could get away with it – get away with murder? Well, apparently, they did. Their greed got in the way of their common sense and reason. No doubt not the first time such a thing has ever happened – and not likely to be the last either.

The point of the story seems so obvious to Jesus’ hearers that they leap to it without a moment’s hesitation. The landowner, they declare in moral outrage, “will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants.” The story must have also resonated with the early church community, for it is one of only a very few of Jesus’ parables recounted in all three of the so-called Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Alas, the news these days is sadly still full of just such parables of greed and corruption. We know them too well. We are even now just exiting one of the worse financial crises in our history – by fairly common consensus the result in large measure of rampant materialism and greed. And millions of people have suffered the consequences. So, yes, some people clearly do still think they can get away with it. And some indeed do. The world has not changed all that much in the time since Jesus told his parable.

We might conclude that it simply does not pay to be an absentee landlord. Better to stay home, lock the back door and mind the store. After all, there is no place like home. Surely, that is where one can feel safe and secure. Maybe so but try telling that to someone whose mortgage is still upside-down or under water and is likely to remain so for some time to come. Let’s face it. Even security at home is sometimes an illusion.

The parable, of course, is about us as much as it is about thieves – about us as much as it is about the “chief priests and the Pharisees” who come to recognise themselves in Jesus’ words. The priests and Pharisees at least deserve begrudging credit, if not for their actions then for their insight into their own motivations. They want to arrest Jesus for his words and be rid of him. They knowingly seek to neutralise his potent message of God’s righteousness and Kingdom. What they do not know – and what we sometimes forget – is that it cannot be done.

No matter where we live or what we have, we are all no more than tenants in God’s Kingdom. Nothing ever truly belongs to us. In the final analysis, everything we have has been lent to us. Everything is borrowed for a time. As the old saying has it, we are living on borrowed time – quite literally. Like the priests and Pharisees of this narrative, we too might wish the world were different, that tenants were owners and servants, masters. But it is not so.

“They will respect my son,” the landowner erroneously concludes as he decides to send his child as emissary after his slaves are beaten and killed. To paraphrase Doctor Phil, television’s favourite pop psychologist, “What was he thinking?” If only the landowner had gone to his minister, he might have been set right. “Do not send your son,” he would have been told in no uncertain terms. “Call the police and report the incident. Begin eviction proceedings. Get back home.”

All good advice to be sure, but it is doubtful the landowner would have followed even his beloved pastor’s counsel. For the landowner’s economy is not that of this world. And perhaps it is just as well. He knows something we tend to overlook, that in the end it is not a matter of land, property rights, wealth, possessions or ownership. For a follower of Christ, it is ultimately not even a question of life and death. It is only the Kingdom that matters, a kingdom most decidedly not of this world.

If we miss that point, we miss the point of Jesus’ parable entirely. We Christians miss the Kingdom at work in our lives. For, the Kingdom is, in fact, ours – but only to the extent that we give in turn to others of all that has been so generously given to us. In God’s Kingdom, finally, that is the only way tenants become landlords.


Friday, 25 September 2020

Acts of Love.

Imagine you are watching television and a commercial comes on. The camera pans out over a tranquil beach scene where a family is enjoying the sun and the water. One parent is helping a smiling child build a sandcastle, while the other child runs in the surf, throwing a stick for a bounding, energetic golden retriever. The other parent is sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella with a picnic basket and a drink, waving to the rest of the family. Finally, at the end, the product is advertised. But that’s not all, right? What was really advertised was not just a drink or an item of clothing or sunscreen or life insurance – the marketers were cleverer than that. They were advertising salvation – buy our product and it will save you from your harried, over-scheduled existence and lead you to this “perfect” life.

Sometimes, we are so harried, we are so tired, we are so over-scheduled, and perhaps are so short-sighted and feel so self-centred in our everyday existence that we buy into this false salvation. We grumble at our church leaders, “Is the Lord among us or not? We aren’t getting what we want. God’s not leading us to salvation as we imagined it, so maybe we need to look elsewhere.” Like the Israelites in Exodus, we are wandering through the wilderness of Sin – both a geographical place and a play on words that reminds us of our imperfection and unfaithfulness. Yet, God remains faithful. God is still at work in our lives, no matter what we believe, no matter what we do as we move through the wilderness.

Christians cannot separate our belief in God from the action it demands. We cannot immerse ourselves in “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” without being stirred to embodying this knowledge and love of God through our actions in the world. Together, they create faith. We can do a whole lot of prayer or a whole lot of serving in a soup kitchen, but an imbalance of one or the other does not exemplify what Jesus is asking. God is faithful in word and deed, and that is the faith that we are called to.

