Sunday, March 30, 2014

Now I See

John 9:1-41
March 30, 2014

            In the movie Contact, Jodie Foster plays Dr. Ellie Arroway.  She is an intense scientist who puts all of her belief and her trust in science and mathematics.  Her work is looking for extraterrestrial life.  So she listens to space.  She hears something.  She recognizes a mathematical pattern being transmitted from the star Vega.  Without going into long detail, in the message are instructions for a one person pod-like vessel, a space ship.  Arroway finally gets her chance to pilot the vessel into space.  She has recording equipment with her and readies herself for her flight.  She does travel, through space, worm holes, and makes contact with another being.  From her perspective, she spent hours, days making this journey.  But her pod never leaves its launch pad.  All her recording equipment captured was static. 
            As you can imagine, this kind of scientific exploration didn’t occur outside of the political realm.  Arroway remains steadfast in her claim that she made a journey unlike any other.  She is called to testify before congress.  Her story is dismissed and derided, but she makes a powerful statement about what she experienced.  She couldn’t prove anything to them.  She could give them no evidence of what happened to her, but what she saw changed her forever.  This contact made her realize that we are infinitesimally small in a universe that is large beyond our comprehension.  But as humans we are precious.  We are connected.  We are not alone.  She may not be able to provide physical evidence, but she held fast to what she saw, and what she knows to be true.
            When I turned to John’s gospel to reread this story of the blind man receiving sight, I thought about this scene from Contact.  Like Arroway, the blind man has an experience that he knows to be true, but everyone around him refuses to believe.  Unlike Arroway, he has physical evidence to offer.  He was physically blind.  Now he can physically see.  Yet he was still questioned and harangued about what happened to him, and what he knew to be true. 
In our time and context, we understand that blindness is not a consequence of sin.  But as we read in our story, sin and sinfulness were considered the root causes of someone being born blind.  So when Jesus and the disciples came upon this man born blind, the disciples had only one response to his condition.  It was posed in the form of the question, “Who sinned?”  Was this man the sinner?  Was it his sinfulness that was the cause of his blindness, or was it the sinfulness of his parents?  It must be one or the other.  Blindness was the result of sinfulness.  So, who sinned?
            Although Jesus’ response sounds straightforward, it bears repeating that every story in John’s gospel is couched in metaphor and has layers of meaning.  It stands to reason, then, that Jesus’ response to the disciples is also metaphorical and layered in meaning. 
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
            Does this mean that Jesus was saying God afflicted the man with blindness so that someday when he was an adult, he could be used as an object lesson for other people?  I don’t think so.  I think a deeper, more accurate understanding is that the man’s blindness was just that, a sad but random happening.  But Jesus knew that through this man God’s glory could and would be revealed.  When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, he spoke to her not just of water she could carry in her buckets, but of living water that would revive her soul.  Jesus told Nicodemus that it was his birth, his forming and shaping, in and by the Spirit that would give him salvation and new life.  So too, this blind man would see.  He would see not just the physical world around him, but he would see and recognize the revelation of God’s glory. 
            As one commentator noted, Jesus’ actions take on a baptismal quality.  He spits on the ground, makes mud, and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes.  He tells the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.  The man did this, and when the mud was washed away, he returned able to see, both the world around him and God’s glory. 
            Upon his return, the neighbors and others who knew him before took notice.  “Wait a minute, isn’t this the guy who was blind?  Isn’t this the one we knew as a beggar; the one who’s been blind since birth?” 
            Speculation began.  Some of the people believed that it really was him.  But others said, “No that’s not that guy.  It looks like him, but it’s not him.”
            Yet the man kept insisting that he was the one who was blind but could now see.  He said, “I am the man.”  One scholar points out that this man is the only other person to use the phrase, “I am” except Jesus.  I am the man.  So the neighbors asked him, “How did this happen?  How did you receive your sight?”
            He told them exactly what Jesus did.  He spat on the ground, made mud, spread the mud on my eyes, told me to go wash.  I did and now I see.  Now I see.
            However, it was all too suspicious.  No one is born blind then given sight.  The man was brought before the Pharisees, the religious authorities.  An investigation took place.  The Pharisees, like the neighbors, asked the man how he received his sight.  Again, he told them.  Yet rather than rejoice in this miraculous healing, this giving of sight, the Pharisees became more concerned about the timing.  This happened on the Sabbath.  Obviously, Jesus was not “from God” because he willingly broke the Law.  No one truly from God would do that.  But the man’s story never changed.  He told the Pharisees exactly what he told the other people.  He was blind, but Jesus gave him sight.  He was blind.  Now he can see.
