This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Easter II 2021

Sermon Date: April 18, 2021

Passage: St. John 10

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep (St. John 10:11).

To gain context for understanding Christ’s claim to be the true leader of the citizens of the new heaven and new earth, we should hold in our minds that just before this sermon Jesus has miraculously given sight to a blind man on the Sabbath day. The false teachers, the hired men who sought to use religion to grant them power and security, assumed the blind man’s vision had originally been darkened as a special punishment for sin: either in the blind man’s own history or as some kind of inherited punishment for his parents’ misdoings. When they looked at this blind man, these false-religious authorities did not see a divine image bearing human being tragically suffering through the pains and afflictions of living in fallen, broken world; no, they saw a villain being justly punished, and of course, one doesn’t have to feel compassion for a villain, one doesn’t have to love someone getting what they deserve. What’s worse, Jesus’ disciples thought the same thing.

We constantly hear this terrible logic in the flippant condemnation of those who suffer around us. Words like, “They deserved it,” or “ What goes around comes around,” or “That’s karma for ya” hollowly ring through conversations of suffering. I talk to a lot of people, and what I have found is that Americans are much more like misguided Hindus than doctrinal Christians when it comes to grace and justice, fairness and forgiveness. This pop-hinduism comes through in those invocations of karma or when people say things like, “Do good things and good things will happen to you, do bad things and bad things will happen to you.” It is a comforting mantra, until of course, any kind of suffering comes our way.  Jesus responds to this misguided perspective, not through intense argumentation; rather, He grabs some dirt and remakes a son of Adam’s eyes before a shocked crowd. He who created the world, recreates the eyes of this sightless man seemingly marked for special suffering; Christ, working on the Sabbath day of His own divine creative rest, carries the love of the first day of new creation into the streets of human hate, and in turn, He ascends above the selfish arguments of dying men. On display here are Christ’s unique qualifications for declaring Himself the Good Shepherd, the perfect leader of humanity’s 8th day people: dead men rise, blind men see, evil men are loved. Christ is not just some idealistic man to be dismissed; He isn’t a social movement or a juvenile philosophy picked up in some dorm room; no, Christ is the God/Man doing on the 7th day what humanity failed to do on our first 8th day, what Man still fails to do. Christ is leading the sons of men to their destiny, no matter how hard we buck and fight against Him because a direct corollary of knowing we desperately need a good shepherd is the painful realization that we are far more like sheep than gods. 

Which explains why Christ must not be just the good shepherd but something else as well, as He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (St. John 10:7-9). We need this part of Christ’s sermon to make sure we don’t confuse Jesus with all other men who have stepped forward to claim our souls for their world saving projects: the thieves and robbers who are wholly different from the God who became Man so we could be led through the valley of the shadow of death and into the green pastures—-feasting forever beside the waters of comfort. Jesus is revealing to His creatures that He is more than a Man: He is the sacred space in which heaven and earth come together, the place where, as Jesus says, “…heaven will open, and the angels of God will be ascending and descending…” (St. John 1:51). This kind of a leader is wholly different from all others we will experience in this broken world; here is a Master who will use every part of Himself to drag our fallen creation into the new world only He can recreate. The thieves and robbers of all ages—in their own way—hold out to us the hope for some new world just around the corner, all we must do is die for them in countless ways small and great. In contrast, Christ is that actual, new world in the flesh, and He will die for us to ensure it will come to pass. There lies the difference between our God/King and all the other rulers of men: thieves and robbers will gladly feed us to the wolves if it serves their schemes and plans, Christ lays His life down so that no wolf can ever truly hurt us. Only a shepherd who has died for His sheep is a shepherd worth dying for; this is what it means to be the Good Shepherd; this is what it costs.

But why? My God, why would Christ do this for us? What have we done to deserve the beautiful and brave shepherd dying for His ignorant and selfish sheep? The only answer we have is love. As Christ says, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life…” To save the creation born of divine love, Christ will die for the creation which hates Him. It isn’t fair, and like scared sheep watching their shepherd fight off a hungry bear for them, we should be confused and terrified by this incomprehensible act of God, for indeed, we have never experienced a love like this in our lives, not yet anyway. This love is the perfect love which exists in the Trinity, the love which will be the beating pulse of the new creation. What we do know of this love is a shadow cast from the inevitable glory to come: the first smile of a newborn, the last embrace of a husband and wife, and all the other graces which would be impossible in a universe created by anyone other than the God who addresses us today. The God who is love.

