Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Need

Mark 5:21-43
June 28, 2015

            How far would you go to save your child? Until I became a parent, I didn’t understand how hard it is having a sick child. Even something as ordinary as a cold tests you. You want to give your kids comfort. You want to make them better, and you think you should be able to. Making your child well again should be within your parental powers. After all, I was the one who could kiss an owie and make it all better. But sometimes no amount of kisses and cuddles and comfort can make a sickness disappear. My kids have been ill to varying degrees throughout their lives. But they have both had one significant illness that terrified me. Luckily, they weren’t in life-threatening states. But they were pretty sick, and I have never felt so helpless.
            How far would you go to save your child? In the novel, “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult, parents go to extraordinary lengths to save their daughter, Kate. She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 2. She needed blood and stem cells from a matching donor. Her older brother was not a match. Her parents were not a match. So Kate’s parents sought the help of a geneticist who helped them conceive a baby who would be a match. Anna. The story twists and turns from there, but it is a moving example of the desperation parents may feel when their child is sick. How far would you go to save your child?
            How far would you go to save yourself? When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, none of us questioned her decision to do everything she could to fight it. If she had wanted otherwise, we would have done all that we could to convince or even coerce her. She had a mastectomy. She stayed on an oral form of chemotherapy for a long time. She did the physical therapy. She did everything she was told to do. My mom continues to have yearly mammograms, because she knows how insidious cancer is. How far would you go to save yourself?
In our story from Mark’s gospel, we read about two people who were willing to go to great lengths for healing; the woman for herself and Jairus for his daughter.  
            Jairus was a leader of the synagogue. He had standing in the community. It was probably far more shocking than we realize for him to seek out Jesus directly. There were plenty of people of less importance who would have gone to Jesus for him. But Jairus went to Jesus. He sought him out. Jairus fell down before him, and begged for Jesus’ help. He was probably putting his reputation and religious career on the line by doing what he did, but his need was so great I imagine all concern for dignity, reputation, and standing were forgotten. Jairus’ daughter – his little girl, his child – was deathly ill. He was willing to go to any length to save her. Jairus, a man of authority and power, was powerless before his daughter’s illness. In his helplessness, he was completely vulnerable and made himself more vulnerable still by rushing to Jesus for help.  Jairus knew; he knew that if Jesus laid his hands on his daughter, she would be made well.  So as soon as he saw Jesus he fell at the teacher’s feet and pleaded with him to come and heal his little girl.  That was how greatly he was in need. That was how far he would go to save his child.
            As Jesus was making his way toward Jairus’ house, another person came to Jesus in desperate need; a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years.  Twelve years!  There is no reason given for why this woman bled for so long, but we do know that she spent every last cent she had on physicians and doctors.  But none of them could make her well.  None of their treatments worked.  The text tells us that she had “endured much under many physicians.”  I suspect that means that she was given every test, every treatment, and every cure known to a doctor of that time.  Still nothing worked.  She had only grown steadily worse.
            When Jesus stepped into that crowd by the sea this unnamed woman, this desperate woman knew. She knew that if she could only touch him, if she could just grasp his clothing for a fleeting second, she would be cured.  All would be well.
            She did just that.  I imagine it was her desperation, her need that helped her push through that large crowd.  Being ill for so long, she was most likely anemic. I suspect she had very little strength.  However, in great need, she pushed her way through that crowd and touched Jesus’ cloak before the crowd could surge against her or her own courage failed.  As soon as she did this, as soon as she touched his robe her bleeding stopped.  She knew that something was different.  She felt it in her body.  The bleeding stopped. She was healed.
            All of this in itself is amazing.  We could stop the story right here and know that a miracle happened.  Outside of knowing the fate of Jairus’ daughter, nothing more would need to be said.  It is a miracle!  But the amazing events continued.  Jesus knew something happened as well.  He perceived that power had left him.  He realized something out of the ordinary had occurred.
            So he stopped where he was and called out, “Who touched me?”  My reaction to this is similar to the disciples’.  Huh? What do you mean, “Who touched you?”  Have you seen the size of this crowd?  There are about a gazillion people trying to touch you, reach you.  Folks are coming at you from all sides, how can you possibly know that one person touched you in the midst of all these others?
