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Monday, September 24, 2018

I invite you to find someone near you and spend a few minutes talking about this question: What does it mean to welcome/receive Briana (a 9 month old baby) among us at King of Kings?

"Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'” I know I'm not Jesus, but how convenient of him to place Briana in our midst this morning and almost every Sunday in the 7 months since she was born.  Not only does he place her here with us, but he says to us this morning that to welcome her is to welcome Jesus and to welcome Jesus is to welcome God.
    I don't know if you remember, but we prayed for Briana before she was born.  Do you remember?  It was a high-risk pregnancy, and we prayed for a couple of months at least.  Briana was almost not here among us, yet here she is.
    Why do you think God brought her to us?  
    What do you think God is teaching us through her?
    In the Bible, it is always the outsider that gets who Jesus is.  The Syrophonecian woman from the other day gets that there is enough Jesus to go around, the foreign leper is the only one of 10 to thank Jesus for healing him, the Good Samaritan/foreigner is the one to stop and help a man beaten and thrown in the ditch, when the rabbi and priest cross on the other side of the street.  Peter didn't want to see Jesus fail, but Jesus knew he would by the world's standards.  Briana fails over and over again each day.  She grabs for something and misses.  She tries to speak and babbling comes out of her mouth.  She drops her pacifier.  She bumps her head.  But Briana isn't afraid of failure, because she learns something each time she tries.  Briana is a death and resurrection machine!  Perhaps God is teaching us to be open to failure and to learn from our mistakes.  Perhaps Briana can be an example to us.
      Her cries are not distractions, but they are a wake up call to all those of us in comfort to look around at the suffering that is going on, that we perpetuate, that we ignore.  They represent the cries of the refugee in Syria, the cries of of the little ones in our own country who are locked in dog crates, imprisoned and separated from their parents with our tax dollars, for seeking asylum from war-torn countries and gang violence.  Her cries take us to a stable long ago when another little inconvenience came helpless into this world, uninvited, no room for him.  Will we make room for her?
    Jesus today puts Briana in our midst.  She is innocent, curious, hopeful, and do you see how she makes eye contact.  She wants to connect with us.  Through the scriptures, Jesus is placing her at the center.  We come here, for what?  To pray?   To hear a sermon?  To get spiritually fed for the coming week?  Jesus says we come here to see, to become aware of, to relate to these little ones.  We come here to be the body of Christ with others, including Briana.  Jesus puts Briana front and center.  She's what we're here for?  But God, I just want my quiet moment with you.  What's that, Jesus?  Faith in you is lived out in relationship with the Briana's of this world?  I don't know if we're ready for that God. Ready or not, we get to practice, because here she is!
    Do you remember 6 years ago, we were missing our right arm?  We were the body of Christ without a limb.  A person can get by without a limb, but it makes life hard.  We were a congregation without children, a crucial piece missing.  And we accepted it.  We said, "We will be a congregation of old people." And God laughed and sent us children!  We got our right arm back.  But we got used to being without it, and we're not sure what to do with it now.  We all have different standards of how to look after children, about their noise and movement.  People today don't raise kids the way you did--it is a different world than the one you raised kids in.  But Jesus is saying that our discomfort as a church is a challenge to us.  God is trying to show us something, teach us something, and we need to pay attention so we can learn from Jesus, through Briana.  Jesus is saying Briana is not a distraction.  She is essential to the body of Christ.  She helps complete us.  She is integral.  Our discomfort is not saying that she needs to change, it is saying that we need to change.  Jesus is trying to change us, to get through to us.
    I struggle with what it means to welcome the children.  Some parts of church can be difficult for an energetic kid.  So we set up a craft time.  But what message is it to send children out of church?  The message I fear it is sending is that the children aren't full participants, which is what I was trying to counteract with my sometimes disasterous, sometimes accidentally brilliant interactive children's services that we did for a couple of years until it clearly wasn't working.  So if they are leaving the service now, why are we surprised that kids leave and never come back once they get into middle school and high school?  When and how do they switch from being sent out, to being full participants in church, in the body of Christ?  