This God, this shepherd of shepherds is calling us, and I pray we hear His voice. Christ’s sermon today is not a flattering portrayal of humanity; in fact, quite the opposite, but Christ isn’t here to sell us something or to use us to move up some political ladder; no, Christ is the ladder of heaven: Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and He has come to lead us through death into everlasting life. The reality of the human condition, the brutal shortness of our fallen lives, demands that we look up from the grass and seek deliverance from the wolves who lurk in the darkness, deliverance from the false shepherds who for money and power would gladly lead us to destruction. If we are Christ’s, then we follow the Good Shepherd who has built the door of salvation with His own crucified body, the Good Shepherd who feeds unworthy sheep with His own flesh and blood until we die and rise again, not as ignorant sheep, but as Sons and Daughters of God, men and women united in the great human mission to rule the universe in truth and love, equity and grace. 

Let us then listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice, let us be saved and healed in His care as we journey through this world of darkness, and let us have the faith and courage to be led through the valley of death and into everlasting light.

Easter I 2021

Sermon Date: April 11, 2021

Passage: 1 St. John 5

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world: our faith (1 St. John 5:4).

Anyone whose ever been present at the birth of a child knows there is no event in human life so pregnant with terror and hope, beauty and filth, pain and love.  We, of course, benefit from clean hospitals and pain relievers—although even these wonders are incapable of completely sterilizing the messy and dangerous route by which everyone here entered this world.  St. John, both in his account of the Gospel and here in His epistle to us, goes back again and again to the analogy Jesus used of being “born again” to describe the supernatural process by which we become new people destined for citizenship in the kingdom of God.  There is an earthiness to this analogy; a reminder that the recreative work of the Holy Spirit is not ethereal or otherworldly but rather full of the dirt and water, full of the flesh and blood God loves because He created it. Being reborn as the children of God is as much a matter of our physical bodies (arms and legs, hair and eyes) as it is a matter of our conscience or will.  Salvation, the new birth, to be born of God, is the blessed act of our Creator reclaiming us from the disordered chaos humanity’s rebellion daily marches us toward. Our salvation is the Creator Himself saving us from madly walking toward our own personal “uncreation” or put another way: our death.  The wages of sin are death because rather than walking in the created order our loving God has established, humanity blindly chooses to walk in the disordered chaos of the once uncreated universe.  The only solution then to being one of the walking dead—separated from future uncreation by nothing more than a few years of marauding about—is to be recreated by the same Trinity which created life in the first place: “In the beginning…the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).  Without the Holy Spirit recreating us, we are the swirling dark waters of chaos, full of potential, but entirely handicapped by our need for the Creator.  With the Holy Spirit, we are recreated and alive.  With the Holy Spirit, we can overcome the world.

If, therefore, a central aspect of our new birth is its opposition, neigh assured victory over a world desperately trying to uncreate itself then it is the height of madness for Christians to uncritically align their lives according to the fashions and customs of the particular time in which they happen to be living.  We should look at every behavior and custom and allegiance we share with those who are being overcome by the new creation and question each and every one of them.  Why? Well, for starters, the world is nuts, and we are all infected by its craziness in ways we don’t even fully understand. To paraphrase David Foster Wallace, humanity is like two young fish swimming along who happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, the older fish nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two young fish silently swim on for a bit, but eventually one fish looks over at the other and says “What the heck is water?”  St. John is telling us that we live in and around forces of darkness we just take for granted, forces of darkness I guarantee we like and enjoy, forces of darkness we think we need to live. 

