Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost Year C 2010

No Longer

04 Pentecost C 10

Father's Day

June 20, 2010

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a

Psalm 42 and 43

Galatians 3:23-29

Luke 8:26-39

(to the reader: about an hour before our services, Elaine Wilson Miller, one of Philippi's most honored members, passed away at 96 years of age.)

It seems fitting that Elaine Miller would fly to her heavenly rest on a Sunday morning.

Elaine amazed us. Many, many years, about fifty I guess, we have known and loved her here in Deltaville. Most of us know about the remarkable way she seemed to love everyone, even the people who were annoying and difficult. And not just in our congregation, but throughout out community. And not just throughout our community, but people halfway around the globe. This tiny little woman just seemed to pour love into the world.

Elaine didn't like being called a saint, I think because she knew that people meant by the term that she had no faults, and Elaine knew that she had faults. But I like that old quote from Dorothy Day, the great Roman Catholic lay woman who dedicated her life to helping the working poor, "Don't call me a saint; you can't dismiss me that easily."

Elaine would never say such a harsh word. But I have to agree with Dorothy. I think when we call someone like Elaine a saint, we are letting ourselves off the hook. It seems to me when we call someone a saint we are saying, "Of course, I can't be expected to live like that." We are, in essence, dismissing them.

Let's not dismiss Elaine by calling her a saint. Let's take this morning to learn from her.

How many people here want to do God's will? Raise your hands. I thought so. It's unanimous. We all want to do God's will. And you know, if you went out there and found everyone who believed in God, if you went into all the other churches in Middlesex, if you went and found all the people who are worshipping at St. Mattress, or the Cathedral of the Chesapeake, and you asked them if they wanted to the will of God, I think they'd all say they absolutely would.

The question that naturally arises, though, is "why don't we?"

The wonderful thing about people who believe in God, and there are lot of people who do, is that they all want to do God's will. And you know, even atheists and agnostics, even people who don't really believe in God, if you asked them, they would say that they want to live moral lives and adhere to good values. Even if they don't believe in God, they certainly believe in goodness.

We all want to do the right thing. We all want to live moral lives. We all want to do God's will. We all want to love everyone. We all want to bless the world. We all want to live every moment in the light.

Well, then, why don't we?

To me the essence of freedom is doing what you really want to do. We really, really want to do God's will. So, if we were truly free, we would. We would do God's will all the time.

It's obvious that most of us, no matter how badly we want to do God's will all the time, don't. And it's obvious that even though we want only to be associated with things that are good, we aren't. We are all of us woven into all kinds of evil. And even in our interpersonal relationships, right close by, in our families and in our communities, we somehow find ourselves doing things we're not proud of, getting caught up in behavior that we thought we'd never get into. How many times have we somehow hurt someone, when we didn't mean to? How many times have we found ourselves gossiping about someone and afterwards winced in recognition of how wrong we had been to do so?

Today is Father's Day, and I feel about as ambivalent about Father's Day as I do about Mother's Day. It seems to me that both days insist on promoting this ideal vision of motherhood and fatherhood that to many, many people is completely false. I hear the odes to perfect fathers and I remember that I don't even know my birth father's name, and I don't know if my adoptive father is alive or dead. I hear these songs about strength and dependability and tenderness and I remember that my own fatherhood has never been good enough for the standard. I'm glad for all those people who had loving fathers, but that's not my experience, and I know it's not the experience of a lot of people. But here is yet another example of what I'm talking about: every father wants to be the father we celebrate on Father's Day, but very, very few actually are.


Something prevents us. Something seems to compel us to do what we would not do, and to refrain from doing what we want to do. We want to do God's will, but something always seems to get in the way.

Elijah wanted to do God's will. Oh, yes, old Elijah, now there's a guy none of us could hold a candle to in the faith department, right? But here, a situation prevails that drives even this epitome of faith into despair. He gets word that Jezebel has a contract out on his life, and he runs. The war is over, Lord, and we lost. It never dawns on him as he runs into the wilderness that a God who could provide him with a nice breakfast every morning might be more powerful than Jezebel.

Jezebel is impressive, baby. She's got the big palace and the big throne and the political connections and the highly trained assassins just waiting for her orders. She's big and scary, no doubt. So maybe a God who serves you breakfast doesn't seem like a God who could stand up to her.

