Monday, September 28, 2009

Pentecost 17B - Romans Series

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”

Seems like an odd question, don't you think? Should we continue to sin so that we'll get more of God's love and mercy? Should we continue to hurt one another so that we'll receive more of God's forgiveness? Should we continue to inflict pain on ourselves so that we'll receive more of God's healing?

The answer seems as clear as the shine on my head.

But apparently, this wasn't just a rhetorical flourish on Paul's part. It was a real problem in some churches in Rome. People were “sinning” in order to get an extra dose of God's loving kindness. They were breaking God's Laws, intentionally seeking condemnation, simply so they would feel God's warm, forgiving embrace.

(Well, that was their story and they were sticking to it. The cynic in me wonders if that's just what they told their fellow churchies. “Ummm...yeah, I stole my neighbour's pig, but that was just so I could have another experience of God's amazing love, not because I needed to fill my freezer with tasty, tasty, bacon.”)

I had a little trouble following Paul's logic at first - “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” - I had troubling figuring out what he was saying because sinning “so that grace may abound” is not the charge leveled at Paul from 21st century Christians.

What people find hard about Paul today is that they're afraid that people will abuse God's grace, that they'll take God's forgiveness for granted, almost as an entitlement. They're afraid that folks will think,

“Well...I know that stealing this coffee mug from work is wrong, but God will forgive me.”

“I may get a little creative on my taxes, but, hey, everyone does it. Plus, we have a forgiving God.”

“What I do is my own business. It's between me and God. And God always forgives me.”

“I can do what I want because God will forgive me. That's God's job.”

That's the sort of abuse that some people are afraid of.

And the gut response from well-meaning 21st century Christians is to say, “Don't sin. Don't abuse God's loving grace by sinning. God may forgive you but that doesn't give you license to behave any way you want.”

Too much grace = too much sin. Same problem that Paul confronted, but in a different form. It's like they don't want this whole grace and forgiveness thing to get out of hand. And we certainly can't let that happen, can we?

We have to make sure that people behave properly. Being a Christian means doing some things and NOT doing some things. We need to set an example for the world by living according to God's commands. And we need to hold each other accountable for their behaviour, so people can get a hold of the sin in their lives, trapping it, then killing it.


Well, look what Paul does when dealing with those who would mis-use God's grace. He doesn't drop the hammer. He doesn't wave a finger in their faces. He doesn't tell them how much they've hurt God and others. He doesn't set up accountability groups nor does he call them to repent.

He simply reminds them what God has done for them. He reminds them of who they are and WHOSE they are:

“How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

We may recognize this passage from the funeral liturgy. It's the part at the beginning where the pastor is supposed to put the funeral pall over the coffin, symbolizing the promise that the deceased is covered by God's love and mercy, and the power of death has been destroyed, and newness of life – the resuurection of the dead – is a promise just a breath away.

And while all that is true, Paul isn't talking about grace just for dead people in this passage. Paul is saying that the living – you people, right? You're alive, last I checked! – the living RIGHT NOW have died and risen with Jesus. You are made new. You are living the resurrection here – today.

Paul goes on, saying,

“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he li
ves to God. So...consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

“So...consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Paul isn't saying, “Don't sin.” He's saying, your sin is dead. Your sin died when you died, when Jesus was nailed to the cross and took you with him. You are no longer a slave to sin. You are free. Your old sinful self went to grave with Jesus, and your renewed self rose with Jesus.

To those who were sinning even more that grace may abound, Paul says, stop wasting your time. Your sin is dead. Live in God's forgiveness.

To those who would worry that people would abuse God's grace by behaving any way they want, regardless of how God wants them to live, Paul says, “We can't abuse God's grace any more than we have when we nailed God's Son to a Roman cross. We will always mis-use and abuse God's grace. We can't NOT abuse God's grace. That's why it's called 'grace.'”