            But Jesus knew.  He knew something was different.  He knew something had happened.  He felt the woman’s healing just as she did.  This poor woman must have been terrified beyond belief.  Certainly she must have felt a thrill of fear that Jesus could sense the power that had moved between the two of them.  But her fear must have gone beyond the fact that she touched this rabbi. Her twelve years of bleeding meant that she was ritually unclean.  Not only had she dared to touch Jesus, she surely touched a whole lot of other people in her push to reach him.  For twelve years she would have lived an outsider’s life. For twelve years she would have been banned from full participation in the life of the synagogue.  Contact with her would have contaminated others. Her uncleanness would have been contagious. So she should have been nowhere near a great crowd such as this one, and certainly nowhere near a teacher such as Jesus.  Her very presence there was a violation of the Law.
            I’m sure she was afraid. I’m sure she was shaking at the potential punishment and the consequences for her actions. But she was in need. She was in desperate need, and that need outweighed everything else. She needed Jesus. Jairus needed Jesus. This woman occupied a much lower place in society than Jairus did, but their need for Jesus was an equalizer. It bridged the distance that society and status placed between them. They were both willing to be completely vulnerable in order to receive the healing they so desperately needed.  How far would you go to save your child? How far would you go to save yourself?
            The consequences for this woman’s actions would have been great indeed. But in spite of her fear and dread, she owned up to what she did.  She stepped out from the others, out from hiding. She fell down before Jesus and confessed what she had done.  Yet instead of reprimands and rebukes, Jesus said to her, “Daughter your faith has made you well.  Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
            This woman believed.  She knew Jesus could heal her. She was in need, and had faith that her need would be answered. She knew that all she had to do was touch his robe be cured. She was right.
            But Jesus’ healing didn’t stop with this woman.  Lest we forget, her healing was an interruption to Jesus’ original purpose.  He was on his way to Jairus’ house to heal his little girl when the woman interrupted. She seemingly distracted Jesus from his initial intent.  As Jesus once more moved toward Jairus’ house, some others who were waiting came to Jairus and informed him that his daughter was dead.  There was no point in bothering Jesus any longer.
            Jesus overheard them and told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”  Only believe.  Jesus and a small contingent of the disciples went to Jairus’ house.  The mourners were gathered.  In spite of their wailing and weeping, they couldn’t contain their laughter when Jesus announced that the little girl was not dead, only sleeping.  Their laughter didn’t deter Jesus.  He took the girl’s hand and said, “Talitha cum.”  The text interprets this as, “Little girl, get up.”  She obeyed.  She stood up.  She walked about the room.  She was healed!
            Jairus knew.  Jairus believed that Jesus could heal his daughter.  And his deep sense, his absolute belief in Jesus’ healing ability was fulfilled.  The woman who bled for twelve years knew as well.  She believed without hesitation that merely touching the clothes Jesus wore would give her the healing she sought. Their need drove them to seek out Jesus, but they both knew that he had the power to heal, to help them, to answer their need.
It was desperation that made both Jairus and the long-suffering woman willing to be vulnerable. In their need, they went to great and even dangerous lengths to seek Jesus’ help. In their need they turned to Jesus, and Jesus responded, directly and indirectly.  Not only did Jesus answer their need, Jesus stepped across boundaries to do so. An unclean woman touched him, but instead of chastising her, he called her “daughter.” He restored her place in the community. Jesus touched a girl who was dead, making him unclean, but that boundary of social propriety did not stop him. Her need, her father’s need was greater than any wall social mores could construct. Jesus defies boundaries to meet our needs as well; because suffering knows no boundaries.  Jairus and the woman were willing to cross boundaries to reach Jesus, and Jesus responded in kind. A popular saying is that “Jesus meets us where we are.” These intertwined stories bear that out. Suffering does not respect status or boundary. Need doesn’t care about social niceties. Here is the good news. Neither does Jesus. Jesus meets us where we are. Jesus meets suffering where it is. And this good news calls us to do the same. To go where suffering lives, and where need abides. To do and live the words Jesus spoke to Jairus. “Do not fear, only believe.”  So fear must give way to belief.  Worries must give way to trust.  The needs of our world are great. Our need is overwhelming. The needs around us are more so. But God’s love through Jesus is greater still. No boundary can stop that love. No place is too dark for that love to reach. Jesus meets us in our need. And we are called to go with him, to be his hands, his voice, his love, in meeting the needs of others.  That is good news. That is good news indeed. Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Mark 4:35-41
June 21, 2015

