Sunday, January 26, 2014

Third Sunday after Epiphany

1 Corinthians 1
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Some called me eccentric, with my dial phone plugged into the wall, until that whole ice storm thing.

Sure we only lost power for fifteen minutes, but the whole time I thought to myself ‘I could go upstairs right now and dial a number.’ I mean literally, dial a number. But who would I call? Someone with a cordless phone? Yeah, right, like they’re going to pick up.

I still remember fondly the day my son learned that the phone still works when the power fails, and that in fact there was a tiny bit of electricity coming from the phone socket. Immediately he hit on the idea of using the power to power something—anything—to prove that he could.

Of course my brother, the engineer, only encourages the boy, and so within hours we had a tiny little LED light powered from the phone socket. Ten years later, I’m still convinced the phone police are going to carry us off the big house.

So my dial phone is looking cool again, and I’m told vinyl records are enjoying a mild renaissance, but I think we can safely say that there are lists of things that we can say goodbye to forever: floppy disks, video rental stores, deposit slips at the bank, and maybe even letter-writing.

The last one is difficult to imagine, since BIMD (back in my day) we wrote letters, with a pen, on paper, sent by post, in an envelope, with a stamp. And then the world changed. And so, for those of us who spent countless hours writing letters, this realization: We have more in common with St. Paul, writing 2,000 years ago, than we do with the 25 year-old who has never hand written a letter and walked it to the postbox.

So Paul, like us, wrote letters. Lots of letters: letters to the churches he founded, letters to other leaders within the nascent church, letters that needed to be sent based on the issues that faced an entity that was just beginning to take shape.

But unlike most of our letters, these letters were collected, and cherished, and reprinted: passing from church to church and believer to believer and eventually becoming scripture. And you can tell throughout Paul’s letters that he was trying to be memorable—certainly not scriptural—but he was clearing writing with the sense that these letters might be saved and reread.

And they were. Nearly a third of our New Testament belongs to Paul, or written as Paul, and so the shadow cast by these letters is large: large enough that we might say that while Jesus inspires the faith, and Peter is the founder, Paul is the architect of almost everything we now recognize as the Christian religion.

(Just as an aside, and because I know you like five-dollar words, the books where Paul’s authorship is in doubt are called pseudepigrapha. Books such as Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy are written as Paul might write them, but few agree they are actually written by Paul. The early church debated these things, and decided that the ideas contained in some of the letters were too important to lose just because they couldn’t agree on authorship.)

A letter that no one doubts, a letter to give us a perfect snapshot of Paul’s mind and Paul’s approach, is 1 Corinthians. Writing from his temporary home in Ephesus, some time between 53 and 57, Paul follows his typical pattern of praise and admonish. He gives thanks that the gifts of God are visible in the community, and them he lets them have it.

The issue, we quickly learn, is disunity. It has been reported to Paul through Chloe, one of the leaders of this church, that the people are divided by affiliation: some take their cue from Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, and some only Christ. What is a matter of practice, or belief? The passage is fairly vague, but whatever the issue, Paul is not impressed. In fact, he’s snippy:

Has Christ been divided up? Was I nailed to a cross for you? Were you baptized in my name? 14 I thank God[c] that I didn’t baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius. 15 Not one of you can say that you were baptized in my name.

I really love the next verse, mostly because I can relate: “I did baptize the family of Stephanas,” Paul writes, “but I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.” Oh, Paul, we’re all getting older: you gotta write these things down, it’s the only way to remember.

And so, this passage is being preached around the world today, by those who didn’t choose the other readings, and they will no doubt use it as a tool to encourage their people to get along. It is the go-to passage for churches in conflict, a handy resource for preachers that need Paul’s help to underline the danger of disunity.

I know that in some settings these kind of sermons just write themselves: I read an article this week about a church in southern Indiana that had a service of reconciliation with their last four ministers, all of whom quit, were forced out, or ended up in the hospital. Even the current minister who has led this ministry of reconciliation has developed heart trouble, but has carried on for the sake of Christian unity.

But what about the churches where people get along, and even enjoy each other? Where there is a sense of common purpose, and conflict is largely absent and resolved quickly when it infrequently appears? What does Paul have to say to those people, and to you?