After hearing this news, we all probably just want to say something like, “Yikes, lighten up John.” But, John doesn’t have that luxury, St. John watched his Creator have the life strangled out of Him by His own creatures; St. John walked God’s mother home after seeing evil murder love on the Cross; St. John sat in the upper room while St. Peter cried in the corner, defeated and broken after betraying the Messiah, but St. John also saw death and chaos and uncreation vanquished forever in the resurrected eyes of His beloved Lord and God and friend.  He has seen the only One who has overcome the world, the only One who has overcome the great unraveling of God’s good creation we daily see in our own decay and eventual death.  Christ came and died to reverse this unraveling, and He did so by using our own evil against evil, by using our own darkness to make the true light shine brighter than a thousand stars.  How can we possibly continue our resistance against such alien and overwhelming power?  What victory can we possible hope to gain against a Father willing to send His Son to die in our place, a Son who volunteers for this terrible honor, and the Holy Spirit who unites our murderous, backward race to the very Godhead saving us?  

Our only defense against such a God is to burrow deeper and deeper into our own dark hearts, to trust in anything other than the life giving Word and Sacrament God the Father has given us through the incarnation of God the Son and by the heart penetrating invasion of God the Holy Spirit. Word and Sacrament are the two lifelines which drag us back from the darkness and bring order to our chaotic lives. For, to be a Christian is to be “in the world but not of it,” to put ourselves in close proximity of evil while always knowing and acting in a way which reveals in whom we place our trust—especially if that makes us strange, especially if that strangeness leads to persecution, condemnation, and martyrdom.  Are we ready to be weird and strange and gross in the eyes of the world for the truth? If not, Why?

In the West, it will be impossible on our own strength to recover lives centered on the church (what should be the home of Christian strangeness, but is often just a banal and harmless compliance factory, churning out people who look just like the culture around them), maybe it will take a disaster, maybe it will take all of our distractions being taken away.  I know it will be the work of the Holy Spirit.  Following the example of our secular neighbors, we have built powerful defenses against just such an upheaval of our lives.  I was reminded of this stark reality by two news stories which have stuck with me over the years.  One came from China, where despite overt persecution, Christianity is growing faster than anywhere else in the world. Due to this rapid growth, China will almost certainly have more Christians in 10 years than we do in America.  This particular news story was delivered via video and it showed dozens of Chinese Christians secretly receiving cheap, paperback Bibles, all of them in pure ecstasy, on their knees crying and wailing at being able to hold the Word of God in their hands.  The other story came from Sri Lanka where a young Christian woman was interviewed while kneeling in her bombed out church the day after she lost her husband, sister, and five children.  The woman was a little late for the packed out Easter Day service the day before, so she was in the back while the rest of her family were in the center pews as a suicide bomber showed up to fight Christ’s love with a bomb.  The reporter from the Wall Street Journal was only able to interview this woman because the faithful widow was there in her church the next day—the stone walls still covered by the blood of Christ’s newest martyrs, a statue of our Lord still sprinkled with the blood of her own family.  Why was she there? She was there because that church is where the Lord of resurrection promised to meet her. Given this reality, the real question is, where else could she go? 

Christian, who then would we say has the richer life?  Those Chinese Christians triumphantly clutching their first Bibles or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos with his 50 cars, a big house, and a divorce?  Who has the richer life?  That kneeling Sri Lankan widow who has nothing but her absolute trust in Christ, and so has everything, or the preening politicians, ignorant celebrities, and worldly fools we spend our precious time obsessing over instead.  “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 St. John 5:12).  We hear those words and we assume we know what life is, but we don’t, you and I haven’t yet begun to live because true life in this world is only known through the daily unfolding of Christ’s love and mercy found in Word and Sacrament; it is found in the moment by moment supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the 27,000 days we have between womb and grave; it is found in God’s nurturing preparation of His new born children for an everlasting life we can’t even begin to imagine.  The church is only a useful institution, it is only a living body, if it daily reveals that truth to itself and the world.  We either know the Son in Spirit and water and blood, in Word and Sacrament daily administered to our wounded souls and brainwashed minds, we either have the Son as our daily companion and guide and Lord, or we are just running in the swirling chaos until we can’t run anymore.  St. John is telling us again and again that our relation to God is not abstract or distant; we know God in the holy spaces made possible by the incarnation of Jesus Christ—in the spaces where heaven and earth are folded together. Incredibly, we don’t have to die to go to heaven; Someone has already died so heaven can come to us: heaven comes to us every time we open God’s Word; heaven comes to us every time we faithfully eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ.  If the American church doesn’t realize this truth, it will be the children of those Chinese Christians who will come to evangelize our darkened land, or maybe it will be the children of the Sri Lankans baptized in the blood of Christ and so ready to give the sacrificial love which moves transitory empires and immortal hearts; it is those Christians who will land on our shores, as our ancestors once landed on theirs, and it is they who will overcome our world.  

