God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 31 — Resurrection of Our Lord

Listen to this sermon HERE. 

Grace to you and peace from Christ, who comes to us in peace, who rises from the grave in peace, who stays with us now in peace.  AMEN.  

There is so much about this day that make a lot of noise — good noise, but this can be a loud day — the music and singing of “alleluia’s”; the sounds of more people in our little sanctuary (welcome to all); the children’s excitement, all amped up on chocolate bunnies; bells and drums; and excited conversations and reunions over coffee and egg bake.  This is truly a joyous day.  

But the Easter story in Luke, that we share this morning has a rather quiet tone.  No earthquakes or stone blasting, or booming voices.  It’s has a rather quiet story in Luke:  

It starts with those blessed women — given names and central places in Luke’s gospel — it starts with them, quietly approaching the tomb early in the morning...like our altar guild women

...early every Sunday morning, working quietly but faithfully, busily but calmly — rain or shine, joyous times or mournful times — they will be there.  They are a visible reminder every Sunday, for me, of Luke’s Easter morning...coming in early, ready to serve the body of Christ.)  Their quiet leadership and humble service is often overlooked or taken for granted...much like those blessed women at the tomb of Jesus. (If you get a moment, say thank you to the altar guild women.  I’m not even going to name them...you’ve gotta sneak over here early to spot them.)  

Much like our altar guild women, those blessed women of old — Mary, Salome, Joanna, and others, it says — had come to do a routine task:  to anoint Jesus’ dead body with scented oils, in a timeless but quiet ritual.

The Easter story has a quiet tone in Luke.  

Then, even when the women find no Jesus there, and encounter these two men in bright clothes, they don’t go screaming and running.  There is still quiet.  There is fear.  There had to be some excitement, but no one’s coming apart at the seams, mostly because they are too terrified.

But they are faithful, despite being laid low in fear, and when they are invited to remember, they do.  “Remember what he told you,” the men said.  

And then they did.  The scene is like things are coming into view.  From blurry vision because of bright light, into some focus.  

And still there is calm, still there is quiet on that first Easter morn.  They don’t go running off, visibly joyful in Luke’s gospel.  They’re rather like traditional Lutherans:  we just express our joy differently.  [expressionlessly often: “Christ is risen indeed.  Alleluia.”  We must drive our Pentecostal and charismatic and spirited Christian brothers and sisters crazy.  More: “Alleluia, alleluia.  He is arisen.  Alleluia.”]  :)  All God’s children have a place...

But it’s actually Peter who I want to draw your attention to in this text.  It says that the women told the disciples.  I imagine that being a very quiet telling, a whispered recounting.  

And the disciples all just thought it was an idle tale.  The tone of the text is like they didn’t even really listen to them.  Wasn’t worth screaming and yelling at these liars.  It was just quiet.  No really paid them much attention.  The grief and sorrow and fear was just too loud.  Jesus’ resurrection was first made known to women...and nobody seemed to care.
But Peter, it says, got up.

Peter was down, remember?  Last Sunday, we read the entire passion of Jesus, according to Luke, and we the assembly this year, read the parts of Peter.  Remember that?  All of us together, when we were accused of knowing Jesus at the fireside chat, said, “I don’t know him.  I don’t know him.  I don’t know him, man!”  Three times, we denied Jesus...and not so quietly there.  

And how true it is.  How we deny Christ, deny knowing him not so much verbally, but more importantly with our lives: the way we treat each other, the way we treat his earth, the way we treat ourselves — filling ourselves with junk, and then lashing out at the world in our own anger and fear and pain.  How true it is.  How we are like Peter: down.  Peter was down.

But on this quiet Easter morning, Peter got up.

Something about those women’s quiet story got Peter to perk up his ear, cock his head to the side, furl his brow.  Something crept into his mind, even his intellect, and he got up.  A vision, a glimmer of hope?  Maybe he re-membered also.  Because, it says, he got up, and ran to the tomb.  And all he saw there were signs — a stone rolled back, an empty cave, and grave clothes strewn about — something got Peter up and to the tomb and all he saw were signs that their quiet story was true.

Sisters and brothers in the resurrected Christ, we too are lifted up, like Peter!  It might be quietly, modestly, in the whispers of our minds and our hearts and lives.  It doesn’t have to be flashy and dramatic... 

