March 22, 2020 – Mark 12:28-44

Mark 12:28-44

Let’s be clear, right off the bat, this is not, I repeat not, a story about how little old ladies on fixed incomes should be giving more to the church. In fact, you could make the argument (and I’m going to in a minute) that this isn’t even a story about generosity, no matter how many times its been used that way. In fact, you could argue (and I’m going to in a minute) that this is a story about hypocrisy and injustice and the work of Jesus to tear it all down and start something new.

But to do that, we’ve got to back up a minute and look at the bigger picture. Far too often, this story of “the widow’s mite” get taken out, all by itself. And we just think, “Oh wow, look at that faithful old woman who just gave everything to the church.” Literally, the text reads her whole life! What a saint! But if you look close, you’ll notice that Jesus never says that’s a good thing. We infer that, because we assume Jesus would think that. But that’s not what the text says. So we’ve got to take this story and put it back into the bigger story to see what’s going on.

And what’s going on is that Jesus is sitting across from the temple, teaching his disciples, in not too subtle terms, making fun of the temple scribes. He had just come into Jerusalem 2 days ago and the first thing he did when he got into town was march straight into the temple and trash the tables of the scribes and money changers.

See, the temple used its own kind of money. So people who came in from all over the area would bring whatever money they used at home and exchange it for temple money, so they could buy and offer the necessary sacrifices. But the people running the money exchange would sometimes keep a little off the top, you know, for their troubles. But Jesus wasn’t having it, literally flipping everything over.

And on top of that little scam, you also had the tradition of scribes serving as “widow trustees”. Because scribes were among the small class of people who could read and right, they were generally well-respected. And there were, of course, many good scribes among the group. But since, according to Jewish law, women were not allowed to own property, when a woman became a widow, she had to hand over her husband’s assets to some other man.

If she had no son or other male relative, it would often end up being a scribe. And theoretically, I would be the responsibility of these scribes to ensure those widows were cared for and provided for. But, you know, my robe is getting awfully shabby. How ‘bout we just call it “compensation for my time”? I mean, really, by supporting me,  you’re supporting the temple. Which is basically giving to God, right?

All these little scams and exploitations, hiding under the guise of “faithful generosity”. All those scribes and religious leaders who use their power not to protect the vulnerable, but to exploit them. To puff themselves up at the expense of others. At the expense of people like this widow. All happening, supposedly, in the name of God. And here this widow is, giving everything she has (her whole life!) to a system that is crushing her.

That’s not commendable. That’s tragic. And a gross abomination to the Lord. And Jesus will have none of it.

And as he gets up to leave the temple (we’ll read next week), he says to his disciples, “Do you see all this? All these massive stones and grand buildings? All this grandeur built off the back of the poor? It’s all coming down. Oh yeah, it’s all coming down.” The name of God will not be used to justify your greed or your arrogance or your unholy appetite for more and more and more. The Kingdom of God will not be built off the backs of the poor and vulnerable.

It’s all coming down. And in its place, the broken and shattered body of Jesus is laid as the new cornerstone. The body of Jesus, who takes the place of the weak and exploited. Who takes the place of the widow. Who gives everything to a system that crushed him. That killed him. And then destroyed it from the inside when he refused to stay dead.

And this new creation isn’t found in the halls of power or glorious monument, but in meals shared. In justice for the oppressed. In healing for the broken. In welcome for the stranger and mercy for the screw-ups. This new creation comes alive in love! God’s  Kingdom comes alive in love!

And it won’t make you rich or powerful or important. No one is going to save a special seat for you. You know what, the world may not ever notice you! Who on earth would notice a destitute widow, putting a penny in the offering place?

But Jesus saw her. Jesus saw the Kingdom of God, come alive in her life. In that moment, in that offering, in that love, the Kingdom of God burst open!

That! That right there is the Kingdom!

And the world walked right on by.

But Jesus saw her. Jesus sees you. He sees the pain. He sees the struggle. He sees our poverty. Maybe of money, maybe just of spirit. Maybe just of hope. In all of who you are, Jesus sees you. And even more, he walks with you. And has torn down and flipped over the powers of this world for you! To make a place for you in God’s new creation.

And it won’t be built by us or by our magnificent achievements, but by the love of God at work. Chipping away at the stones of greed and apathy and fear. Until it all falls down. And all that’s left is love.