            John tells us that the Pharisees are divided.  Jesus broke the Law, so he must be a sinner.  But how could a sinner perform such signs?  This man could now see.  The Pharisees then questioned the man about Jesus.  What does he say about him?  He’s the one who was given sight by Jesus.  All the man will say about Jesus’ identity is that he is a prophet.
            The Jews – we need to understand here that John is speaking of the Jewish religious authorities, not just Jews in general – decided that it wasn’t possible that this man was actually born blind.  So they tracked down his parents.  They questioned them.  “Is this your son and was he born blind?”
            The parents were afraid.  They were afraid of being forced out of the synagogue, out of the community and its fellowship.  It was already known that anyone who gave credence to Jesus would suffer those consequences.  So out of fear, they handed over their own son.  “We know that this is our son.  We know that he was born blind.  But we don’t know how he’s seeing now and we don’t know who made him see.  Look, don’t bother us anymore.  He’s of age.  Ask him.”
            One more time the religious authorities called the man in for questioning. “Give glory to God,” they tell him, “we know that this man is a sinner.”  This wasn’t an invitation to praise God for what Jesus had done.  It wasn’t a call to actually give glory to God.  It was a warning.  This Jesus, this sinner must be denied, and any authority he might have, undermined.  But the man refused to back down.  He refused to speculate or categorize Jesus in anyway. 
            “I do not know whether he is a sinner.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 
            To me this is the crux of the entire passage.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. 
            The man would not let them take that away from him.  He would not let his experience of moving from blindness to sight be hijacked to accommodate the power driven agendas of others.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.
            The Pharisees couldn’t accept this.  They reviled the man.  They accused him of being a disciple of Jesus, a sinner, while they, the good and righteous people, were disciples of Moses. 
            The man didn’t take their bait.  He even took them to task for their lack of understanding. 
            “Here is an astonishing thing!  You do not know where he comes from and yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to the one who worships him and obeys his will.  Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could nothing.”
            For the Pharisees, that was the final straw.  They responded, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?”  They did what people most feared.  They drove him out of the synagogue and out of the fellowship of the worshipping community. 
            At this point Jesus returned to the scene.  We don’t know where he was during this lengthy interrogation, but when he heard that the man was driven out of the synagogue, Jesus went looking for him.  Jesus asked the man one question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  The man born blind only wanted to know the identity of the Son of Man, so that he may worship him.  Jesus answers, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”  With that, the man believed.   
            A fellow pastor remarked that in this entire story, every person involved with the man objectifies him.  They treated him as a thing to be argued over, fought over, used.  Jesus was the only one who saw him as an individual, who through no fault of his own or anyone else, was blind.  Jesus gave this man, this individual, this unique creation of God, his sight.  And from this powerful experience, the man believed in Jesus as the Son of God, the Son of Man. 
            One thing I do know that though I was blind, now I see. 
            No one was able to take that experience away from him.  No one could convince him that what he knew was false or delusional.  It was real.  Now I see.
            And not only did he see in the physiological sense.  He saw the truth of Jesus, his identity, his reality.  He saw the Messiah standing in front of him and believed.  But the righteous people, the people who had never spent a day without sight could not see.  They may have been able to pass an eye exam on the first try, but they were blind.  They could not see; they could not accept what was right before their eyes:  Jesus, the Son of Man; the Son of God. 
            How are we blind?  It is easy, perhaps, to relate to the man born blind.  We have seen, in one way or another, the revelation of God’s glory.  Yet I know that I am also like the Pharisees.  I see what I want to.  More accurately, I don’t see what I don’t want to.  How quickly I find myself stuck in the groove of my own righteousness.  I know what’s true and what isn’t.  But when I read this story, I get a glimpse of another truth.  I may be able to see, but I can also be blind. Blind to the revelation of God’s glory because it sometimes appears in ways I don’t like.  I’m blind because sometimes it breaks the rules I believe to be firm.  I’m blind because encountering Jesus in a way I’m unprepared for scares me.  I ask the question again, how are we blind?  In this season of Lent may our eyes be opened to God’s work in our midst; but even more may our hearts be opened to the glory of God all around us.  As we draw closer and closer to Good Friday, may we also proclaim, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  Now I see.  Let all God’s children say, “Amen.”