But, as Elijah finds out, God is not in the big and the scary. God is not in the hurricane and God is not in the earthquake. The power that defeats all other power is not like that. The power that sets us free to be ourselves has a whole different profile. In the book of Revelation, John sees Jesus in heaven as a lamb on a throne. Against the legions of Rome, a lamb. One preacher called God's power, "Lamb Power." It's not in the big and scary.

Elijah isn't free because he lives in a free country. Elijah isn't free because the law of the land lets him do what he wants. Elijah is free because he has the quiet power of God. Nothing can stop that power, not even Jezebel and all her assassins.

The poor man in the land of Gerasenes is not free. He is compelled to rip off his clothes and howl and shriek and live outside among the graves. He has no home, no friends, no family, no community. The legion of demons infesting him have completely robbed him of himself. They are loud, powerful, terrifying.

But they are under Jesus' authority. You notice there's no struggle. Luke doesn't tell us that Jesus trained for a week before he took on this task. There's no sense that Jesus finds this in any way difficult. And you'll also notice that the demons don't even bother to resist. They know Jesus right away, and the only option available to them is negotiation. They've been ordered to leave the man, and that order is not up for discussion. All they can do is ask for a different destination.

Upon his release, the man is clothed in his right mind, and now has a home he can go to. He can now be who he was meant to be.

This is the power of freedom given as a gift from God. It's not big or flashy. It's quiet and peaceful. It doesn't compel anyone to do anything but releases them to do what they really want: to be children of God. This is what happened to Elaine. A long time ago, she fell in love with Jesus, and she was set free to be who she was made to be.

Now, I want to point out that not everyone who is set free ends up looking like Elaine. That's just another kind of legalism, another way of locking us up in a cell. What's magnificent about God's new creation is that every person who is liberated has a different set of gifts and graces. Some are sweet and loving people like Elaine, some are fiery prophets like Elijah, some are passionate evangelists like Paul. Once we start doing what we were born to do, we are each one a unique and lovely creation.

No longer male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. No longer bound to convention or culture or law. No longer concerned with the murky question of what is wrong and what is right. No longer worried about any power that might demand our allegiance or try to compel us. No longer locked in any spiritual prison.

No longer bound, but free.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Third Sunday After Pentecost Year C 2010

Crucified With Christ

03 Pentecost C 10

June 13, 2010

Crucified With Christ

1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a

Psalm 32

Galatians 2:15-21

Luke 7:36-8:3

A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.  ---Stephen Wright

A minister asked a group of children, "What's the first thing you have to do to be forgiven?" And one of the kids said, "You have to sin!"

I saw a posting on facebook this week of a friend of a friend, someone I know through Amy Hurd. Her name is Jen Lawton and she wrote in her status, "Perspective, consider this an open invitation."

Perspective. Maybe it's time to get down on the floor. (Getting down on the floor.)

Here I am, at the feet of Jesus. Here I am, a worthless sinner, deserving only the cross, in the presence of a God who loves me anyway. Hmm. It's not too bad really. Nowhere to go but up, you know.

Would anyone like to join me? I don't want anyone to injure themselves, but you know, it's really not too bad.

It's a relief you know. Nothing to prove. Nothing to insist on. Nothing I'm entitled to.

You could come down here and we could just lay on the floor at Jesus' feet and we could tell him all our problems. Bring some oil and we'll anoint his beautiful, calloused, dirty feet. And maybe we'll do some crying too. Not a bad thing to do in the presence of the Lord. If you'd like to let some tears go now, by all means, offer them up.

You know down here, it's not hard to love God. Down here, it's not hard to love the whole human race. It seems like love is inversely proportional to pride. The lower you are on the pole, the easier it is to love.

You know, the scripture says his feet are beautiful, and they sure are.

(Standing and continuing the service.)

It's important in understanding Paul's message to the Galatians to understand that even at that amazing moment when the church was born, conflict arose. It's one of those things that troubles us in churches. Somehow we all have this idea that the church is supposed to be this kind of mid-sixties TV family. We're shocked when there's conflict. We're even more shocked when people behave like old Ahab and Jezebel.

And yet the bible is full of stories like that.