But it is not too late for us; it is not too late for us to prepare ourselves and the next generation to make a stand and meet those future missionaries on our shores with the embrace of Christian brotherhood.  It is not too late for our every prayer and action to be in service to that goal. We have everything we need: we have the Son, and so we have life; we have the Spirit, and so we are conquerors.  

St. John is telling us, “Go in love and conquer; Go in love and Conquer.” May we daily heed his call; may we daily live in Christ.

Easter Day 2021

Sermon Date: April 4, 2021

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. (Romans 6:9)

Let us begin today with a question: Why are we here in church today? Many would answer something like, “Well, it’s Easter, and I usually go to church on Easter,” or “It’s Easter, and good people go to church on Easter,” these answers may be honest, but they are not terribly good reasons to give up all the other things we could be doing right now, and they certainly won’t ever motivate us to die and live in Christ. Obligation is a powerful force, but who wouldn’t trade grudgingly fulfilling a debt for love? Which brings us to a second question: Does God deserve our love? But, before you answer, look to your right and to your left, look at the ones you love and know that God will one day take them from you. The true God who kills and makes alive is not to be approached lightly; He is not to be loved lightly. The worship of this God is not an uplifting alternative to eating too much at brunch or sleeping in or watching TV; no, today we have come into the special presence of the God of life and death—the God who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs and lifts the lowly sparrow high above the earth.  Terror would be an infinitely more fitting response than apathy—fear and trembling over indifference. 

The plague which has swept across our world has brought some terror to our lives, reminding us of the ever-decaying human body’s true frailty: a reality earlier generations knew far better than us. It would be much harder to functionally pretend as if we were all going to live forever if our friends and family were dropping dead from Polio or Cholera, Spanish Flu or Typhoid Fever. COVID-19 has somewhat reminded us of this reality, but it is an open question as to whether our fallen world will learn any lesson from this judgment upon us. For make no mistake, this plague and all the many more we will experience in the years to come, are judgment: a fitting consequence of humanity’s rebellion against the Creator and Sustainer of life. The death you and I will experience, whether from the Corona Virus or old-age or an overdose are all a justified punishment for a humanity who looks at God and says, “I don’t need You; I can be my own god. I can have my own moral code, my own religion, my own way of living: I am in control, and I choose my desires to be my guide.” This is sin; it is everywhere, and so death is everywhere. 

God answers humanity’s mad attempt to be our own god by giving us a taste of what it means to be on our own; He gives us what we ask for every time we sin against the divine order: He gives us death. We could be angry at this arrangement our fallen race has chosen, but we can’t be angry with its fairness. To try and cope with this reality, the underlying structure of our modern world is an insane kind of play where people act as if they are gods capable of changing the universe by the power of their wills even as they get colds and lose their car keys, eat too much and slip in the shower. We are not gods as every man and woman on their deathbed would tell us if we would listen to their voices rather than the voices of those trying to buy and sell our souls. 

But, where we have created a playhouse of insanity, God has built a theatre of grace. I asked earlier why we are here today, but surely, the more important question to ask is, Why was St. Peter at the trial which led to his own crucifixion? Why didn’t he just deny that his publicly executed Lord had been resurrected from the dead rather than face crucifixion himself? Why didn’t St. John, a little faster to the empty tomb than his fellow apostle, deny what he saw rather than die in exile? What made these men, and the hundreds of other eye-witnesses who were gruesomely persecuted for their testimony, not only change their entire way of life in accordance with God’s Word but boldly stand before the false powers of this world to meet death singing the praises of the Living God? Grudging obligation doesn’t lead men to join Christ on a cross; grudging obligation doesn’t cause men to love truth more than their own lives. No, the men and women who first proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord,” even as the lions of the Coliseum devoured them, knew the truth we celebrate today: Christ is risen, death is defeated, and any force which opposes this truth must be fought as our Savior and King fought them.  