But know that you are lifted up this day because of Christ!  ..who binds you to himself in this resurrection.  This isn’t just about Jesus, who rises from the dead, and we all get to watch and cheer like spectators.  That’s not Easter worship.   No, all our sounds, our music and singing and alleluias, are in celebration because we are bound to Christ, in his death as we heard on Good Friday, and bound to Christ in his resurrection:  “In Christ we die and rise.”  Because he lives, we live, also.  

Paul Gaske, our brother in the faith died on Friday.  We mourn his loss, alongside his dear family, and we’ll continue to do so for a long time...just like we mourn so many others: dear friends and family who have gone before us.  We mourn for a long time, some things we never really get over.  (And that’s OK.)  But it also has to be proclaimed this day, quietly or shouting from the rooftops, it also has to be proclaimed that in Christ, Paul, and all sinner-saints rise eternal.  That though we are down, though we can get down, though we can fall down, and stumble down,THOUGH WE ARE BROUGHT DOWN, Christ raises us up through the story, the promise, the community, and the ultimate reality of his resurrection, of his conquering sin and the grave forever!  

We will die in this life.  But we do not die eternally, thanks be to God.  We will suffer in this life, but we do not suffer eternally, thanks be to God.  We’ll experience violence in this life, but we will not experience violence eternally.  For in Christ’s rising from the dead, there is peace, there is salvation, there is hope, there is LIFE, life eternal.  Praise be to Christ Jesus our Lord, our truth.  Praise be to the eternal embrace of love that wraps around us in this time.  In all times where we are brought down by the sorrows and tragedies of this life.  Praise be to God, who breaks the bonds of sin, and frees us, not just after we die, but who frees us now to be the people whom we are created to be.  Praise be to God for the day of resurrection!  AMEN.  Christ is risen.  Amen.  Alleluia.  Amen.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 24 — Palm.Passion Sunday

Pilgrims carry palm branches during the Palm Sunday 
procession from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem's Old City.
[A sermon was not preached, as this Sunday we traditionally read the entire passion narrative—this year from Luke's Gospel.  Before I shared some notes/thoughts/reflections...]

A word about the translation, the passion, and the Gospel of Luke:

Before this reading, I just want to share a few thoughts here as we transition...

Transition?  From the excitement, fun, beauty of Palm Sunday to the angry condemnation and the words of denial from even Jesus’ closest friends, as we move into Holy Week...  

Everyone’s with Jesus when all is well, when Christ appears victorious.  When redemption in our minds’ eye seems likely, we’re on board 100%.  But how quickly we turn. 

Just to put a little more context on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, I think it’s helpful to remember a little about Julius Caesar (and to do so would be particularly Lukan):

*Julius Caesar — known for incredible speaking ability, magnetic personality, military genius, conquered all the way up to Germany, Britain, France, Belgium said to have known the names of every one of his men in battle — Pontifus Maximus @ 37 y.o.: the pagan high priest of Rome — reduced taxes for the rich, gave land to the poor, he became extremely popular — the gods must be on his side — victory proved him and when he rode into Rome, they waved palm branches and threw their coats on the road — called a “triumphal procession” — every leader felt they had to upstage the former triumphal leader (lavish perfumes spread) — becomes the sole power of Rome, of the world  
                                                                        (M. Rinehart's podcast)

• The Caesar's rule characterized by pride, pomp, violence, force, power, beautiful power

*Contrast that to Jesus’ anti-triumphal entry today — 
    • His procession to the cross is a parody of the triumphal processions of the Caesars…
    • He rode, not a great white stallion, but a mangy donkey that the disciples found on the side of the road
    • “Hail King of the Jews” is a mockery 
    • And clothed in a mocking rag of purple, and a crowned with thorns, he is led, not to the capitol, the head of state, but rather to the skull on the outskirts of town, which was also where they threw the garbage
      • Humility, simplicity (borrowed colt), gentleness, weakness, service  (Pope Francis, Oscar Romero [33rd anniversary of his assassination])
      • Christ's reign:  It's a different kind of fragrance.
This translation, like last year on this Sunday, comes from Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation called The Message.  I describe Peterson’s style as “translating between the lines”.  He’s capturing precisely the mood and the meaning of the original texts, but he’s using turns of phrase that fall much more effectively, I think, on our 21st century ears.  