    I know I am old fashioned.  I sat in church for years not understanding very much of the sermon or the Bible readings, but fully understanding I was part of something, among people who loved me, and who I loved.  That's my prayer for Briana and my prayer for you, whether or not you can hear or understand the sermon or any other part of the service.  Know that you are loved and treat one another as members of the beloved community.  God gave us each other as a gift.  Those of us with more experience get to welcome and receive the little ones.  And we find that they welcome and receive us, they teach us what is really crucial, they soften our hearts, they help us look for the value in each one, even the parts that make us uncomfortable.  
    I pray that Briana will carry on in beloved community of one form or another.  Maybe a church, maybe a neighborhood group, some form of beloved community, who knows what form it might take.  I pray that she'll be there with her gray hair and her walker and that when someone comes in carrying a curious little bundle with big eyes and a bigger smile, that she'll give a smile, because she knows from her experience here what it meant for her to be received as a little child.

September 16, 2018

Mark 8:27-38                      
Isaiah 50:4-9a                     
James 3:1-12     
                We play a lot of children’s games in our house, right now.  When I was a kid, Babar was the game I loved best, and I was a sore loser.  I didn’t realize like most 4 year olds, that it isn’t about winning, but about relating to each other and having fun.  Now my favorite is UNO.  We also like dominoes, Candyland, and Chutes and Ladders to play as a family.
                In Chutes and Ladders, you spin to find the number of spaces moved.  If you land on a space with a ladder you get to move up the board.  If you land on a space with a chute, down you go. 
                In the reading from James, folks are moving forward on the board as teachers in the Christian Faith.  But the game they are playing is not God’s game.  They are trying to gain in importance and recognition.  The further forward they try to move, to get toward their goal of perfection, the more chutes they encounter.  The more they put themselves out in front of other people, the more people see their flaws and inconsistencies, the more times they put their foot in their mouth.  The more they let their mouth run, the more trouble they get into and the more people see them for who they are, not wise, faithful people, that God has in mind for them, but two-faced, and bitter and far from their goal of glory, or wisdom, or respect.
                The reading from Isaiah reveals someone who is on the path where God is leading, spinning the spinner and moving forward, sustaining the weary and teaching with compassion.  But others don’t value the path that the speaker is on.  Maybe they are jealous.  Maybe they just have different values.  But they are threatened by this path, so they strike with violence, they insult and spit, they pull, they try to influence.  They try to get the one speaking to play a different game, the game this world values.  But it is God who acts to support the one speaking here and help them move forward.  Sometimes we feel so alone out there on the path, but when we are on the path toward the vision of God, God is with us.
                There is a question here, who is this reading about?  Who is it that is faithful, not rebellious, who is accosted, who got his beard pulled, who did not hide his face from spitting?  Is it about the prophet Isaiah?  Isaiah is persisting despite all kinds of obstacles and people who stand against him.  Some say it is a prophecy about Jesus.  Some say it is about Israel.  In that case it might be more wishful thinking. I think it still applies to people who stand in resistance to the values of this world, with a vision of God’s Kingdom, people willing to sacrifice for what they believe in.  We could say our veterans, and those serving in the armed services have put themselves at great risk to stand for the greater good.  This could be about them. Some have said that those protesting at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building against the incarceration of children and those seeking asylum are putting themselves at some risk and pain to keep attention on the plight of vulnerable people.  Often as people have moved forward toward the vision of peace and wholeness they see as coming from God or from ultimate good, others have mocked them, hurt them, and tried to make them doubt themselves.
                The disciples are on a path with Jesus.  The end point is not that clear to them.  All they know is that they have been invited to move forward with Jesus and they feel drawn to leave their home and everything they have ever known at start, and move forward in faith.  Sometimes they land on a chute.  They argue about who will sit next to Jesus in the heavenly realm, they fail to heal people, they ask who sinned this man born blind or his parents.  Sometimes they climb ladders.  They participate in a healing, they see Jesus transfigured.  Today Peter climbs up a high ladder.  He correctly identifies that Jesus is the Messiah.  He realizes Jesus defies all the categories, that he is different from anyone who has come before.  I get the feeling Peter didn’t even know what was going to come out of his mouth, speaking of taming the tongue!  But this time his tongue bore witness to what was beginning to dawn on him, it spoke a deep truth that was just being born in his thoughts.  So he climbs so high.  He feels like he’s almost finished the game.  But then he listens to Jesus say what will happen to the Messiah, and Peter isn’t following Jesus anymore, he’s trying to lead him.  Peter’s trying to lead Jesus to safety, but that’s not where Jesus is going.  And no sooner has Peter climbed so high, that he encounters this chute, and Jesus is rebuking him and calling him Satan!  He couldn’t be more wrong about who Jesus is and what his followers are being called to. 