Even old Peter was kind of two-faced, at least according to Paul. Paul went to Jerusalem and pitched his whole idea of being apostle to the Gentiles. We've heard some of the stories of what was happening in Jerusalem after the resurrection, about how Peter had the dream about the animals and welcomed the Gentile centurion. So Peter agreed with Paul that the Gentiles didn't have to be circumcised, at least to his face. But apparently, after Paul left, Peter or someone in Jerusalem put together a group to follow after Paul and clean up after him. This group got to the Galatians and said, "What Paul told you was all well and good, but it lacked the whole circumcision thing. You really can't be a member until you're circumcised."

Now, this is not about Paul rejected the Old Testament. We know from all the rest of Paul's writing that he believed and taught the Old Testament. That was in fact the only scripture he had. And it wasn't just that he was opposing people who were clinging to old and useless traditions. He didn't see the law as old or useless.

As for Peter and the Judaizers, they also weren't necessarily being unreasonable. There was a lot of tension in the synagogues about this news about Jesus. A lot of Jews were very receptive. You remember that thousands were baptized the very first day Peter started preaching in Jerusalem. Imagine managing 3,000 new people here at Philippi. Then as now, so many new people brought all kinds of unexpected problems and difficulties. One of them had to do with Jewishness. Gentiles were converting upon hearing the news of Jesus. Didn't that mean they needed to become Jews?

Peter vacillated about the question, a vacillation that appeared to Paul to be hypocrisy. But think of it. Peter saw a tremendous wedge potentially coming to split his new movement in two. What might he do to minimize the damage? Maybe he needed to concede to those who wanted to keep Judaism intact. What kind of chaos might ensue if any part of the law were jettisoned?

It's not that Paul didn't believe in circumcision. It's that he believed in a greater and more perfect circumcision. He believed, and I believe, that God had come into the world to dwell with his people. Not some new God, but the same God who had ruled over Israel from the time of Abraham. The question was not about keeping the law or not. It was about where one goes to start a relationship with God.

The message for today is about the cross. The cross is the place where God enters the world. It's not in the temple. It's not in the beautiful town square. It's outside the usual paths and walkways, outside the house of worship, in the place where people are cast off and forgotten. The cross is the place where God comes into the world.

God prefers the company of those farthest from him. He bypasses all those who are jockeying for status before him and runs right to the ones who are the least worthy. He whips people in the house of worship and comforts people who are being executed for robbery and murder.

I think we like to imagine, at least us males like to imagine, that the woman bathing Jesus' feet with her tears is a prostitute. Jar of ointment, the hair let down, kissing; it's hard not to think about sex. But the text doesn't say that. It just says a sinful woman. What if that woman were Jezebel? Not the somewhat titillating and lovely temptress, but the scheming and vicious murderer, maybe even with with beady eyes, straggly hair and bad skin? A woman who had done real and terrible wrong to lots of people, who really deserved to be executed and have her remains eaten by dogs?

That's the kind of offense that the Jewish Christians were taking at Paul for welcoming non-Jews into Christian fellowship without circumcision. It's like he was saying, well, that God loves sinners, for heaven's sake.

But Paul's own experience of conversion was exactly this. In the midst of doing the most terrible wrong a person can do, Paul encountered Jesus Christ. Christ met Paul on the cross. Paul found himself hanging on a cross next to Jesus, like the rebel robber in Luke's gospel, guilty of what Jesus was not, of insurrection and rebellion and murder, crimes against the kingdom of God. Jesus, though he was not guilty, was there with him, welcoming him into paradise.

Some of us encounter the cross in the course of experience, without actively seeking it. But it is possible, and this is a wonderful gift from God, to seek the cross. It's possible to find in oneself the many ways, through commission or omission, we make ourselves superior to others, the many ways we plot and scheme to undermine our perceived enemies, the ways we stand quietly by and say nothing about injustice because it so richly benefits us, the tantrums we throw when we don't get what we want or think we deserve. We can seek the cross by seeking out our rebellion and our willfulness. When we find our sin, when we find enough evidence to convict us of rebellion against the kingdom of God and yes, even murder, we will find Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross next to ours.

It's at the cross that we encounter God, and it is the only place we can encounter God, at least in the sense of being able to begin a relationship. Forgiveness and salvation are really something else. The cross is simply the place we begin. It's the place everyone has to begin. There's no other entrance into God's presence. If there is, to paraphrase Paul, Christ died for nothing.