When I first read that this story from Mark was the text this morning, I thought how closely we can relate to the crashing of a terrible storm. We’ve endured a lot of storms in the past weeks. We’ve endured crashing, terrible storms many times. So I chose the title, “Swamped,” thinking I would focus on what it means to be swamped with too much rain, too much water, too much wind, etc.  But then the news about the Wednesday night massacre in Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston broke. The word, swamped, seemed to mean something far more sinister and oppressive than even the most terrifying excess of water.
Thursday evening, Brent and I watched the unfolding news about this horrific tragedy. One of the news shows on MSNBC had panelists from different news and social policy agencies discussing the larger implications of this latest mass murder. In discussing President Obama’s address to the nation, they ran a series of clips from every time he has had to speak to the country after this kind of evil has occurred. I lost count. I lost count of the different times our president has had to put into words the collective heartbreak and outrage we feel when innocent people are gunned down senselessly. I lost count. He spoke about the mass killing in a movie theater in Colorado, in an elementary school in Connecticut, and others. And now he spoke after nine people were gunned down in a church during a Wednesday evening Bible study.
            I won’t say that in each clip the president looked more defeated, nor did he seem resigned to the reality of gun violence in our culture. But I realized that with each address he looked more and more swamped. That’s how I feel: swamped. I feel swamped in such horrible sadness over nine more people whose lives were ended, so tragically and senselessly. I feel swamped in helplessness and in despair at the depth of hatred we humans can feel for other human beings. I feel swamped.
            The definition of the word swamped is both literal and figurative. The literal is the one that we here in Oklahoma know so well. To be swamped is to be overwhelmed with a flood or a deluge of water. We finally got past the storms and flooding that the month of May brought, only to be hit again with water from Tropical Storm Bill. Being swamped with too much water? We get it.
We also are well aware of the other definition of swamped. To be swamped is to be overwhelmed with an excess of work or need or pain. We can feel swamped with workloads or duties or emotions. As I said, President Obama looked more and more swamped with each national address he made. I know I feel swamped and mired in despair at the seemingly unending violence running rampant in our nation. I feel swamped.
            The disciples knew what it meant to be swamped. They were swamped in that boat, literally. I’ve read this story so many times, but I’m not sure that I’ve really taken the time to picture what they were going through. It’s easy to write off the disciples as being unnecessarily afraid. Jesus was with them. What was the problem? But these were not novices out on a boat for a little watery R and R. They were experienced fishermen. This wasn’t their first boat trip. Storms with that much violence could capsize a boat in a heartbeat, drowning every single person aboard. Think about the storms we have witnessed; the roiling clouds in the blackening sky. If you can, imagine the roaring sound the waves must have made as they lashed against the boat again and again and again. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination for me to feel the sharp sting of the rain that must have hurt when it hit their faces and bodies. The disciples were soaked; so wet the feeling of dry seemed just a memory. They were probably shouting directions to one another, and trying to stay steady on their feet; trying to keep the boat upright and themselves from being pitched into the raging water. Somehow, in the midst of all this chaos and noise, rain and storm, Jesus lay sleeping on a cushion in the stern. I don’t know how he could have stayed dry; perhaps he wasn’t. But it didn’t seem to be bothering him. It didn’t seem to rouse him. He just slept a peaceful and tranquil sleep.
