Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, March 27, 2017

Mud in our Eye

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Congratulations on making it through another long and memorable story from the Gospel of John! Though I should warn you that we aren’t quite out of the woods yet. We have one more reading from John this Lent, though I promise you that this is the longest reading from John we have. And John is not all that easy to get through sometimes. John is full of double meanings and conversations happening on many levels at the same time, enough to make your head spin.  John likes to speak in code, which we’ve already seen much of this at work already, with Nicodemus and the woman at the well. Nicodemus talks to Jesus in the dark, Jesus meets the woman in the light. Nicodemus struggles to believe, while the woman at the well gets her WHOLE TOWN to believe. For John, those who don’t believe in Jesus are in darkness, and those who do are in the light.

So it is for most of scripture – God created light, and it was good. Those who walk in darkness have seen a great light. Jesus is the light of the world. The darkness shall not overcome it. The dark is full of the unknown. Scary things happen in the dark.

But does darkness and night deserve this kind of reputation of so much fear and avoidance? Pastor turned Seminary professor and writer Barbara Brown Taylor doesn’t think so. She embarked on a project to explore our complicated relationship with darkness, to prove that darkness and night have value. In her exploration, she has done a lot of adventurous things. She sat in a cave all by herself with no lights. She ate at a restaurant in Germany that serves their food in the dark. She even went to a completely dark exhibit in Atlanta that imitates what life is like for a person who is blind.

 She and a group of sighted people were led through a life-like simulation by a person who is blind in real life. They crossed a fake street with real traffic sounds, navigated through rooms, and all the while running into walls and bumping into each other. When Dr. Taylor ran into the man in front of her, she “did not know if he was old or young, white or black, pleasant to look at or not.” She had no visual information to judge him, or any of the other people stumbling along in this terrifying new world of noise and darkness and pretend danger. She only knew that he probably felt just as lost as she did. This experience left her with a question: how is it that seeing makes us blind?

Jesus had just finished teaching in the temple, and he and his disciples were walking along the road, when they came upon a man who had been born blind. The man existed outside of his community because of his disability, and he might have been begging along the road to support himself. When the disciples saw this man, they instantly judged him and his parents as sinners. Surely someone is to blame for this man’s blindness. In their minds, his disability was an outward sign that someone did something wrong, and this man was being punished for it. Therefore, this man was pushed to the margins of his community. To many, this man was invisible.

But Jesus did something that the disciples didn’t expect. Jesus refused to participate in the accepted culture of victim-blaming. Instead, Jesus saw the man with something more than just his eyes. He saw him through the eyes of God, the one who sent him, and viewed him as a created child of God, worthy of his attention and love, instead of judgment and rejection.

What did this man DO to EARN Jesus’ attention and healing that day? This man didn’t have extra strong faith. This man didn’t “pray hard enough.” He didn’t do extra community service or was an “extra good person.” He was in need. He was on the outside. And Jesus found him.

This is what Jesus is in the habit of doing – finding people on the outside of the rules that we are so good at creating for ourselves. Those of us who are able to see rely – perhaps too much – on the visual. We are really good at making judgments about what’s on the outside – skin color, biological gender, difference in dress because of religion, cultural values or economic status, weight, height, athletic ability, physical differences or visible disabilities.

We are really, really good at finding ways to separate ourselves from other people, making divisions between one another, whether physical or emotional walls, fences, or barriers. And once we are divided, we can judge and weight the importance and worth of US verse THEM. THEY do things because they are lazy, less smart, or loved less by God because of what we perceive as their deficiencies.

I recently saw a picture on Facebook that shows a group of people with pencils drawing lines between each other, and Jesus following right behind with his eraser, erasing all the lines. Because that’s what Jesus is actually all about. Erasing the lines we have drawn between one another. When we make lines and rules to keep people out, Jesus is always with the people on the outside. Which makes the people who are the ones drawing the lines very angry.

Case in point – just in case you were thinking that surely Good Protestants like us were beyond such things. This last week at Princeton Seminary, affiliated with a branch of the Presbyterian church, it was announced that a well-known preacher named Tim Keller was to receive a prestigious award. There was one problem though. Princeton Seminary represents a branch of Protestantism that affirms the ordination of women and also those who are part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, as does our own denomination, the ELCA. The Reverend Tim Keller does not. When a public outcry came from both current students and alumni, the seminary decided to rescind the award but still allow Keller to speak. The most surprising thing, though, was the counter-outcry that came from some male heterosexual pastors, who minimized the legitimate calling of women and whose who identify as part of the LGBT community. Their pencils were sharp and full of lead, ready to redo the lines that Gospel has erased, blind to the inclusive power of the message of Jesus.

