Living death and beyond

the 23rd Day after Pentecost
Proper 28
17 November 2019

Today’s readings are:
Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Click here to access these readings.

        Goodness, those were some grim readings, weren’t they? There’s a bit of fire and brimstone in our readings this morning, and though they were tempered a bit with the beautiful psalm, there was some grim stuff there. And it’s not just grim stuff like on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, but some gut frustration and anger and destruction. When I read these readings at the beginning of the week, I thought, man, how are the kids going to hear all this? Maybe I should ask Tina to keep them in Sunday school the whole time so they don’t have to hear any of it.

        But, but, that wouldn’t have been a good idea. It’s important to hear the whole of the Bible. It’s important that we Christians read and hear, in our own study and here in the gathered congregation of the church, the whole Bible, not just the nice, happy, and joyful moments, but those moments where the sins of the human heart and the world are laid bare. Someone once said that the Bible is like a map of the human response to God – the whole human response, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we need to take it all as God’s word to us in Scripture. It’s kinda, in a way, like marriage: if we want only the good parts, we’re going to have a pretty rocky marriage. But if we are with our spouses through sickness and in health, in joy and sorrow, through those nasty fights and those times when our hearts are lifted together in joy to the very gates of Heaven, then maybe that marriage will last. The Bible is kinda the same.

        And now, in the darkening time of the year, we read some of the tough parts of Scripture. And the lectionary is designed this way. Starting around All Saints, when we remember those of our beloved who have entered into the joys of Heaven, our readings focus more and more on the end. Or, perhaps it is better to say that Scripture, through our lectionary, asks important questions: what do we do with endings? What do we do with death? What do we do with little ends and little deaths, like the end of the year, or the parting of friends, or the ending of a relationship? And what do we do with those big ends, the death of loved ones, our own deaths, and that day when all things will end, and the world turns to look God face-to-face?

        Now, we humans can get pretty caught up in endings, be they small ones or big ones. And some of us Christians can get really caught up in the end times. We can worry about when, or how, or where, and who. We can take the Scriptures and work out the math to figure out when Jesus will return. And this sort of thing has been done with our Scriptures since the beginning of Christianity, but Jesus’ word to us is this: do not worry. Don’t get all caught up in all this calculating, because I am with you. I will guide you and remain with you, whatever may come to pass. I will love you and hold you, Jesus tells us, even when you try so hard to forget I’m there. Rest in me.

        Now, this sort of talk, I think, can easily lead to a “don’t worry, be happy” sort of theology. If we don’t have to worry about bad things, if Jesus will be with us and, hey, how can things go bad with Jesus as my co-pilot? We can just sit back and let the chips fall where they may, because Jesus has our backs. But we Christians don’t really have a “don’t worry, be happy” theology. Our God, our beloved Jesus, was crucified on a cross, a fact we’re reminded of every year during Holy Week, each Sunday at the Eucharist, and every time we ourselves die to our own sin and are lifted by God’s grace into his presence. We can’t get away from a bit of tough thinking, and that’s one of the reasons the lectionary prepares us for such thinking at this time of year.

        There is a difference, though, between a happy-go-lucky, all’s right with the world kind of attitude and the attitude that God calls us to through Scripture and the Holy Spirit. We are called not to throw up our hands in grief, nor to throw up our hands in shallow joy, but to live. We are called to be present with the joy of the world and its suffering. We are called to be present to hatred and grief, calm moments of peace and deep, deep anger, and all the range of human emotions and actions. We are called to be followers of Jesus – Jesus, who did not turn his eye from the despair of his people, but walked straight into it, eyes wide open, because his love was so great and his life so grounded in God the Father, that he could do nothing else.

        Now, our collect this week reminds us to do something very important with Scripture, and I want to add to it that we should do the very same thing with life. Our collect reminds us that holy Scripture was written so that we may learn from it to understand more fully and more deeply the world around us and the very lives we lead. And we pray through the collect that God might grant us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest all that we encounter. And this is all to say that we should not take the joys in our lives, nor the sorrows or griefs or deaths, however little or however large, for granted. For deaths should not just be endured with gritted teeth but should be lived.

