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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sinner/Saint Intern.

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 - Parable of the Wheat and Tares.

As a teenager in Jamaica I volunteered with a school outreach program that visited a government run home for the elderly.

We traveled to the golden age home piled into an archaic mustard-brown VW van. A very elderly nun went with us. With whatever few dollars she had we would stop en route to buy a few biscuits and bananas. Nothing fancy.

Then we visited. We went from room to room, from bed to bed, offering a biscuit or two, giving hugs, sometimes clipping finger nails or toenails or feeding those who needed help – we did little things like that to help out. We talked, prayed and sometimes we sang together. We built friendships. Residents got to know us, and would check up on us about exams and the things of our lives. That was our ministry.

Through these friendships we learnt about the things the residents experienced. Through these friendships I learnt that cockroaches could bite hard enough to draw blood, that mice and rats would bite living people. From these visits we learnt first-hand about people who would break in, stealing from,  assaulting and abusing the helpless people who lived there.

I never ever felt like what we did was enough. we could not fix things. I asked:
- what kind of a God allows this kind of pitiful existence?
- What kind of a loving God allowed their lives to be like this?
- What was the point of us going if we could not fix things and make things better?

I was reminded that we go to share companionship and love. We did not go to “fix” – we went to walk alongside, we went to be in relationship with each other.
It was disturbing to keep visiting, but we did.
With our biscuits in our old VW van, we kept at it.
Injustice continued.
Friendships deepened.
Love grew.

Today’s gospel reading reminded me of this experience in my life. Jesus tells a parable about good seed and weeds. An enemy sows the seed of weeds in amongst the good seed. They grow up together. The slaves of the master who owns the lands offer to go and “fix” the problem, to “uproot” the weeds. But the master says “let both of them grow together until the harvest.”

Jesus explains the parable saying the good seed are the children of the kingdom – sown in the world. The weeds are the children of the evil one sown by the devil. The harvest is the end of the age. The good seed and the weeds are to grow together until the harvest time when the angels will do a grand sorting out by fire.

This is a very juicy parable:
-      it identifies the children of the kingdom
-      It includes the devil, and talks about evil.
-      it instructs us to accept that we grow together: good and evil until harvest time – until the end of the age.
-      It talks about hellfire; of weeping and gnashing of teeth
-      It instructs us to accept that we grow together until harvest time – until the end of the age.

In other places in the gospels Jesus gives the disciples gifts of healing and instructs them to go out and fix, heal, repair. But today’s gospel instructs us:
-      to accept,
-      to grow together;
-      evil and righteousness … growing together until the end of the age.

Within ourselves, certainly within my own self, reside both weeds and wheat.
Martin Luther identified that we are, at the same time, sinners and saints.
Simul iustus et peccator.
At the same time that we are justified into righteousness by Jesus,
we are also sinners.
If you think of us as coins: one side is wheat, one side is weed. Good and bad is in each of us.

Likewise in the world:
good and bad,
righteousness and evil abide together.
We are invited and called to work towards righteousness in the world – and wherever we can we do well to try.
But we cannot always fix. We are not always supposed to fix.

When we are unable to fix,
perhaps especially when we are not sure of whether to fix,                or how to fix,
we are in today’s gospel also invited to accept that we grow together in one field: weed and wheat together.

In one body, in one person: sinner and saint together.

In a way it is the ultimate mark of relationship – to accept the good and the bad together and grow alongside. To accept this about our relationship to and with ourselves, to accept this about our relationship with others is the stamp of God’s own grace upon us.

Which of us can find everything in ourselves good?
Which of us can find everything in the other good?
Which of us can find everything in ourselves bad?
Which of us can find everything in the other bad?

Accepting the sinner/saint reality of being human can make us feel like there is no point in trying to make things better. But on the other hand, it frees us completely to enter with courage and faith into accepting and loving relationships without being all caught up in the outcomes. What a freeing gift of love.

And this is how Jesus loved us:
he entered completely into our human reality and frailty
he entered with courage and faith,
he came to us, accepting us and loving us
he joined us without depending on us for a good outcome.
In fact knowing the outcome would be the cross.

Today I am six Sundays away from the end of my internship. When I started internship I had some ideas that I would be some kind of pilot project in how to fix the Lutheran relationship with First Nations neighbours.
I knew that our indigenous brothers and sisters had experienced a cruel history at the hands of Christianity. And I had hoped to be a person who could come along and make it better – pull out the weeds of bad theology, destroy the bad seed of prejudice, stamp out the seedlings of judgment and cultural differences. I came hoping to fix. I had hoped to be a bridge builder and a way-maker. No messiah complex here J I’m just being honest with you. I thought this internship was going to be about fixing things that had gone wrong.