The man born blind in today’s story had not sinned, but the sin of the Pharisees and those in power trying to stop Jesus made them blind. And what was that sin? It was the certainty of the Pharisees that God was on THEIR side – the side of rules, walls, and dividing lines.
In their minds, Jesus was doing this Messiah business ALL WRONG. He healed the wrong person – a blind beggar. Jesus healed on the wrong day – on the sabbath, the day that no “work” was to be done. Jesus hung out with all the wrong people – women at wells, fishermen and tax collectors, revolutionaries, and outsiders. Jesus was doing this “God thing all wrong.” And so, Jesus must be stopped. The people in power got angry too. Angry enough to take matters into their own hands. This made them blind to all the amazing things that God was doing in their midst.

“How has seeing made US blind?” as Barbara Brown Taylor asks. How have WE too missed out on what is God is doing in OUR midst? How have we missed seeing Jesus at work because he uses people we don’t expect?

In fact, could God be doing amazing things in our midst RIGHT NOW, just as we are?
We may look around at ourselves and think what we see not enough for God to use. We may feel like we are on the outside, looking in, compared to others. We may look around and feel like we are incomplete as we are and not fit to be useful for God’s kingdom. Right now – TODAY -  Jesus sticks mud in our eyes and washes us in the pool called Sent, revealing to us that we are worthy to be claimed as part of God’s family and worthy of doing God’s work. NOT when we are more of this and less of that. But right now. So, we go out following Jesus’ lead – erasing the lines, breaking the walls, ripping up the fences that come between us and those the world says are not worth our notice.

Like Jesus, you are the light of the world. But you are also the erasers of the world, too. Amen. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Living Water for a Parched Life

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Today we again find ourselves reading from the Gospel of John and meeting a very memorable character along the way. Last week we met Nicodemus, a prominent religious leader a powerful Jewish group called the Pharisees. This week we meet a woman with no name, a member of the wrong religion and ethnic group, a person who the disciples would never want to be seen with. And yet, we see Jesus do something shocking. He talks to her.

Lately I have been reading a great novel called “Wonder” by R J Palacio. It’s about a memorable character named August who was born with a severe face deformity. When we meet him, at age 10, he has endured many surgeries, and has been homeschooled by his mom. Until now. August enters directly into the anxiety of middle school, you all remember what that’s like! Only August faces his peers with the added disadvantage of a face that causes people to stare, making him a person that no one seems to want to be friends with.  

On his first day, he enters the cafeteria with his lunch, looking for an empty table and praying to be left in peace. But after he sits down, someone joins him. Her name is Summer, and together they decide that the only people who can sit at their table are other people who have names that are associated with warm weather – you know, like Summer and August. This conversation is seemingly about nothing important, but there is something else going on beneath the surface. Wonder of wonders, on his first day of school, August makes a friend.

by Chinese artist He Qi
The Gospel of John also has a lot going on underneath the surface. And today is no exception, with Jesus and his surprising encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Surprising because it was not acceptable for respectable men to talk with women unless they accompanied by their husband, brother, or other male relative. And yet, Jesus strikes up a conversation.

She was also a Samaritan, “strike two” against her, since Jews did not interact with Samaritans, because of a long history of bad blood. Samaritans were related to the Jewish people but had intermarried with other groups and worshiped God in different ways. 

If that were not enough, this woman has a third strike against her in being married 5 times and living with a man who was not her husband.

Was this woman sexually immoral, promiscuous, or “loose,” as centuries of male theologians and preachers have led us to believe? Or was she actually more of a loser in her own culture and society? This woman lived before no-fault divorce. She lived before women could vote, or have jobs outside the home, or control their own bank accounts, or have much say at all over their own lives. We can never really know what her life was like, but there are other options besides being “loose” woman. She could have been widowed five times and now considered cursed. She could have been unable to have children and so cast off by each husband through divorce. Perhaps she lived with the sixth man because, by then, no one else would take her in and take care of her, since she would not be allowed any kind of job to support herself on her own.