        This might sound strange, that deaths should be lived, but it is true. Whatever the ending we are brought to, be it the gentle fall of the year or the end of our own lives, we are to live them, as Jesus lived his own death. And to live them is to see them, to mark them and know what they are. For our Lord God leads us through many deaths in our lives, through many endings. And we can shut our eyes and ignore them, we can grasp and covet those things that should have been laid to rest, we can forget the passing of those who have gone before us – or we can open our eyes to the love of God.

        For me, it works like this: I think of all those people who I never said good-bye to. Helene and I have moved around a lot in the past ten years, and we’ve met a lot of good friends. And those who, when we parted, I was able to say good-bye, many of us have remained friends, and if nothing else, they’ve remained a deep and abiding part of me. I learn from them, if they’re still around, I seek them out for their council, their advice, and their joy, and I am sought out for the same.

        But there are those, for whatever reason, be it that I didn’t think they were important or because of a hardness of heart, who I did not say good-bye, or at least said it poorly. There is a grief in my heart about them. There’s something unfinished. There is a hole in my heart, or a tearing, or a sore. And rarely, at least for me, is that sore healed by not thinking about it.

        This is, at least, where my mind goes when I think about endings, both good and bad. Your mind might go elsewhere, to hopes you’ve had that you have said good-bye to well or poorly, or even how you’ve been able to work through the troubles that come with aging. But whatever the case, our word from Scripture is not to look away in grief and despair but to see those deaths, however small, however large, as they are, and to walk through them with endurance and with hope.

        And we can do this, we can pass through these deaths because Jesus, who came before us, who passed through the great death on the cross, Jesus is with us in every death, every grief, and every sorrow. By dying on the cross Jesus broke death, destroyed it, and remade it to be something that, through him, leads not to despair and darkness but to new life. For death is not, not ever, the last word. Life, is the last word, and it is an eternal word.

        And we know this from our own lives, don’t we? When we have come to an end, and we have come through it, by the grace of God, with our minds and hearts open, and Jesus within us, there is new life on the other side, isn’t there? We are still in this world, where darkness and sorrow run rampant, and there is often still grief on the other side of death. There is a sense of loss for what has died. But above all there is a newness of life, a rekindling of something deep within us, a rebirth and a resurrection of something essential and free. This is something we see in the natural world, where the fall of leaves in the autumn and the bare branches of winter lead to the renewed life of spring. And we see it in our lives in our healing, be it in mind or body or spirit, as we are led through the small deaths of life by the hand of God, until we come to that last and final death, our own death, when Jesus will carry us on his back, like a shepherd carrying a lost lamb, into the eternal glory of Heaven. And then, there, will all deaths finally die, and we will live the life eternal.

Jesus is Alive!

the 22nd day after Pentecost
Proper 27
10 November 2019

Today’s readings are:
Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Click here to access these readings.

        I want you to take out your service bulletins again, even though you probably just stowed them nicely away. Take out your bulletin with all the readings on it, the one with the big green bar at the top that says “22 Pentecost.” Now, the first part there isn’t a reading from the Bible (though most of the language is straight from our Scriptures); it’s a collect. Collects are prayers, and they’re always said at the beginning of our worship time on Sundays. There are collects for each Sunday of the year, and for each of the days after Easter, and for each saint’s day, too. They’re called “Collects” because they collect us, they bring is all in from each of our disparate lives and focus us, collectively, as the Body of Christ, the Church, on what we’ll be thinking about and praying about on each particular morning. If you have some time, read through some of these Collects in the Prayer Book; they’re beautiful, short prayers, and many Christians (and not just Episcopalians) use them in their own, private worship.

        And if you looked at all the Collects, you’d notice that they all end pretty much the same way: “where he (that’s Jesus) lives and reigns with you (God the Father) and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” Hooray for the Trinity. And while all the words in here are important, there is one that’s very, very important: lives. Jesus Christ lives, with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit, as one God. Lives. Jesus is alive. Jesus Christ is alive.