Luke’s Passion of Christ, has a special emphasis on Peter.  And this year, in addition to being all large group parts, we as as the congregation, YOU, are also in the role of Peter.  Notice our how we’re all with Jesus, when all is well, but how quickly we can deny our Lord, when discipleship gets tough. 

[following the community reading of the Luke's passion…]

An Invitation to Keep the Three Days — 

Don’t let this do it for you.  Don’t just hear this story today and then come back next Sunday to revel at Easter.  That’s like going from one celebration to the next, and it flattens Easter, makes it just 2 dimensional. Dig into Holy Week.  Dig into these stories these high holy days...

Keep Holy Week holy.  Join us, or join some group of Christians somewhere, for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday this week.  If our service times don’t work for you, find some noon time services.  Make Easter 3 dimensional, by keeping the Three Days.  

A little bit about what we’re doing here, and what we’re about to do this Holy Week.  The best description I’ve heard of what we followers of Jesus do during these highest Holy Days of our church calendar comes from church & worship scholar, Gail Ramshaw:  

“(1) We tell the story and (2) enact its meaning.”

Today — We read the gospel, then wave palm branches.  We share in the passion narrative, then scatter, silence.  Commune in silence.

Maundy Thursday — We tell the gospel story (from John), where Jesus gives a new commandment — “Love one another.”  He redefines the meal of the ages as being HIS body, and HIS blood.  He becomes the passover lamb, who takes away sin.  We read it, and then we enact its meaning.  We come for forward to receive the laying on of hands and we hear Christ’s promise: “I forgive you all your sins.”  Then we’re invited to enact Jesus’ visible sign of that promise by turning to one another and washing each others’ feet.  Footwashing on Maundy Thursday isn’t to be a dramatic re-enactment of what went down hundreds of years ago; it’s about here and now!  Christ has forgiven us, and so we turn to serve our neighbor and the worldhere and now.  And finally, we break bread and drink wine in remembrance of Jesus, yes, but he becomes our bread and our wine in the Holy Meal today, even and especially as we fall short, as we fail to wash one another's/the world’s feet.  Yet still the promise is there, even as we scatter.  

See how we’re, first, telling then the story and then enacting its meaning?

Good Friday — Probably the most different of our services, from what many of us may have done for most of our lives on Good Friday.  Traditionally the 7 last words of Jesus are lifted up on Good Friday.  These come from all 4 Gospels and are just squished all together.  That can be good, and rich, and powerful.  But it’s a little like taking 4 different gourmet meals from 4 different parts of the world and squishing them all up together.    

Our new hymnal (which came out in 2006) on the other hand, has gone back to an ancient church pattern which is to celebrate and center on the cross as the “tree of life” — lifting up the Gospel of John’s account of Jesus crucifixion, where Jesus on the cross equates Jesus on the throne.  He’s not stumbling, like in Matthew (carries his own cross), he’s not forsaken (like in Mark), he’s not sad (like in Luke).  In the Gospel of John, Christ is only LOVE, love outpoured for you and for this whole world that "God so loves" (3:16).  And so Good Friday is not a sad funeral for Jesus (let's bring our children!); it is a time to bask calmly and reflectively in the cross...to adore the tree of life, God’s love.  From the cross, that glorious tree of life, in the Gospel of John, Jesus has that beautiful exchange with Mary his mother and the beloved disciple.  And he says, “It is finished.” ELW #342

Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 17 — Fifth Sunday in Lent

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we are nearing the end of our Lenten journey.  

For 4 weeks we have been traveling together, as a congregation, and together with the whole body of Christ around the world, all who observe Lent.  I hope it’s been a rich journey for you, and for all who observe Lent.  

Not everyone does.  As I said on Ash Wednesday, the first day of our 40-day journey, practicing Lent is a very voluntary activity.  The world beyond the church doesn’t do Lent.  It’s not a church season that’s really in your face, like say, Christmas.  Many even in the church don’t do Lent.  (I was talking to some friends who are part of a non-denominational mega church, and they hadn’t ever heard of Lent.  

