Sunday, March 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent: Shall we gather at the well?

Exodus 17:1-7
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-14

“Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.”  John 5:14

There is a popular beer commercial that ends with the actor encouraging us to “Stay thirsty, my friends”.  The point is obvious: as long as we are thirsty, we are more likely to buy this product.  As a former beer drinker myself, I can attest to this reality; as much as I once drank, my thirst was never quenched.  Not in those moments and not until I finally walked away from it.  I was drinking more than my share – but - from the wrong well.

And I dare say too many of us are; and because of our neglect of those things which really matter and have everlasting value, so go our children and our grandchildren – because we have convinced ourselves – and them - that even a momentary sense of satisfaction by temporal means is better than no satisfaction at all.  If the world does not give us what we desire, we convince ourselves we have been cheated out of something we are due.

I thought of all this as I pondered the real meaning of this chance encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman; and I wondered what it is we truly seek.  Or do we bother to seek at all, believing ourselves to have all we need, having been convinced by cheap preachers of a cheap religion counted only as an event rather than as a way of viewing and acting in the world?

I’ve begun reading a new book entitled The Benedict Option (Rod Dreher, 2017).  Dreher has been fascinated with the 6th-century monk for some time and has written several articles about the modern Church’s need to reexamine The Rule of St. Benedict, a basic instruction on how to live faithfully and communally in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire and an almost complete collapse of any sense of moral value.

The basic premise of the book is the same basic premise of the Encounter at the Well: discovering for the first time – or rediscovering once again – our truest sense of who we are and to Whom we belong.  Mr. Dreher maintains the Church has become “content to be the chaplain to a consumerist culture losing all sense of what it means to be a Christian” (Benedict Option, Intro, pg 2).

Yet even as we may have been convinced by some that all may already be lost, we are also reminded by The Rule of St. Benedict and the period in which St. Benedict operated that all seemed lost even then.  History, however, tells another story.  Even in the darkest periods of persecution, the Church grew stronger – a fulfillment of Jesus’ assurance that the “gates of hell will not prevail against the Church” (Matthew 16:18). 

Here’s where the depth of that Promise matters to us: Jesus did not promise an everlasting Western Church or an American Church or a self-declared Church.  It is the true Church, the faithful Church expressing itself fully and unreservedly as the Living Body of Christ Himself which will prevail against the “gates of hell” and the rising tide of modern culture.  All other “churches” will falter.

So it cannot be simply a matter of being “good”.  There is no indication the Samaritan woman at the well was not a “good” person.  Even though much is insinuated in her situation as the “wife of five husbands” and even in the observation that “the [man] you have now is not your husband” (John 4:18), it would be fairer to assume that, according to the standards of human culture, the woman did what she felt she needed to do just to survive.  Surely in her own mind, she was a “good” person.

The funniest thing is this woman likely fits into a social mold known as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD), a phrase coined in 2005 by sociologists (Christian Smith & Melinda Lundquist Denton) who studied the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers from a wide variety of backgrounds (Dreher, pg 10).

The basic tenets of MTD are: 1) a Creator God who exists and watches over human life, 2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair, 3) the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself, 4) God does not need to be involved unless/until there is a problem to be resolved, and 5) good people go to heaven when they die (Dreher, pg 10).

Not least of the problems with MTD is the notion of subjective happiness and subjective goodness; that is, we make the rules and set the standard.  It lacks the Christian disciplines of prayer, repentance, self-sacrificial love, purity of heart, true and active and engaged worship of the One, True God, and communal accountability – that is, seeing to the well-being of others.  Christianity commends suffering as a spiritual discipline, even sometimes necessary; MTD avoids suffering at all cost, even the cost of someone else’s life.  

MTD accepts temporal pleasures as “signs” from Above without critical, biblical analysis.  This means when we get our way, God is good.  However, when something goes wrong, God is non-existent and/or it’s someone else’s fault.  Suffering is considered a curse rather than the reality of living in a fallen world.