Two things, I think. The first is a lesson about emphasis. Each of us, when defining the heart of our faith, will use words or phrases to convey this most subjective matter. Some will say ‘to reach out’ or ‘serve others.’ Others will say ‘to bring healing’ or ‘become whole.’ Still other will say ‘seek justice’ or ‘mend the world,’ and finally some may say ‘to be saved’ or ‘share the Gospel.’

Reflecting on Paul, I am fairly certain that this is the type of disunity that fell upon Corinth. Following Paul or Peter or Apollos may have largely been a matter of emphasis, with each of these figures bringing his own idea of the heart of faith. Paul is able to step out of the conflict to say ‘I didn’t die for you—it was Christ: and it is his way you must follow to be faithful.’

And this, I think, leads to the second thing Paul would say to a church that doesn’t have drama, just people being people. We may disagree on emphasis, and we may disagree on our approach, but we should never disagree on the heart of the message: that God came into the world to renew us and redeem us, and set us free to serve God. Whenever we lose sight of the heart of the message we will end up in conflict, or worse, go in completely the wrong direction.

One of the primary ways we stay on track, keep our hearts and minds in tune with the core message and each other, is communion. It is no accident that communion is called communion, because it is designed to remind us of who we are and to whom we belong: to recall the story of renewal and redemption and unify us around a single table.

The words for the Great Thanksgiving we will read this morning come from Hippolytus, written 1,800 years ago. And like the words of Paul, the Great Thanksgiving is a call to unity of purpose and understanding, and gift to the church for all of time. May God bless us and strengthen our fellowship as we gather around this table once more, Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Second Sunday after Epiphany

John 1.35-42
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

So where would Jesus live?

It may not have the resonance of ‘what would Jesus do,’ a phrase for bracelets and license plates, but it does kind of leap off the page:

They said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

Two remarkable things are happening here: one (we learn the time of day) for no seeming reason, and the other (an afternoon at Jesus’ place) as an opportunity to get acquainted. I don’t know about you, but I find this idea of Jesus’ place both intriguing and just a little bit troubling.

The troubling part, to begin there, is the idea that this itinerant-rabbi-healer and Lord of All would have something has mundane as an address. I want him to be free, unencumbered by junkmail or one of those single-cup coffeemakers that everyone seems to have. It seems limiting to put him in an apartment, or even a room, and have him call it home.

The intriguing part, the part that captures the imagination, is related to the troubling part, insofar as having a dwelling meant having something: Some straw on the floor, a Billy bookcase for Gold, frankincense and myrrh, and at the very least a table. I’m surmising a table because it was Jesus’ natural habitat, to be at table with friends, eating and drinking, being convivial as only Jesus can.

So we have a time and a place—what about a purpose? For today, for the reading from John, the purpose is getting to know his newest followers, spending the afternoon, and beginning the long journey we call his earthly ministry. These men were friends of John the Baptist, and were no doubt interested to understand the one John endorsed and freed them to follow.

Now, in the more familiar call story, Jesus finds them by the seashore, tending their nets, and he says “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men and women.” It is more directive, more forward-focused, and it defines the very fabric of this faith we follow. Follow me makes sense, it is part of our Christian DNA, so to hear another invitation (“Come and see”) simply feels strange.

But if we follow this new invitation, this variation on a theme, what will we see? What will Jesus present to us, and how will it help us develop as believers in the same manner that we might respond to ‘follow me’?

Part of the answer comes from a query sent by John the Baptist himself, through messengers, who ask: “Are the one, or should we look for someone else?” And the reply, paying close attention to seeing: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Luke 7)

It is a remarkable summary, a statement of his entire project of healing, teaching and bringing new life. Little wonder that the invitation was ‘come and see’ since seeing even half this program would be a convincing snapshot of the work of God in the world. And of course, there is more:

John 4: 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.
Luke 5: 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

John 12.21: [Some Greeks] came therefore to Philip, who was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’

There is a remarkable amount of seeing in the Gospels, so much in fact, that begin to get a sense that ‘seeing is believing.‘ And that becomes problematic. So problematic, that at the end of John Jesus will say this to doubting Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now there’s an issue: the invitation was ‘come and see,‘ the invitation to witness all that Jesus would say and do in the Galilee, and Judah, and on to Jerusalem. It was an invitation that leads to the conclusion that seeing is believing, when the concluding words are “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” So somewhere between ‘come and see‘ and ‘unless I see‘ (words from Thomas) is the truth about faith and seeing.