Again, we may ask, “Why?” Well, because the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ was about more than one man coming back from the dead, as amazing as this event truly was; no, the resurrection of God the Son means the evil forces of this world have no power over us. What happened on that 1st Easter morning was more than just the resuscitation of Jesus Christ: He didn’t just wake up and get better; rather, Jesus was resurrected—transformed into a new type of physical existence: a living, breathing kept-promise come to life. The risen Christ is more than just a man back from the dead; He is the first member, the guarantee, of the inevitable new creation the Father has already revealed to us in the risen Son: the new way to be human where love and justice reign forever. Faith and trust in this new world is not some blind hope for the sake of comfort; no, faith and trust in the resurrection guarantees conflict with a world that would rather believe comforting lies than die in the truth, but within this conflict, within this cross-shaped life, we will be living for something more than a dream; we will finally be living for the world we were created to inhabit, the redeemed creation the God who is love is building first in our hearts and then in every corner and seam of this beautiful, broken world. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the great vindication of good over evil, the meek over the mighty, the righteous over the cruel. And, if we are God’s people, we too can march through this life already walking on resurrection ground knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. 

I asked earlier if God deserves our love, and the Christian’s final answer to this question must be that there is no real love if it can be silenced by death, no real love if it ends in a hospital bed, a car wreck, or a death statistic on the news, and so God has destroyed death so that we might love as He loves. No, God doesn’t deserve our love; it is simply the case that true love is impossible without Him. May we then on this Easter Day find peace and purpose in the new creation Christ’s resurrection guarantees, may we love as those who have nothing to lose, and may every hour we have left be a hymn to the new world in our hearts and on the horizon: Christ is risen, Christ is risen, I am risen. 

Palm Sunday 2021

Sermon Date: March 28, 2021

Passage: Philippians 2; St. Matthew 27

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).

What could that phrase possibly mean?  How is it at all possible for us to feel and think and know and act in the same way as the Jesus whose humiliation and death and triumph we remember throughout this holy week?  Perhaps the hardest part of wrapping our still wounded minds around Paul’s Epistle and Matthew’s Passion are the mighty paradoxes which smack us in the face at every turn.  Mysteries like: God becomes Man; the Earth’s true King dies the gruesome death of a traitor; the traitor rises from the grave to sit on the throne. All of these impossible contradictions will inevitably frustrate a people conditioned to love comfort and ease as goods in and of themselves.  Evil is much less complicated, much more comfortable. Its only demand is “first love thyself.”  We see this poison drip out of every action taken by the fallen men who stain today’s Gospel; men whose actions were justified in the name of love.  Judas loved Himself more than Jesus, and so he betrayed his master; Peter loved himself more than Jesus, and so he denied the One who gave him life; Pontius Pilate loved himself more than truth, and so he let an innocent man be executed; the angry, rebellious mob loved themselves and their families and their leaders and their religion more than anything else, and so they murdered God on a Friday afternoon.  Each of these human beings was betrayed not by accidentally giving in to their dark side; no, they all willingly took their place in evil’s black parade by positively denying the living, breathing Truth who come to save the world.  Rather than look to Him, they looked inside, and at their dying neighbors, only to scream together “death to innocence, death to God.”

And so, St. Paul, and today’s entire service, drags us kicking and screaming through this truth. It must drag us through the beautiful and tragic reality of our Creator’s mission to save us from ourselves because we will not face the reality of what it means to be a fallen human unless we are forced; we will not face the reality of who we truly are except by the miracle which occurs in Christ’s church every Palm Sunday.  We can only be convinced by Evil’s command to “first love thyself” if we don’t truly know ourselves, but when we do understand who we truly are through the mirror created by humanity’s rejection and execution of God, then that mirror becomes a looking glass through which we can begin to see the massive tidal wave of true love and grace flowing from the Cross to the world.  