One thing that mainline churches, churches like Anglicans, United, Presbyertians, and us Lutherans have been accused of is not taking sin seriously enough. We've been accused, by some Christians, of being “wishy-washy,” that we don't confront the sins in each others' lives like other Christians do. That we don't have a robust understanding of sin. That we simply mirror the surrounding culture, that the people in our pews – you guys – aren't any different than non-church folks. That our churches aren't real churches. And because of this, God is judging us.

We've been accused of dishonouring God's grace by not trying live according to God's standards.

These accusations used to make me mad. Yes, they're insulting and self-righteous. Yes, these folks seems to bask in their shame rather than in God's forgiveness. And yes, they should take the log out of their own eyes before condemning the splinter – or log - in our's.

But after reading this passage from Romans I began to wonder who they think God is, what they think happened when Jesus hung on the cross. I began to think they maybe THEY don't have a robust enough understanding of sin if they think that we can get rid of the sin in our lives.

I began to wonder if their anger is really masking their jealousy: jealousy that we live our freedom and they live their guilt. I began to wonder if they don't trust God's grace to transform us. To change us. To work within us.

Paul is clear: God is changing you. God HAS changed you. God is changing and has changed you from the inside out, through the power of the Holy Spirit, “who calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes us holy.” It's not our work that changes us. It's God's work.

Lean into it. It's like vaulting yourself into the air in skydiving – your parachute will hold you up. Make the jump – you've already died, in Christ -

So, now go and live in your forgiveness. Go and live your freedom. See what God is doing and has done in your life. See what God is doing and has done in the world. You have been made new. You are part of the world's transformation which began that morning when Jesus folded up his grave clothes and walked out of his tomb, the first born of a whole new world.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pentecost 16B - Romans Series

“We stopped going to church,” she told me, a little apologetically, a little defiantly, waiting for my response. She knew I was a pastor and was probably waiting for the scolding that might come her way.

“Why not?” I asked.

“’s hard to say,” she said. “I used to go to a church outside of town, where my husband and I are from. We got involved in the evangelical world. Then we landed at a pentecostal church. Then to another, more traditional church. Then we just stopped.”

“Why’d you stop? If you don’t mind me asking,” I said.

It was clear she wasn’t sure if she could fully trust me. After all, I make my living in a church, getting people into church, and chasing after them when they stop coming to church. She probably thought I might see her as a fresh prospect for my own ministry, rather than someone who needs God's love, someone with her own needs and hurts.

But she cocked her head to one side and said, “We just felt that, on Sunday mornings, we left church with a bigger burden on ourn shoulders than what we came in with. The preaching was a lot of finger wagging. There was a lot of talk about sin, but not very much about grace.”

Then she stopped talking for a minute or two.

“My husband and I felt that we needed to get away from church in order to find God, our own sense of who God is in our lives. All we were getting from church was do’s and don’ts, instead of God’s grace and mercy.”

My heart broke for her. Clearly, she knew the bible. She knew that the heart of God's story is mercy, forgiveness, and love. She knew the lingo of the church. But she didn't get God's message from God's people.
I have to admit, I was tempted to invite her and her family to Good Shepherd, because if there’s one thing we know about at Good Shepherd is mercy and grace. At least I hope we do.

But I thought, No, this isn’t the time. As much as I think they would find a welcoming and a home at our church, I thought that she might need some time for her to get to know and trust me. And through me, the church. They needs to know that God has no other agenda for them other than to love them.
She’s not alone. I meet people all the time who tell stories about how they’ve been hurt by the church. I NEVER hear that people walked away from church because of Jesus, saying that his demands were too hard or that they found his message offensive.

But people tell me that it was God’s people that drove them from church. God may be good, gracious, and merciful. But God’s people are often tnot.
I think that’s what Paul was getting at in today’s reading. In the book of Romans, Paul spends a lot of time pouring cold water on a heated church fight. And he was no objective observer, a disinterested mediator. Paul took sides. He sided with those gentile Christians who didn’t want to be circumcised in order to become followers of Jesus ( I know...ouch).