                Peter is playing a human game, in which the point is to win.  It is to ascend the throne, gather all the power, and gloat before your enemies.  Jesus doesn’t play that game.  He plays the game that he knows from his father in heaven.  This is a game in which everyone is liberated, everyone has enough, those in power give up what they have so that others can share that power, in which we all cooperate, and in which often chutes are ladders and ladders are chutes.  The Kingdom of heaven is like turning chutes and ladders upside down.  When the Scribes and Pharisees and people in authority try to get Jesus to climb their ladders and bow before their gods, Jesus seems to slip down a chute, but he climbs with the outcasts.  When Jesus touches a leper and talks to a woman divorced 5 times he should be going down a chute according to earthly customs, but he climbs closer to a vision of the Kingdom of God.
                So many times the values of our faith collide with the values of this world.  It is so much easier to follow the ways of this world, that value power, money, recognition, comfort, and glory.  It is easier to set my mind on earthly things just like Peter.  But it also isn’t easier, because the powers of this world pain me, and I know they do you.  We see the damage they do.  We even experience the damage they do.  So we look for a more true vision and we have found that in the life and death of Jesus.  So we find ourselves making choices that don’t always make sense to the powers of this world.  Give your money to people in need?  Spend your time with people who are hungry or old or alone?  Make friends with sinners?  Give up comforts?  Sit among crying babies and wiggly kids?  Are we climbing a ladder or going down a chute?  Sometimes it isn’t so clear.
                We are Christians.  We have chosen to follow Christ.  We go where he leads us.  We see him stopping to spend time with people that make us uncomfortable, we do it, too, and we find ourselves challenged, growing, enriched by new relationships.  We find him giving food to all who are hungry.  We do so, too, and we find ourselves fed at a deeper level.  We find him standing against the powers of this world that are greedy and threatened by shared power.  We stand looking at the cross, wearing his cross on a little chain, but do we really want to take the risk to pick it up and carry it?  We know the consequences of standing against the corrupted powers of this world to sustain the weary, sick, and lonely of this world.  We will go the way of the cross.  We will pay with insults and humiliation, with losses of friendships, with incarceration, with financial losses.  We may even pay with our lives.  But as we plummet down the chutes of this world, we follow our liberator Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death, and are born into eternal life, into the Kingdom of God, into God’s love and light. 
                August 31, 20 pastors were arrested in front of the ICE building blocking an entrance to bring attention to the plight of asylum seekers in our nation and our state.  They took on a small sacrifice for the sake of people they had never met who are fleeing violence in their home country, who had left everything out of desperation.  The pastors said they were scared and inconvenienced, however, they kept in constant prayer for the children removed from their parents and the unimaginable suffering they were enduring.  I hope I find myself, someday, standing up for what is right in a similar way.  Because this world is so cruel and unjust, we simply cannot let it stay the way it is.  We must be willing to make sacrifices, to face suffering, to reduce the suffering of others, to remake this world into the image of God’s Kingdom, into a place of wholeness for all, of cooperation, of joy, of hope, of love.

Monday, September 10, 2018

September 9, 2018

Mark 7:24-37                      
Isaiah 35:4-7a                     
James 2:1-17
This morning God calls us from fear to astonishment.  We start out the first reading in fear, and we end the Gospel with amazement, and that’s what God does for us, the journey God takes us on.
We have a lot of fear.  We are isolated, ruled by fear.  It is so easy to go there.   We think of the worst possible outcome, so we can be prepared.  Fear blinds us to the possibilities God has in mind, unable to see the vision that God is building toward, in which streams will flow in the desert and the blind and the lame with see and leap.  Fear makes us deaf to our neighbors in need as we work to protect our own position and possessions.  Fear paralyzes us in inaction as we hesitate to make a move that might put us at risk.  Fear keeps us from speaking for fear of saying the wrong thing.  Fear isolates us from others as we fear our neighbor.  These times seem especially ruled by fear, as people are afraid to talk to their neighbors and family members for fear of a difference of opinion, fear of being “ghosted,” fear of being shunned, fear of embarrassing ourselves.  Fear makes us judgmental.  It causes us to draw lines between us and other people, to try to sort people into safe people and unsafe people, or deserving people and undeserving. 