Compare the woman at the well with the widow in Luke 21 who gave only two mites to the Temple treasury, yet it was “all she had” left to give (Luke 21:1-4).  She had no mind for what she might have need of beyond that very intimate moment between herself and her God, for in that moment she gave herself completely over to The Lord.  No one and nothing else mattered.

The woman at the well did everything and perhaps anything she felt she needed to do just to survive.  The widow was entirely focused on her God and His Glory and “gave more than anyone”, according to Jesus.  The woman at the well was entirely focused on herself and her comfort. 

Insert these two woman into the contemporary culture.  How will they be judged even by Christians?   It is very likely the widow would be looked upon as a “fool” who is perhaps trying to “buy” her way into Heaven, ignoring the possibility that The Lord wants her to be “happy”; while the woman at the well would be admired for her stamina and willful determination to overcome her obstacles by whatever means necessary, moral and immoral.

Here is the challenge of the Church today.  We cannot tell the difference because we think we’re no longer thirsty.  We have convinced ourselves we are satisfied with a sufficiently adjusted narrative that has largely been given over to our own satisfaction according to our own desires and demands. 

What we may have learned to settle for, however, may not be the purity of the Water of Life we are offered; but we have a hard time discerning the difference because we have learned to settle for whatever we can get our hands on.  It may still be water, but it may also contain things which will do us harm.  Like the beer I mentioned earlier, we think any liquid will do to quench our thirst as long as we say “Jesus” a lot and post “Jesus” stuff on social media.

The point is not whether we have enough of The Word of God to get by; it is about whether we have too much of a world and a culture that will dilute The Word to the point of being ineffective and less than satisfying. 

Our God chose to reveal Himself in the person of Christ Jesus because He looked upon a very thirsty world in a very dry climate and has invited us – we who more closely identify with the woman at the well than with the widow in the Temple – to drink our fill of the Pure Word.  The Word of God will not always – in fact, may never – fit our current narrative nor will it support or justify the choices we’ve already made.

Yet again and again we are invited to drink of the Fountain of Repentance and the regeneration of Life Eternal.  This is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – for it is the Word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent 2017: Dying to Live

Genesis 12:1-5
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

“When Christ calls us, He bids us to come and die.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not one to mince words, but telling us we must die in order to live fully in Christ is a little hard to take.  It is hard because we have all but brushed aside the notion that the life of a disciple requires sacrifice as a defining point – sacrifice as much for our enemies and strangers as for those we love.  Yet demanding or getting our own way becomes a distraction to living fully in Christ as THE Way. 

It was Bonhoeffer who challenged the spiritual depth of the Western church during what was arguably the worst period in human history (Nazi era); that the Church cannot have Christ – or even really be The Church - if the “wide gate” is our true desire, a much easier path more focused on personal safety and consumer demand than on service and faithfulness (Matthew 7:14). 

But being “born again” is a very tricky business as a measure of the death we must endure to self because we do not often know what it actually looks like.  A skin magazine publisher was “born again”.  An actor and still known skirt-chaser, drunk, and drug-addict was also “born again”.  There are many other prominent and high-profile “born agains” who spout some of the vilest and most hateful language ever perpetrated in the name of Jesus.

And the reason is simple: we all like the idea of being “saved”, but we have never really understood being “saved” as being “called”.  “Called” not only from the depth and degradation of our past sins but also “called” into a whole new life that requires the death of our former selves.  It is the surest mark and measure of repentance.  It is as I have said so many times before; repentance is not merely an apology.  It is a resolve and a determination.

Those persons I specifically mention may not be “bad” men as the culture defines them.  It is often said the actor is generous to a fault, and we all know – or should know – drugs are bad business and can turn the best of us inside out.  Continuing to publish a skin magazine, however, is a more willful act that turns physical intimacy as a sacred act within the marriage covenant into a contact sport, and exploits women for financial gain.  There is nothing “liberating” about it.