As Martin Luther once said, “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”

This is the love of God at work. This is the Kingdom of Heaven come near.


March 8, 2020 – Mark 10:32-45

Mark 10:32-45

I had this goal, a dream, you might say, when I was 14, 15 years old. See, my goal was to save up enough money to buy my own car when I turned 16 and then be financially independent by the time I was 18.

I had a dream. I had a job. I had a plan. I just had no idea what I was talking about! And if I’m going to be honest, I had no idea what I was talking about for at  least another 10 years! But that never stopped me from charging forward anyway!

Sometimes, most times, it’s only from the other side that you can see everything you couldn’t see before.

And that is the most charitable interpretation I can offer for James’ and John’s question to Jesus.

In their defense, they were with Jesus when he raised that little girl from the dead. And they were 2 of the 3 disciples that went with Jesus up the mountain at the Transfiguration. And they had seen Jesus heal people and walk on water and feed thousands with nothing but scraps. So given all that, they can sort of be forgiven for asking perhaps the worst timed question in the entire bible.

This is Jesus’ third, last, and most specific description of where this journey is going. It seems as if, by now, the disciples would be starting to get it. But…no. No, they’re not. All the evidence they want to look at points to a triumphant, glorious Jesus heading to Jerusalem to win! To smite their enemies and taking his place as king! The real king! The one they’ve been waiting for!

And Jesus does. It just doesn’t look like what they think it will. Because you can’t know what you can’t know. Their dreams of a triumphant, glorious Jesus are a lot like the dreams of a 14 year old, waiting for the glory of financial independence!

Turns out, it’s not exactly what I thought it was going to be like. And no matter how much my parents tried to clue me in, I just didn’t want to hear that. Because it didn’t line up with my vision of the way I thought things would be.

Jesus told them that greatness means service. That power is for giving away. That God’s glory is revealed in sacrifice and suffering. And the disciples want shiny badges and good feelings and the sweet taste of success. They want to ride to glory on the coattails of Jesus, one on his right, and one on his left. But as Jesus pointed out, they had no idea what they were asking for.

And you know, I wonder, when we say we want to grow, we want more members, we want to be bigger and better! Do we really have any idea what we’re asking for? Are our hopes rooted in some dream of the glorious Jesus who’s off to Jerusalem to win? Or the Jesus who goes to Jerusalem to die? Because even growth involves death. What will be is not what was. And until what was dies, what will be struggles to take root.

So are you sure you want to grow? How much are you ready to let die? Before you proclaim you want the church to be bigger, you better ask yourself how much pain you’re prepared for. Before you ask for a spot at God’s side, you better know where God is going. Because it’s not up.

The way of Jesus leads straight to the bottom. It is the way of weakness and vulnerability and service. It’s letting go of the delusion that we don’t need anyone or anything. The lie that the last one standing wins!

But there is no glory in standing alone. Ask any 97 year old who has outlived everyone they love. The last one standing is not so much glorious as it is lonely.

Before you ask for a spot at God’s side, you better know where God is going.

In the cross, Jesus stands with us, not at our best, but at our worst. He gives up power for the sake of love. Let’s go of control for the sake of relationship.

In the cross, Jesus joins himself to us, that we might know that we never stand alone, not even in death.

And this cross-shaped life is the same life that Jesus calls us to. And it’s not very glamorous. Not at all, actually. It’s messy and complicated and most days, it doesn’t look like much at all. It’s mostly, standing alongside people. Letting their joy be your joy. Sharing burdens to lighten everyone’s load. It’s looking at my neighbor and seeing my sister. My brother. My family. In all its dysfunctional and chaotic beauty.

But that’s the way of Jesus. Not what we want, but what we need. Not what we expected, but so much more.

The way of the cross is the way of life. Just not our life. This is God’s life.


March 1, 2020 – Mark 10:17-31

Mark 10:17-31

If you were here on Ash Wednesday, then you heard the story, shortly before this one, of when Jesus was teaching his disciples what “greatness” truly is. And do to so, he pulls a young child into the middle of the crowd and says, “Whoever welcomes one such as this, welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.” And today, we have the story of a rich man, approaching Jesus, asking what he ought to do. And when he can’t do what Jesus says, Jesus just lets him walk away!