This God who would voluntarily suffer the humiliation and grief and pain of fallen human existence, culminating in the public death of a traitor, all because He loves us traitors, reveals to our fallen world and our fallen hearts the infinite potential greatness of our humanity reunited with God.  What would our world look like if we embraced this path?  St. Paul tells us just a few verses earlier, that for starters, we would “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [our]selves” (Philippians 2:3).  Are we ready to live lives in which humility always trumps ambition or lives in which we put other members of the church always above ourselves?  No, probably not, but why?  Well, we have not yet embraced the trust and self-knowledge of God the Son. Jesus perfectly knows who He is because He knows His Father; Jesus can reveal the true love of God, even as we kill Him, because there is nothing this evil world can throw at Him which would unseat His relation to the Father—the only thing that actually matters, the only thing of eternal significance.  Torture and death are nothing when compared to the true, divine love which defines the relationship of God the Son and God the Father; pain and separation, poverty and humiliation, are nothing in the eternal history of which God is the righteous author.  And miraculously, through the death of Christ, made our death in the blood red waters of baptism, we share this unbreakable, everlasting connection to the Father.  The more willing we adopted sons and daughters of God are to daily put to death our own needs in order to give of ourselves to God and our spouses and children and neighbors and enemies, the closer we are to a love and satisfaction no ambition or possession or conquest could ever possibly provide.  What temporary achievement born of ambition could be greater than even a moment of divine love flowing through us in service to another immortal human being?  Christian, what is the greater achievement, becoming a senator or living a life of sacrificial love? What is the greater achievement, becoming president of the United States, or being faithful to one’s wife?  What is the greater achievement, becoming the chairman of Goldman-Sachs or lovingly sacrificing one’s ambition for God and the spouse and children He has temporarily given you?  

For too long, American Christians have been sold the untruth that they can follow Christ without walking with Him to Golgotha, as if the way of the cross were merely an optional extra to the Christian life. This lie is more dangerous to you and I than Terrorism or Nuclear bombs or cancer or COVID or anything else that goes bump in the night.  But of course, I will not deny that turning to a life of righteousness will most definitely hurt us in this fleeting life: we will feel the weight of the cross every time we join with the Holy Spirit to resist temptation or fight against evil or sacrifice our precious time and treasure for God and our fellow man—it will hurt because it is supposed to hurt.  We are fighting a corrupt, evil world; this is war; this is the war the young King of this world broke Himself to win. That Jesus, the Head of our Church, the Head of our very Body has shown us the way. He has shown us that the path of eternal glory leads through the valley of the shadow of death, but we need fear no evil, nor need we fear the loss of all the false loves which beckon us from the darkness. I talked earlier of “achievement,” but please don’t mistake my words, the good you and I will do in this life is a miracle and a gift which only comes through uniting our work and love to the God who took humanity and made it great again as He marched to His death and glory.  As we prepare to eat and drink Christ’s passion today, I pray you know and feel that sacrifice, know and feel the everlasting connection to the Name that is above every name and be forever strengthened in that knowledge.  We are who we are because He is who He is; we need nothing else.  We are washed in His blood; we are marked by His Sprit; we are ready for His death, and so, we are ready for His life.

Lent V 2021

Sermon Date: March 21, 2021

Passage: St. John 8

Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (St. John 8:58).

Today, St. John allows us to be witnesses to one of the most important moments in the history of the human race. God the Son, the One by whom all things were created, is confronted and challenged by His greatest creation: Man. In our own time of disease and fear and uncertainty, maybe we too have fantasized about what it would be like to get in God’s face and demand some answers. Maybe, we don’t even intend to be ungrateful or rebellious; maybe, we simply want the opportunity to speak with the God who is love and ask, “Why?” Why do my friends and family get sick and die; why must I die? 

In the Old Testament, Job—beaten and bloodied by the Evil One’s assault on everything he loved—was given the momentous opportunity to ask this very question of God: “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?…Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be” (Job 7:17-18,20-21). Job is in such agony after the loss of his family and home and health that he assumes death is imminent; perhaps, he even welcomes it. 

Dozens of chapters later, God responds to Job’s desperate plea for answers with a long series of questions, famously beginning with: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). It is a haunting question revealing both Job and all of humanity’s complete lack of qualifications for interrogating the Creator of all things. How can we who were not at the beginning ever perfectly understand what is happening in the present? It would be like screaming at the author of a novel after only reading one random page: our confusion could be real and painful, but our anger would be tragically misplaced. 