        Now, this might seem a little obvious to us, maybe. I mean, Jesus isn’t dead, right? That’s what we talk about every Easter: Jesus died on the cross but was raised from the dead three days later. But for the early Church, this idea that Jesus was alive was of utmost importance. Everything kinda hinged on this. The Good News that they were to proclaim was that Jesus was alive, that he was resurrected, and that this made all the difference. And with Jesus, the one who Jesus himself called “father”, God, who created the universe, is also alive. And the Holy Spirit, sent on the day of Pentecost to form and sustain the Church, is also alive and present with us, even now, two thousand years later. As Jesus tells the Sadducees in our gospel reading this morning, “God is not of the dead, but of the living.”

        And on this morning, two thousand years after the Resurrection, two thousand years after a small group of women, one morning, found an empty tomb and an angel sitting around just to tell them that Jesus wasn’t here, that he was Risen, on this morning this is all still Good News. Jesus is alive. The whole Trinity is alive. But what does this mean, alive? We can understand, surely, the excitement and confusion and utter joy of the disciples that the tomb was empty and that their beloved friend and God wasn’t dead and that they could still talk to him and hold him and break bread with him and hear his voice again. Surely we can understand their excitement, but what about us? Is this still Good News to us, or just old news? Is it news that fills us, or is it news from a long time ago that’s great, but, really, what about now? What does it mean that Jesus is alive?

        Well, I mean, there’s theology for you. If you want to know the answer then read all the works of Thomas Aquinas, come back and listen to ever sermon I give until I retire, pray unceasingly until your last breath, and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Then maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of what it means for Jesus to be alive. But we don’t have to know the full reality of God (as if we could) for us to step towards him, and for that Good News, that Jesus is alive, to have meaning for us today.

        Let me tell you a quick story: this past summer, Gwendolyn spent a bit of time in a small, blow-up pool we have. It really was small, not much more than something to get your feet wet, but Gwen liked splashing around it in to cool off. We emptied it each evening because we didn’t want the grass beneath it to die or the pool to start to mold, and then filled it up when Gwen wanted to use it again.

        And to fill it, we usually just stuck the hose in the pool and let it fill. And when the water got to a certain height, the end of the hose dipped beneath the surface. It was still filling up the pool, of course, but you couldn’t see the usual rush of water the comes out the hose. And Gwen kept asking, is it on? Is it filling up? Is it on? Yes, it’s on! Jesus is alive kinda like that hose is on.

        Poor analogy maybe, and it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of Jesus, but I think it’s important. Often, when we think of “alive”, we think of exuberance. When we think of someone who’s alive, we think, maybe, of someone out running each morning, or someone who laughs easily and heartily, or someone who’s fresh and open and just in love with life.

But, often, life looks a lot different than that. Life can look worn and dirty, like a baseball mitt that’s seen a lifetime of games. Life can look like a cookbook that’s covered in grease and cookie batter and grubby little fingerprints because it was used to make food that fed people. Life can be present in a hospital room, and it can be present at the grave. For we believe, we Christians believe, that Life Itself was hung on a cross and died, but that even such a death wasn’t strong enough to hold him back from rising to Life again.

Over the next week, from this Sunday to next, I want to give you a challenge. We all have things that fill us up. Some of us are gardeners, some of us love reading. Some have children or grandchildren who touch us deep in our hearts. Some of us may be filled by going to meetings, who knows, but we’ve all got things in our lives that we see as refuges, places of peace and comfort, of grace and love.

I want to challenge you, however, to seek out life elsewhere. Open your eyes and open your heart to life elsewhere as well. Reach out into places of your life that make you tired, or frustrated, or that rattle your nerves. And in these places, ask the question, Jesus, who was raised from the dead two thousand years ago, and who lives even now, where are you in all this? Holy Spirit, help me see the face of my Redeemer, because my Redeemer lives.

And if the answer is, Jesus isn’t here, then ask “How can I bring you more fully into this place? How can I make you, who are Life and Love and Hope, how can I make you more fully known in this place? How can I walk more fully as your disciple, as one who has been given Life by you? Help me see you, help me live you.”

Simplicity

the 18th day of Pentecost
Proper 23
13 October 2019

Today’s readings are:
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Click here to access these readings.
 