And as I thought about these two stories back to back, I couldn’t help but think, “Well, obviously Jesus has never tried to grow a church!” Making way for kids and outsiders? Yes! Of course! But just letting the rich guy walk away?! I mean, come on! What are you thinking, Jesus? Sure, you talk about money and stuff. In vague generalities. The ‘power of money’ as a concept. ‘Wealth’ as a thing. But when it comes right down to it, when it actually comes to just letting the rich guy walk away? Well now. Let’s not do anything crazy. Surely we can figure something out, right?

But Jesus said, “Sell you stuff, give the money to the poor. The come, follow me.” And he couldn’t. So Jesus just let him, and all his money, just walk away. Didn’t even try to work with him. No meeting half-way. No compromising or looking the other way. Nothing.

Mark Twain supposedly once said, “Some people are troubled by the things in the bible they can’t understand. The things that trouble me are the things I can understand.” And this story today is one of those we can understand. It’s not a confusing parable or prophetic quote. It’s not vague or “multi-faceted”. It’s a guy with a lot of stuff, who is told to sell his stuff, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. And he can’t. So he leaves. He’s sad about that. But he’d rather be sad than poor.

And yeah, what Jesus tells him to do is hard and scary. But it’s not impossible. Some of the commands of Jesus, like “love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul. And love your neighbor as yourself,” I just can’t. This side of heaven, my heart is to divided and fractured to do as Jesus says. Until the fulfillment of all things, it is impossible for me, for you, for anyone, to fulfill this command.

But some of what Jesus says is very possible, like sell your stuff and give the money away. People have done this. The disciples. Saints. Mother Theresa. So we know, we have very real (and pretty recent) evidence that it’s not impossible to do what Jesus says here.

We just don’t do it. Because we have done the cost/benefit analysis and would rather throw ourselves at the mercy of a forgiving God than risk losing what little stability it feels like we have.


I mean, really, isn’t that the truth? We can try to weasel and squirm and cajole and explain all we want. But Jesus said, “Sell your stuff, give the money to the poor, and follow me.” And here we sit with all our stuff. I’ve got a house full of it! We’ve got a church full of it! And I will tell you, I want to make it easier for you. Because that would make it easier for me. But I can’t. Jesus’ words are right there. And all I have to do is take a quick look around and know that we are convicted.

The good news, of course, is that God’s grace is real. And yes, God does forgive our failure. Salvation does not and never will hinge on our ability to get it right. Jesus never stopped loving the rich man, after all. Even when he walked away. But the danger of going to quickly to forgiveness is that we’ll miss the heart of what’s going on. Because when we just write this off as a test we inevitably fail, we miss the invitation.

Consider this – Jesus is met by a man seeking something more than he currently has. Looking for a type of life that is stronger even than death. Jesus invites him into exactly this kind of life, the kind of life he’s not going to find anywhere else, and he just…walks away.

So you tell me, who loses in this situation?

I do not believe that Jesus’ invitation to sell his stuff was a test. That Jesus was trying to trap him into feeling bad or guilty, or condemn the man simply for being rich. What if we consider that Jesus is actually sincere here? That perhaps he knows that we have an unhealthy and life-crushing relationship with our stuff?

I mean, consider how much time and energy and money goes in to taking care of our stuff. How much of our own identity is tied to our stuff. How much we define ourselves by what we own. Just imagine for a second that we did free ourselves from our stuff. How would that feel for you? Once you got past the shock, what would happen? I mean, can you imagine if we realized, as a congregation, that all we need to be the church is people, bread, wine, water, and a place to meet? Everything else is just stuff.

We are not defined by our building. Or by our stained glass. Or by our pipe organ. Just at you are not defined by your car or by your clothes or by where you live. Those are not the things that tell us who we are. The only thing that defines us is the promise we live under. The only thing that has the power to tell you who you are is the voice of God. That voice that speaks at your baptism and claims you as son, as daughter, as beloved child.

And over time, that voice can get drowned out by all the other stuff that fills our life. So Jesus invites us to get rid of it. Get rid of anything and everything that holds us captive. That lies to us about who we are and what we’re worth, and find real freedom in life with God.

And the truth is, most of the time, we will just walk away. Because it is hard. And it is scary. But it’s not a test. It’s an invitation. Because faith will not be forced. Love cannot be mandatory, or it’s no longer love.

So Jesus just keeps inviting. Keeps the door open. Keeps calling us into life with God. And when we walk away, God just keeps walking with us. All the way to the end, when all that’s left is all that we need. And we hear again our name, and the word of God speaks, “Welcome home…finally.”