            Maybe Jesus could sleep, but the disciples must have been wide awake. They were battling the storm. They were trying to save the boat and their own skins. I don’t believe it is an exaggeration on my part to assert that a storm like this one was life threating. I suspect that their cry to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” was born from their fear and anger that he slept while they fought to stay alive. Jesus may have been sleeping peacefully, perhaps unaware that such a fierce storm raged around them. But when he woke, it only took three words to stop it all. “Peace! Be still.”
            “Peace! Be still.” The storm ended. The waves ceased their crashing and roaring. The sky cleared. Everything dropped to a dead calm. Three words and the storm ended. Jesus merely had to speak and the waves and wind obeyed his command. Mark described the disciples as being “filled with great awe.” I’m sure they were filled with great awe. I’m sure they were, because they were being swamped, but now peace had returned.
            The disciples were swamped in that boat, literally and figuratively. They were swamped by the water, but I also think they were swamped by their fear. As awful as it is to be swamped with flooding water, I think that it is worse to be swamped with fear, with helplessness and hopelessness. I feel swamped like that today. I feel swamped at the violence and evil perpetrated in Charleston this week. I feel swamped by the violence and evil that is perpetrated in our country on an ongoing basis. I feel swamped in sorrow and despair at just how broken we are and how broken our world is. I feel swamped by conflicts in my own life and in my own family. I feel swamped in the face of the challenges that we face as a congregation. I feel swamped by what feels like my inability to make a difference, to effect change. I feel swamped. Maybe you feel swamped too. Feeling swamped like this, I echo the disciples’ cry to Jesus. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Don’t you care?
            How often have I cried out those words? Don’t you care, God, that we are killing one another? Don’t you care, Jesus, that we are swamped and drowning in violence and hatred? Don’t you care that your children are dying for no reason other than they are of a different skin color, a different religion or creed or nationality? Don’t you care? You calmed that storm on the sea, why can’t you calm the storm that rages all around us? Don’t you care?
            Yet as helpless and as hopeless as I so often feel, I do believe that God cares. I do believe that Jesus is in the boat with us. It is not a naïve hope and belief on my part, but it seems to me that God isn’t the one who causes us to kill one another, we kill one another. God doesn’t foster hatred and fear at the differences of others in our hearts. We do. We use God’s name to justify all of the above, but that doesn’t mean that God is the cause. We are. Still Jesus is in the boat with us. Still Jesus is riding out the storm with us. Still Jesus is with us.
            I remember reading many years ago about the formation of the World Council of Churches after the horrors of World War II. This communion of churches was created to show the unity of Christ’s church in the world. It was to be the ecumenical body of Christ, serving a world that is broken and in pain. The logo that was designed for the WCC was a boat on the sea. The mast of the boat is a cross. The stories of Jesus’ calling his disciples by the Sea of Galilee informed the creation of this particular logo. But so did the story we have before us today. Jesus stilled the storming, raging sea. Jesus saved the disciples who were being swamped with water and swamped with fear. Jesus was in the boat with them. Jesus is in the boat with us.
            I still feel swamped. I still cry out to God, wondering if God cares. But the good news is that the flicker of hope still beats within me, within all of us, because we climbed into this boat trusting that Jesus was there too.
            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lost in the Details