This perverted notion of being “born again” without actually turning away from our former life falls in line with Bonhoeffer’s notion of “cheap grace”, a reality present in his own time, but also a reality we seem determined to double down on even today: “Cheap grace means the justification of sin … Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.  Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the [ugly reality of the] cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”  The Cost of Discipleship

Cheap grace is not radical, but the reality of true Christianity measured against human culture is nothing if not radical – a radical departure from what is and toward what can be.  It is not at all about being a “good Christian” which, in itself, is highly subjective and often culturally determined.  Christianity is entirely about becoming more and more Christ-like. 

Striving for Christ-like perfection but retaining a sense of humility to know we cannot make it on our own, certainly not as ourselves.  Christ-like perfection can only be accomplished as we deliberately die to self (that is, get over ourselves) and learn to live more intentionally not only like Christ but as Christ in the life of the Church and in the lives of others.  It is the sanctified life the Baptizer spoke of: “He (Christ) must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). 

“I must decrease”, John said, not because he was speaking of his impending execution but because his role had been superseded.  “I have been sent before Him”, John said; and now that He is here, you need to know less about “me” and more about Him.  This statement does not in any way diminish the sacred value of John’s life.  Rather, it testifies to the reality that we all have a role in “increasing” Christ in the public witness of the Church and must stop worrying so much about our coveted “spots” or “seats” or other privileged positions and places where it is entirely about “me”.

Discipleship is all theoretical, however, if there is no intentionality or effort on our part.  For it was also Bonhoeffer who said, “Jesus himself did not try to convert the two thieves on the cross; He waited until one of them turned to him.”  In other words, we have likely – with the complicity of the Church - tried to force or otherwise compel others to believe what we think they should believe (thus making it more about ourselves and our beliefs) rather than teach, lead by example, and disciple others to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ Jesus. 

Or worse, still … we don’t try at all.  And our lack of effort, our lack of commitment, our lack of determination only attempts to prove Jesus a liar; that there is no such thing as being “born again” as a matter of putting aside self, putting aside personal agendas, putting aside predetermined notions and concepts we are unwilling to examine more closely, putting aside “discipleship” and “discipline” (the order and the age-old doctrines of the Church).  This is how too many churches take on the persona of club house than that of Christ Jesus Himself.

No, we have found it much easier to get baptized rather than to be baptized.  It is much easier to get confirmed than it is to be confirmed.  It is much easier to get saved than it is to be called.  To speak more plainly, we want the simplicity of the event than the risk of the new life into which we are called – when it stops being about “me”.  The process of regeneration which begins with rebirth, however, requires much more than a single “event”.

There is no other way to understand what Jesus means when He insists we must be born again – more specifically, “born from above” – if we desire to “see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). 

Here’s the thing we must always bear in mind.  Jesus cannot simply be talking about the day of our physical death as the only point at which we may “see the Kingdom of God”!  In the Wesleyan theology of “present and future salvation” in the light of Jesus’ proclamation that “the Kingdom has come near” (Mark 1:15), what the promise of this rebirth is offering is that we can “see the Kingdom of God” right here, right now!  I know I have repeated myself these past few weeks, but it is worth saying as often as necessary until we get it - that the Promise of our Holy Father is “fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21), as Jesus proclaimed in a synagogue.

Discipleship in a world strictly opposed is like a very bad and very frustrating game of golf.  On most of the eighteen holes, we do so badly that there is not a word or phrase for our score – like “triple bogie”.  Yet there is almost always that one hole we par, that one hole when all our shots hit the mark.  It is that hole, that perfect shot which keeps us coming back for more.  I may walk away from eighteen holes with a score of 125 (which is really bad!), but that one hole or even just that one shot where everything came together is what will bring me back with the hope that my game will get better if I just stay after it.  It is that one hole or even just that one shot I will remember.

Life in Christ in a world filled with darkness is entirely like that.  Things do not always go the way we think they ought to go.  Things do not always work out the way we wish.  Yet when we focus on and hungrily pursue that one thing we have long sought after – that glimpse of Glory, that glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven – we will find it if we persevere; for it is our Father’s good will that we should.  He knows it is what keeps us coming back for more, a constant reminder that He is with us.