Now, we all like proof. We all like to know that the facts as presented have been verified or seen by a variety of people. In recent years we have seem a growing trend in visual verification while online, with something called a ‘captcha.‘ Somewhere near the ‘go‘ button there will be some distorted word or phrase under the heading ‘are you human?‘ and the opportunity to prove your humanity by reading something that seemingly computers can’t read. They have become ubiquitous, to the point that we thoughtlessly type in our response without taking stock of the fact we are human.

So seeing proves we’re human. Or at least it is human to want to see, to see and believe, and therefore we look for proof. But Jesus is suggesting that what’s real, what’s believable, will not be seen by many, and they are to be called blessed precisely because they are believing without seeing. And even St. Paul gets onboard with this idea, when he insisted this to the church at Corinth:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4)

Some claim that the final verse inspired the Matrix series of movies, the notion that what we see is an illusion and what we cannot see is real. True or not, there is a convergence between Jesus and Paul on the weakness of sight, or sight as proof, when what we really need to believe is invisible to our eyes.

And this suggests another verse from Paul, another seeing verse, that for me at least helps put much of the Christian faith into perspective. There, almost hidden among the introductory verse of the letter to the Colossians is this: [Jesus] “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.” (Col 1.15)

Jesus is the visible image of this invisible God we glorify, but also the Lord of all that is, the visible and the invisible. And this points us back to John, and in particular John’s prologue, where in the beginning was the Word, and the Word with with God and the Word was God: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I didn’t set out to be this philosophical, but the words seem to take us there. Jesus says ‘come and see’ and we seek to see proof of something, some evidence that we are then told cannot be seen. We see Jesus, and in seeing we see the visible of image of an invisible God. But this earthly Jesus is temporary, he will depart from this earth, and then we will see him no more, but then again, what cannot be seen is eternal.

We seem to live in the tension between a desire to see, and an inability to see; a Saviour who calls for us to see, but blesses those who believe even when they cannot see. We are all too human: believing that seeing is believing, when believing is something best not reserved for something as mundane as sight. Some Greeks said “sir, we would see Jesus,” and then returned home, to a place where Jesus lives in memory, in the heart, now and forever, Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baptism of Jesus

Acts 10
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

In the future, perhaps sermons—like Twitter—will be limited to 140 characters. There is something to be said about the need to be concise, a discipline for those who can type quickly and tend to use 100 words when 25 will do.

And this is perhaps the real genius behind Twitter. At 140 characters (20-25 words) there is no room for the common problem of preachers who go long, those who circle the runway—as we said in preacher’s school—and refuse to land the sermon.

In fact, you could make the argument that Twitter begins in the Bible, with a set of tweets we call Proverbs. Many fall within the 140 character limit, and they express important thoughts in a concise way. They were also meant to be retweeted (by memory, of course). Here’s one:

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”(1.7) If you added #proverbs #wisdom @Central then we can go for coffee!

(By the way, if you are tweeting right now, add the hashtag “babyforeaster”)

One of the most famous tweets of a religious nature also found some traction in the real world, appearing on signs and t-shirts around the time of the 2012 election south of the border. The author is comedian John Fugelsang, who back in 2010 tweeted this:

“Obama is not a brown-skinned anti-war socialist who gives away free healthcare. You're thinking of Jesus.”

Part of the appeal of this tweet is the obvious cleverness, but also the extent to which it provides a neat summary of Jesus’ program, casting it in a contemporary light. It’s also the way it is framed, of course, with a nice twist at the end.

The reason I share this (aside from the cleverness) is the extent to which Peter’s sermon is reads like a series of tweets: telling a story, with a logical progression, but more like a summary than a sermon. You get the sense that he said more—likely much more on this occasion—but memory distilled it to what Joan read this morning.

The passage is a remarkable one, really a Gospel within the Book of Acts itself, telling the entire story of Jesus in 10 verses. And like any good summary, it is noteworthy for what it includes and what it omits: what gets pride-of-place and what gets a passing mention.

The first verse gives us the context: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” The point of Peter’s sermon is to present the Gospel for all nations, not just the people of Israel. So from the beginning he makes it clear that he’s speaking to all of us.