       I joked about this at our pet blessing last Sunday, but there really isn’t anything in my priest books that tells me how to bless animals. Actually, there’s not all that much in all my books that tells me how to bless anything, really. We’re supposed to make the sign of the cross, put our hand up or something, and often it’s best, when blessing a person, to put your hand on their shoulder or even hold their hand, but all this is really just best practices, not “how you do it.” And that’s because blessing someone is actually really just a simple matter: you pray with them. You turn with a person, or a group, or a little animal, towards God. We say to God, “Please, love this person or group, or animal with the fullness of your being.” And we believe God says, “Of course.”

        You can say the same thing about the liturgy, too. It’s very simple. I know, there’s a whole lot of stuff with our liturgy, and, like I said the other week, all this stuff is important. But even with all the bowing and chasubles and chalices, the whole thing is really very simple. We come together, we pray, we eat, then we head out. Everything else helps, and it helps immensely (again, it’s best practices), but the heart of the matter is a prayer to God. And, really, that’s enough as it is.

        Now, there’s a lot of things we can do to dress things up. The more I wave my hands at your when I’m blessing you, or the more motions I make while celebrating the Eucharist, the more it seems like I’m up to something. And something really is going on: when a priest blesses us, or when any Christian blesses someone, God is really present. God is really there in a special way. But it’s not because we wave our hands or make really heart-felt prayers. And in the bread and wine of Communion: God’s really there, really present, and that bit of wafer and sip of wine really do lift us closer to Heaven; but they do this not because I’ve got a chasuble on or because you’re kneeling. God’s there, God’s here, because God wants to be here with us. God loves us and hopes for us.

        At this point, you may say: Now, Father Tim. The other week you preached on how awesome stuff is in the liturgy and in our Christian lives. And now you’re talking about how awesome things are because they’re simple. So which is it?” Well, isn’t it both? There’s this beautiful simplicity in Communion, of coming to the rail as just us, no strings attached, even though we sin each and every day and just keep on sinning, even still we kneel or stand and say, simply, “Jesus, please come” and he does.

And that moment, that most glorious and humbling moment, is set within the liturgy that lifts that moment up, that focuses that moment, that helps us understand that it is Jesus coming to us and not something else. The liturgy helps us understand the coming of Jesus in Communion, something that is beyond words and beyond all human expectation and hope; and that moment when we meet Jesus, in turn, helps us understand all the prayers, the Scripture and the Creeds, our confession and that we truly are forgiven our sins when we confess them. The simple and the complicated, they work together, each and all together, and all so that we can take another step, however small, towards God, our Creator and our Redeemer.

Now, all of our readings this morning were on faith. And all of them remind us that, although it seems like a pretty complicated thing, faith is actually pretty simple. Not easy, mind you, but simple. I think of caring for a baby: you know, there’s not much to it. You feed them, you change their diaper, and you put them down to sleep. Pretty simple. But in that simplicity there is a depth that is often too deep for words. Because there is a love that you give to a baby, each time you feed them, lay them down to sleep, or even change their diapers. And that love means the world to them, and it is life for them.

Or think of caring for our friends or our family. What they need from us, most often, is just someone to be there with them. Yeah, sure, sometimes our families or friends get into some wacky problems that are complication upon complication upon complication, but what they need, most often, is simple, honest love: a friend to sit by them in the turmoil, a presence of love in all the confusion and anxiety, a word or even just a patient silence that does not demand, that does not press, that does not muck up the problem even more than it already is mucked up. They need just love: simple, honest love. Then, sure you can get down to fixing the problem or working out solutions or whatever. But all of that is founded on that simple love that we give by just being next to them and, well, loving them.

Faith can often be a tough thing. In the face of great adversity, in the face of darkness and sorrow and grief, and in the face of real and true loss, it can be hard to hold onto faith. Our faith can feel like sand slipping through our fingers, and doubt can loom large and ugly on the horizon of our grief. And when we hear “God is with you”, it can be easy to turn around and say, “yeah, sure, where?” But when we sit down and quiet our hearts, when we put to rest our worry and anxiety, when we open our eyes we see that there is a life in this world, a life that isn’t just a thing or a force or an energy but a living presence. In times of fear, it is a tenacious courage that walks beside us; in anxiety, it is a calm presence sitting very still and inviting us to peace; in hatred, it is a word in our ear that all is loved, even that, or especially that, which is lost, forgotten, and alone.