But first things first.  First, we must be willing to make room.  First, we must be willing to clear out the former self and its desires that do not mesh with the mission of the Church and the Kingdom of Heaven to “make disciples”.  First, we must “die” so we may find and embrace and live the Life to which we are called – not just as spouses and parents but as disciples, as sojourners, as faithful members of a community not merely waiting until this life is over but living fully into the Life to which we are beckoned. 

Then will the reality of the Kingdom come fully near.  Then will the reality of the Kingdom be revealed in all its glory.  Then will our lives finally begin to come together.  Then will our lives in the life of the Church begin to make sense … to us and to Him.  Only then can we begin to really live.  For the Father.  In The Word.  By the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Sunday, March 05, 2017

1st Sunday of Lent: Facing the Real World

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

"The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.”  Thomas Merton

The Hebrew word for “Satan” means “hinderer”.  To hinder someone means to hold them back, to prevent them from doing something.  We might even consider this meaning to help us better understand the nature of the “tempter” whom Jesus is facing in the wilderness, the “devil”, the one whom Jesus finally calls “Satan”.

I’ve often wondered if the very human Jesus really understood the fullness of who He is – and I ask this because we have no biblical record of Mary or Joseph ever having a heart-to-heart talk with Him, to help Him understand where He came from, and learn to grow into that role.  It could be there is nothing written because there is nothing to tell; that conversation never took place.  Or it could be Jesus knew all along who He is and what He is called to do. 

That, for us, is the most comfortable thought, of course, because it lets us off the hook.  We can just accept who Jesus is, that Jesus always knew, and that this confrontation in the wilderness was Jesus’ own personal battle with the one whom we have known as the “fallen one”.

Yet when we look at a parallel passage like Moses’ experience on Mt. Sinai, then maybe we need to look a little closer – especially when we think of what this kind of fasting means and what purpose it serves during Lent.  Exodus 24 ends with, “Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights”.

If the tablets had already been “written” as we are told, why would it have been necessary for Moses to remain on the mountain for forty days?  If Jesus already knew He is the Incarnate God, why was a similar period of fasting and prayer necessary?  There is something with deeper meaning requiring much more attention to detail for us than to ascribe only to Moses and Jesus the forty days of such discipline and not to ourselves.

There is one major difference for us, though.  Jesus was facing the “tempter” in the wilderness, and Moses was with the Creator on the Holy Mountain.  What connects these two experiences, however, is a strong sense of purpose – God’s purpose and not our own.  It is safe to say both knew, at least on some level, whom they were dealing with, and both knew what was at stake could not be completely understood or appreciated “in a minute”. 

There is discovery in these intense moments we give to The Lord, discoveries which cannot be made “on the fly” or in our haste to move from one moment to the next.  And as science has all but proved, “multi-tasking” is a myth.  We cannot do well with one thing while mentally engaged in another.

Part of that discovery is what the Catholic monk and writer, Thomas Merton, observed: “The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little”; that state of mind in which we are satisfied with “just enough” – but only as it pertains to The Word.  Surely written with a human understanding of our cultural desire for “more”, whether it be more money, more square footage, more car, or more luxurious or frequent vacations, the gist of what Brother Merton shared is that when we put forth our very best efforts for all this world offers, we cheat ourselves out of all our Lord has in store for us later.  And the reason is as simple as Jesus’ own lesson: there is not enough room in our hearts for both.  We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

This is what Jesus had to contend with, and it fits within the Jewish narrative of “Satan” not as a name but as a title … and with a dirty job.  Recall the strange setting in the opening chapter of Job.  The Heavenly Court was seated, and “the heavenly beings came to present themselves before The Lord, and Satan was with them” (1:6).  To make a long story short, Satan’s presence was not challenged.  He was only asked to account for where he had come from.