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thirsty No More

John 4:5-42
March 23, 2014/Third Sunday in Lent

            Yia Yia is my sister’s mother-in-law.  That’s not her given name.  Her actual name is Polyxthene.  The name Yia Yia means Gramma in Greek.  When we visited Greece in 2005, we didn’t get to meet Yia Yia.  There wasn’t an opportunity for us to travel to Karditsa, the village where my brother-in-law, Niko, is from.  But I feel as though I know Yia Yia.  I’ve heard about her for as long as my sister has been married to Niko and living in Greece.  That’s been a long time now. 
            From Jill’s description, Yia Yia is a small woman.  But she’s strong.  Yia Yia has survived wars and oppression and occupation.  She’s worked hard all her life.  One chore that she did for many, many years, the chore that probably made her the strongest, was carry buckets of water from the well. 
            I can imagine that she would have carried water much like this woman from John’s gospel carried water.  She probably had a wooden yoke that went across her neck and her shoulders.  The buckets of water hung on either side.  You would have to be strong to carry water like that.  You would have to be tough.  I don’t think I’m that strong or that tough.  Maybe if I had to do it every day, I would toughen up like Yia Yia.  Yia Yia was strong because she had to be.  She carried that water because she had to.
            So does this woman, this unnamed woman of Samaria.  She, like other strong women, comes everyday to the well to gather water for herself and others who depend on her.  But she doesn’t come to the well when the other women come.  She doesn’t carry her buckets to the well for water in the early morning or in the cool of the evening.  No this woman, this Samaritan woman, comes to the well at midday; at noon when the sun is the hottest.  She endures the brutal heat, which could only have added to the burden of carrying the water.  Why?  Most scholars believe it is because she wanted to come to the well when no one else was there.  This woman, although she isn’t criticized at all in the text, is most likely an outcast among the outcasts.  As a Samaritan, she would have been an outcast to the Jews.  And even among her own people, she was probably an outcast because she’s had more than one husband, and as we learn from Jesus, she’s currently living with a man who isn’t her husband.  It’s easy to think that means she’s some sort of fallen woman, a lady of the evening to use a less than subtle euphemism.  But there’s no indication of that in the text.  Jesus never refers to her in that way.  It’s quite possible she has been widowed repeatedly.  The man she is now living with could be a brother-in-law, who takes her into his home as the culture dictated.  She would have taken care of his home as a wife would, but would not have been his wife.  But whatever the reason for her many marriages and her present circumstances, being a woman was challenge enough, much less one without the protection of a husband. 
            This unnamed woman was an outcast.  So she comes to the well in the heat of the day. But on this particular day she meets a stranger at the well.  She meets a Jewish man who dares to strike up a conversation with her even though they are alone; even though it goes against all social customs and boundaries.  She comes to the well and she meets Jesus.
            One of the things we have to understand about the Jesus of John’s gospel is that any parable he tells or lesson he gives comes to us with many layers.  John’s gospel tells the stories of Jesus from a spiritual, rather than an historical, perspective.  John’s gospel has the clear agenda that Jesus is the Messiah and God is clearly at work in the world.    
            In the verses just before our passage begins, Jesus has left Judea and is on his way to Galilee, but he has to go through Samaria.  Logically, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.  If you were following a literal map of the region, making a side trip through Samaria was of course for a trek to Galilee.  But Jesus has to go to Samaria.  He has to go.  It seems to me that we can infer that this trip to Samaria is not one Jesus takes for the heck of it.  Whether we call it a spiritual quest or divinely inspired, Jesus goes to Samaria purposefully.  It was not on the way. 
            Our passage begins with Jesus coming to the Samaritan city of Sychar.  This is near the ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; the place of Jacob’s well.  Jesus is tired from his walking.  The day is hot.  He is sitting by the well.  The disciples have gone into the city to buy food, so it is just Jesus, alone. 