In any case, she was judged by the other people in her community, so much so that she would prefer to carry her heavy water jar in the heat of the day – alone - rather than face the whispers and stares of the other women who came when it was much cooler, in the morning of evening. By doing so, she could avoid the shame of knowing no one wanted to associate with her. But even that didn’t help. She is still being whispered about and stared at, two thousand years later, by preachers and theologians who continue to hang the label of “loose” on this woman like a scarlet letter.

When this woman came to the well that day, she was not just physically thirsty, but emotionally and spiritually parched too. Her relationships have failed her; her culture has failed her; and historians and preachers throughout the ages have failed her. She might have wondered if God had failed her too. Her world had become a harsh desert of shame. 

So the last thing she expected that day was to have a conversation with the savior of the world. The last thing she expected was to be a part of the longest theological discussions with Jesus in any of the Gospels. The last thing she expected was to be offered living water to quench her parched life.

To Jesus, she is not defined by her past, what she has or hasn’t done; she is not defined by who she’s with; she is not defined by gender or race or creed. To Jesus, she is a thirsty person in need of living water.

To Jesus, WE are not defined by our past, or by what we’ve done or haven’t done, or by who we’re with or our race or gender or if we believe the “right” way. To Jesus, WE are thirsty people in need of living water.

Jesus didn’t offer this woman living water once she’d gotten her life “straightened out” into something more socially acceptable. He offered her living water at her moment of greatest need.

Likewise, Jesus won’t wait to give US living water once we’ve gotten our lives all in order, because, frankly, that’s never going to happen. We’re too weighed down by the past, or too overwhelmed by the present, or too afraid of the future. We desperately need Jesus and the living water he provides.

That living water is a relationship with Jesus and a place in the community that Jesus has been called to save. It is a gift that will never expire, a well that will never run dry, a light that never goes out. And WE, just as we are, are invited to be part of this community, this family.

You are enough. You are loved. You have a place here in the family of God. That is news that the world desperately needs right now. That’s exactly where Jesus meets us, at the deep well of our need, and offers to us something way better than anything else out there. And that’s also exactly when Jesus turns us into bubblers.

Now, what’s a bubbler? Its what people like me from Wisconsin call “drinking fountains.” A bubbler does what it sounds like – water bubbles up out of it for us to drink. That’s what living water does, too. It bubbles up in you, sometimes quietly, sometimes with gusto, and always spilling out onto the people around you. This is the joy that Jesus gives us, that he called us as his beloved children and followers, and THEN send us OUT into the world to splash other people.

And that’s exactly what happened to this outcast Samaritan woman. She leaves her water jar at the well in her haste to tell others about this man who just might, maybe be the Messiah, the savior of the world. She became an evangelist, a preacher for her community. In fact, she converted her entire town! All because she left her jar at the well and splashed the entire town with living water.

The Samaritan woman didn’t have all the answers. But instead of being paralyzed by confusion like Nicodemus last week, this woman invited people to wonder with her. She invited everyone she knew to meet Jesus for themselves.

Like the woman at the well, we are invited to lay down our empty jars, so that we can be filled with living water. Like the woman at the well, we become the vessels Jesus needs to carry this water to a very thirsty world. Like the woman at the well, we all get to be bubblers by sharing the living water from Jesus.

That’s right – we may not be back in middle school, but I’m giving out homework.  

Tell one person this week about where Jesus has met you at your well and gave you the living water to sustain you. I

t can be someone you know well, or it can be someone you don’t know. 

Be a bubbler during coffee hour. 

Be a bubbler in ACME to a cashier having a hard day. 

Be a bubbler at the dinner table with your kids or grandkids.

The world needs us. It’s time to be bubblers for Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Nicodemus Might Have Been A Lutheran

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ, Amen.

One summer my sister babysat for our neighbor’s daughter, who was three at the time. All day every day, she would point to everything within reach and ask “what’s that?” ‘What’s that?” Driving us all up the wall. I’m sure none of you has EVER known a toddler to do that, right??