Then we know what happened.  The Lord was very pleased with His faithful servant, Job.  Satan challenged Job’s faithfulness because Job was virtually immune from the realities of the world – adversity and loss.  Satan maintained that if The Lord’s circle of protection were not around him, Job would curse The Lord to His face.  Job was pushed to his limits and he had many, many questions about what purpose these challenges could serve – but he never cursed The Lord.

Judaism teaches that Satan was only doing his job – the job he had been assigned by the heavenly court, the job for which he was created.  He is the “tempter” in this world, and he will serve as the “accuser” on the Day when we stand before The Lord.  He has charge over everything in this world, and it is his to use – fair and unfair – to “tempt” us, to challenge us.  It is a job which must be done.

And we ask why.  Was Jesus being “tempted” from His birthright?  Or was Jesus being “developed” to fulfill the role He was born to fulfill?  Or is it what Christianity has long held; that Satan was trying only to determine exactly who he was dealing with?   Yes.  All of the above.

It is hard for us to believe this wilderness experience is by design as a deliberate task from the heavenly court.  Even if we are talking about the Son of the Most High God, it seems … mean and unfair.  Yet when we consider the reality of the temptations we face daily, we must also understand the choices we are confronted with do serve a useful purpose – and that Satan is involved with every single incident when we are forced to make choices. 

We must learn to appreciate the reality that what may seem good to us could end up being the hindrance to the best relationship we can have with our Father – such as money we will only share with those we love but would withhold an honest and full tithe or deny a hungry child some food, or excusing ourselves from the quite necessary and soul-building discipline of fasting because we have convinced ourselves “we don’t have to”.

When we are talking about the depth of sanctifying grace by and through which we are continually regenerated and perfected, we should – if we are open to the experience - come to understand that it is only through adversity by which we may develop the strength to grow in faith and in love.  Just as we must not give in to our children’s every single desire but must teach them to do without or learn to deal with “no”, our Father is doing all He can to be sure we do not grow up spoiled and with a misguided sense of entitlement.  Giving us what will ultimately destroy us is not an act of love.

And strangely enough, this is the task understood to be a part of the “tempter’s” role.  We certainly cannot say eating is altogether bad because our bodies need the nourishment, but there is a fine line between eating for sustenance - and gluttony.  Money in itself is not a bad thing, but there is fine line between using it responsibly and using it to our own destruction and to the detriment of the Church and Her witness by withholding our tithe because we have convinced ourselves “we don’t have to”.

So the “hinderer” compelled Jesus to decide between what was useful and what would be wasteful; to decide what would be testing The Lord our God and His patience and what would test our devotion to what we are called to be and to do.

None of it was ever meant to be easy just as Jesus taught that following Him would be the most difficult thing we would ever do – difficult and even sometimes very dangerous.  In this moment in the wilderness, however, Jesus has imparted to us the greatest and most useful gift we will need to navigate the “real world”: the Word of God.  Learning to wield it and use it – to the glory of God and for our edification rather than our carnal satisfaction.

We must be able to discern between that which has value only for a season, and that which has everlasting value – hoarding what can be stolen or rotted, or storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20).  The Word is that One Tool we have which will help us to know the difference between what is “real” only in this world and what is “real” in the Everlasting Kingdom.  If we have only the good things and our hearts’ desires fulfilled at every turn, we will not know how to deal with adversity when – not if – it comes.

The Word is not something only for memorization; it must be learned and intimated in such a way that the Word becomes as much a part of our being as our hearts and lungs.  For The Word will not only help us to navigate this dangerous world, it will still be with us when our hearts and lungs fail us.  This is our reality.  This is our “real world”.  It is the Word of God for the people of God for the Kingdom of God.  Amen.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Finding the Secret Place - a sermon for Ash Wednesday 2017

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“The Lord spoke to Adam in the Garden, “Because you have … eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of the ground all the days of your life.  Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of [the ground] you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Genesis 3:17-19 NRSV

In that proclamation of our reality apart from our Creator, “You are dust”, a profound separation was being acknowledged which had taken place in the Garden not only between Heaven and earth, but also between human existence and Divine purpose.  Humanity had been given all which would be needed for sustenance, but it would still not come as easily as we may imagine.  The man was very deliberately placed in the Garden “to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).  The Lord then determined the man would need help, so the woman was created from the man as a “helper and a partner” (Genesis 2:18); each created interdependently one to the other and both to The Lord, the Creator Himself.  Both created with deliberate intention and purpose.