The Holy Spirit has been a wonderful companion, a wise counselor and an advocate indeed over these months of internship. With the Holy Spirit, I encounter time and time again my own bad theology, my own prejudices, my own judgment and my own palette of cultural differences. I encounter my own desire or need to fix, when Jesus has told me to grow alongside – to trust in God to do the fixing.

If nothing else, I have certainly learnt about myself as sinner and saint. I am weed. I am wheat. We are weeds. We are wheat. We are sinner and saint together, called not always to fix, but invited always to grow together in love, mercy and right relationship under the graceful watch of the author of it all.

Let us grow together in love. Amen.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Used-Car Salesman Approach to Grace

A few days ago I read the parable of the unforgiving servant, in which a master forgives the debt of the servant; the servant however does not forgive one who is indebted to him, but instead had his debtor imprisoned (from Matthew 18). Last night I was reading in 2 Kings 5 and 6, where the healing of Naaman and the Aramean attack stories are told. In both these stories, Elisha acting as God's representative extends full, free and complete grace: in healing to Naaman, and in salvation to the Aramean warriors who he could have had killed when they were vulnerable, but did not. This is how God is with us - forgiving of debt, extending full, free and complete healing and delivery ... how often do we in turn extend this to others? It is a nice challenge to turn over in my soul because I know I like to nurse grudges sometimes like they are pets, gathering offences around me as food for conversation and complaints and commiseration! So, Master who forgives all debt, who directs us in simplicity towards healing (eg dipping in a river versus some complex pharmaceutical concoction btw Naaman was like "imagine I came all the way here to get healed and I expected some bells and whistles and dude just says go wash in the river"), and Master who protects us from attack by preventing harm from getting to us and delivering us from evil - Master help me to be like you in, with and amongst all humanity - in with and amongst all my own human brokenness. I pray for this in the name of the most perfect broken one, Jesus, who showed us that success is not defined by authority and power, but by submission, broken-ness and humility. Amen.

Peter asks Jesus "how often should I forgive?" 
(this is kind of like saying - they keep repeating the same fool offences, Jesus when does the warranty on stupidity expire so I can stop being obliged to forgive ... Jesus answers first with a mathematical oriented answer requiring a calculator! then, in true Jesus-illustrative fashion, he provides an example): 

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’ 

(from Matthew 18 NRSV as you know I won't tell you where, you really can read the whole chapter!!)

Forgiveness is not an easy thing to do. it provides us with no scab and no protection! Peter was probably looking for Jesus to say "twice is enough, after that they're on their own"!

Back in the day, Elisha understood a lot about grace freely given too ... here it is from 2 
Kings 5 & 6:

The Healing of Naaman

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, ‘Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.’

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.’ When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!’ He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, ‘If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt-offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord. But may the Lord pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count.’ He said to him, ‘Go in peace.’

Gehazi’s Greed

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, thought, ‘My master has let that Aramean Naaman off too lightly by not accepting from him what he offered. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something out of him.’ So Gehazi went after Naaman. When Naaman saw someone running after him, he jumped down from the chariot to meet him and said, ‘Is everything all right?’ He replied, ‘Yes, but my master has sent me to say, “Two members of a company of prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim; please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.” ’ Naaman said, ‘Please accept two talents.’ He urged him, and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and gave them to two of his servants, who carried them in front of Gehazi. When he came to the citadel, he took the bags from them, and stored them inside; he dismissed the men, and they left.
He went in and stood before his master; and Elisha said to him, ‘Where have you been, Gehazi?’ He answered, ‘Your servant has not gone anywhere at all.’ But he said to him, ‘Did I not go with you in spirit when someone left his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves? Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants for ever.’ So he left his presence leprous, as white as snow. 

The moral of the story might be when God gives something freely, let us not treat that which God gives freely like a used car and try to re-sell it!! We got it for free (i.e. we did not pay for it someone else did, so where do we get off collecting for it? That is a very colonial approach!!)

Then the people of Israel come under attack but God helps them out (again freely, so no need to appropriate the salvation and charge someone else for their salvation - just sayin') - here it is in 2 Kings 6:

The Aramean Attack Is Thwarted

Once when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he took counsel with his officers. He said, ‘At such and such a place shall be my camp.’ But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, ‘Take care not to pass this place, because the Arameans are going down there.’ The king of Israel sent word to the place of which the man of God spoke. More than once or twice he warned such a place so that it was on the alert.