Take this modern parable for example:

There once was a man who came to know Jesus and wanted to be baptised. The whole community supported him, and he was baptised along with several others on a Sunday morning. Things seemed to be going smoothly with his newly minted faith. Prayer flowed easily from his lips and heart, he never went by the homeless person who was on the corner of the street where he worked without speaking to him and giving change when he could. He came to church every Sunday, sang in the choir, and went to adult formation classes.

After a while, things started to feel, well, like a suit that was becoming too small, too tight. What he once did with joy was now starting to feel like an obligation. He didn’t know what to do. When someone asked him to pray for them, he said, “Of course!” with enthusiasm and then forgot to. He began to avoid the homeless person by his work by going through another entrance. He attended church and church events less frequently. He considered his life outside of church as separate from his faith, and it was getting busy. He got a promotion at work, started dating someone seriously, and was getting involved in some philanthropic activities through his workplace.

He still believed in God and felt love for God but didn’t know how to integrate these pieces into the rest of his life. It all seemed like it was too hard, too much. Eventually, his church community who witnessed his baptism and vowed to do all in their power to support him in his life in Christ never saw him again.

Jesus teaches us in our gospel reading today, our intentions don’t really matter. It’s our actions that are grounded in and flow from our relationship with God that count – individually and as a community. The man in the parable was not the only one who fell short of his promises – the community did, too. All these everyday actions are outward and visible signs of our inward and spiritual grace. These are all acts of love – love that God has for us and that we have for God. Jesus preached and taught and touched and healed people. Over and over again, God’s actions prove God’s love for us.

If we take an honest examination of how God has touched each of our lives, we can be surprised by joy. Think back on your life, the ways that the tapestry of threads have been woven to get you to where you are today. Those times where just the right thing happened, those unexpected moments that changed your life, and the spaces in between, all where God was caring for you. How do we respond to this?

We aren’t perfect, but we are definitely called to be different. As we grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus and each other, may there by clarity and fire in God’s call to us, and may we receive the courage to do something about it.


Friday, 18 September 2020

Giving Thanks for Love and Life.

Children’s books seem to fall into categories: one appears to be about obedience or learning to follow the rules, a great number are about bravery and perseverance, others are about understanding the world around you, but a great many of the books for children today are about teaching our children that they are loved unconditionally. There seems to be a lot of these books, yearning to reassure us that we are lovable.One bookMama, Do You Love Me?, follows an Alaskan mother and daughter through a conversation where the toddler tests the boundaries and limits of her mother’s love, only to find that even if mama is angry, she loves her daughter still. It’s a story about how fragile we are as humans and how each of us is intrinsically good and worthy of love. It’s a great and honest book, and in some way tells the story of how much God loves us.

This is something we need in our world at the moment as we continue to face the consequences of the Pandemic especially its continued effects. In this week’s reading from the lectionary in Matthew 20 we find Jesus telling a parable that is also about how much we are loved. The parable of the five o’clock people tells of how fragile we are as humans and how boundless God’s love truly is. Many Christians have heard sermons every year on this parable. Sometimes it focuses on the anger and resentment of the people who showed up earlier in the day, sometimes it looks at why the people showed up at five, and other times we hear about how grace is given freely to all simply because they showed up. All of these ring true.

There is something quite fragile about humans; our fragility shows up when we Christians baptise babies and ask their families to protect them from evil and for the community gathered to look after them. Each of us is born with the love and hope of God implanted in our hearts; unfortunately, we are born into a fragile and broken world. At baptism, the child has had people promise to look after them as they grew into the person God imagined them to be in the midst of our communities.

This is the world of the parable: good and fragile people doing their best, wondering why some got more for doing less. What we and the workers forget is that God is not like us. God is better and more loving than we can imagine being. God looks at the workers and says, “I love you regardless of what time you showed up for work, I’m just glad you showed up.” Like the mother in the book I mentioned earlier, God’s love is not conditional on our behaviour, God just wants us to show up and work. It is a reminder that we need to be grateful for help in the work God has given us to do, regardless of what time that help arrives. The work is often about being a sign of love to the world, and finding ways to love others even if they don’t agree with us, look like us, or behave the way we want them to… or show up first thing in the morning for work.

One of the best ways we can be signs of love in the world is to say thank you. Gratitude is an expression of love. When someone does something kind for us, regardless of whether they had to or not, it is a reminder of the goodness in them meeting the goodness in us—and the natural response to kindness is gratitude. Gratitude is extraordinarily important because it is a way for us to remember the goodness in others and ourselves—but still, it is easy to forget to be grateful.

A spiritual discipline of gratitude doesn’t sound like much, but how often do we forget to say thank you? Thank you seems too simple, and yet it has the power to transform our lives. Have you ever tried genuinely thanking someone from whom you ordered food or coffee? Yes, it is that person’s job to make the coffee, but aren’t you glad that he or she said “yes” to doing the job that day? What about people you work with? Have you thanked them for all they do to support you? Have you thanked your family and friends? Most of us know the pain of someone dying suddenly with words of gratitude left unspoken between us. Saying thank you is simple, but it is transformative.