But fear is not living, so God calls us out of fear into faith.  To have faith is to act into God’s vision, even though we can see it or hear it, yet.  To have faith is to move forward, even when we can’t see the way, following the one who leads us, the one we are learning to trust.  To be faithful is to be trustworthy, reliable, dependable.  To be faithful is to show no favoritism.  To be faithful is to be compassionate rather than indifferent to the needs of others.
Faith calls us out of our fear.  It doesn’t say we won’t be fearful, but faith means not to let our fear be our prime motivator.  We shouldn’t worship fear or let it rule us.  Instead, faithfulness means that we let love guide our actions.  We step out into the unknown wilderness and dance with joy.  Because of love we put our fear behind us and sing in the dark valley of the shadow of death.  Because of love we invite those who are disheveled and not dressed up, people with different hygiene than we have to join us.  Faith means we don’t just tolerate people different from us, but we learn from them.  We ask their opinion and listen to it.  We give them opportunities to share their gifts.  We find things in common with them.  We regard them as brothers and sisters. Faith calls us to respond to the basic needs of all our neighbors because in doing so we help them move from fear into loving relationship and abundant life.
Faith calls us to persist.  The Syrophonecian woman comes to Jesus.  She is compelled by fear—fear that her daughter will never find healing.  But she is also compelled by love to come on behalf of her little one who lay dying at home, and on behalf of all Gentiles.  She goes to Jesus on our behalf.  Did you know we are Gentiles?  And Jesus calls us dogs.  We are unworthy of notice, he seems to say.  There isn’t enough for us, according to Jesus in his weary, tired, annoyance.  He just wants a moment to himself.  But she comes to Jesus, because we dogs can’t wait another moment for our crumbs, which are more than plenty for us.  We sit at the table, and Jesus is trying to eat in peace, and we sit begging, watching his every move, hungry, hopeful, faithfully by his side, hoping to catch a nibble of the abundant, life-giving food he has to offer.  We don’t care what he calls us, we just want a little of what Jesus has to offer.
Dogs don’t know when they are being insulted, but this woman does, but she is fearless.  She doesn’t care what she’s called, because she knows who she is.  She knows her daughter is precious and worth fighting for.  If it had been only for herself, she might have gone away, but not for her daughter.  She’d be kicked and spit on and insulted and she even would have died.  She knew what it meant to sacrifice her dignity for the life of her beloved child.  She was a precursor to Jesus’ sacrifice for us, for us Gentile dogs. 
This woman is fearless in the face of Jesus’ insults.  When he calls her a dog, she doesn’t even wince.  Instead, she proves she’s his equal, that her faith is strong by trading barbs with him.  She insults the Son of God right back.  When she says, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs, she’s pointing out that right now, no one is lined up to eat at Jesus’ table.  She’d happily eat the crumbs, and she is pointing out that currently the “children,” the Jewish people aren’t biting, they aren’t accepting the food that Jesus is giving them to eat.  She’s pointing out that his message is falling on deaf ears.  It isn’t reaching the children.  So she’d gladly take their crumbs of what they’ve taken for granted.  She knows she is going to get the whole meal.  He’s a failure in his first task, and she lets him know that she knows.  But failing with the Judeans isn’t the end of the story.  Jesus isn’t going to be afraid of failure.  He’s not going to worship at the shrine of fear.  Instead he recognizes faith when he sees it, and he grants this woman’s prayer.  In fact, Jesus grants the prayers of the Gentiles, our prayers that we would taste the abundance of what God has to offer.  In this Gospel, God is hearing all our prayers.
Then there is this Gentile who is deaf.  He has friends who act in faith, by bringing him to Jesus.  Jesus makes a considerable effort to bring healing to this man.  He says to his ears, “Be opened.”
Isn’t that Jesus’ prayer for us—be opened?  What is closing us off?  What is keeping us from hearing each other?  What is keeping us from seeing each other?  What is keeping us from communicating with each other?  What is keeping us from touching each other?  What is keeping us from feeding each other, inviting each other, walking right up to each other?  It is fear that keeps us from embracing God’s love and each other. 