He took the side of those who were being kept out of full membership in Christ’s church because of who they were. He took the side of those outside looking in, hoping to hear a word of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

But all they would hear is that they weren’t good enough. They ate the wrong foods, they didn’t come from the right families, the prayed the wrong prayers. They kept hearing that they needed rid themselves of the sin in their lives, that they have to approach God in a certain way. They have to....have to....have to...

The bottom line was: they weren't good enough. They had to make themselves acceptable to God before they would be accepted into God's church. And the Roman church had their list of requirements that these gentile believers had to fulfill before they would be received into Christ's church.

And Paul thought he would burst a blood vessel when he heard about it.
Paul calls these requirements “The Law.” This is an important point in Lutheran theology (so, Randy, take off your ear buds), the distinction between Law and gospel.

On the surface, he’s talking about the Law of Moses. But underneath all that he’s talking about all those unnecessary demands that we heap on people.
Lutheran theology talks about three uses of the Law. Actually two, the third being rejected by the ELCIC and for good reason.

The 1st use is – and I LOVE this term: Civic Righteousness. Even the heathen can do this, Luther says. This is good governance, making sure the street lights work, garbage is collected, and your neighbour can't steal your goat. This is civil law. It's what we need to make sure we're no overrun by chaos.

The 2nd use is called the Theological Use: This is what Paul is talking about in today's passage when Paul says that “No human being will be justified in God’s sight” by deeds of the Law for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” That’s his way of saying that the only thing the Law can do is condemn us. That’s the Law’s job. The Law is to rub our noses in our sin, to drive us to the cross for mercy and forgiveness. Paul is saying that the more we try to obey the law, the more we fall into sin.

So, stop trying. He says. And stop making others live by the law. You have been set free from the Law. Now, live by the grace and forgiveness that God has given you as a gift. God is transforming you from the inside out. No longer do you have to worry that you fail, or if there’s sin in your life. Jesus took you sin, your failure, even your death with him to the grave and rose again in victory.

I know what you're thinking, I thought it too when I first heard this law/gospel distinction, “You mean that we DON'T have to OBEY God? That what we do doesn't matter. That we can just run off and sin as much as we want? Don't we need fences around our behaviour to make us act like Christians? If we don't obey God's Law then what makes us different then the rest of an unbelieving world? What about 'cheap grace' that ignores the cost of discipleship? ”

Well, I'd say that grace is always cheap. We will always cheapen it because the law will always condemn us. Grace is cheap for us, but grace cost Jesus everything. And the more we try to pay the cost ourselves, the more we cheapen the gift that God has given us in Jesus. The Law shows us how sinful we are. But grace sets us free, forgives us. Like the woman I was talking to last week found out, the Law puts a burden on our shoulders that we can never shrug off. Jesus takes that burden from us, and rocks us to sleep in the arms of God.

Here’s a rule of thumb to distinguish Law from Gospel. When you ever hear a preacher (or anyone) say that you as a Christian you “should do this” or “must do that.”
Or say “If you do this....then God will do that.”

Or if you hear you “need to do this” or “have to do that.” If you hear a lot of verbs, or conditions on God's love, you’re hearing Law, not gospel.
For example, I heard a preacher this past week say that “If you want to get close to God, you first need to have honour in your heart.”
Other than I have NO IDEA what 'honour in your heart' even means, he's using Law language. “You need to have...” He placing requirements on our access to God. Luther would remind this preacher that “...I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith” (Small Catechism, Third Article of the Creed).

But if you hear: you are free, you are forgiven, you are loved. Jesus died and rose again so that you may have life. Now live who God made you to be in freedom and forgiveness. That’s gospel. That's what good news sounds like.
I'm going to keep coming back to this over the next few weeks, because I think it's the key to understanding, not just the bible, but who God is.
May this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Romans Series - Part 1 Rom 1: 1-17

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks in today’s gospel. We may have our own answer to that question, but Peter blurts out with a brisk, “You are the Messiah.”

“Good answer,” Jesus seems to say. “Just don’t tell anyone.”