There is no simple way to define faith. There is no simple way to grow in faith. Nor should there be. A robust faith is often found at the end of a lot of heartache, a lot of grief, and a lot of darkness. Or, perhaps it would be better to say, we discover the reality of faith, the reality that God is with us, Emmanuel, that Jesus Christ loves us and died for us and rose for us, so that we could know what true life was really like, that this faith is what holds us and gets us through the heartache and grief and darkness. And each step forward brings us closer to Him: the one who Created us, the one who Redeemed us, the one who Sanctifies us, and the one who Loves us with the fullness of Being itself. And even now this Voice is calling you to turn to that Life.

A heart like a microwaved pizza

the 13th Day after Pentecost
Baptism!
September 8th, 2019

The readings for this day were
Ezekiel 36:24-28
Canticle 9, the First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)
Romans 8:14-17
Mark 10:13-16

        The worst thing you can do with a piece of pizza is put it in the microwave.  And I’m serious.  If you want to put anchovies on it, that’s cool, go wild.  In Japan, I found that some people like to put mayo and corn on their pizza.  And I was like, really, but, you know, it wasn’t all that bad.  It was still a pizza.  But if you’ve got some left-over pizza from the night before, and you need to warm it up, don’t put it into the microwave.  Like all bread-based food, when you put pizza in the microwave, it comes out all tough and chewy and hard.  It’s inedible.  Sure, it’s still got the cheese and the sauce and all, but you just can’t eat it.  It’s not pizza anymore.

        And I say all this because, in a way, the prophet Ezekiel is talking about microwaved pizza.  Because it seems to me that, if we updated Ezekiel’s language to be more modern, we’d get something like this: “[God says] A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body a heart like a microwaved pizza, and I will give to you a fresh heart, like a pizza straight from the oven, eaten on the streets of New York City.”  Not a tough, plasticky, yucky heart, but a soft, pleasant, delicious heart that fills your whole body with light and joy.  Here, Ezekiel’s writing about how God lives with us in our lives and what God’s presence does to us, how it affects us, moves us, breaks open all those hard parts so that we can live lives of freedom and grace.

        Because we know what Ezekiel’s talking about, don’t we?  Whether we call them hearts of stone or hearts of micro-waved pizza, we’ve experienced that, haven’t we?  I know I have.  I remember, back in middle school, seeing a good friend of mine get bullied.  And all I did was watch, then turn away.  And why?  Why didn’t I do something to help my friend?  I was scared of getting involved, really.  I didn’t want to step in because, I thought, that was his business.  And, hey, my friend was a little annoying, so maybe he even deserved being bullied.  I knew it was wrong, but these thoughts took over, and I did nothing.  Nor was it just when I was young, but ever since, I’ve turned my back, walked away, ignored a call.  It’s something that happens, I think, to all humans, that we ignore those who are calling out for real and honest help.

        But his is all more than just being a good citizen.  I’m not just saying that we should all be neighborly and then everything’s gonna be alright (though being neighborly is a pretty good place to start).  This is about God; this is about life and letting the life of God grow within us and, through us, out into the world.  Because, just as much as we know what it means to have a micro-waved pizza heart, I think we also know, each one of us knows, what it’s like when our heart is freshly baked, straight from the oven.  Have you ever given a gift, not because you’ll get one in return, or it’s just what you do, but because you loved someone so deeply, so fully, so completely, that you just felt the need to give?  Have you ever stayed at the bed of a sick person, and stayed all through the night, even though you could do nothing, but just so that that person wouldn’t wake up lonely?  When we give with this kind of heart, when we live with this kind of heart, we don’t think about what we’ll get in return.  No, we give to the point where we become love, where we become life, and that’s because, the more we live this way, the more we are Jesus Christ, who was, and is, and forever shall be the fullness of life for evermore.