The mind of the king of Aram was greatly perturbed because of this; he called his officers and said to them, ‘Now tell me who among us sides with the king of Israel?’ Then one of his officers said, ‘No one, my lord king. It is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.’ He said, ‘Go and find where he is; I will send and seize him.’ He was told, ‘He is in Dothan.’ So he sent horses and chariots there and a great army; they came by night, and surrounded the city.

When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, ‘Alas, master! What shall we do?’ He replied, ‘Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. When the Arameans came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Strike this people, please, with blindness.’ So he struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked. Elisha said to them, ‘This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.’ And he led them to Samaria.

As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, ‘O Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they may see.’ The Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were inside Samaria. When the king of Israel saw them he said to Elisha, ‘Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’ He answered, ‘No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.’ So he prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way, and they went to their master. And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.

(taken from 2 Kings 6, NRSV, again you want to read the whole chapter because there is a cool miracle in there about Elisha making an iron axehead float in the water!)

I like this line ... "the mind of the King of Aram was greatly perturbed" ... I can relate to it ... often the mind of Janaki is greatly perturbed over silly things too 

This other line also is resonant for me: ‘Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’ because I'm kinda like that when I feel like I have been offended in some way, I get all het up and figure I have a right to get some revenge and furthermore I believe so much in God that I like to try and co-opt God into my revenge plan so I put on my favourite scrappy doo voice and I say "Father shall I, shall I?" Nothing like a good head of righteous indignation to make me feel like doing or saying mean things about others is A-ok! Well Elisha told him ... and look at what he says? in effect he says: "serve them, take care of them" - indeed the enemies are feasted. This believing in God's grace business really turns all kind of scrappy-doo-esque ideas upside down!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Prayer on a Day of Rest

Today is my day of rest and thanksgiving.
Lord I am thankful that you have given me life so abundantly full of good things and wonderful, loving people.
I am thankful that I am able to take a day of rest and meditation with you, and I am thankful for the epic music maelstrom which I will enjoy tonight.
I am thankful for the coffee I will now go get at a great local (non-franchised) coffee shop, whose owner has shared with me the full history of his establishment's coffee process - from fair trade organic farm to my hot little hand :)
Thankful for the park in which I will walk with said coffee in a thanksgiving-offering-up-and-gratitudinal mannar :)
I am thankful for pools to swim in and hot tubs to get sore muscle knots out.
I am thankful for my magic bullet breakfast and the wonderful little mother who insisted on getting me a magic bullet in the summer of 2011, and whose generous care makes my music maelstrom possible tonight.
I am thankful for the medical consult I had with my sister and please help get her car back on the road soon God, so she can resume being the little housecall making doctor whom her patients so love.
I am thankful for warm, safe shelter, a bed smothered in blankets and comforters, hot food, and on-demand running hot and cold water.
I am thankful for the snow that will soon come and make this place new over and over again, and for the leaves flying around, collecting in corners, history pages of the season passed.
I am thankful for the best placement ever, with kind loving pastors who encourage, uplift and smile, and with loving members who bring pickles and deviled eggs and three kinds of mustard to go with ham and scalloped potatoes to students on a cold, stressful, end of term night - love so caringly expressed in food so thoughtfully prepared.
I am thankful to live in a city which provides out of the cold sites, and recognizes, at least at the grassroots levels, the realities of mental health issues and addictions do not mean people should be left to die. Let these grassroots grow God, to become strong trees that uphold the weak and the vulnerable in our region.
I am thankful for the House of Friendship.
I am thankful for having choices and encountering challenges which help me to feel the Holy Spirit close at hand.
I am thankful for my colleagues from school and even for Wilson! I am thankful for my teachers who are patient with my enthusiasm and my frustration.
I am thankful for pomegranates, bright red inside, and chocolate, and coffee, and love and thai food.
I am thankful for mountains and oceans and rivers and trees and rocks and sweat lodges and elders and small children and hope in all things.
I am thankful that I have so many things to be thankful for :) and that I know I will spend the rest of today thinking about some of those thanksgivingable things.
Thanks be to you God, for your love and grace and womb-like mercy in Christ have made me who I am and brought me into this day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Pet Ego.