Like most juicy secrets, this one got out. The secret passed from person to person until it landed on the apostle Paul’s desk. It’s almost as if Jesus had asked Paul that same question, and Paul uses the first couple verses of his letter to the Romans to answer it, by way of introducing himself, saying:

“I, Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which God promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

That’s quite the beginning to a letter. I certainly don't start my emails like that. It's a bit of a run-on sentence, but it doesn’t leave any doubt about who Paul thinks Jesus is. And it’s a good way to begin our journey together through Romans. Since my first official trek with Paul wasn’t so auspicious.

“How many people here hate Paul?” my professor asked, beginning his unit on Paul's writings.

About half the classes hands went up . A larger number than I expected. Although I had come to learn that Paul received mixed reviews from Christians. In some Christian circles, it's hip to hate Paul.

“Why do you hate Paul? Give me some reasons,” he said.

“He hates women, demanding that they be silent in church and submissive to their husbands,” one person shouted.

“He's a reactionary; he blesses right wing politics,” another blasted.

“He's the reason gay people are treated so badly by some Christians,” still another howled.

“He's authoritarian, tells people to be submissive to people in authority, no matter how tyrannical that authority is,” yet another yawped.

“He's anti-Semitic, a self-hating Jew who betrayed his faith, causing Christian atrocities against Jews for centuries,” another shrieked.

“He turned Jesus' message of God's kingdom of justice, peace, love, mercy, and forgiveness for the world into a mere transaction between God and the individual. He didn't get the broader social implications of Jesus' message.”

I could go on. But you get the idea. This was, of course, a more left-leaning crowd. If the class was of a more conservative bent they would find other issues with Paul to complain about:

“He's morally lax,” they might say. “Justification by faith lets people off the sin hook too easily.”

“His message of grace is too passive. The bible says we're to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.”

“He picks and chooses what he likes from the bible and the Tradition and throws the rest in the garbage.”

“He's slippery with the Old Testament, often taking passages out of context to prove a point”.

“He's too chaotic in how he structures his churches, preferring an organic system to a ordered one.”

“He sticks his nose into politics where it doesn't belong.”

Paul gets everyone mad. He's is an equal opportunity disturber.

The problem is, these people are not WRONG. Paul CAN be accused of ALL these things. On the right AND on the left. If you want I can give you chapters and verses where Paul would plead guilty to these charges.

But other problem is that these people are not RIGHT, either. Paul is more than these things. And together, as we read Romans over the next two months, we'll see how Paul's message of New Life and New Creation transcends the individual issues that people lob at his sandals.

We'll see that Paul's message has so many layers to it that we need to look at the whole of this theology to understand what he has to say to us. His message is greater than the chapters and verses of his writings.

We'll see that he takes time to build his argument over numerous chapters, unfolding, almost like a good novel, taking the reader through asides and down backstories, thickening his message until it comes together in a story of good news for the whole world.

One thing you can say about Paul is that his message will not fit on a bumper sticker. Reading Romans is more like death through 1000 cuts, so the reader can rise again, a new person.

Last year when I was in Mexico, I spent a morning reading through Paul's letters. Sunning myself on a Mexican beach with the apostle Paul was an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

Paul was writing from prison. I was at a 5 star hotel with people waiting on me.

Paul used every ounce of his physical and mental energy to proclaim good news to a hurting world. I was lazing under an umbrella with a drink in my hand.

Paul described a different reality than the one the world gave, where prayer and sacrifice stood centre stage. I was luxuriating in the world's pleasures, suppressing any guilt that tried to emerge.

And as I kept reading, I found Paul's voice increasingly unsettling. But in a good way. Being unsettled is not necessarily a bad thing. Especially when Paul is doing the unsettling.

I came to know that Paul understands that we human beings fail in living how God wants us to live, and he calls us on it. 

Paul knows that we hurt ourselves and each other. He knows that a life of faith is not one big climb up to the mountain top, but that a life of faith is a series of fits and starts, of climbing and falling, of faithfulness and betrayal, of wounding and being wounded. Paul has no illusions about what resides in the human heart.

Which is why, at the heart of his message is that we come into a right relationship with God not through any good works, proper prayers, moral behaviour, or church going. But we come into a right relationship with God by God's grace through faith.