The good news is that God’s grace is so great and so surprising that it can provide enough no matter how late in the day it is – on the deathbed, in the jail cell, after repeated failures – because the recipient need not add anything to the grace, but simply receive it in order for it to do its life-sustaining work. Even as the sun sets on this life, it is not too late to accept God’s Amazing Grace.

And it is never too soon for the rest of us to begin to consider that heaven is “enough,” heaven’s daily bread and heaven’s daily wage make all earthly comparisons look meaningless and silly and for that we can give thanks. We Christians are called to be those people who pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and really make an effort to live that out. To live life in God’s kingdom is a journey to return to manna season.

One suspects this journey begins with being as generous toward God and others as God is with us. After all, there must be some reason that God has created us in God’s own image.' We are created to love and to give. And to be as surprisingly generous with our giving to God and to others as God is with us.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Aching for Answers.

Daily television images flood our imaginations with pictures of suffering and destruction. Not only have we had terrorist events but now we are living through a pandemic and the world has witnessed events that have blown away our sense of security. Death, destruction, loss, innocent suffering, and grief have seemed constant companions for many of us. The remembrance of the terrorist attacks in recent times and the pandemic continue to bring into our consciousness vivid, horrifying pictures. Some still feel the pain, agony, fear, and anger. With the terrorist attacks the feelings of vengeance and revenge stand as ready tempters that promise quick fixes to complex and profound problems. Some of the so-called and dangerous treatments suggested for the Covid-19 pandemic, play upon the feelings of insecurity and again promise quick fixes to complex problems.

Therapists for years have known that hearing the pain and perplexities of others can surface unresolved, suffering that the listener had pushed away and hoped to have forgotten. "Skeletons in the closet" experiences return like tormenting spirits. These people identify with some type of Ground Zero for they have experienced a similar private terror in their lives. Others feel a numbness setting in and they no longer feel anything. It's as if the constant stream of reminders of human suffering, terror, and death have created a spiritual callus that seemingly protects them from pain and covers their fear.

Christians, in the midst of all this complexity, chaos, and confusion, ache for answers that bring healing and hope to us and to those among whom we live and work and worship. People of faith must resist their need to try to say something merely to stop the pain. A premature proclamation usually produces glibness and pat, saccharine platitudes that are meaningless and ineffective. The call to serve may well be a call to continue feeling the pain and loss, to grieve with one another and to carry both the pain and grief into our praying.

We Christians pray in these days that the "Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts." The apostle Paul wrote in the Epistle to the Romans about deep, struggling prayer. "Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God who searches the heart, knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." Praying our struggles means bringing the full mixture of thoughts and feelings into our prayers. In addition to speaking directly to God, such praying consists of struggling with ourselves in the presence of God. Like Jacob in our Hebrew Scriptures wrestled with an angel and we too are called to wrestle with God even as we struggle with ourselves.

As Christians, we also struggle with Scripture. The themes present in the lessons appointed for this Sunday in our lectionary speak of the dangers of vengeance and anger to our souls. They call for forgiveness as an ongoing discipline. They remind us that everyone is accountable to God. While these challenges are not new, they take on added significance when we hear them against the backdrop the current problems of our world.

We hear such words as forgive your neighbour the wrong they have done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does anyone harbour anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord? Into our perplexity is thrown the notion that we endanger our souls when we are vengeful. Anger and wrath are considered an outrage. Yet, we feel in our rage the desire for revenge. We must bring those perilous desires into our prayer-filled struggle with God.

Try as we will to divide ourselves into "we" and "they," the truth remains that we humans all are related-like brothers and sisters of God. Hate and bitterness have no room in God's family. We cannot deny that we hold others with hatred or bitterness. That, too, is to be added to our inner, prayerful struggle. Peter knew that we are a forgiven people. His question resonates within us: "how often should I forgive?" Jesus' answer comes in the form of an idiom, "seventy-seven" which means that at all times and in all places, we are to embody God's forgiving grace.

Forgiveness involves more than absolution of guilt. It involves reconciliation of our past and the healing of our brokenness. It involves intentional work to heal and reconcile with one another. Such forgiveness remains troublesome until we allow ourselves to bring that brokenness into our struggle where the Spirit will intercede with us. God creates us and we then participate in God's creating. God heals and reconciles us to God, one another, and ourselves and then, we participate in that healing reconciliation. God awakens wholeness that invites us to share in that holiness. Healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness together sketch an embodied way of life of an ever-deepening friendship with God and with one another. Encouraging words in the current world.