Ash Wednesday 2020 – Mark 9:30-37

Mark 9:30-37

There’s an old story in Jewish lore of a young student who approaches his teacher and asks, “Rabbi, why don’t people see God today as they did in the olden days?”And the wise Rabbi puts his hands on his student’s shoulders and says, “The answer, my son, is because no one is willing to stoop so low.”

In the reading today, it says that the disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest. And when Jesus asked about it, no one was willing to fess up to the conversation. I imagine part of it was they knew their conversation was a little on the arrogant side. But perhaps there was something else going on, too.

Twice now, Jesus has told them he’s going to die. And even though the disciples really don’t get why, they know what death is. And so if Jesus really is going to die, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about who the next leader might be. I mean, he’s not gone yet, but it never hurts to be prepared! So I suspect some of their question was not just about who is better than who, but who is so much better that they might take Jesus’ place when he’s gone. (Like I said, they really didn’t get it.)

But that is such a human thing! To wonder about power and stability and who’s gonna lead. Our Synod has a bishop’s election in a few months. And anything can happen, really! But it’s kind of like watching sharks start to circle in the waters, just in case something tasty comes their way. So yeah, imagine being caught (by Jesus!) having a conversation about who was greatest. Who might be taking his place. Awkward!

But oddly enough, Jesus doesn’t get mad. Not about this, anyway. Jesus gets mad about plenty of other things, but not about this. I suppose because they’re not totally wrong. Jesus won’t be with them forever. And some will need to step up and take the lead. It’s just not going to look like what they think it will.

So Jesus calls the disciples over and says, “Greatness doesn’t mean what you think it means. The one who is great is the one who serves.” And then he brought a child into their midst and held her in his arms. And the translation we get talks about “welcoming” one such as these. But the word there is closer to meaning “hold on to.” “Whoever holds one such child in my name, holds me. And whoever holds me holds not me, but the one who sent me.”

And it may not seem like much, but there is a difference between “welcoming” and “holding on to.” You can welcome someone without actually giving anything of yourself.

Sure, the door’s open. Com on in.” There! I welcomed someone!

To hold on to someone means making room and creating space. It means letting go of some of your own agenda, your own wants and needs, to attend to someone else. And specifically, someone with far less power than you. No one, in Jesus’ day, had less power than children. And Jesus calls on his disciples to use their power, use their greatness, on behalf of someone else. Not for their benefit, not for their well-being, but for the sake of another.

Greatness is giving your power away, that the life you have might be the life that all have.

What Jesus is trying to say is that true greatness will take you straight to the cross. To that place where Jesus surrenders all power and might, for the sake of a world in need, that the life he has is the life that all might have.

Greatness is not found at the top, but at the bottom.

That’s what this journey of Lent is about. It’s not a race to the top but a slog to the bottom. 40 days of throwing off our false notions of greatness. Of casting of our delusions of grandeur and making room to hold on to another. Of carving out space in our live and in our hearts for others to thrive. Lent is 40 days of loss and losing. Of giving it all away. Until we finally land at the foot of the cross. And see that in losing everything we had, we’ve gained everything we didn’t.

And when our times comes, one way or another, everything is stripped away. And we are left with nothing. No power, no possessions, no plans. One way or another, we will lose everything. And the only thing that remains is a promise

The promise of the cross. The promise of Jesus. That his death is now our death. And his life is now our life.

This is the promise of the cross, where Jesus gave everything up, let everything go, to make room to hold on to you.

If you want to see greatness, look to the cross.

That’s what greatness looks like.

That’s what grace looks like.


February 23, 2020 – Mark 8:27-9:8

Mark 8:27-9:8

There’s this idea in Celtic spirituality called “thin places”. And, according to the Celts, “thin places” are times and places when the veil between heaven and earth is so thin, we can nearly see through it. When we are given a glimpse of the “story behind the story.”

The Celts would say that “thin places” have a certain energy about them. A sense of awe or transcendence or closeness that, at another time or place, just isn’t there. “Thin places” aren’t places that you see or touch, they are places that you “feel”.  And you can’t find them, or make them, they can only be stumbled into. Never captured, only discovered.