            Our unnamed woman approaches, buckets in hand to draw her water.  When Jesus sees her, he says “give me a drink.” 
            As I said earlier, Jesus asking the woman for a drink, speaking to her at all when there was no one else around, crossed every well-established social boundary and broke every social taboo.  Furthermore Jesus is a Jew.  The enmity between Jews and Samaritans was and old, old wound. 
            She knows this.  She knows that this Jewish man should not be talking to her.  So she questions him.  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” 
I guess Jesus could have replied, “I’m the Messiah, and I’m here to offer you salvation.”  But instead He says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
            Again, she questions him.  “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 
            “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 
            The Samaritan woman doesn’t understand what Jesus means when he offers her living water.  It sounds like some sort of mystical, unending, unceasing spring.  Surely that idea must have sounded wonderful.  Perhaps if she had access to it, she wouldn’t have to carry these heavy buckets day after day to fetch water.  It would be there for her, whenever she wanted it. 
            But Jesus was not talking about some sort of magical source.  He was speaking of water for the soul and spirit – water that would give new life through him.  She asks him to give her some of that water, and Jesus responds by telling her to go and get her husband.  Bring him back. 
            Jesus told her the truth about herself that day.  But remember that he didn’t condemn her or encourage her to change.  He just saw who she was and spoke that truth out loud.  As preacher and teacher Fred Craddock wrote, “All we know is that Jesus, as is his custom in John, reveals special knowledge of the individuals he encounters and alerts them that in meeting him they may encounter the transcendent.” 
            Their conversation goes on.  In fact of all the conversations that Jesus has with anyone, in any of the gospels, his conversation with this woman at the well is the longest recorded.  The woman may not have understood exactly what Jesus was telling her; she may not have completely grasped what he meant by living water, but she knew he had something that she needed.  She couldn’t have known when she lugged buckets and yoke to the well that day that she needed or wanted anything more than her daily supply of water.   She didn’t know that she needed living water, but here it was, offered to her from the source of life himself.
            She took it.  I don’t know that she fully understood what Jesus was telling her.  When she goes back into the city, she tells people to come and see this man, this man who told her everything she’s ever done.  Then she asks the question, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  Again, to quote Fred Craddock, this isn’t exactly a statement of faith.  She doesn’t go to others and share with them her version of the Apostle’s Creed.
            But the woman knows that she needs something more than just water to quench her physical thirst.  She knows that she needs a Messiah, someone to quench the thirst of a heart that has long been parched.  She came to the well for water.  She left the well believing in the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.
            Maybe we’re more like that woman than we realize.  Maybe we don’t really know what we need until Jesus tells us our truth and offers us a drink of living water.  Maybe many of us have felt at some point in our lives that we’re looking for something, we just don’t know what that something is.  Something about our lives rings false, feels empty.  We know we need something more, but we don’t know what.  So we look for it in our jobs, in our relationships, in our children.  Some people take more destructive routes, and look to fill their emptiness in drugs or alcohol.  I’m beginning to think that we humans, if left to our own devices, would just keep looking and looking and looking, wandering from one false hope to the next. 
            We may think we know what we want or need most in life.  But then we are confronted with Jesus, with living water, with the source of all that is true or real.  We may think we know what we’re looking for, but that can too often be self-deception.  Lent strips that all away.  It prunes away the wants and desires that cloud our vision and confuse our hearts.  What do we have left?  We have our deepest need – our need to cling to God and drink deeply of the living water that we can only receive through the gift of his Son.  With that living water, we will be thirsty no more.  Let all God’s children say, “Amen.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