Then he begins to draw in his audience, using the common rhetorical device of reminding the what they already know, which will then lead to the point he wants to make: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel...You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea.”

And just when all the heads are nodding in agreement or at least recognition, he gives his simple summary of the true meaning of Jesus the Christ:

“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

Notice, first of all, the reference to this Sunday, the start of Jesus earthy ministry, “beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.” In the vast scope of four Gospels and countless stories, the baptism of Jesus is given an important place in the summary, no doubt owing to the message of forgiveness that we will look at in a moment.

Next, notice the way Peter summarizes three years of earthy ministry: “With the Holy Spirit and power...he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Strip away the references to the Spirit, and you are left with this: “he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.”

In it end, Peter’s summary is even shorter than “a brown-skinned anti-war socialist who gives away free healthcare.” And this of course, enters a debate that has raged in academic circles for 200 years: is it primarily the words and deeds that matter in the story of Jesus, or is it the cosmic meaning, the death and resurrection that should define him?

Within the mainline Protestant world, we have generally made our choice for the words and deeds, demoting or at least downplaying his death and resurrection because they are not ‘historical’ and cannot be proven. The earliest version of this may have been the Jefferson Bible, where the third president literally took an scissors and cut out everything supernatural in favour of Jesus’ ethical teaching. In recent years it was the Jesus Seminar, with debate and voting on the authentic words of Jesus, a collection of words that was surprizingly small.

And I would like to think that Peter was anticipating this very debate about the life and meaning of Jesus when he preemptively gives his version of what he would have us take away:

“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Suddenly we’re transported back to the baptism of Jesus: John’s baptism—a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit and power to do good and draw people to himself: to judge the living and the dead, which for Jesus means to be an agent of forgiveness in an often unforgiving world.

It might be time for another tweet length quote—echoing Peter—this one from theologian William Countryman: “What God says to you in Jesus is this: You are forgiven. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is the message Jesus spoke and lived.”

And here we can begin to put together everything we have heard this morning, and once again it is Peter who holds the key:

“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.”

Only a forgiving God would experience betrayal and death and then return to eat and drink with his friends. Only a forgiving God would greet them on the beach and serve them a meal of grilled fish and some bread. Only a forgiving God would reassure them in the midst of their doubts and fears, and only a forgiving God would send out the very people who fled his side to share his message with the whole world.

May God bless us with this message of new life, that forgiven, we are sent forth to share the news that Jesus is Lord of all. Amen.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Epiphany/Christmas 2

Ephesians 1
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he[a] predestined us for adoption to sonship[b] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he[c] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

The ninth grade was a confusing time.

First, we were introduced to a certain Scottish play I shall not name, and a prophecy, that I am reluctant to describe, delivered by three characters, I hesitate to list. Their role is to guide or deceive a certain general in the army of King Duncan: to ensure he embrace his destiny and become king himself.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” they say, “Hover through the fog and filthy air.” The three, it is said, are describing the moral confusion that reigns throughout the play, as would be the case in any drama that describes regicide and the result.

And just when I had come to terms with “double, double toil and trouble,” my teachers decided to introduce the fates of ancient Greece: One that spins, one that measures, and one that cuts your thread at the appointed length. It was no wonder that I hesitated to get on the bus in the morning, uncertain what otherworldly suggestion would be fed my fourteen year-old mind next.

Did I mention Prometheus (made into liver pate), Sisyphus (big rock means big trouble) and Narcissus (mirrors that kill)? Maybe it was a Newmarket thing, trying to make us simple rural folk more sophisticated, or maybe it was a province-wide effort to help us find our inner pagan. Either way, it didn’t work: it seems the fates led to me Weston, to this pulpit, to preach.

St. Paul had some thoughts in this whole question of our destiny, and he shared them in Ephesians 1:

For God chose us—before the creation of the world—to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. In love, God predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, in accordance with God’s pleasure and will.

And while we were chosen holy and blameless, we know what happened instead: We found our inner Macbeth and followed the wrong path to disobedience. But Paul has an answer for this too, an answer that follows our adoption as children of God:

In Jesus, we have redemption through his blood—the forgiveness of sins—in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that God lavished on us.