And so we who do journey and reflect and observe Lent and its disciplines have had some freedom, to dig into Lent with as much or as little intensity as we please.  I don’t think guilt or shame as a way of being church at Lent is very effective ultimately, nor is that at the center of the Lenten practices.  Rather Lent is a time when we are invited back to God, a chance to see ourselves as molded in God’s image, yes, broken and sinful if/when we’re brutally honest (as we’re invited to be at Lent), but finally and ultimately redeemed in the loving work of Christ — Christ’s ministry, Christ’s cross and Christ’s burial, and finally Christ’s resurrection.  Lent is “a finding ourselves totally dependent on God”.  It takes some work to get there.  It’s not world’s right way — that’s to be totally dependent on ourselves.

Where do you fit into all that?  What does Christ’s suffering and death have to do with you?  

Today and through these coming-up Highest Holy Days of our church calendar, I hope you hear that Christ’s suffering and death has everything to do with you, to do with us.  

That is to say, we are joined intimately, like a branch grafted to a tree (Gospel of John, Letters of Paul), we are joined that intimately to Christ’s suffering and death, through the waters of our baptism, through the enduring love of God which overflows like Mary of Bethany’s fragrant, expensive oil...that’s how God’s love overflows for us (and for this whole world) this day, this St. Patrick’s Day.  (That was the message Patrick took to Ireland!  Not “drink Guinness” :)  But, “God’s love overflows for you like costly perfume!”)

We are baptized — we are grafted, a new branch buried into an old tree — into Christ’s death, and therefore we are linked intimately to Christ’s suffering.

Now, what’s going on with this anointing Jesus’ feet with oil?  

The oil that Mary used, was the kind of oil with which you anointed the dead.  (It was a very strange gesture; but it’s because Mary got it — she got who Jesus was, and what he was about.)  The smell that filled the room, while certainly fragrant, was the smell that reminded everyone of death — like the smell of funeral home flowers:  it smells nice, but you sure know what’s happened when you smell those flowers.

Mary anointed Jesus’ feet as a way of anticipating his burial, which was to happen soon.  She got it:  Jesus was going to die.  

And today, in just a few minutes, at the end of our Lenten journey (next week will start Holy Week), we will anoint one another...in part, as an anticipation of our burial.   [pause]
But there’s more:  We are buried with Christ, we are grafted to Christ, and therefore we become new with Christ.  There is healing with Christ, because of Christ, on account of Christ...regardless, as Paul reminds us, of anything we’ve done.  

It’s all about Christ and Christ’s work and Christ’s faith!  

We are anointed today, with a prayer of healing, and the laying on of hands, yes, as a sign of God’s love and healing and presence in our troubled lives...and as a sign of our upcoming burial...and finally as a sign of our being joined to Christ, who shoulders our pain and our brokenness and our sin and our sickness, and brings us at last to healing and peace and joy.  It’s all about Christ’s work; it has nothing to do with our work...or even our faith. 

I want to show you something:  Philippians 3:8-9.

“everything as loss” = all the things I’ve done, accomplished doesn’t mean “sh*t”

“and be found in him” = very different from “finding Jesus”.  Like last week with the two lost sons, God finds us, not the other way around.

“faith in Christ” vs. “faith of Christ”  (genitive, possessive case)

It’s all about Christ acting upon us, friends!  Christ joins us to himself through his death.  It’s like Christ takes us under the water with him, and when we come back up, everything is made new.  Behold, the former things have passed away, our former selves die, our sin and our brokenness have passed away, and everything, everything has been made new.

So, come!  Receive the oil of healing this morning.  Bring your concerns and your ailments, bring your brokenness and your doubt, bring your illness and your anger, and let Christ draw you to himself, let Christ drown you with love and new life.  Smell the oil!  Feel the sign of the cross wipe across your forehead.  Let the oil run down...and remember that you are buried with Christ, buried in love, buried in peace, buried to emerge with new life: Christ life.  AMEN. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

March 10 — Fourth Sunday in Lent

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Grace to you and peace, from the one who comes out to meet us wildly in love and peace and in forgiveness. AMEN.

The parable of the two lost sons — the one who knew it and one who didn’t.  The parable of the reckless father, who hikes up his robe [explain the offensiveness of that].  Agape, Christian rapper: “Old man ran at him with a big old hug, told his brother, ‘Put y’love into this big old thug.”  And that pretty much sums it up.  Some are called to come back home to God, and some are called to love those who are coming home...and often we’re both at the same time.  Either way, God is faithful, and we are greeted by this sweaty, unbound grace.  Like a slobbery bulldog lumbering down the gravel road, so our God comes bounding out to meet us in joy.