The story goes that Martin Luther’s toddler Hans was running around the house, pointing at everything and asking “Was ist das?” What is this? (This story is in the introduction to the Small Catechism by Augsburg Fortress). And probably also driving his parents up the wall. But questions are how we learn. And so Luther used his son’s question to teach his students about the basics of Lutheran teaching. And so the Small Catechism was born.
So you might say that our Lutheran faith is built on asking questions. There is space for questions here. Questions are part of our DNA, in our most formational Lutheran documents like the Small Catechism. And things that happen in worship can cause us to ask questions too. For example, why are we reading from in the Gospel of John so much during Lent when we are in the year of reading Matthew?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for you. But I can say that it is only in John that we get the stories about Nicodemus, the woman at the well, a man born blind, the raising of Lazarus, the foot washing, and the post resurrection conversation between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in garden. A few of these stories we get to hear this Lent -  the woman at the well, the blind man, and Lazarus, and Nicodemus.

Who was Nicodemus? He was a member of a group called the Pharisees, and a leader of the Jews. Wait, leader of all the Jews? What does that mean? Well, most scholars agree that “the Jews” was John’s shorthand for the Jewish authorities who later opposed Jesus, not the whole nation or religion of Judaism.

But why would this leader of a group who opposed Jesus try to meet with him? And why might Jesus agree to such a meeting?

Perhaps Jesus has hope when Nicodemus admits his fledgling belief that Jesus comes from God. But Nick – from now on I’m going to shorten up his name – has trouble tracking with Jesus after that. Once Jesus starts in with the birth and spirit and wind stuff, Nick gets totally lost. He seems to stop asking questions, throwing up his hands, and exclaiming “How can this be?” in complete confusion.

Now if Nick had been Nicole, it might have been obvious to her that the tricky Greek word Jesus uses was not meant to be taking biologically. This word could mean many things, including born “from above,” born “again,” or born “anew”. We know, even if Nick didn’t, that Jesus was talking about another birth that most of us have experienced AFTER our physical birth. Water is still involved. But for this birth, it is God who carries us to term, and pushes us out into the world to be born. Jesus was talking about baptism.

Was is Das? What then is baptism?

Baptism is our rebirth into the family of God. In our baptisms, God chooses us as beloved and chooses us to be that love in the world. We no longer are defined by what family we are from, how much we make, or what orientation, gender, or race we are. We are defined only by the power of that love, reborn by water and the Spirit of God.

We may be baptized once, but its something that we need to remember as often as possible. According to Luther, in our baptisms our Old selves and our old desires are drowned daily and a new person rises daily. We are buried with Christ in our baptisms, and die to sin, so that we may rise to new life in Christ, as he has risen from the dead.

So why then, with all this death talk, do we baptized babies? Well, a baby can’t do anything on his or her own. She can do nothing to earn your love or to earn God’s love. God has already decided on you from the day you were born. God chose you when there was literally nothing you could do to choose God. Before you could even believe in God, God believes in you.

Jesus believed in Nick even when Nick found it hard to believe in Jesus. We shouldn’t be too hard on Nick, though. Nick does show up again in the Gospel of John. A little later, the Pharisees and Chief priests wanted Jesus arrested, and Nick uses his question-asking powers to defend Jesus, by asking, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (John 7:50-51).

Nick returns a third time, when he along with Joseph of Arimathea, ask for Jesus’ body and brings one hundred pounds of burial spices to anoint the body of Jesus (John 19:39). Here we see that Nick is now “all in” with his faith in Jesus, bringing way more spices than necessary, and doing something that was considered at the time to be “woman’s work.” Imagine, a prominent leader of the Jewish authorities rolling up his sleeves to give a criminal a proper burial. What a “180” for a man who first met with Jesus in the secrecy of darkness, who now is instead drawn out of the darkness as a believer in Jesus.

Somewhere along the line, Nick learned to trust Jesus even in the confusion. Perhaps the conversation that he and Jesus had stuck with him, and Nick saw Jesus live out that famous verse that we all know, John 3:16 – that God loved the world enough to send Jesus to save it. And for those who believe and have faith, Jesus shares eternal life.

The Chinese character for “faith” is actually two symbols put together. The first looks like a stick person if you squint a bit, and the second looks like an open mouth with lines rising like words. When I was in China for a two-week cross cultural trip in seminary, I learned from our guide that this word has these characters for a reason. It looks like a person standing next to their word. You might say that faith looks like trusting that a person will stand next to what they say.

Who does Jesus stand for? And what is God saying?

Jesus stand FOR God’s love at work in the world, by standing WITH us.

Jesus stands with those who are lost in the darkness, those who have questions, and those who don’t have it all together. Jesus stands with those who are misunderstood and abandoned, with the voiceless and the powerless, and those who work to bring them justice. Jesus stands with people that others have forgotten and pushed aside.