Like It Or Not

John 3:1-17
March 16, 2014

One of my favorite books growing up was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle.  The heroine of the story is 14-year-old Meg Murray.  She is awkward and feels out-of-place and somewhat of a misfit in her family; all exceptionally gifted and talented.  Meg feels, at the best, ordinary.  She, along with everyone else in her family worries constantly about her father.  Mr. Murray, an exceptional and gifted scientist, has been missing for a year.

One night Meg meets a strange woman named Mrs. Whatsit -- a traveler from another planet -- and this is where her adventure begins.  Meg, her younger, sensitive and brilliant brother, Charles Wallace, and Meg's friend Calvin O'Keefe, take a strange journey through time and space to rescue Meg's father from an unknown, terrifying force.  As they travel they see this force.  It is like an ominous dark cloud.  As it moves across the universe it swallows planets and stars, completely overshadowing them in darkness.

The planet where Mr. Murray is being held is called Camazotz.  It is controlled by IT; which seems to be something like a large, disembodied brain.  It controls everything and everyone with a rhythmic pulse.  That pulse forces everything to move in synchronized rhythm.  As Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin walk down the street, they see children outside of their houses, bouncing balls.  But each child bounces the ball at exactly the same time, in the same way, in perfect rhythm.  Like robots.  When one child accidentally drops his ball, breaking rhythm with the rest of the children, his frightened mother appears in the doorway and frantically calls him inside.  

The three children find Mr. Murray and manage to free him from IT.  But Charles Wallace tries to engage and defeat IT with his intelligence and is overwhelmed by IT.  Mr. Murray is able to pull Meg and Calvin away and the three of them tesseract, which is how this time travel is accomplished, to a peaceful planet where they are cared for and healed.  But Charles Wallace is left behind.  

Meg, with her special connection to Charles Wallace, is the only one who can save him.  She returns to Camazotz alone and finds Charles Wallace.  The Charles Wallace who loved and comforted and understood Meg better than anyone else in their family is gone.  In his place is a boy who looks like Charles Wallace but seems to only be the mouthpiece for IT.  IT speaks through him.

Meg tries to fight IT.  At first she uses her hate for IT.  But the more she hates IT, the stronger and more powerful IT becomes.  Finally, she realizes that the one thing IT cannot understand is love.  It is her love for Charles Wallace, her family, her friends, the creatures that she's met on this bizarre journey that make her different from IT.  It is her love that sets her apart.  It is love that has kept Earth from being overtaken completely by the dark shadow threatening the universe.  Love.

Meg concentrates on her love for Charles Wallace.  She screams the words, "I love you Charles Wallace" over and over again.  IT becomes confused.  The more Meg focuses on love, the less control IT has, and Charles Wallace is pulled free.  Meg saves her brother from the darkness of IT through love.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night, in darkness, and Jesus responds to him with love.  Certainly it seems that the easiest way to approach this passage would be to focus only on verse 16.  It is probably the best known verse of the Bible.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."  The King James Version, the version I learned this verse in as a child.

For God so loved the world.  The problem is that skipping to verse 16, taking it out of context from the rest of the story, doesn't do verse 16 or the story justice.  Because it begins with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who comes to Jesus in the night, in the darkness.

Nicodemus tells Jesus that he knows him.  He addresses Jesus as "Rabbi," and he knows that Jesus is a teacher sent from God.  He knows this because of the many signs Jesus performs; they could only be performed by One sent from God.

And Jesus responds with probably the most confusing, and I suspect, the most misunderstood sentence in all of the gospels.

"Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
Another way that "from above is translated is "born again."  No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.  Being "born again" has become the central issue of faith for many of our more evangelical brothers and sisters.  Being saved means being born again.  It is the moment when you accept Jesus into your heart, accept him as your Lord and Savior, and therefore you are saved.  You are born again.