Don’t ever put yourself in the role of the father in this story; we can never be the father in this story — even as we love and wait for our children.  The father in this story is only God.  And we can only be one of the two sons...sometimes both at the same time.  We are always and only the recipients of God’s unleashed love.  Are you understanding me? 

We need to hear that today.  We need to see that in our minds eye: God lumbering out to meet us.  This is a story, deep in these Lenten days, of love outpouring for you...and a a story of the amazing party being thrown at our return.  Regardless of our past mistakes, our miscommunications, missteps, miscalculations in our lives, God comes running out for you, with reckless abandon.  God comes out to meet you with the kind of love that can make everyone else jealous.  Despite our shortcomings at home or with family...or our overindulgences or nasty habits, here comes God, so excited to meet you that there’s wheezing and panting!  

And even those of us who’ve not been perfect, but have been pretty damn responsible and self-sustaining and helpful to our neighbors and taken care of our parents and friends and children, all these years — there’s certainly a place at the table for us too...even with our bit of bitterness and resentment toward the slackers who are getting grace heaped upon them.  God holds us too — us church people, us good people, us responsible ones, us tax-paying people, us hard-working ones, us giving and compassionate ones, us tired ones.  God says to you too, “My beloved child, all that is mine is yours.  I have loved you from the moment you came to be.  I have counted every hair on your head and loved every fiber of your being.  But do you know who else I’ve always loved?...that wild and crazy brother or sister of yours.

“Come back inside,” God says to us too, “Come join the celebration.  Come celebrate the lost being found and those who were once dead coming back to life!  This is too good for you to be out here by yourself, lost in your anger.  And I hear your anger, and I can understand it.  It makes sense.  But let it go.  And come back inside: eat, dance, drink, warm yourself by the fire of the community, laugh...and love (the way I created you to be).  “This is too good, too good to be lost in keeping score, to be lost in anger and bitterness,” God says.  

(Gordon Compton in Stehekin: "When we get to the great feast that is to come, we're going to be awfully surprised at who's sitting across the table from us.")

Sisters and brothers in Christ — dang it, God’s right.  We can get so lost in our anger and resentment and bitterness that we’re as in trouble as that kid in the pig pen.  That’s what a mess anger and fear and resentments can make of our lives.  

But, sisters and brother’s in Christ, we’re all getting invited into this party.  We’re all gathered at this table, some of us hobbling in bitterness to the celebration, some of us long-faced, or angry or sad, and some of us at peace.  But everyone is invited inside!  The kingdom of God is a party!  And everyone’s given a chair and a spot on the dance floor.  

In this cold world of judgement and condemnation, in this world (and many times the church) that measures and keeps score, our God recklessly knocks over all our poker chips that we’ve been stacking at the table (look at all the good things I’ve done, accomplished, earned, worked hard for), all our winnings, our earnings (and all our failings, which have also stacked up) in order to pass the great tray of food: meat and fruit and vegetables and wine.  

“All that is mine is yours,” God sings.  Come, join the party, be at peace.  Let go of anger and resentment, and even if you can’t let go of it right away, I’ll love you all along the way.  Let go of fear and anxiety, and even if you can’t let go of it right away, I’ll keep loving you as you try.  

But come back inside.  We have to celebrate.  AMEN.

#608 — “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling”

Sunday, March 3, 2013

March 3 — Third Sunday in Lent

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Grace to you and peace this Lenten Season.

My friend’s father was a pastor in the Lutheran church for many years, and he always had a saying:  “It’s still early.”

(It’s like dear Carol Holler at 11:30am: “It’s still early.” But he was more in the context of congregational life...)

When his congregation would become anxious that no one was coming and that their church was slowly dying, he’d always calm them down by saying, “Oh, just wait; be patient and faithful:  it’s still early.”

When it didn’t seem there was any hope, in the midst of people’s individual lives, somehow he would bring comfort to them with the remembrance of God’s timing, which Isaiah reminds us, today, is not our timing or our ways:  “It’s still early,” Mark would say to his people.