I have a little pet. It is not one I am proud of. It's name is Ego. I often try to kill the lil bugger, but it refuses to die. Ok, truth be told I have a schizophrenic relationship with it - sometimes I try to kill it, at other times I water it and pet it and love it and hug it and put it on a pedestal (and just about call it George!) ... 
This pet feeds on success, affirmation and tries to eat lo

ve. When it eats the love, I don't get the love that is meant to come to me ... instead Ego grows and grows and takes over the whole premises of my being and before you know it I can't fit through the door sideways (no matter how much time I'm spending with Handsome).
God, I would like to ask that you adopt this pet. Do with it whatever you like. It is like a little coal which is capable of setting all of me on a destructive fire when fanned by winds of acknowledgement. God, to you directly, via expresspost, goes ALL the glory. And if you could take Ego too, that'd be a good thing. I got enough stress in my life without taking care of such a pet.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy-fied Prayers ...

The wind whips
The branches break
The leaves swirl in disorder
Nature tells us the reality we fight daily
We are not in charge
We are not in control. 

Holy, enter into this chaos.
Shelter us in your embrace.
Wipe our tears 

Hear our frustrations
Receive our wailing onto yourself
Receive us:
Whipped, broken, in disorder
Trying to fight human realities daily
Trying to wrestle, take charge, take control
When in fact, only you can make order.

Trust and Faith.
Faith: ta pway li ta moo win ik
Faith: The thought of the truth

Hold tonight to the thought of the truth.
Thanks be to God.


(Moose Cree & translation thanks to Norm Wesley)


A prayer for the start of the week:

It seems like it might be a very overfull week, with many things to do, and many storms waiting to whip everything into confusion.
God you can make order out of this chaos, and you can make time when it feels like there is not enough. Please do these in our lives this week - and help us make it through this week.
Strengthen us, especially in reaching out to you - from whom all power and strength flow.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Balance & Thanksgiving.

I walked in a beautiful fall forest today for hours, tall maples gently shed their leaves on a ground already carpeted with golds and oranges and reds. Vibrant green moss and undergrowth, parched through a dry summer, sought to get a little oxygen out into the world before winter comes ... and I am thankful for this be
autiful creation which remains in small corners and pockets here and there.

We do live in a world that has a lot of shitty things happening, going on, not going on right and so forth. This is very true. ,

We also live in a world with beautiful sunrises and sunsets every single day, with air that is still breathable, and (if you're reading this) electricity and potable water. We live in a world with mountains (and amazing hostels in the mountains) and seas and rivers and trees, and if we take time to appreciate these with friends and strangers, we have people and memories to remind us of these beautiful aspects of creation.

In Canada we enjoy considerable comfort, freedom and security - and can have medical tests done for very little personal cost due to public health care which still exceeds most in the world. (Even though sometimes the tests themselves can be a little rough on us - we have them - and they are free).

I sat on rocks in this stand of bush which people pay good money to have "imported" onto their front lawns, in order to have "authentic rocks" - and there they were in nature in the bush just hanging around for free offering a place to sit :)

Today I just want to say I am happy to be alive, to be a human being on planet earth, with good and loving friends who listen to me, text me, check up on me, hug me and feed me amazing coconut-curry-root-vegetable soup on a cold fall evening after a long walk, nacho dip and whole grain scoopy tostitos, and bring me chocolates, and duvets and jars of honey - just because they can - these are small but deliciously lovely things (and no I am not *eating* the duvet).

Today I want to say I am happy for the psychic and divine connections which make me receive an embrace from a friend in a dream, a friend I have not spoken to in ages, but a friend who gave me exactly the perspective I needed when I texted him out of the blue - a perspective from his spirit to mine, without going to seminary or having any fancy theological education - who was able to remind me about God and grace and empathy and love and what it means to be a leader, what it means to be human. A friend who could explain darkness and light to me in terms I could understand when I felt so deeply the dark.

Today I am happy for returning to my home congregation to hear an elder preside and sing with such humility and joy that my very heart was lifted, and elder whose words of institution said how Christ's body was broken for the remission of our sins, and an elder whose words "all are welcome" come from so deep a place it just made my heart smile on its insidemost parts. I am happy to be communed by those who welcomed me when I was a much higher-index-kleenex-user than I am now (and those who know me now know I still use a higher than average index of kleenex and it ain't allergies! Lemme tell ya!)