And even that faith is a gift. Some say that it’s not even OUR faith that saves us, but it's JESUS’ faith that is given to us so that could be saved.

Paul reminds us that faith comes by hearing God's Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit, who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes us holy” as Luther's catechism says, NOT through any effort on our part.

We don't accept God's grace. We can only receive it. We don't choose to be God's people. God chooses us. We are not in the driver's seat of our salvation. God is.

I don’t know about you, but I find that liberating. When I first heard that message it was like I could breathe for the first time. That’s why I can stand with Paul when he says:

“...I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’”

This means that we don't have to be perfect. This means we have the FREEDOM to live how God wants us to live without fear of failure. Because we WILL fail. We WILL fall short of God's standards. ALL of us. And that's okay. Perfection is not the goal. Simply being God's child is Paul's gospel aim.

If I can sum up Paul's message it would be this: Because of what God has done in Jesus, you are forgiven. You are free. Now live in the forgiveness and freedom that God wants for you.

Maybe we can put Paul on a bumper sticker after all. But we probably shouldn't. Maybe what's being asked of us is to spend time with Paul, listening to him, arguing with him, wrestling with what he has to say, and exploring what his message of new life in Jesus means for us today.

He may infuriate you. He may make you want to throw your bible across the room. But his message – God's message – will set you free. God’s message HAS set us free.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Pentecost 14 Year B

“You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” writes salty theologian Anne Lamott.

Someone should have told that to Jesus' disciples.

I'm sure that some of Jesus' followers began that day with great comfort in knowing who they were better than. Many of them thought they knew who was on their team and who wasn't. Who they were allowed to talk to and who better not get in their way. For some of them, the world was firmly ordered. Fixed. The furniture was nailed down.

And yes, Jesus pushed the edges of that world, adjusting the furniture.

Yes, he brought those treasonous tax collectors into the group, those sell-outs to the Roman empire who stole the lifesavings of the little old ladies, leaving them to starve in the street.

Yes, he brought women into his circle, sending them out to preach and work miracles, ignoring the “proper role” they're supposed to play in their little world – making babies and cleaning up after men.

And yes he brought Zealots into his church, Zealots who wouldn't shut up about politics, who kept needling Jesus to join the revolution to overthrow the Romans through any means necessary.

But these were all JEWISH folks. That was the one thing they could agree on. And since they might agree on that, some of them might also agree that gentiles, those non-Jewish folks, were filthy, dirty, rotten, toilet scum. Slug feces. Especially those from Syrophoenicia. Half-bred. In-bred. Ignorant.

And some of these gentiles didn't like Jewish folks any more than some Jewish folks didn't like them. It's like they spiked the water with anger.

Folks in the first century didn't have 21st century politeness. They could say anything they wanted about anyone without being dragged into cultural sensitivity training. Leaders could let their prejudices all hang out without it appearing on YouTube.

For a lot of folks back then, the lines around people were etched in granite. Unerasable. Firmly defined. They knew what they thought were the rules and respected those clearly drawn etchings.


I'm always astonished by today's gospel reading. Astonished that Mark would have added it to his gospel. I'm even more astonished that the lectionary includes it (the lectionary being the series of readings that we have each week.) because the lectionary has been accused of leaving out the really hard bible passages, lest your innocent ears be offended by primitive religion.

Usually, the lectionary assembles the readings in such a way as so preachers can find good news in them without breaking a sweat.

Not today. Today we find Jesus behaving badly. And being corrected by the person that Mark's readers would least suspect.

A Syrophoenician woman. Someone whom Jesus was almost mandated to hate. She needs help for her kid and asks Jesus for it.

Jesus calls her and her sick child a “dog” and shoos her away. Not the kind of behaviour you'd expect from the messiah.

But she won't let a personal slight get in the way of her mission to save her child. Her feelings aren't the point. Her child's health is. She's the mamma bear going toe-to-toe with God's only Son – and she holds her own.