And even as this beloved pastor lay on his death bed (my first year of seminary), body filled with a cancer that was unstoppable, he still said it, even as everyone was fearing and grieving the inevitable: “It’s still early.”

“It’s still early” is not a dreamy, unmoored statement, wishing listlessly for a miracle — it’s a solid confession of faith, even with evidence to the contrary; a statement of trust in our patient God’s work; a statement of hope — and I repeat these three words today, as we read our Gospel text:  “This tree bears no fruit — we need to cut it down.”  “No,” said the gracious and patient gardener, “give it another year — we’ll add some fertilizer, let it breath, give it some love, give it another year”...almost as if to say, “it’s still early.”    

The grace of extended deadlines.  I’ve been thinking much about grace this Lent.  Not really a traditional Lenten concept on the surface — grace — but I believe it’s been there all along: as we give up things, let go of things, turn back to God and to our neighbor(...go to church on Wednesday).  Grace has been there all along.

I’m afraid we only hear the threat in Jesus story about the tree that doesn’t bear fruit.  Because, yes, Jesus is looking for us to bear fruit.  And here the final sentence: “Give it another year, and if it doesn’t bear fruit, then cut it down.”  I’m afraid we only hear the threat:  We’re going to die.

But that’s really nothing we didn’t know already.  

And when we don’t bear fruit — that is, the works of the spirit (kindness, justice advocacy, generosity, risk-taking on behalf of Christ Jesus) — when we fail to bear these fruits, there is a little part of us that dies anyway, isn’t there?  My dad, likes to say, when it comes to stewardship, not giving is like a sort of spiritual constipation.  God’s people get all backed up when they keep their things and their money tightly held — like any of it was ever ours in the first place.  Rather, Dad tries to gracefully encourage, let’s be a vessel through which God’s blessing might flow, financial and otherwise.   There’s a little death happening anyway, a stoppage, a blockage — when we fail to bear and share fruit.

And did you catch that first part of the Gospel?  Jesus rebuking those who wanted to say that the victims of Pilate’s torturous  oppression somehow deserved what they got.  Or, Jesus gives another example: the random falling of a tower, killing 18, some were assuming it was because they had done something to deserve it?  Is that so far off base?  (AIDS.  Tsunami.)

“No,” Jesus says.  Some things just happen.  But then he adds something:  But unless you repent, the same thing will happen to you.  

Once again that can sound like a terrible threat.  But I’m wondering, if Jesus didn’t mean, that a certain death happens to anyone who doesn’t turn back to God, which is what repent literally means — do a 180˚ back to God.  

When we don’t repent, yes, a certain death happens, that can be as crushing and as tortuous as the images in our Gospel text today.  When we don’t repent, entrusting ourselves to God (like the prodigal son at that moment in the pig pen), we have to live in the shadow of not knowing grace and forgiveness.  We have to carry the burden of anger and hatred.  We have to shoulder all the resentments for the wrongs that have been done to us in the past.  When we don’t repent, we don’t return to God, thereby letting it all go, all the anger, and pent-up grievances, and frustrations with those who have wronged us in our eyes.  And in clutching on, in being stubborn and going it alone, in our need for vengeance, in our being lost in our fears, angers, and our things — we get backed up — and a certain death occurs.  A weight almost as heavy as the fallen towers of Siloam presses down on our lives, and we cannot move.

I’m aware that almost everyone in this congregation is hurting right now — for one reason or another.  We need to be gentle to each other here at Shepherd of the Valley.  Know that the person sitting next to you is probably feeling some weight pressing down on them, whether it’s anger or sadness or fear or distrust of God, everyone is hurting.  Why?  Because God is punishing us?  No, Jesus says.  Some things just happen, but let’s not miss this opportunity to turn back to God, to put our pain in God’s hands, letting God’s love and grace, wash over us and through us — clearing us out to be faithful travelers on the road together.  Be gentle, and be present to one another, friends in Christ.  Bear one another’s burdens, and hear one another’s stories.  It’s not too late.

It’s still early.  God’s not done with us yet.  I think of Grandpa, lying on his deathbed in Colorado as we speak, who said those same words to me the last time we talked, shriveled and frail: “God’s not done with me yet.”

God’s not done with you yet — no matter what your age, or your history, or your burdens and blockages.  Even in death itself, God’s not done with us yet!  

It’s still early.  And God is faithful.  And we are loved.