We were made, adopted and redeemed. It was meant to be: we were predestined to live as God’s grateful children, made and remade in God’s image, adopted to be brothers and sisters to Christ who redeems us and sets us free. Seems almost self-evident, but we continually push back as hard as we can.

First, we seem to love those three fates, and the idea that there is something or someone external to ourselves that is ultimately in control of what happens to us. We hear it from the non-religious side (“it was fate that we met”) or from the religious side (“it was God’s will”). The result from either side is to reduce or deny our involvement in the unfolding of events, or the essential randomness that marks much of human living.

If we focus (appropriately) on the religious side, we need to back up a bit and look at some divine legislation that limits to the extent to which God can act. I know it seems counter-intuitive when we like to think we worship an all-powerful God, but God has placed some important limits on God’s own power. With these limits in mind, it is impossible to speak with any conviction that God wills the things we would like to think God wills.

The first important bit of legislation is recorded when God says to Adam “you are free to eat any fruit of the garden except that one over there.” Well, that was a mistake, since free is free and as soon as you say free it generally means completely free as the story ultimately records. So the first limit on God is our free will, something that seems to reinforce our godlike attributes, being made on God’s image.

The second, and the most difficult piece of legislation is our mortality, something that comes as a direct result of the freedom we were just given in the garden. The first humans are disobedient, and that disobedience results in hard work, painful childbirth, something about snakes, and the pronouncement that “you are dust, and to the dust you shall return.” We have come to learn that we can pray for an end to suffering, but we cannot ask to avoid death, since our mortality is governed by this second rule.

The third, again in Genesis, comes with the rainbow promise in chapter nine. ‘Never again,’ God says, ‘shall I destroy the earth.’ Full stop. Assuming the maker of Heaven and Earth has the power to undo creation, we live with the certainty that God is now governed by God’s own rule to never again destroy the earth.

So there are three examples of limits to God’s power, and I am sure there are more. But the one that remains the powerful counter-argument to everything I learned about fate in grade nine is free will. But before I say more, I think it might be time to quote Agent Smith:

“Did you know [Morpheus] that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program, entire crops were lost.”

The authors of this bit of wisdom are the Wachowski’s and the film, of course, is The Matrix. And other than revealing my inner geek, it also reveals the idea that even if God intended to create a perfect and perfectly ordered world, it wasn’t going to work so long as we had free will. Even if God intended to create a perfect and perfectly ordered world, as soon as you add humans the whole thing goes off the rails.

Jonathan Haidt, author of the book we looked at back in the fall, argues that we have evolved into people who can overcome much of our own nature, but not all. He says “we humans have a dual nature—we are selfish primates who long to be a part of something larger and nobler than ourselves. We are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.”

During my chimp times, grooming and self-grooming, trying to get a little more banana than the lady chimp I share my cage with, I am governed by my need and the desire to get what I want. During my bee times, I am governed by the needs of the whole, the hive-mind that thinks higher thoughts and only seeks what’s best for the other bees. But it’s about 90-10. I like bananas.

But God made me this way: a clever chimp, mostly evolved into a human, and trying to be a bee at the same time: so that all of us can be more than cautionary tales that follow a continuous dose of free will. Luckily we are made, adopted and redeemed, and it’s the last part that will carry the day.

Rather than blame the fates, or Flip Wilson (“The devil made me do it”) we are only left with ourselves. We had a great start, we had everything we needed to live and live well, but we could choose. And in choosing, we rejected the perfection set before us (it was a disaster, no one would accept the program) and went our own way.

Our inner chimp ruled the day, and still does, except that God gave us some bee nature and adopted us and named us ‘children of God,’ sisters and brothers of Jesus, and even a little less than angels according to the psalmist.

In the end, we were saved by grace, not on a whim, but by Jesus’ death on the cross:

In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that God lavished on us.

It could have ended badly for us. Maybe there is a heavenly notwithstanding clause that allows God to overturn laws that don’t work anymore, laws that limit God’s power to seek vengeance for the death of God’s own son. But this didn’t happen, and if there is a notwithstanding clause, God didn’t use it: instead the very act of seeking God’s destruction was the means by which we are redeemed, forgiven, and lavished with grace.

May God help us understand this grace, to take it’s measure, and to share the Good News of this grace with everyone we meet. Amen.