So Jesus calls us to faith, like the faith of these friends.  Jesus invites us to shed our fear and open ourselves to relationship.  It is in the relationship, the love that we are saved, that we find safety, that we find salve, healing, salvation.  Jesus walked right up to us.  Maybe we didn’t want him to truly see all that we’ve done or haven’t done.  Maybe we didn’t really want him to know our selfish thoughts.  But he walked up to us anyway.  He commanded us to be opened.  He commanded us to be opened to him and his love.  He commanded us to be open to each other, even when that other person doesn’t look like us, dress like us, smell like us.  And he commanded us to respond to God’s love, by taking loving actions toward those around us, meeting their needs.
As a result, we are introduced to God and those around us are introduced to God.  That’s what is says in Isaiah, “Here is your God!”  Here is your God, all who have trouble walking, seeing, talking, hearing!  “Here is your God” all you thirsty, isolated people, animals and places.  “Here is your God!” you poor, wearing dirty clothes.  “Here is your God,” you rich who are quick to call your lawyers.  Here is your God, showing you what it means to love your neighbors far and near.  Here is your God, all those who think you are better than others.  Here is your God, all you who show favoritism.  Here is your God all you who give, hoping to get something in return.  Here is your God all those who wish someone else well, but refuse to share your bread.  Here is your God, you dogs, you Gentiles, you outsiders.  Here is your God all you interrupting mothers, demanding our time.  Here is your God, all you who make mistakes and create divisions.  Here is your God, you pushy friends with all the answers.  Here is your God, you children of God. God is here!  God is near!  God is faithful!  God is powerful.
God is powerful to stand against our sins, our blindness, and all that we do that divides.  God is powerful to show mercy, forgive us, and help us live in a new way.  God is powerful to save us, heal us, and lead us toward God’s vision that is coming into this world, the Kingdom of God, justice, bread, community, love.  So we end with astonishment, awe, at God’s power and God’s love.  We stand speechless before God’s mercy, generosity, and healing.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

September 2, 2018

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23               
James 1:17-27
                When you look into the mirror, what do you see?  We wake up in the morning and stumble into the bathroom.  We go to wash our hands and look up.  I have to say, I am often surprised.  We don’t see our own faces that often.  Sometimes I wonder how that could be me.  Sometimes I see someone tired.  Sometimes I see someone happy.  Sometimes I see someone whose been working all day.  Sometimes I see my mom.  She and I have a very similar haircut right now and it is a true contest who has the most gray hair.  When I went to visit my brother, his youngest called me “Grandma” for the whole first day, because I look so much like my mom and he hadn’t met me before.  There are worse things to be called!  Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see my dad.  I see my thin upper lip, I see my bony collarbone, and I am reminded of where I came from.  When I think of my parents, I think about their best characteristics that I want to emulate, and I think of their traits that I don’t want to pass on.
                I expected Sterling to resemble his dad more, and he probably will once he’s all grown up, but for now, he looks more like me.  He spends a lot of time with me, so he is taking on some of my mannerisms and speech patterns.  He’s my little reflection of all within myself that I am proud of and not so proud of.
                We are all children of God, made in God’s image.  In the same way that we look at our kids and see good, God sees good.  In the same way that we want to shape our kids so that they reflect their best, so God wants the best from us and for us.  I have to admit that when I look in the mirror at home, I don’t expect to see traits that resemble God, but when I come to the time of confession in church, and when I am in the car reflecting on my day, I am holding up a mirror to honestly see myself for what I have learned, what I could do better, and what I am pleased about.  Sometimes I am sorting out what are God’s expectations of me and what are other people’s expectations of me and what are my expectations for myself.  I am figuring out what is realistic, what is valuable, what my goals are, and how to forgive myself.
                Today, God is laying out God’s purpose, and that is loving, life-giving relationship.  This is God’s perfect gift and generous act.  Everything else God does is to support that purpose.  God created and all creation for that purpose.  God gives the people commandments for that purpose, not only the 10 commandments, but hundreds of commandments about how we treat the poor and the foreigner and what to eat in order to be healthy, and how to treat diseases, and on and on.  All these commandments are for loving, life-giving relationship.