Today I am happy for the tears of joy I had when I was hugged in the communion line by someone who had not seen me at St Mark's for a few weeks ... I could feel her love and the joy that cannot wait for coffee hour to give a hug, when I arrived (really) late and missed the sharing of the peace ... a hug which reminded me so bodily that peace sharing is not something we reserve for a special time on Sunday, but an action of the heart which we act out in the body and in the spirit. It is in our eyes, in our hands, in our arms - from our hearts.

Today I have a gazillion more things to be thankful for than to be fearful or angry or sad or mad or regretful about - and for these things too numerous to count I am thankful.

Today I am also so thankful for being a servant of a Lord who understands my fearful, angry, sad, mad, regretful and often ungrateful ways - and does not keep His love or grace from me, but showers me constantly in his abundant blessings - as listed only in small part above.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Thread & The Eye of the Needle: the Lamb and the High Priest.

We sing a line at church as part of the usual Sunday liturgy. It's words are: "Lamb of God You take away the sins of the world." Each time I think of the meaning of these words I am blown away.

Anything that takes away the sins of the world is some serious shit.

When I think of just my sins by themselves, I am overwhelmed. By sins I mean my misdeeds, things I have regrets for, things that have fragmented and fractured my relationships with myself, my relationships with others and my relationship with God... When I think of these by themselves it is enough to scare me into hiding under the bed for a lifetime.

By some small miracle I have managed to not yet kill or maim anyone (so far, in my lifetime, though there is time yet). That is not to say there have not been times when I would have dearly loved to seriously hurt someone - so the sin in these instances is not the the killing, the maiming (the thing that did not get done), but the hatred, anger and malice that lay beneath my desire to hurt another. Sometimes that anger hides under the clever guise of vengeful thoughts "He'll realize the error of his ways when someone hurts him the same way", "One day she'll gain weight and then she'll be sorry she said that to me".

I guess maybe on a scale of bad people in the world I might not appear to be too bad "on paper"; no criminal record and all that. But in the place where intentions and desires of my heart have been written, in that place sins, bad thoughts, regrets, bad intentions flourish like a well watered garden of weeds. So when I think of a lamb to take away my sins I think it needs to be a pretty serious lamb; a pretty darn sturdy lamb!

Add to my sins the sins of some people whom we might collectively consider sinful. Maybe like an Adolf Hitler, an African slave trader, a soldier in the early post-colonial Canadian bush lands, forcefully removing children from the bosoms of their families to plunk them into unfamiliar schools where their very identity would be ripped away. Combine these folks with serial killers and rapists, paedophiles, human traffickers of today, the man who cheats on his wife, the woman who beats her children because she cannot get a handle on her own anger about her own life, the youth who takes a weapon to school and kills a bunch of innocent kids, the one who plants a bomb to kill and terrorize people ... Well sum all these sins, and imagine them on a long scroll of paper. How many times would that scroll of paper circle the world? How small would the font have to be in order to hold all human sins, past present and future? It boggles the mind.

Then imagine in your mind the lamb who would die for a list of sins such as these, a lamb who would die to save a bunch of people like this - often people who we might imagine as unforgiveable, unworthy of being helped. The kind of people we might like to imagine thrown into some dark place where they would rot, never to be thought of again. Imagine the lamb that washes all these people clean... This is the lamb of God we speak of when we sing "lamb of God you take away the sins of the world". I do feel, when I look into the inner reaches of my own heart, like I could use a whole lamb just for myself, but this particular lamb is a one-size-fits-all kind of a lamb.

This is some serious shit. This is one helluva a lamb we're talking about here.

The practice of the lamb, the sacrificial lamb who takes away sins goes back to ancient Israelite tradition (and I suspect is common in many other ancient traditions). People, individuals and families would bring animals (unblemished animals were preferred and recommended, unless one could not get an unblemished animal) to the priests. The priests were to maintain certain standards of personal cleanliness and holiness, and they were to be morality suited to one who would have the job of offering a sacrifice.

The sacrificial animals were to be killed in a particular way, their blood dealt with in special ways, the best portions burnt at an altar to the one God, as a way of asking for forgiveness, and demonstrating the depth of remorse and repentance. But this system was not working too well... There are many rules around how the animal, the person seeking atonement, the priest, how all of these should prepare for their participation in this ritual of reconciliation with God. The ritual became its own act of sin, becoming more important to people than the function it was meant to serve. Books in the Hebrew Scriptures tell how the people of God failed to understand that the ritual was not the holy and consecrated thing, but rather the relationship that the people kept, with themselves, with each other (and especially with the oppressed, disenfranchised and weak) and the relationship they kept with God. The ritual was meant to be part of the relationship reconciliation toolkit. The ritual instead became its own god placed alongside what should have been the One God.