We will see at work next week, with the woman at the well. She too had questions, but was at the opposite end of the social spectrum from Nick. She was a woman, a foreigner, cast out by all the men in her life and stigmatized by her community.  But we will see that Jesus spent time with her, took her seriously, and showed her that “people like her” have worth in the eyes of God. This is what Jesus does, over and over again. And Jesus does not stop doing this, even when the people in power would do anything to make him stop, even going so far as to silence him forever by nailing him to a cross. What Jesus said to Nick that night came true. Jesus was lifted up on a cross, so that he might save us all.

The journey of Nicodemus took him far out of his comfort zone. It started in the safety of darkness, but even there in the dark womb of God he was being prepared for his rebirth. Nick knew then that he had everything to lose, but slowly came to realize that this didn’t matter. Because he had everything to gain.

So Nick believed and he trusted. He acted in his life as if Jesus would stand by his word. And so he took chances and put himself at possible risk in order to do live that out. Nick didn’t know how it would work out. But as Dr. David Lose said yesterday at the seminary in Philadelphia to a room full of dedicated church volunteers out to talk about Sunday School on a Saturday: “Faith isn’t about having all the answers.”

Perhaps, faith is trusting God in the middle of all the questions.

What other questions do you wonder about? Perhaps these questions don’t have answers right now. But I WILL leave you with one more question today. It’ is a question I hope you think about, and I hope one that you will ask one another as well. This is a safe space here, and together we can help one another as we put words to how we may feel about God and faith.

So I ask you to think about this question today. What does having faith in Jesus mean for you? 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Temptations in Our Wildernesses

3-5-17, Lent A1

(I read from the end of chapter 3 before the usual reading, which began:) 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

In light of the announcement that I knew I would make to all of you this morning…. I confess to you that writing this sermon was really, really hard. It is, after all, a PREACHING honor I have received, and so naturally that mean that ALL of my sermons from now until eternity are going to be AMAZING. No pressure! But as I stared at the computer screen, I could feel the blank white space whispering in my mind something like this: “Since this happened to you, you should have no problem composing a sermon to really knock everyone’s socks off. So, you had better be ready to prove that you are the real deal, and that was not just some fluke.”

That voice is going strong today, since last night I read what I had submitted, and found 3 typos! Oy.

We have all heard that voice. It’s the same voice has probably spoken to JK Rowling right after she finished the Harry Potter series, or former President Obama on January twenty-first, or Lin-Manuel Miranda after leaving the cast of his wildly successful musical Hamilton. For all of us, after a big, life-changing moments, we wonder – who am I now? Was this just a big accident? Or did I actually deserve this? And now that this has happened to me, NOW what do I do? How do I live? Do I have to keep proving to the world that I matter? In times like these, we suddenly be experiencing an identity crisis.

Now we may not find ourselves lead out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit right after our baptisms, as Jesus did. We may not face a serpent or the devil face to face. We may not have the ability to turn stones to bread or ever be offered all the kingdoms of the world. But we DO have an identity given to us by God, just as Jesus did. Jesus had just come from his baptism, still dripping, when his freshly recognized and newly blessed identity as the Son of God was called into question. And we too have an identity given to us by God, being called Children of God in our baptisms, and we too are under the world’s scrutiny before the water on our heads has a chance to dry.

In the wilderness Jesus found himself in, his was identity tested. On the verge of starting his earthly ministry, Jesus had to define what it meant to be “the son of God.” Here the tone is set for the Jesus administration. Was is going to reflect a kind of power and glory that the world could easily recognize? Or would Jesus set his agenda according to God’s definition of power and glory?

In the end, would Jesus be able to “prove” that he was “good enough” for the job as the Son of God?

The first temptation does seem pretty harmless, though. After all, it wouldn’t hurt anyone if Jesus did a little magic on those rocks so he wouldn’t be so grumpy as he seems to be later. And not just one loaf, which would be plenty for one person, but why not many, as the devil suggests, just in case Jesus wants a snack later? But Jesus tells the devil “No Dice,” and saves his divine breadmaking skills for another time, to feed 5,000 hungry people, later in the Gospel of Matthew.