        Now, in a few minutes, we’re going to baptize little Cooper, but this softening of heart, this un-microwaving of the heart, this isn’t what’s going to happen to him when I pour water over his head.  It’s not like poor Cooper has some microwaved piece of heart in his chest and we all have to get him baptized so that *snap* he’ll have a heart of flesh and life again.  That’s actually a lot like microwaving, and we know what that does to the heart. 

        But something does happen in Baptism.  It’s not the sudden, boom, changing of a heart; it’s the planting of a seed.  In Baptism, God plants a seed inside our hearts.  It’s a Jesus-seed that will grow into a Jesus-plant (I usually think of it as a Jesus-tree, but if you’re more the Jesus-bush or Jesus-flower kinda person, that’s cool, too).  And as Cooper grows, he’ll meet all sorts of adversity.  He’ll get discouraged, he’ll get frustrated, he’ll doubt.  Maybe he won’t make star player on the team the first year out, or he won’t get the job he wants straight out of college.  Maybe, God-forbid, a deeper tragedy will strike.  Life, we all know, is full of disappointments and griefs, and unless we’re careful, these disappointments and these griefs harden our hearts.  But that Jesus-tree, it breaks up that stone heart not from the outside but from within.  It pushes against those hard bits, that doubt and discouragement, it pushes against them so that they soften.  It keeps the heart from turning in on itself in hatred or despair but opens that heart in freedom. 

        And here’s where you come in.  Baptism in Christ means the planting of a seed, a turning of the person to God.  And, like all seeds, that Jesus-seed needs to be nurtured.  It needs to be watered, given fresh sunlight, even manured every once in a while (I’ll let you parents figure out what I mean by manuring the heart).  This is all done by God, of course, but we, as the Church, will also take part in God’s work.  And that’s why, right before the baptism, we’ll all stand up and make promises for little Cooper, who one day won’t just be little Cooper, but Cooper, a man in his own right.  But until then, it’s our job, as family, godparents, other friends and acquaintances – as the Church itself, it’s our job to nurture that Jesus-seed within him. 

        And so, just as Cooper’s Jesus-seed is being planted by the waters of Baptism, so too will we be looking to our own Jesus-tree in ourselves.  This morning, we’re checking in on it, seeing how it’s doing, maybe pruning a branch here or putting in new soil there.  We will, yet again, renounce evil and all the forces of wickedness that enslave us.  We’re turn again to the goodness in Jesus Christ and promise, yet again, to follow him, and to keep on standing up each and every time we fall.  And we’ll make the promise to one another that we’ll help tend and nurture each other’s Jesus-trees.  And then, at last, we’ll look out into the world and promise to be the gardeners of God’s seed, those seeds that he planted in the hearts of every single person, every place, and every thing, when he sent his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to bring life and love into this dark world.

        Baptisms are a new beginning.  They’re a new beginning for Cooper, who has just started taking steps into this world; they’re a new beginning for us, who so often in our wayward lives need new beginnings; and they’re a new beginning for the Church, which is two-thousand years old but still forever young, forever reborn, in these waters that reach to the depth of Creation and back.

God is Life

South Coast Convocation Beach Eucharist
August 17th, 2019

The readings for this service are:
Job 12:7-12
Psalm 98
Philippians 4:4-7
Matthew 19:13-15

       We heard a lot about God’s hands this morning, didn’t we? In the Old Testament, we heard how all life, every living thing, is in God’s hands. In the Psalms, we heard how God’s right hand has worked salvation. And in a little bit, we’ll pray together the Prayers of the People, where we will give thanks that God fashioned us and this beautiful place with his life-giving hand. This all reminds me of a song we used to sing as kids: “He’s got the whole world, in his hands.” Do you know that one? As a kid, I imagined this big set of hands, cupped around, and a bunch of people, or even the Earth itself, just sitting there in God’s open palms.

       Now, hands signify something really important in the Bible and for us Christians; they signify the life-giving presence of God. Think about the Bible, where people are always reaching out and touching Jesus with their hands; and when they do, they’re healed. Or that Jesus, and the disciples with him, lay their hands – physically touch – the sick and the injured, the lonely and the destitute, folks no one wanted to be near, much less touch. Some of these people are suddenly healed, miraculously, though others are shown, rather simply, that they are not alone in their pain, that someone cares for them and loves them. For some, that’s healing enough.