And in a very real and literal sense, the story of the Transfiguration is a “thin place”. A place where heaven and earth collide. Where the “story behind the story” breaks through. And I am certain that Peter, James, and John had no idea what they were stumbling into. But all the sudden, there they were. In the presence of Moses and Elijah, being confronted by the voice of God, trying to wrap their minds around this “other Jesus” who was glowing.

And maybe it goes without saying, but this is not normal. This isn’t every day. This isn’t the story as we know it. This is something beyond us. And I know, I know, the Transfiguration story is kind of weird. And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really get it. I don’t really get what God is up to here. What we’re supposed to make of this. But I know enough to know that it’s important. I know enough to know that on that mountain, something happened.

And in a way, that’s enough. Because “thin places” aren’t places of understanding. They are places of presence. Of knowing you are not alone. That you are in the presence of another. And on that mountain, at the Transfiguration, God was present. God was there. And we caught a glimpse of God’s story that holds our own story.

Turn out, Jesus was not just about small town Jews of the 1st century! He’s bigger than that! Jesus is God’s story! God’s story that stretches beyond creation, to the other side of time itself. That draws together Moses and Elijah. Galilee and Green Bay. All of it and everything, little stories within and held by God’s story.

“Thin places” are places of awe and transcendence. Places of presence and connection. Where the veil between heaven and earth is so gloriously thin. And the Transfiguration is a pretty obvious “thin place”, but it’s not the only one. Baptism and Communion. These are thin places. When the presence of God is so near we can touch it and feel it, literally!

And you know, I’ve heard from so many people who talk about times they have felt the presence of someone they love who has passed on. Moments when it feels so much like they are there. Like they just know they are there. You can experience a “thin place” while watching a beautiful sunset. Or surrounded by people at a park. Or even sitting alone in your car.

The Kingdom of Heaven is continually breaking into our lives, tugging on our hearts, reminding us that we are not alone. That our story is held within God’s story. But “thin places” are not just for Transfigurations, for moments of divine beauty and awe. When we are overcome by all that is good and right in the world. “Thin places” can be found in the darkness, too.

Just before this story of Transfiguration, Jesus, for the first time, reveals to his disciples where this story is going. How this is going to end. And it’s not pretty. It’s going to involve suffering and rejection and betrayal and death. And, of course, the disciples don’t get it. That’s not what Messiah’s do. Messiah’s don’t die, they win. But not this Messiah. This Messiah takes on the cross. This Messiah knows the only way to defeat death is to go through death.

Too often, I think, we look at faith as the thing that supposed to help us avoid hard stuff, avoid suffering. But Jesus doesn’t take on the cross so that we don’t have to. Jesus takes on the cross to lead the way. To be present in every human experience, even suffering. Even death.

And that, too, is a “thin place”.

Sometimes, the places where we feel God’s presence most clearly are not the moments of awe, but moment of agony.

I can tell you, in my life, I have had a handful of those mountaintop experiences with God. Moments of joy and beauty that took me completely by surprise. But I can also tell you that the moments that have stayed with me the most, that have changed me the most, have been the times of meeting God in the darkness. The times when God has shown up in suffering and despair, not to fix it, but to be there. To remind us, “You are not alone.”

“Thin places” are places of presence. Times when the veil between heaven and earth is so, so gratefully thin. When we see, again, that our story is held within God’s story. The good, the bad, the ugly, the miserable. Times of joy and times of sorrow. There is no moment, no place, so far removed that God is not there.

All the way from the mountaintop to the cross.

And wherever you are in your journey, wherever you are right now, that is just where God meets you. That is where the Good News finds you.

And we hear again God’s word of promise –

You are not alone.


February 16, 2020 – Mark 7:1-23

Mark 7:1-23

So there’s a couple things we need to understand about Judaism in the first century to really get what’s going on here. But to drastically oversimplify things, we need to go all the way back to Abraham. And the covenant that God made with him.

See, God told Abraham that from him would come a great nation, blessed by God. And through this great nation, God would bless the world. And then a couple hundred years later, God clarifies the covenant even further on Mt. Sinai. God says, “If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my won possession among the people. For all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.”

And from that came two different schools of thought that played tug of war throughout Judaism all the way up until the time of Jesus. Both viewpoints were about living as a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. The difference was really just about who was doing all that “priestly living”.

One school of thought, held mostly by those who worked in or around the temple in Jerusalem, said that the temple priests were sort of “holy enough” for everyone. You know, the temple was the holiest of all holy sights. The epicenter of holiness. And the closer you were to the center of the temple, both literally and by virtue of your job, the holier you were.