Prophets across the ages were tapped on their shoulders by God, and given the word of the Lord. They spoke out about the way in which the rituals (of reconciliatory sacrifice, of festivals of thanksgiving) had displaced the true meaning of the reconciliation and relationship with God. Perhaps not unlike our modern hallmark festivals: Christmas, birthdays, valentines day, thanksgiving day - do we observe these festival days truly as days of thanksgiving for Christ, life, love, and plenty respectively? Or do we observe these festival days as rituals of turkeys, hams, treats, gifts and cards? Do we celebrate these festival days as days of relationship or days of merchandising, consumption and consumerism?

I imagine God in heaven shaking His head time and time again and saying "Looks like I have to go find me yet another prophet to tell these fool people what's what down there on earth."

I maintain a hope for life on other planets, partly because I would like to imagine a less foolhardy race of beings somewhere, who have been able to get the message of God, and live it with a modicum of consistency - for we have surely failed at doing this on this planet! But our Lord tried long and hard to get us to understand His message through commandments, leaders, judges, kings, prophets.

Then he sends a lamb.
A human lamb.

And this lamb is not sacrificed in accordance with the laws of purity and temple sacrifice.

The ones who put him to death are not consecrated ones, as priests who perform sacrifices should be.

They probably have not bathed and adequately cleansed themselves since their last intercourse.

Their last intercourse might have been with a prostitute. Or a he-goat for all we know.

They are most inappropriate hands for putting our sacrificial lamb to death.

The sacrificial lamb should be unblemished,

But this lamb arrives at the cross, which ends up being the altar at which he is sacrificed, physically soiled in every imaginable way: spat upon, beaten, kicked, crowned with a mockery of thorns on his head, clothing ripped, doubled over from the weight of the timber that he would shortly be hung on, nailed to.

That weight is negligible though, compared to the weight he will bear when he is nailed in place and hoisted up, beside criminals, dying the agonizing death which birthed him into eternity, like the scapegoat in Leviticus, bearing all our sins upon his head, so that we could be set free. So that we would not have to carry the burdens of our own regrets, bad intentions, unkind thoughts, and deeds that have fractured our relationships with self, others and God.

This is some serious shit.

This lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
This lamb of God who sets us free.

Make no mistake, the ones who brought him to his death in the manner of a common criminal, they were not the priests in this scene of the Jesus story. This lamb was both the sacrifice and the high priest in making himself the sacrifice. There was in fact no high priest worthy of being the one to put him to death. So he, knowing fully what his death would mean, wanting with all his human self to avoid the pain and punishment of it all, asking his Father to take this cup from his lips, he brought himself to the sacrificial altar of the cross, knowing the death he would receive to bring us liberation from the burden of sin. This is some serious shit.

This is the message in Hebrews chapter 2, verses 17 and 18, paraphrased from the Amplified Bible and the NRSV:

It is evident that it was essential that He be made like his brethren in every respect, in order that he might become a merciful (sympathetic) and faithful High Priest in the things related to God, to make atonement and propitiation for the people's sins [like the sacrificial lamb of old].

For because He Himself [in His humanity] has suffered in being tempted (tested and tried), He is able [immediately] to run to the cry of (to assist, to relieve) those who are being tempted and tested and tried (ie us all) [and who therefore are being exposed to suffering].God Himself, in heaven understood that He could not get through to us speaking from His Godly boots in heaven, so He came down to earth in human boots, He suffered, was tempted, tried, tested, and now, with the knowledge of the human experience, with the knowledge of the ignorant and unrealized divine that is the human condition, now he is able to attend to us in the very midst of our suffering.

God works on himself, in being made like his brothers in every way, even onto a suffering and awful death, God works on himself so that he might become a merciful, compassionate, sympathetic and faithful high priest. And then as the high priest, he lays his own mortal self on the cross: an atonement for our sins. So that not one of us has to carry the burden of our regrets and things we (may) have done wrong on our puny little human shoulders. He knows we cannot carry it, and he comes to take it on his shoulders.

I think of the impossible drawings of the artist Escher. Stairways that twist and intertwine impossibly
birds that fly both forward and backward,
a box whose front is its back.

Jesus, as the high priest and the sacrificial lamb, is both the thread and the eye of the needle. He accomplishes for us what no high priest, no lamb on their own could do.

Thanks be to God, for this lamb of God who takes away all our sins, for this is truly some serious shit.