And our practices at church continue this focus on hands. At the passing of the peace, we shake hands or hug one another, all in the name of Christ, welcoming them into our hearts and our lives. Or in the sacraments: In Baptism the pouring of water and the anointing on the forehead with oils, or Reconciliation, where at that most beautiful moment, when we are reminded that we are loved by the God of all things, the priest puts his or her hand on the head. Or in the Eucharist, the simple and vast depths of the Eucharist, where a small wedge of wafer or bread, the very Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, is placed in an outstretched hand. And all this, all these moments, signify something: a presence, a life, a depth within the world that is far beyond ourselves.

       And God, and our church, and our Christian lives extend out beyond the four walls of our worship space, don’t they? I think also of the hands that I have seen in my own life, as well. I think of the hands of my father, who was a woodworker. His hands are like anyone’s hands who works with wood all day: they’re nicked and scratched, they have deep callouses and are scarred, but they’re also deft, able, skillful, and sure. Or I think of my daughter’s hands and my own when we go out to play in the sand. After just a few minutes of building castles and burying each other in the sand, our hands are grubby and dirty, and they most certainly have to be washed before we can eat lunch – but even so, they are full of the life and joy of digging about in the earth. And I think of the hands of Jesus, which I have seen in paintings and statues and in my own heart (and surely you have, too): the hands of Jesus, our God and our Savior, human hands but holy hands as well, as they were lifted to heal and as they were laid on the cross and nailed to its hard wood.

       And all these images – hands in healing, hands full of dirt and grime, hands giving bread, hands bleeding at the palms – these images all point to one thing: not just of some vague presence but the presence of Life and it’s advent into this world. Now, our own hands, our fallen, human hands, can bring other things, too. Sure, we can bring life into the world, we can be God’s hands, but we can also work death, destruction, and pain as well. But God’s hands are different. God’s hands are life. In God’s hands is life, not sitting on the top but deep down inside them, like a bit of salt baked into a cake to enhance all that flavor; or, if you’ve spent some time in the South, you’ll know sweet tea, where the sugar isn’t just added in later but brewed into the tea itself to make it, oh so delicious. And all these are just more small, partial images, because that goodness and hope and life of God’s hands are deep down at God’s core, who he is; because God is Life. God is Love.

       And all this love, all this life, it’s not away on some mountain top. It’s not locked away in secret somewhere so that only smart and adventurous people can find it. It’s not something that only our great spiritual ancestors can find because they were just more special than we are. It’s right here. As St. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice!” And why? Because the Lord is near to you, or, as in the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is very near to you. This Life, this Hope, this Goodness, and this Love, they are here for us, because God is here among us. Whether we’re under the church roof or out here on the side of the beach, whether you’re in a hospital room or on the other side of the door, waiting in anxiety, God is with you.

       But sometimes, truth be told, it’s hard to remember all this. We live in a troubled world. Each day, it seems, we are met with new tragedies, news that awakens our anxiety or anger or even our hatred. And it seems that we have just two choices: to push it all away and hide from it or else enter into it and risk becoming that pain and anger ourselves. But whether we go out or stick home, whatever we do, we Christians don’t begin there. We don’t begin in pain or anger or despair, but in Life. We begin in Hope, even if (or especially if) there doesn’t seem to be any. We begin in community, in listening to one another, in the seeking out of all people, regardless of who they are and how different their cultures or thoughts or politics are from our own. We begin in Love because God began in Love. God created the world, we believe, not because he was bored and needed something to do, or that God was incomplete and so needs a world; no, we believe that God created the universe, this world, and all the creatures in it, for Love. And that Love is the foundation of all things, from the grains of sand out there on the beach to the planets and stars out there in their courses.

       And we, too. We have been created anew by that Love. It is a Love that we have long yearned for, long hoped for, and that Love found us and is bringing us home. And our work now, we pilgrims on a journey to our true Home, is to shower the world with that Love. To open our hearts when it’s easy and when it’s tough, to listen to those we agree with and those we think are fools, to seek God in all people, no matter who they are. For Love was at the beginning, Love is now, and Love forever shall be the beating heart of Creation and the center of all our lives.