                So when they are used as weapons to say that one person is better than another, or to shame or blame, Jesus gets very upset and names the sin, hypocrisy.  He knows how easy it is to judge someone by outward appearance, to look at surface issues, like hand washing or dish washing, and judge them.  Sterling had a friend spend the night the other day, and when the boys finished eating, I reminded them to put their plates in the sink.  The little friend of Sterling’s said, “Wow, you sure keep your house nice!”  Everyone has a different standard of cleanliness and I would not consider my house tidy by any means, however, it seems very basic to expect a child to do something as simple as take their plate to the sink.  It is becoming a ritual for us, a habit, a tradition, for the life of the household.  But as soon as we use that tradition to judge how someone else does it, we are not promoting loving, life-giving relationship.  We are not leaving room for other ways of doing it, other life-giving traditions.  Someday we will probably come to the point where one person sets the table and another cooks and another clears the table, if that’s what is life-giving for us.  Or maybe we’ll hire someone to do our dishes, if that is what is life-giving.  If we worship our rules or our traditions, we miss the point of loving, life-giving relationship.
                Sometimes as Lutherans we worship the tradition.  We get so used to one way of doing things, that we don’t leave room to discuss what is loving and life-giving.  We don’t leave ourselves open to discussion.  We are blind to how our automatic rituals are received by others.  I love the rich tradition of the Lutheran Church.  I have recited the Lord’s Prayer in my sleep.  I had “Lead Me, Guide Me” in my head all week.  I regularly use phrases like “Simultaneously saint and sinner.”  I am a Christian and a very Lutheran one.  Traditions, especially ones based in rich history, and with such deep roots in good Biblical scholarship, can be so meaningful.  They can be a mirror reminding us of who we are, where we’ve come from, who our father is, and who has come before us to hand on this way of worship.
                And traditions can be damaging, exclusive, and harmful.  When do we know it is time to retire a tradition?  How much harm can we let a tradition cause before we throw it out?  How many times have our traditions and their hidden meanings driven away someone in need of loving, life-giving community?  Can we trust that that person has the resources to find a worshipping community that will suit their needs better?  How can we help translate our tradition so that outsiders can get a glimpse of the larger reality that our traditions are pointing to?  How can we allow God to speak to us through the current context of this world, to make our faith practices relevant to the needs and language of everyday people who are seeking God’s love?  I don’t have the answers, but I think Jesus is asking us to consider these questions.  We’re so used to our patterns, that we don’t even notice the discomfort they cause to other people.  We expect them to conform to us.  But maybe God is bringing us people to teach us something new, to hold up a mirror to see are we really faithful to God?  Or are we mostly faithful to our tradition because it is comforting and makes us feel good?  I know it is some of both.  As uncomfortable as it is to hold up that mirror, we have to keep holding it up to make sure our actions are faithful, and not just our words.
                In my family, we did things because we had always done them that way.  There was no discussion.  There was no relationship, no room for the creativity and gifts of each person in the family.  I want things to be different in the family I have with Sterling and Nick.  We have rules for loving, life-giving relationship, for the safety and well-being of each member, and for interaction with the world.  And we have a curious, growing, intelligent child who wants to know why and all the possibilities of other ways of interacting.  So our commandments are examined as a family to see if they are life-giving, and how they could be more life-giving.  We hold some boundaries absolutely for the health and safety of all.  And we hold some flexibility to make room for new ideas and other ways of doing things. I have to say it would be easier to just lay down the law.  However, that’s not going to develop a kid who can think for himself.  Of course, I see myself in God’s image, so I think God wants us to think for ourselves and to work out the fulfillment of the law and the traditions together so they make sense for these times and these people. 
                God’s purpose in creation is to establish and maintain loving, life-giving relationship.  As God’s children, we are invited to see in ourselves the traits and values God is working to pass on to us, slow to anger, quick to listen, slow to speak.  Our actions begin to reflect our values.  But there is one more pitfall, and that is pride. As soon as we are arrogant enough to think that we have the answers or can lay down the law for another person, we are back to square one, because we’ve forgotten that the point is loving, life-giving relationship.
                In the pursuit of loving, life-giving relationship, God created us, gave us commandments, led us through the desert, and into new life.  God gave us Jesus to be in loving, life-giving relationship with us, and show us what that looks like.  Through Jesus’ gift, we have forgiveness, the chance to try again to live the values of our Father and brother, and because of eternal life, there is no end to this relationship.