With all due respect to the other members of our Christian family, I struggle with the concept of being born again.  I always have.  Jesus' response confuses Nicodemus as well.  You have to be born again, born from above?  Nicodemus takes Jesus literally.  How can you go back into your mother's womb and be reborn?

But Jesus isn't referring to a literal birth.  It seems that Jesus is speaking of being created and formed by God through the Holy Spirit.  If we are to see the kingdom of God, experience it, than that happens as we are born anew.  Here's the thing.  Looking back over the course of my life, I can identify many times when I have been born anew, reborn through the movement and power of the Holy Spirit.  It hasn't been just one moment, but many moments.  I suspect those moments will continue, at least I hope they will.  Because for me it's not about being born again, one time, that's it.  It is about growing, growing up, in faith.  Yes, I am being born from above.  We all are.  We are continuously being formed and created and shaped in our faith.  That formation comes in dramatic moments, true, but it also happens in the same daily, ordinary moments of living and maturing in our faith.

I think it happens every time we recognize that we are loved by God.  That's really the answer Jesus gives to Nicodemus.  Salvation and the kingdom of God come to the world through the Son because of love.  God loves the world so much, so unconditionally, so completely that God will do whatever it takes to show the world that love.  God loves the world, the whole world, like it or not.

But why wouldn't we like it?  Why wouldn't we choose the light that comes to us through God's love rather than stay in the darkness?  I think it is because being born and being born again is scary and messy, both literally and figuratively.  Growing up in our faith can be painful.  Growing up in faith, being formed in faith challenges us to be mindful, to think about the ways we show God's love -- or don't.  Being formed in faith, from above, calls us to trust God.  We have to trust God, not ourselves, not our own wisdom, God.  That's hard to do.  Being born again from above is challenging, but through it all we are loved.  

That's what God wants us to know, I think.  God loves us, like it or not.  We can't bargain or negotiate with this kind of love.  It isn't conditional on what we do or don't do.  God loves us, like it or not.  God loves this world so much that God is willing to become one of us if that' what it takes for us to finally get it, to finally understand the depth and height and breadth of God's love.
Like it or not, God loves us.  But that forces a decision.  Will we turn to God, to light to love?  Will we follow his Son?  Or will we turn to darkness?  God's love for the world has been made flesh and blood in Jesus?  But will we follow?

I read a wonderful short story called The Geese and the Snowstorm.  It tells the story of a man who didn't believe in God; he wanted nothing to do with God.   He thought the idea of God becoming human was a ridiculous notion.  No true God would ever become a human.  It just didn't make sense.  Yet his wife believed, and she raised her children in faith.  One Sunday, when the rest of his family were at church, it began to snow.  The man settled in by the warm fire, when he heard a thump and a thud against the house.  He went outside and saw a flock of geese that had gotten caught in the snowstorm.  They seemed confused and unsure about what to do or where to go.  The man realized without help they wouldn't survive.  He didn't want them to suffer, so he opened his barn doors and tried to shoo them inside to its safety.  But every move he made toward them sent them scattering in fear.  He was desperate; he kept trying to think of some way that he could entice them to follow him.  Finally he cried out, "Oh, if only I could become like them.  Then they wouldn't be scared of me.  Then they would follow me into the barn where they would be safe."

If only I could become like them, then they would follow me.  The man realized what he's said.  Suddenly God becoming like us didn't sound ridiculous at all.  The story ends with him dropping to his knees in the snow and praying.

I realize that's a pretty dramatic moment, and I'm sure some would consider the man born again.  I guess in some ways he was, because it was a moment of acceptance.  But maybe being born again isn't so much one moment of acceptance, but many moments -- both dramatic and ordinary -- when we see and feel and comprehend God's love. We have those moments when we understand, we get it, that we are loved by God unconditionally, like it or not.  And in those moments we choose and re-choose to follow.  We are born again and again and again because God loves us, loves the world, like it or not.  And in God's unconditional, sacrificial love, we find our hope, we make our way, we are born again.  Let all God's children say, "Amen."