Some say that Jesus was testing her through this little encounter, to see if she was REALLY serious about her daughter needing help. Testing her to see if she REALLY had FAITH. That, they say, might explain Jesus' behaviour.

But I don't buy that. Seems like a crappy thing to do to someone; to test them to see if they're worthy of God's love and healing. Doesn't sound like any God I know. It's almost as if JESUS is the one being tested here.

So, what's REALLY going on?

I think the answer lies in how these stories are connected.

Mark links the story of the Syrophoenician woman with the healing of the deaf man. I think this healing story is a commentary on the last one. Jesus opens the deaf man's ears because HIS ears were opened to the cries of all people, people beyond the circle he grew up in. The only circle he had ever known. And his ministry was being challenged to include everyone. Not just his fellow Jews.

I think the message of these two readings is that Jesus repairs what is broken, and in doing so, enlarges the world these people live in, because his world has been enlarged.

The deaf man could suddenly hear his wife's voice, his children's laughter, the singing at church, the birds outside his window, the music in the street.

But he can also hear the moans of his friends who lost their child. He can hear the groaning bellies of those who hadn't eaten that day. He can hear his neighbours fighting. He can hear the laboured breathing of those who are dying. And now he has to ask himself, what do I do about what I can now hear?

The Syrophoenician woman's daughter is back to her old self. Mom can watch her daughter play with her friends, help with the dishes, and clean the house.

But since her encounter with Jesus, the Syrophoenician woman knows that she has been included in something larger than herself, that she is no longer a filthy Syrophoenician dog who deserves to starve while her child suffers. Her vision of world has broadened just as Jesus' vision of the world did. She no longer worries about just her own child, now she's the mother of EVERY child, no matter where they came from. No matter who they were.

She finds that she can no longer harbour hatred or anger towards people, because she's been victimized too. She helped Jesus see beyond her Syrophoenician skin and to peer into her heart. Her job now was to bring God's kingdom love to anyone who needed it. God is making the world bigger. The world is changing. And it's starting with her.

Who is the Syrophoenician woman for YOU? Who is the Syrophoenician woman for US? I have them. WE have them. I think it's part of our sinful nature. I think it's part of being human. Not a nice part. But a part.

We human beings like to draw lines around people, so we can know who is with is and who is against us. Who is one of “ours” and who is one of “them.”

But God doesn't see the world that way. If there's one thing we can learn from these two stories is that God is busy rubbing out the lines that we draw. As soon as we draw a circle, the Holy Spirit pulls out an eraser. And we have to draw the farther and farther out, until the only circle we can draw is the one that God placed around the whole of creation.

But that doesn't always sound like good news, does it?

Last week an article by a prominent American Lutheran theologian landed in my inbox, who was, in part, complaining about the marginalization of old, white, men in the Lutheran church.

He was deeply concerned that too many “radical” voices were influencing the church's direction, he was offended that so many women were now in positions of leadership, too many blacks and hispanics were finding their way into Lutheran pulpits and church committees.

He deplored what he saw as a “quota system” designed to push old, white, males to the periphery of church life. Diversity and multiculturalism, for him, were thinly veiled efforts to advance a politically correct assault against the aging segment of white men.

I felt more saddened than angered by this article. Saddened that he would finish what was a brilliant theological career by lashing out at a changing church; belittling an effort to widen the circle; pummeling what I think, is the work of the Holy Spirit.

If he's feeling marginalized by the church, then I thought that he might have a greater sympathy for those who've been trapped outside the circle for so long. But he was only interested in what he felt HE lost.

But we ALL do it. He's not the only one. We may not advertise our efforts on the internet, but that's still a problem we have. We don't always like who God likes. We don't always approve of who God calls into ministry. We don't always appreciate those whom God dumps on our doorstep.

But God's grace makes our world bigger. God's grace has it's sleeves rolled up and dirt under its fingernails.

God's grace is agile, jumping from place to place, erasing boundaries, taking risks, enlarging our circles, pushing limits.

We may not always like it, but grace changes us. Grace changes the world. So that, one day, everything will be made new, and all people will find themselves inside God's circle.

May this be so among us. Amen.