The following is my Minister's Corner column for the Shawnee News Star, June 6, 2015

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:37b-39, New Revised Standard Version

The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, then the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.

            The other day I was talking to my colleague and best buddy, Alice Sanders, about potential ideas for this column. The subject of the terrible flooding and storms we’ve endured this past month arose. So did the children’s song I quoted above. I won’t try to explain the connection between the two. Suffice it to say, you had to be there. But here’s the thing, instead of using the words “itsy bitsy,” Alice said, “eensy weensy.” I asked her about this because I grew up singing, “itsy bitsy.” Gone was our discussion of the flooding and the toll it has taken on our state and our neighbors in Texas. Instead we spent more time trying to figure out why some of us grew up hearing “eensy weensy,” while others learned “itsy bitsy.”  Was it regional bias or a Texas versus Tennessee difference? An answer was never found, but Alice and I did realize that instead of talking about what was really important, we had gotten caught up in minutiae.

Getting lost in minutiae is nothing new. I experience this in meetings, in conversations at home, and often – quite often – in the church. Whether we are considering a proposal for a new idea in worship or taking on a mission project, an insignificant minutia rears its itsy bitsy, eensy weensy head and sidetracks us. That gives new meaning to the cliché, “The devil is in the details.” The difficulty for me is that I am a detail person. I think that paying attention to details can make a world of difference to a project or undertaking. But let me make a distinction between minutiae and details. Yes, technically, the words could be synonyms. However minutia is defined as a minor detail, while details in general are the smaller pieces and parts that add up to a whole. Details are important, and the world needs good detail people and big idea people working in harmony. Yet it seems that minutiae, those minor details, detract from the whole. Minutiae sideswipe the bigger picture.

            These minor details that derail the larger whole are not limited to individual congregations. Minutiae are a source of tension and discord between churches, between denominations, between people of faith in general. Minutiae in our theology, minutiae in our styles of worship, the way we pray, the kinds of music we prefer, keep us from seeing what is really important – being disciples and ministering to a world that is hurting and hungry for good news.

Are we more concerned with the differences in our worship than in feeding those who are hungry and binding up those who are broken-hearted? Then persistent focus on minutiae is probably to blame. Are we distrustful of the motives of our sisters and brothers at the church of a different denomination down the street? Are we threatened by the number of cars in their parking lot versus the number we have in ours? My bet is that minutiae have become more important than practicing faithfulness. A dear friend of mine once commented that if people would just take the words of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel to heart, we would all be a lot better off. If we stayed busy loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, we wouldn’t have time to get stuck in that sneaky minutiae quagmire.

I suspect that our worship in the Presbyterian Church on Sunday mornings looks different from worship in a Baptist church or a Methodist, or Lutheran, etc. But if those differences are all we can see, then I think minor details have led us into temptation. Whether we sing “itsy bitsy” or “eensy weensy,” a traditional hymn or a contemporary praise chorus, dress up or dress down, our bigger picture is the same. We are trying to be faithful, to follow Jesus, love God, our neighbor and ourselves. The rest are just details.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Choices, Choices

