Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
[I'm performing a wedding this weekend, and this is the homily I've written for it. I've, er, changed the names...]
Jim and Pam have chosen 1 John 4:19 as the text for their ceremony, which says “We love because he first loved us.” Let’s look at that verse in its larger context:
7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
John here seems a bit harsh in places, and I hope he’ll forgive me for suggesting that he also seems to repeat himself like a doddering old fool. This is, perhaps, not far off the mark, since we suspect this was written late in John’s life. He’s getting on in years, he’s writing to the churches over which he was an elder—this may even have been a sermon—and he wants them to get something. He’s very keen that they grasp the connection between the love God has for them and the love they show one another. We’ll come back to that.
But Jim and Pam have also identified a larger theme that frames our celebration today: that of second chances. God is all about second chances—and sometimes third and fourth chances. In fact, when asked how many times we needed to forgive the same person, how many chances we should give in order to reflect the love that God has for us, Jesus tells Peter “70 times 7,” which to a first-century Galilean fisherman was about the biggest number he could think of.
The broad arc of the Christian story is one of a global second chance, of God offering humanity not merely a do-over or a mulligan, but a shot at genuine restoration. Humanity has blundered, and continues to blunder, but God has stepped into this mess we call life in order to bring us back around. This is not some means by which the past is merely erased, but a way for it to be redeemed, bought back, carried with us into the present—not as a punishment or a reminder but as the very ground against which God’s love stands out in stark contrast.
At the end of the Christian story we have a knowledge of the depth of God’s love that we would not have had without having blundered in the first place. I’m tempted to say that of course this doesn’t justify our sin, but actually it does—not by making it right, or making it okay, or letting it go as if it were nothing, but by putting it into right relation. God’s love for us puts our own depravity into its proper context. There is a second chance for humanity.
Nested within this larger story—and in some ways the Bible is far more about this story than the larger one we extrapolate from it—is the story of a people. God calls Abraham out of Ur, which was probably Sumeria, to start a people who would play a special role in God’s plans. Later he calls that people, now known as Israel, out of Egypt to continue their journey as part of that plan. He forms a covenant with them, a covenant not unlike marriage, and in fact many passages in the Bible speak of that relationship in marital terms.
But Israel breaks the covenant. She is unfaithful, and God punishes his people by allowing them to be taken into exile by enemy forces. Their city is destroyed, along with the temple. They must learn to live in a strange land, among strange people with strange ways. They learn to make do and to serve God in adverse circumstances. God promises them that it won’t last forever, that he will one day send someone to rescue them. So they wait. And they wait. And they wait.
This is the context into which Jesus comes, as the very person who would rescue them. Jesus comes not just to rid us of our existential angst but to proclaim to his own people that God wasn’t angry with them any more, that their second chance had come at last, that their collective dark night of the soul was about to see the dawn break in at the start of a new day. There is a second chance for God’s people.
(I should also note that when Jesus’ followers take this message to the streets, God reveals to them that even the Gentiles—people who were not Israelites—could get in on the action, and this is where the smaller story connects to the larger one.)
God is also, of course, a God of second chances for individuals. Peter is a good example of this. Peter was a companion of Jesus and one of the twelve apostles entrusted with Jesus’ message. He traveled with Jesus, ate with him, watched him work wonders and heard his teachings. And yet when things got ugly, when Jesus was arrested by Roman officials and betrayed by his own people and even one of his own band of brothers, Peter, despite his protestations to the contrary, joins that betrayal by denying he knows Jesus. He throws Jesus under a bus.
Later, after Jesus has risen from the grave, he finds Peter, who has gone back to fishing. Peter has betrayed Jesus not just by denying him, but by giving up on his whole program and trying to fade back into obscurity. And here comes Jesus, back from the dead, to face Peter.
But Jesus doesn’t come for revenge or to say “I told you so” or even to demand Peter’s apology. He comes to forgive—and not only that but to reinstate Peter, to re-commission him with his original task of spreading the message. To allow Peter, if I might crib from Shakespeare a little, to wash out the damn spot of his own betrayal and once again be about the business of taking Jesus' message to the world. There is a second chance for Peter -- and for us as well.
Jim, Pam, the selection of this text and this theme in light of your circumstances is not lost on us. This is not, for either of you, your first rodeo. The children from your previous marriages are here, even in the wedding party itself. You’re not trying to hide this and we can’t pretend it’s not true. There is a very real extent, then—without assigning particular blame here—that our celebration is taking place in the context of prior failures. That stings a bit. We’re not judging; no one in this room wants to start dragging out catalogs of our foibles and follies. For any of us to claim the moral high ground would be merely to add hypocrisy to our own list of sins and shortcomings.
But we must be honest. The second chance is not starting over from some imaginary zero point, but starting again from where we are right now. If it is true, as the Bible tells us, that God does not remember our sins, it is just as Biblical to recognize that he is fully cognizant of them and loves us anyway. God is not some old fart who can’t remember all that we’ve done but a gracious father who loves us in spite of all that we’ve done.
This all sounds nice and good and lovely but if the 1 John passage I read earlier means anything, it is that this love must be realized. John is refreshingly honest; to say that we love because God first loved us is to recognize that we are not noble, or generous, or even particularly good. We do not love out of the kindness of our hearts or the depth of our virtue but in response to a divine overture. But John is also realistic in the sense that he knows that the love of God is not something we are going to experience outside of a concrete expression of that love in community. This is what the incarnation is about—not just God putting on human flesh in the form of Jesus, but also God’s spirit being poured out on all flesh that we might be Jesus, might become the body of Christ.
Yes, God is offering you a second chance, Jim and Pam, but look around this room to see the way in which that is being made concrete. We, your friends and family, are daring to step in for God, to be the body of Christ and extend that second chance to you, just as you extend it to one another. It’s not the papers we sign or the words I say that ratify or sanctify your marriage but our willingness, as a community, to recognize it, to call it out, to hold you accountable to it. We are here, today, to say God’s “I do” to you, God’s “yes” to your need for a second chance.
Likewise, if the incarnation makes any sense at all, then you are also to be this for and to one another. Jim, Pam is beloved of God, and chosen, but she’s going to feel that most deeply through your embrace and your encouragement. Pam, Jim is a broken man made whole by the grace of God but he’s going to know that in a special way through your compassion and your care. Marriage is the crucible through which God is going to continue to refine you into the people he’s called you to be. Peter’s second chance was to get back to the preaching of Jesus’ message. The Hebrew people’s second chance was to get on with the project of being a blessing to the Gentiles. Humanity’s second chance is the opportunity to participate in the ongoing restoration of creation. Your second chance is to take your place alongside us, now together as husband and wife, to learn grace.
Let us pray.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
As a result, introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal—they'd rather find meaning than bliss—making them relatively immune to the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture. In fact, the cultural emphasis on happiness may actually threaten their mental health. As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player, and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge—not to feel like misfits in their own culture.