We get a taste of this tragic anger in the interrogation Jesus receives from his fellow countrymen today—men Christ judges by fitting them with the title: “not of God.” The importance of this moment is actually difficult to put into words: God the Son has descended from heaven to stand before His creation not as a series of questions bellowing out of a whirlwind, but rather as a loving, sinless man who even in His serious public rebukes offers hope and grace to men who wish to murder Him. But, part of Jesus’ mission to the lost sheep of Israel is to show them the severity of their fallen sinful condition: a broken human nature which makes them children of the Evil One and entirely alienated from the God they claim to worship, the God they cannot recognize because they are so blinded by sin, the God they are searching for any excuse to murder with stones. 

If salvation, if life beyond the few years we spend on this fallen planet is a matter of our common sense or collective wisdom, then our race is as doomed as these confused and angry men. St. John, however, has already told us from where the children of God are born, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (St. John 1:12-13). Every plank upon which the self-righteous, Christ denying men of today’s reading stand—whether it be their ethnic lineage or assumed cultural superiority or adherence to the law or allegiance to their way of life—all of these tokens of false hope are ripped away from them by the God/Man’s revelation that He alone is the cure for death. Truly, all our false hopes become meaningless when the Word of God made flesh proclaims Himself as the perfect liberation from the great plague of human existence, from the death which robs all of us of our humanity. 

Of course, what is the response of these privileged men—men who have just heard the truth which sets men free? They don’t believe Him. They asked their questions of God, and God graciously gave them not just an answer, but the actual meaning of life, and yet, they refused to believe. Here in all its terrible, fallen horror is the natural, unaided human response to the good news of the Gospel: deny, deny, deny. Why? Like these men, what blocks people of all ages from believing the truth is an attachment to those tokens of false hope I mentioned above. Jesus tells these men they must set aside everything they think they know about God and Man, life and death, love and justice; they must give all of it away and simply follow the Son of God wherever He leads them, and so they call Christ a demon. How many of us shudder at the thought of offering up all of the lies we have been taught to believe in order to live in the truth which sets us free? Most likely, we don’t think we believe in any lies or at least not too many. Perhaps, we have fooled ourselves into thinking our personal beliefs are perfectly in line with the will of the Creator, or maybe we don’t care, or maybe we’re too busy or we’re scared or tired or wounded or lost. Perhaps, like the men in today’s reading, we will do whatever it takes to protect the lies we love, even if it means calling God a devil, even if it means picking up stones to silence the very man trying to save us.

Why then should we believe Jesus? Why shouldn’t we be picking up stones of our own to throw at the God who asks us to follow Him through death into life? Again and again, in a display of the kind of humility necessary for a being to descend from Heaven to live in our broken world, God the Son seeks only to honor God the Father, and so, when the fallen world does finally get its hands on the Prince of Peace—nailing Him to a cross, laughing at His pain—it is the Father who vindicates every word of His Son by upending the curse of Death; it is the Father who honors the loving sacrifice of the Son by forever revealing the life which no man or demon or disease can destroy.  

It is in this assured hope of resurrection that all free men live. It is in the person of Jesus Christ that all our questions are answered in the great “I AM.” Blessedly, in a world of fake news and powerful liars, there is no ambiguity in Christ’s invocation of the ancient Divine Name: the name God revealed to Moses before he led the 1st exodus of God’s people; the name Christ reveals to these men and to His disciples before He marches off to complete the 2nd exodus of God’s people—the very deliverance of God’s sons and daughters from the plague of death.  Jesus gives us no options anymore, no place to run or hide from the truth of who He is. The light of Christ, the light of God, is now shining into all the corners of the Earth and all the corners of our hearts; it will reveal brokenness and sorrow wherever it lands, but even as that light reveals to us our wounded, broken natures, it is this same light which illuminates the new path upon which we must walk, the new life which is our destiny. As St. Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). It is here, in the new life bestowed to us already by the God who died and lived that we might live forever, here is where we find the answer to the question of, “Why?” The Son who actually was there when the foundation of the world was laid has shown us love is worth dying for, good always triumphs over evil, and glory inevitably follows suffering. Why? Because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have said, “Yes,” to new creation and, “No,” to death, and the Trinity’s, “Yes,” roaring through history, destroying death at Christ’s empty tomb, that roar will always drown out the, “No,” of evil.

Let us then bind ourselves to the great I AM, let us bind ourselves to the Trinity, and let us live in the eternal life which forever washes us clean of the death which surrounds us.

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