I Samuel 8:4-20
June 7, 2015

 (Thank you to Mary Sanders for doing such a wonderful job playing the character of Mom this morning.)
Daughter:  “Mom! Guess what I’m going to do next week with Barbie, Ken, Skipper and Midge?”
Mom: “What?”
Daughter: “I’m going SkydiveSurfMobiling to a Fallout Boy concert and recording session in Antarctica!”
Mom:  “Sorry, you’re going to do what?”
Daughter: (loudly and slowly) “Skydive. Surf. Mobiling. To. A. Fallout. Boy. Concert. In. Antarctica.”
Mom:  “I’m not deaf. I heard you. I just have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Daughter: “Well, first you skydive into the ocean and land on a surfboard. You surf your way to shore, then you jump on a snowmobile and ride that through the snow to the concert. They’re recording with the penguins. You know penguins have that heartsong thingy.”
Mom: “I don’t know about this heartsong thingy, but there’s no way! You’ve never skydived before. Or surfed. Or snowmobiled.”
Daughter: “Yeah, but Barbie has. She’s going to teach us.”
Mom: “Okie dokie. What about the freezing cold water? And whales?”
Daughter: “Mother. I’m going to wear a thermal wetsuit. And whales don’t eat people. I think.”
Mom: “You’re not doing this! Your parachute might not open. You don’t know if the whales don’t eat people. They might. And if they don’t eat you, you might drown. You’re definitely going to freeze. There is no way you are going skydivesurfmobiling!”
Daughter: “Mom! My friends are all doing it and their parents are fine with it.”
Mom: “I don’t care if your friends are going, or if their parents are fine with it. As long as you live under my roof, young lady, you won’t go!”
Daughter: “Mom, I am 18. It is my body. I am going skydivesurfmobiling!”
Mom: “Well all I can say is if you do break both of your legs, get a concussion and die from hypothermia, don’t come running to me!”
The End
            I realize that the above scenario is just a wee bit exaggerated.  However, when I read this passage from I Samuel, I can’t help but think of a child wanting to do something – dangerous or foolhardy or just plain silly – because “all the other kids are doing it.” But the thing is, the Israelites are not children, and if truth be told, the bad choices I’ve made in my life have not all happened before the age of consent.
            The Israelites are making a bad choice. That is the basic tenet of this passage as I see it. They are making a bad choice. It starts when they go to the prophet Samuel and tell him that his sons are messing up. They aren’t following in Samuel’s upright footsteps. So rather than take a chance that one of Samuel’s wayward sons might lead them astray, they want a king to lead them. The proverbial elephant in the room at this moment, though, is that in a monarchy rule is passed down through sons. They don’t like Samuel’s sons, but they want a king who could also have sons that are as bad, if not worse, than Samuel’s.
            Samuel is not happy with this turn of events. He is not happy at all. God tells him that this is not a rejection of Samuel, but of God. How frustrating and heartbreaking it must have been for God to hear and see this from the people he led out of slavery. Through Moses, he delivered the people from a tyrannical, despotic king who abused, exploited and murdered them. God led them to their freedom to truly be God’s chosen people, to be the blessing to the world that God promised Abraham they would be. But now the people are asking to be slaves again! Maybe they don’t see it that way, but that is exactly what will happen. God doesn’t fight them on this. God doesn’t forbid it. However, God does tell Samuel to tell them exactly what will come from having a king.
            “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.”
            He will take. He will take. He will take. The list goes on. It sounds horrible, doesn’t it? The consequences of having a king sound much worse than not having one, but the people don’t care. They want to be like other nations. They want a king. They want a king to do their battles for them. God doesn’t stop them. God does what the people ask. God gives them a king.
            As much as I would like to be mocking and judgmental of the Israelites for making such a bad, bad choice, I can’t. I know that I have made bad choices too. I know that I have been this stubborn, this hardheaded and willful. I’ve been this way about choices I’ve made because I thought that I knew exactly what was best. After all, I’m an adult, not a child. I should know what’s best for me. But child or adult, young or old, sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes we don’t do what’s best for us or want what’s best for us. Sometimes we make really bad choices.
            The ultimate bad choice that the people are making by asking for a king is that they are putting someone else above God. It is idolatry. God tells Samuel that this is not a rejection of him but of God. It is idolatry. Perhaps the people didn’t understand it that way. I would say it is a sure bet that they didn’t. But idolatry it is. Idolatry is not merely putting up a statue of a golden calf and bowing down before it. Idolatry is putting something or someone between you and God. Whether it is a king or a job or an ideal or a loved one, when it comes between us and God, it is an idol. Idolatry is sneaky. Idolatry is easily confused with what we think is a good choice.
            The question is why are we so prone to idolatry? Why do we make these bad choices? I think that idolatry is easier than being faithful. I think, and redundancy alert here, it is about trust or our lack thereof. Trusting is hard because it requires us to let go of our perceived control. Trusting is hard because we have to put our faith in something beyond our senses. Trusting is hard because there is absolutely no guarantee that we will get what we think we want or hope for. Trusting is hard because sometimes we get exactly what we want and it is the worst thing possible. There is a reason why we have the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” In this case the Israelites get exactly what they wish for, and it what they wished for was a bad choice. They have a lot of kings and not very many of them were good. The consequences that God lays out for them through Samuel prove true. Their desire for a king was a bad choice.
            But here is the good news. We are not just the sum of our choices, good or bad. We are more than the worst mistake we’ve ever made. Israel may have put up an idol between God and them; they might have broken relationship with God. But God refused to break relationship with them. God didn’t prevent their bad choices or the resulting consequences, but God didn’t give up on them either. God doesn’t give up on us. No matter what our bad choices, or how many idols we put between us, God keeps reaching out in relationship. God keeps holding the door open. Isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Jesus opened the door and bridged the gap and paved the way for relationship, new relationship, with God through him. No matter what choices we make, good or bad, God welcomes us and lets us come running back. And we are forgiven. And we are loved. And we are more than our choices. Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.