What if we saw our worship on Sunday the way the "sinful woman" saw it? What if we came intending to lay on the floor and bathe the beautiful feet of Jesus with our tears?


Second Sunday After Pentecost Year C 2010

And They Glorified God

02 Pentecost C 10

June 6, 2010

1 Kings 17:8-24

Psalm 146

Galatians 1:11-24

Luke 7:11-17

In a newspaper commentary I read yesterday a guy named Matt Bai observed that we've been living in what feels like a crisis for about forty years. Of course, for a lot of that time, at least half of the people felt like something positive was getting done about whatever it was. It was usually only the other half who felt like things were getting worse and worse. Now, we're in a rather special moment in this country. I think everyone is pretty convinced that things are spinning out of control and show no signs of getting sorted out. You don't hear too many people saying hopeful things.

Mr. Bai said that if you wanted a metaphor for the growing sense of crisis we've been experiencing over the past forty years, you couldn't ask for a better one than the oil leak. A slowly and steadily spreading disaster of unimaginable proportions with results that are almost impossible to imagine or predict. Think about it. For forty years the situation between Israel and the Muslim world has gotten worse and worse, and now is getting critical. The uneasy peace between the Koreas is now descending back toward war. Iran is working on a bomb, we're still at war in two countries, Osama Bin Laden is still on the loose, the continent of Africa continues to waste away with AIDS and coups and massacres, and the world's economy is shaky at best. And nothing anyone has done seems able to stop it. No one has been able to plug the leak.

At Regional Assembly over the last two days, I have to say the message was somewhat gloomy all-in-all. The two authors who came to speak seem to specialize in writing books with catchy titles with nothing in them but the same message as the title. This one was "Getting People Under Forty While Keeping People Over Sixty." And if you read the book, it basically says we should get people under forty and keep people over sixty. It never really tells us how.

The fact is that the mainline church has been in decline for forty years and hasn't really done a thing about it. Nothing that's worked anyway. Even the Baptists are declining. I remember thinking yesterday that I've been going to assemblies for eighteen years, literally, because I was ordained 18 years Friday, and I've pretty much been hearing the same message. We need to change but we aren't changing. If we don't change we're going to disappear. And everyone nods and applauds and heads back to their congregations ready to change the world. But the oil just keeps on pumping. The church keeps declining. There are fewer and fewer Christians in every generation.

I think about a year, maybe two years ago, we all started feeling like the metaphorical oil leak was pumping away and no one was able to stop it. I think the feeling is getting really pointed now, and it's beginning to infect every aspect of our lives. It's not only the world that's coming apart, it's our older parents, it's our kids, it's our church, it's our own communities and neighborhoods.

Some of us are angry. Some of us are exhausted. Some of us are still hopeful. But all of us finally know that the leak pumps on.

There's a drought in Israel, don't you think? Not only has the widow lost her husband, but now, cruelty of all cruelty, she's lost her only son. Not only has Jesus been crucified, but this guy Saul has it in for everyone who believes in Jesus. Insult upon injury. Trial upon trial. Do you know the root words for "pandemonium?" "Demons everywhere?"

At some point or another, the solution really does have to come from outside. At some point, there's no one to hire, no one to fire, no one brilliant enough, can-do enough, insightful and wise enough, to fix this. Nor is there any way we can all consult one another and thrash it out and make it all work.

At some point or another, the savior has got to step in. At some point or another we really have to get on our knees. And I don't mean as some kind of metaphor for giving it more thought, or as some kind of show of piety. I mean surrender. I mean making that last loaf of bread, eating it and laying down to die. I mean just loading the body on the bier and having the funeral. Just go on and say, "This is all wrong, and I have not the foggiest idea what to do about it." Just go on and grieve. Just go on and admit the battle's over and we lost.

When Paul is saying that his gospel comes from God, he's really not trying to validate himself; he's trying to validate his gospel. He's not affirming himself, though it rather sounds like it, doesn't it? He's affirming the message he's been given. He's trying to point out that the thing that comes from God is the thing that saves. Ideas that come from people are not saving. They might put a bandaid on the wound, they might redirect the oil leak in some other direction, but the solutions that come from us usually make the situation worse. The ongoing effort to keep improving and solving and fixing actually amounts to a spreading field of poison.

The answer will come from God, and it will come when we cry "uncle" and not before. When we become as ready as only the dying can be, room is made for a miracle.