The same happens with the other two temptations. Instead of throwing himself off a roof to test God plan for him, Jesus instead shows his resolve do follow God’s will, which will result in Jesus being lifted high on a cross and not on the pinnacle of the temple. And instead of seizing the opportunity to rule all the kingdoms of the earth for himself, Jesus instead will open the kingdom of heaven to all who follow him. In the rest of his ministry, we can see how Jesus’ time in the wilderness prepared him to fulfill his baptismal identity. 

In the wildernesses we find ourselves in, be they physical, emotional, or spiritual, we too find our identity tested. We are constantly tempted into thinking that, as we are right now, we are not good enough to be children of God. I would have turned those stones into bread in a heartbeat, and probably added some hummus too, faster than you can say “Hangry.”

Most of us are aware of our limitations and our hang-ups, and the tempter takes every opportunity to remind us where we fall short with a never-ending commentary in our brains – Surely, we are mistaken if we think that God has chosen us in our current state.  Surely, God wants us to work a little harder at being God’s children. Surely, we need to prove that we are worthy of being chosen.
From a mural by Ken Green in St. Paul MN

I imagine something similar going through Eve’s mind while she listened to the clever arguments of the serpent in the garden. When the serpent told her that eating the fruit would make her more like God, to have knowledge of good and evil, she jumped at the chance. Why would she listen to the words of the serpent? Perhaps because she did not trust God to be God. She did not trust that God had created her good, just as she was. Perhaps she thought that she could help God out a little bit, to prove her worth. Both Eve and Adam trusted the words of the serpent more than the words of God.

The Adam and Eve in all of us all too often trust the words of the crafty serpents around us, rather than the incredible promise that we are loved and claimed as God’s children. When the rest of the world tells us the opposite, God tells us that we are worthy, we are loved, and we are enough.

It’s hard for us to see ourselves as God sees us. We look into ourselves and only see what is lacking, and so comes our tendency to reach for too much power, too much security, too much comfort in order to fill the gaps. But God sees us a different way. God sees us in a way that is not unlike how parents see their children when they are born, or how brides and grooms see one another as they say their vows on their wedding day.  

In one of my favorite books I read last year called Lila by Marilynn Robinson, the title character only saw herself through the eyes of those who looked down on her because of things she did in her past in order to survive as a homeless person in the 1930s. All her life she gave into the temptation to see herself as not deserving anything good that happened to her. Somehow, she ends up in a small town in Iowa, and met the local bachelor minister. 

Through their relationship and eventual marriage, Lila starts to see herself as God sees her, through the gentleness and kindness of another human being who saw her with the eyes of love.

On the day that preacher proposed to and baptized Lila, he remembered the day they met: “I expected to continue with [loneliness] the rest of my life. Then I saw you that morning. I saw your face.”

Lila replied, “Don’t’ talk like that. I know about my face.”

But he persisted. “I suspect you don’t. You don’t know how I see it.”

One night during a snowstorm after they were married, the two of them were talking, and Lila’s husband said, “Family is a prayer. Wife is a prayer. Marriage is a prayer.”

Lila, remembering her own baptism, adds, “Baptism is a prayer.”

To that, her husband replied, “No, baptism is what I call a fact.”

Your baptism is a fact. God’s love for you is a fact. God chose you – that’s a fact too.

Lent is the time of the church year that prepares us for the Ultimate Fact. That in Jesus, God’s love is shown to the world. In Jesus, we see that the love of God would go to any length for us, and would travel any distance, and would even go to death and back for God’s beloved children. And for Jesus, no wilderness is to wild or too forsaken to Jesus to travel with us.

Lent is not for us to improve ourselves with sacrifices to become more worthy or more holy come Easter Sunday. Lent instead takes us through the wilderness to reflect our own shortcomings, to remind us to let God be God. Not so that we can feel guilty at where we have fallen short. But so that we can get out of our own way and be nothing less than members of God’s family. It’s been said that when Martin Luther felt tempted to despair by the devil, he would shout in response, “I am baptized!” Not “I was”, but “I AM.” Present tenses. True in this very moment.

The trip through Lent every year takes us from a garden to a wilderness and back again, from human sin and transgression and death to resurrection, from the ash crosses of Ash Wednesday to the shadow of the cross on Good Friday, through the Garden of Eden, to the garden of Gethsemane, to the garden that contained Jesus’ empty tomb. Every year, we tell the story, to remind ourselves who we are and WHOSE we are. “I am baptized.” Present tense. Now and forever. Amen.