We should see, then, that humanity did not crawl from a swamp by some evolutionary accident to do nothing more than to exist until the next cycle of evolution would take place.  There was – there is - Divine Purpose in all of Creation from the start.  It was Life itself, the breadth and depth and fullness and meaning of which would come only from the Creator.

So Life itself and all its fullness was set into motion by the Hand and Breath of God with a measure of independence but also with certain restrictions - not as a means of testing faith but as a means of strengthening the interdependence of the relationship not only between the man and the woman in common purpose but also the strengthening of the relationship between The Creator and creation – and for this reason: for us to come to fully know who we really are. 

In this segment of the Creation story we see not only the violation of interdependence between The Lord and humanity, but we also see the man and the woman once united in common purpose turn against each other!  What’s more, the woman herself sought to blame an external force for this break as the man blamed the woman.  Neither was willing to accept responsibility for the desecration of this relationship, and yet the damage had been done – not by the serpent but by the choices they each freely made.

Although humanity was evicted from Paradise, it cannot be said humanity was altogether rejected.  From that moment The Lord had determined to restore entirely the relationship which had been damaged by human pride and vanity.  It was The Lord’s determination – not man’s - that by the blessing of Creation itself, humanity was always meant to be in intimate relationship with the Creator.

So we fast-forward to this moment known as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent.  Though we are redeemed in Christ Jesus, we nevertheless undertake this discipline to look deeply within ourselves and reexamine once again the relationship which was, in the beginning, created in all its glory and perfection in The Word.  We are challenged to examine this relationship and those still-existing external forces – those things from which we fast - that constantly compete for our attention and devotion and ultimately degrade the Divine relationship we have with our God.

Fasting and prayer as the means of introspection are the hallmarks of Lent.  Jesus teaches about these disciplines not as ancient practices no longer applicable to the people of The Lord but as practices that are still-relevant means of grace, the ways by which we seek to overcome our human impulses, recognize the external forces for what they are, and reconnect to our Source of Life and living.  It is the nature of these practices which help us to strengthen the relationship we have been created for, the covenantal relationship we have been baptized into, the relationship we must jealously protect at all cost – the relationship we, more often than not, take for granted.

Within Jesus’ teachings on prayer and fasting, however, is the most interesting component of all Jesus teaches: the “secret place” in which our Father sees us.  The “quiet room” of prayer, or, better stated, the most intimate place in our hearts where no one – and no thing - but The Lord should be found.  It is that place in which Jesus as The Word and the Father as the Breath of Life will “come and make Our home with those who love Me and keep My Word” (John 14:23).

It is within this “secret place” where we are fed, and it is this “secret place” from which the Truth will spring forth if we will give ourselves over to these intimate moments.  We are reminded in these quiet moments of our need for our God and for one another in the fullness and accountability of the Church.  It is within this “secret place” where we are reminded of our sacred value not only according to the Image in which we are created but also according to the Divine Purpose for which we are called forth as individuals and as the Church, the Body of Christ in the world today.

Unpleasant as it is, however, we are reminded on this solemn Day that apart from our Creator, apart from our Source of Being, apart from the Living Word Himself, we can be nothing more than the dust from which we came, the dust to which our mortal bodies will return.  We are reminded of our own failures in the failure of Adam and Eve when, even in the face of Eternity and in the Promise of Paradise, they chose the human vanity of worldly wisdom and the temporal nature of carnal pleasure. 

More importantly, however, we are reminded even in the sorrow of our grief and in the midst of our failures, that our God relentlessly calls out: “Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing … for The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:12-13).

“Repent, and believe the Gospel”, says our Lord Jesus, and we will from this moment be made whole!  Amen.