I'm wanting to glorify God. That's the path I'm interested in this morning. That's the salvation I'm looking for this morning. I'm ready to say I'm licked. I don't know what the right thing is to do. I don't know how to fix any of it. I don't know what the moral choice is, the righteous choice, the effective choice. I don't have the magic technique or the perfect ideology. I'm looking for the miracle. I want to give up and lay down and wait to die, and see what God does.

Just when I thought the Assembly was pretty hopeless a bunch of young people of multiple colors got up on the stage and told all us old fogies that we needed to figure out how to get blacks and whites together, that all our talk about acceptance and unity was hollow to them. And they proposed a simple plan to make it happen I don't know why but tears started flowing down my face. Maybe its just that I so badly needed a little hope. I think I was glorifying God there fore a minute.

And later, I went to a workshop where a congregation in Lynchburg told how it had come to openly welcome and affirm everyone at their church, particularly people of different sexual orientations. One of them said, "if you are worried about being accepted at a church for any reason at all, find an open and affirming church. They really mean it when they say they accept you." Wow. In Lynchburg of all places. I did a little glorifying God right about them.

Will you all do a little exercise with me right now? I want you to think of two phrases. The first phrase is "God might be..." And the second phrase is "But soon God will..."

Now you're going to complete the phrase. The first phrase is about the punishment of the trial God might be visiting upon you. Like that old widow who told Elijah it was God who took her son. Like the early Christians who though of Saul as God's test for their faith. Now don't bother arguing about whether God causes bad things to happen or not. That's why the word "might" is in there. God might be causing that oil leak to spew. God might be giving me cancer. God might be taking my mother away from me piece by piece. God might be putting my church through a trial. God might be brewing another war in the Middle East. Put it all on the list. Just close you eyes and list all the terrible things God might be doing.

Now I'd like you to complete the second phrase. The second phrase is about the sudden reversal that God is going to bring about. Like the widow's declaration about Elijah, like the congregation's that had feared Saul glorifying God because of Paul, like the people of Nain glorifying God because the widow's son was brought back to life. "But soon God will..." But soon God will restore his creation to wholeness. But soon God will liberate my mother and comfort me. But soon God will deal with my cancer. But soon God will bring peace in war-torn places. But soon God will...

I'm looking to glorify God. How about you?


First Sunday After Pentecost Year C 2010

God's Approval

01 Pentecost C 10
May 30, 2010

1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39

Psalm 96

Galatians 1:1-12

Luke 7:1-10

The opening of Galatians lets us know that it is a letter. It wasn't written as a theological treatise for the centuries. It's a letter to a particular congregation at a particular juncture in its life. Nevertheless, this letter was saved, copied, circulated to other churches at other times. Eventually, teachers in the church decided that it contained such truth about the gospel of Jesus Christ that it needed to be called holy scripture for all time.

We have quite a few letters written by Paul. All of them follow a certain pattern. Usually, right after the greeting, Paul writes a thanksgiving section. He finds those things about the congregation he's writing to that he loves or admires and he gives thanks to God for them. Here, however, we have no thanksgiving section. This is the only letter of Paul without one. It begins instead with an accusation. The Galatians have turned to a different gospel, which of course is no gospel. What that false gospel is, we don't yet know.

Paul goes on to curse anyone who teaches the Galatians a different gospel from the one he taught them. Now, we have lots of stories of Paul's power over supernatural beings. He encountered his share of demons and so on, and he had the authority to command them. So this would have been no small thing. He lays out a curse that's provisional, only to go into action if someone, even him or an angel from heaven, ever teaches a false gospel.

People pleasing is the theme of this line, and I have to say I struggle with this temptation all the time. Now we might ask ourselves, what's the matter with pleasing people? Don't we all want to please people? Well, first let's do a little bible detective work here and ask ourselves, why is Paul asking this question? Well, at least one speculation we could make, I think, is that someone has accused him of people pleasing. That is, someone has said, "That Paul is not teaching a true message. He's watered it down to make it easy for people to buy into it. He's pleasing people, not God." Now I think it's also interesting that he uses the phrase, "If I were still pleasing people." Does this mean that there was a time when he was still pleasing people, before he became a servant of Christ? Could he be referring to his career as a Pharisee and persecutor of the church?