So holiness was really the job of the priests in the temple. And us “common folk” benefit from their “trickle-down holiness”. But our job, then, is making sure they can do their job, supporting them to be holy on our behalf. Making sure we’re given enough money or food offerings, doing what we can to support the temple so that they can be holy enough for all of us.

The other school of thought said, “No! Holiness is not just for priests! It’s for all of us! We are all called to holiness. All set apart to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation! God’s covenant is for all of us to live!” And the teachers of this school (we could call them “Pharisees”) would go from town to town, trying to teach the people how they, too, could be a part of God’s holiness. How they could live out their faith in their daily lives. In a sense, they were the very first to teach about the “priesthood of all believers”.

And in the reading today, Jesus says, “You’re both wrong. You got it wrong from the beginning and you just kept going.  Because holiness is not a human project. It’s not something you can produce or achieve. It’s not yours to give or pronounce. Holiness is a God thing. It’s God’s gift to give.”

And the problem with turning holiness into a human project is that we get all sorts of ideas about what holiness is and isn’t. The temple priests understood that holiness radiates from the temple. And the further you got from the middle, the less holy (and less important) you were. So holiness is moving closer and closer to the center.

No accident that the only time Jesus moves towards the center, towards Jerusalem, is when he goes there to die. Most of his ministry is out in Galilee, way out in the farthest, most remote corner of the Jewish world. The “Jewish sticks”, if you will.

The Pharisees understood holiness as lifting yourself above the ordinary and everyday. As being “set apart”. What’s interesting, to me anyway, is that the word that gets translated as “defiled” in our reading (as in, ‘they ate with defiled hands’), that word could also be translated as “common”. So the opposite of “holy” is not “dirty”, it’s “common”.  To be holy is to be “not ordinary”, but to be “extraordinary”.

But, Jesus says, that’s all wrong. Because it sets holiness up as something we can achieve. Something that’s our job to be or to do. And holiness is God’s job. God’s gift. The Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples because, in their eyes, not only had they tainted themselves by dropping down into this world of “ordinary, common, defiled things”, they didn’t seem to be doing anything to change that! Like, they didn’t even care that they were defiled!

But Jesus isn’t playing that game. Because they’ve got it all wrong.

All the earth is God’s! Don’t you remember? Therefore, there is nothing in this world, nothing outside of us, around us, in this life that can make you “unclean” or “defiled”. Nothing you can eat or drink, nothing that anyone else can say to you or do to you or think about you that can remove, overpower, or negate God’s gift of holiness and grace to you. There is nothing outside of us that has that power.

The real problem is the stuff that comes from within us! If you want to know where trouble starts, look there! You want to know what really comes between us and God? How about pride. Envy. Greed…The list goes on and on. You want to worry about something? Don’t worry about whether or not you washed your hands the right way. Worry about what direction your heart is pointed.

I have seen the problem, and the problem is me.”

The things that pull us away from God are not outside us, they are within us. The good news, of course, is once you have an accurate diagnosis, you can start to look for the right cure. And it’s not moving to Jerusalem or giving up bacon or doing all the right things right. These things outside of us, they can’t defile us. But neither can they fix us. The only real cure is death.

And specifically, Jesus’ death. Because Jesus’ death is the only one that leads to God’s life. And we haven’t gotten there yet in the story, but we know where this is going. Pretty soon, Jesus turns towards Jerusalem, toward the capital city of human achievement and glory, and goes there to die. To put to death all our best efforts and intentions open the doorway into God’s life and grace.

And God’s death and resurrection isn’t a prize to be won, achieved, or accomplished, only received. As gift. And we usually just call that gift “baptism”. That great gift from God that joins us, finally, fully, and completely, to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord. But baptism isn’t just a “once in your life and I’ve got the picture to prove it” thing. It’s a daily dying and rising. A daily remembrance that the problem is me, and that I can’t fix it. Only God can.

Only God can wash away what is dead and rotten to make room for what is life and light. Every day. Every day we die and rise again. We die under the burden and the power of sin are lifted back to life in the light of God’s love. Every. Day.

Holiness. Grace. Love. These are not human projects. Not things for us to achieve or accomplish. They are gift. Freely given.

Because, God knows, it’s the only thing that will save us from ourselves. The only thing that can save us.

And what you do with that gift? Well, that’s up to you.