Then it seems that Paul has either changed the subject or he is making some kind of case. He is no longer talking about pleasing people or pleasing God. He's now talking about the source of the gospel he preaches. Why is he doing this? Perhaps he is making his case. In other words, "I couldn't be guilty of pleasing people because my gospel didn't come from people. It comes from God."

I feel led to preach Galatians over the next few weeks. And it seems fitting to begin this preaching on Memorial Day, when we remember those who lost their lives in the defense of the United States. We often say that they were killed defending our freedom. The opening passage of Galatians doesn't tell us the main theme of the letter, but we will discover in the coming weeks that its theme is freedom.

Memorial Day is a National Holiday, and the church is not a national institution. Nevertheless, we are mindful of those who lost their lives in the various wars our nation has been involved in. And some are thankful to God for them. Personally, I celebrate Memorial Day not as a happy day to have a party, but as a day to mourn. To me, war is a tragedy.

Be that as it may, the word freedom certainly comes up a lot on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, doesn't it? It's a lot of what the US stands for. And this is indeed the theme of Paul's letter to the Galatians, which has been called the Magna Carta of Christian Freedom.

But Paul hasn't mentioned freedom yet in today's passage. The first thing we know about the letter is that Paul is not at all happy with the Galatians. The second thing we know is that he believes they have turned to a different and very false gospel. The third thing we know is that Paul feels the need to defend himself. And the overall theme of the letter seems to be about the simple question of real versus false gospel.

I model my ministry very much on Paul's. Paul's primary methods involved persuasion and encouragement. But there were also times when Paul admonished and scolded. There is a long history of Jewish and Christian religious leaders admonishing and scolding their congregations, both before Paul and after Paul. I agree that it can get out of hand, but I also observe that in our commodified culture, admonishment is not a dish anyone wants to be fed, and so if a pastor admonishes a congregation, he or she will often find himself or herself without a congregation. This is a part of freedom we enjoy in our country. The freedom to walk away. It does however make the traditional role of the prophet rather difficult. In our society, the minister is supposed to be a "people person," as Ethel Wiley often reminds me, friendly, warm and accepting to all. Paul is obviously not being friendly, warm or accepting here.

But the accusation being leveled against Paul is not that he had been too hard on the Galatians, but that he'd been too easy. We don't know yet what the false gospel was, but at least a part of it was that Paul's gospel was somehow too easy, somehow not hard enough. The claim was being made by leaders in Galatia that Paul was a people-pleaser, that he'd built his church by proclaiming a false, easy, popular gospel in order to fill up the pews.

This is a common accusation against the big mega-churches springing up all over the country, that they kow-tow to the masses, feed them the religious product they want to buy, whereas all us little churches are much more faithful, since we make Christianity really, really hard.

Because we all know, don't we, that when it comes to God, it's got to be really, really hard.

The funny thing is, if you study the churches the way I do, you quickly find out that the message of many of the biggest of the mega-churches, though certainly not all of them, is a lot harder than the message of the small churches. It seems the more popular message, the most attractive gospel out there, is the one with all the rules. Check out the belief statements on the websites of the country's biggest churches. Check out their requirements for membership.

The revelation from God in the crucified and risen Jesus is just that, a revelation. You know, let's take a moment with this shall we? Jesus is really of no interest to anyone if he didn't rise from the dead. Let's just admit that right now, shall we? This supernatural event is the center of the whole thing. Everything we are as Christians and as the church radiates out from the main point: Jesus was executed by the most powerful government in the world, but he rose from the dead, and rules over God's kingdom forever. He didn't defend his freedom. God defended his freedom. He died without raising his hand to anyone. And God raised him from the dead.

The revelation of God is so hard to take simply because it proposes something rather easy. It's so easy it couldn't come from people. It is to stand aside, do nothing, and let God rule. That's it. That's the whole moral equation. God makes righteous. God makes holy. God makes free. Period.

This is from God, not from people. If it were from people, it would be a list of difficult rules you must always follow. It would be a bunch of magical incantations that you have to say just right. It would be a lot of sacrifice and self-injury. It would be a lot of fighting and dying and violence and bloodshed. But it's from God, and it's strangely easy. God says, "Let me do it."

What's hard about the gospel is not that it's full of impossible rules. What's hard about it is that isn't.

What do we have to do to gain God's approval?

Perhaps we just have to accept it.